Rally d’Italia Sardegna is the roughest European rally of the current calender. It will present a dusty and sandy challenge for the drivers on narrow gravel roads. Almost all stages have remained from last year, but most of them have been tweaked slightly.
Rally d’Italia Sardegna is one of the younger generation rallies on the WRC calendar, having been contested only since 2004, when it replaced the more traditional San Remo. Before this, some of the same roads have been used in the ERC level Rally Costa Smeralda.
These days Rally d’Italia Sardegna is based around the city of Alghero, at the North-West corner of the island. In the previous years some stages have been also driven in the North-East corner or middle of the island.
If there is a distinct character to this gravel rally, it’s the narrow roads. They are quite soft, somewhat rough and often quite technical regardless of the speed. Many of the Sardinian stages also feature bits of tarmac, but some roughest sections can barely be called roads.
By average Sardegna is a slower rally than Portugal or Argentina but slightly faster than Mexico – although Mexico has other factors slowing it down, such as the altitude and the numerous super specials. But the interesting thing about Sardegna is that its stages have a wide range of average speeds. Last year the slowest non-super-special was won at 68 km/h and the fastest at 116 km/h.
The shakedown is driven again at Olmedo, but the route is revised for this year, borrowing many parts from last year’s Monte Baranta stage. Now the shakedown begins on a super special like section at an old mining area. This section is slightly changed from last year.
What follows is a steep ascension. Then the route deviates from the Monte Baranta route for a while. The ending is more flowing and descending.
All of the shakedown is driven on narrow and soft roads, so it’s a good representation of most of the rally. However, jumps and tarmac parts are not featured.
The rally-opening super special of Ittiri Arena is unique by having two cars racing at the same time but on a single track. The cars start from different locations of the track and finish in the respective locations. It’s a wide track with long and tight bends, never becoming quite fast. It also features a jump and a water splash.
Last year this stage was also repeated on Saturday midday as a single-car version with entry and exit roads added. It was known as the only stage of the year which WRC+ All Live didn’t cover. The reason for this could be that the transmitter aeroplane was already around the other stages of Saturday, far from Ittiri.
The Friday stages are driven North-East from Alghero, starting at the furthest point and approaching the service park stage by stage. These stages offer the slowest and roughest roads of the rally.
Friday starts like last year, with Tula, the longest stage of the day. It’s a very technical stage with twenty-five junctions and the smallest roads of the whole rally. It has been driven for the last three years and each time it has been the slowest non-super special stage of the rally.
Tula starts on a small but relatively wide and easy road. A fast passage partly on tarmac leads onto a loop of small road added for this year, rejoining the stage at the same four-road junction where it deviated. The following road is quite fast but very small with grass growing in the middle. Another tarmac road is joined at 6.1 km. Where last year’s route turned left, now the stage continues on the tarmac with just a chicane in the junction.
Next up is a string of different roads and junction turns around a windmill area. They range from off-road-like tracks to smoother gravel roads and bits of tarmac. It’s changed slightly from last year, borrowing sections from the year before. In 2017 Elfyn Evans went off the road in a corner which will feature at 8.7 km into this year’s stage.
Leaving the windmill area there’s a very small, rough and twisty road at 13.5 km, which gets better about two km later but remains slow and technical. The road gets rougher and narrower again at 17.9 km. The narrowness is emphasized by some wooden railings. The last kilometre of the stage is run again on a bit less rough and narrow road.
Last year the ending was on tarmac, but for this year that section is omitted. In 2016 the tarmac part was treacherous for Hayden Paddon who went off in the very last corner of the stage.
Last year Tula was driven in wet and foggy conditions making it quite different than expected. Elfyn Evans broke a steering arm whereas Andreas Mikkelsen managed the conditions best and was almost ten seconds faster than anyone else. On the second run the conditions were even worse and Sebastien Ogier showed champion-level skills by being 12 seconds faster than the rest.
Castelsardo has featured five times in the rally since 2012. There’s a couple of changes for this year.
Last year’s new beginning is now omitted. Instead it starts now again on a quite wide, smooth and fast-flowing gravel road, last used in 2016. Hayden Paddon spun on this road that year, but this year’s start is after that corner. After the first kilometre it becomes suddenly narrower and rougher.
