“Jumping in the dust” is the slogan of Rally Italia Sardegna, but jumps are not as common as dust. The event is best characterized by the narrowness of its gravel roads which vary from slow and technical to fast and flowing. This year the rally is run in a shortened format, but still from Thursday to Sunday. It was also delayed from its usual June slot to October because of COVID-19.
The 2020 Sardegna is driven with no spectators allowed