At 1.6 km the stage joins last year’s route on a narrow and bumpy road which is technical but not super twisty nor too rough. Trees and stones close to the road make some places very tricky. At 4.5 km a hairpin junction takes the stage onto a medium wide tarmac road with some bends. 1.3 km later it turns down onto a narrow road with worn tarmac.
The worn tarmac lasts for 400 m and then the road becomes gravel again. However, the tight junction at 6.8 km has also a worn tarmac surface.
The following road is quite fast with some slower corners jarring the flow. At 9.4 km there’s a turn onto a tunnel crossing a highway and then an acceleration on worn tarmac. After this the narrow gravel road starts climbing up steeply through hairpins. At 12.4 km a new deviation from the previous years’ route has been introduced. A kilometre later it rejoins the familiar route again.
Another section added last year appears at 13.8 km. Last year there was an offroad type detour around a stone, but this year it’s passed from the other side more straightforwardly. The road is then rough in the forest but becomes gradually firmer and faster towards the finish.
Tergu – Osilo has featured in the rally since 2012, when the start and finish were a bit later. The current format was taken into use for the 2017 rally. It will most likely be the fastest stage of Friday.
Now the stage starts on a short tarmac section with a couple of bends and a turn onto gravel. The road resembles Rally Portugal by being medium wide, firm-surfaced and mostly fast-flowing with a couple of technical bends and narrow bridges. This is where Kris Meeke crashed his Citroen in 2017.
The stage crosses a tarmac road at 6 km but after that the road remains similar, albeit bit narrower. First it descends quite steeply to a valley, then ascends slightly towards the end with a very narrow bridge at 11.1 km.
This is of course the stage where Esapekka Lappi scored his first WRC stage win in 2017. Something about the fast nature of the stage is implied by the fact that Lappi’s car was missing second gear. “Tell Tommi that five is enough!”
Monte Baranta starts on the same mining area super special like section as the shakedown. Once deviated from the shakedown route at 2 km it’s quite fast and flowing apart from a pair of junctions and a couple of other tighter bends. Last year Teemu Suninen went off the road into the bushes about 4 km into the stage. At 6.7 km there’s a long straight with a notorious man-made jump which broke Ott Tänak’s car last year.
After a junction turn the road becomes very rocky and rough, going through descending hairpins as well, but also accelerating up to top gear soon. At 10.1 km a turn is made onto a new ending which seems fast and flowing.
Saturday takes the crews East of Alghero, further than on Friday. The day will contain the fastest gravel roads and the longest stages of the rally. They are also the only stages of the rally to have featured in a form or another in almost every edition of the Sardinian WRC event, whereas the Friday and Sunday stages haven’t been used in it before this decade.
Coiluna – Loelle has been the fastest stage of the rally for some years. Last year its average speed was as high as 116 km/h whereas the second-fastest stage could only reach 106 km/h. And this even though the stage includes a rather slow visit to a motocross track. However, for this year parts of the stage have been changed, most likely for the slower.
The stage starts like last year, on a medium wide, mildly rough road. It’s quite fast with only a few angular corners. Between 2.8 km and 5.7 km a new deviation to smaller roads has been added, partly familiar from 2015. Another similar section is from 9.6 km to 12.1 km. That one hasn’t been used since 2006.
The motocross track section is probably the widest gravel road of the whole rally. As on this kind of sections, the bends are long and slow but there’s also one spectacular jump which we remember from 2017 with Hayden Paddon jumping with a burning wheel.
After returning from the motocross track there’s yet another fast section with a chicane-like detour and a tight junction turn just before the finish line.
Monti di Ala is the longest stage of the rally at just over 29 km. It has changed only slightly from last year.
It starts with a medium wide soft road which is quite fast and flowing. The open hills location offers long views for spectators, but might make it challenging for the drivers to see the road line behind the crests.
At 6.6 km last year’s stage turned right onto a smaller road, but this year it continues straight where the surface becomes soon tarmac. This section started the stage in 2015, but then to the other direction.
A junction turn back onto gravel happens at 8.3 km, rejoining soon the 2018 route. The road is now a bit narrower and considerably rougher but still fast, flowing and open.
The stage enters soon a forest, becoming now wider but more technical. A series of five descending hairpins slows the pace down at 12.7 km. After that the road becomes again narrower and more rough as fast sections are cut by tighter corners here and there.
The overall nature becomes more technical around 18 km with a constant hectic pace of small bends before returning to the open hills two kilometres later. That makes the stage also again less rough as well as more fast and flowing.
This year the stage extends 1.7 km further than last year. The new section has four tight junction turns, for sure bringing in a slower section for the stage.
Monte Lerno is almost as long as Monti di Ala. The two stages are situated close to each other, almost tangling with each other. Still they have their own distinct characteristics.
For this year, Monte Lerno has been shortened a bit from the start. The beginning is medium wide, quite smooth and fast-flowing with occasionally big rocks on the line. Again a flat out section is cut by a detour onto a never before driven smaller road at 1.9 km. The familiar route is rejoined 1.4 km later, with some bends before accelerating to Micky’s Jump, a spectator favourite named after the Italian champion Massimo Biasion.
A series of tight bends and steep downhill follows. Apart from those and a couple of other tigher bends, the stage remains pretty fast. Teemu Suninen had a lucky encounter with a bank on this section last year.
At 11 km a junction turn makes the road a bit more technical but not very twisty. At 17.3 km there is a narrow gate which begins a narrow, worn and dirty tarmac section which runs for 2.2 km.
At 22.7 km there is a turn to a small and rough road. It gets a bit better at the junction at 23.7 km but rocks must still be watched. Towards the end it’s actually a bit sandier.
For this year the stage has been extended with 700 metres from the Su Filigosu stage, last driven in 2011, or the 2009 edition of Monte Lerno. It should include a river crossing, but it’s unclear whether there’s water in it today.
In 2017 all of Sebastien Ogier, Mads Østberg and Andreas Mikkelsen had punctures on the first pass of Monte Lerno. Last year Mikkelsen suffered another flat tyre on the second pass, as did Ott Tänak.
The Sunday stages are the same as they have been since 2016. They are driven at the North-West corner of the island. These are the narrowest of the narrow Sardinian roads.
Cala Flumini has featured in the rally since 2014. It even was the power stage in 2015 but for those two years the beginning was a bit different.
The current format of the stage begins on a one-car-wide road. The speed gets high on the long straights but the corners are often tight and angular. Bushes and stone walls are very close for the most part, leaving little margin for error, like Hayden Paddon noticed the hard way in 2017. The beginning of the road is not too rough or soft but the rockiness increases after 3.6 km.
At 7 km the stage turns onto a tarmac road which lets the cars go completely flat out for a full kilometre. After that the stage returns onto the frightening combination of fast and narrow gravel roads. At 11 km there’s a narrow tarmac section of about 400 metres. After this the road gets rougher with some bedrock exposed.
Last year we remember this stage from a proper edge-of-seat battle of tenths between Thierry Neuville and Sebastien Ogier. You couldn’t have imagined a more challenging stage for that!
The power stage of Sassari – Argentiera has been in use since 2016, always in the same form except for the first year when it was a bit shorter.
Again it starts on a narrow road between bushes and fences with heavy amounts of roughness, softness, coarse gravel and stones. At first the stage climbs a bit, then descends towards the sea.
A series of tight junctions takes the route on another hill climb with even softer roads. Yet another tight junction leads to a steep downhill towards a twisty super-special-like section. For two years in a row, Jari-Matti Latvala has stalled the car on the power stage in these tight and sandy soft corners.
The final kilometre of the stage along the beach is very fast and the road is also hard-based and wider. A good way to end the rally and to fight for the last tenths.
Road conditions and starting order
Rally d’Italia Sardegna is a typical gravel rally where the road cleans a lot. Thus the rally has given the opportunities for drivers like Eric Camilli, Kevin Abbring and Esapekka Lappi to post their maiden WRC stage wins. However, last year in more damp conditions Thierry Neuville won the whole rally starting first on Friday.
In dry conditions we could see dust becoming an issue. The roads will also cut up for the second passes, making punctures a threat.
Thanks to Ott Tänak’s tactics on the Portugal power stage, Sebastien Ogier will be first on the road in Sardegna. Again we could see surprise performances from later starters such as Dani Sordo, Esapekka Lappi, Andreas Mikkelsen and Jari-Matti Latvala.
Here we have Toni Gardemeister on a Ford Focus WRC in 2005, tackling the long Loelle stage. At 7:46 it joins this year’s Coiluna – Loelle stage for a while with this year’s finish occuring after the junction turn at 11:00.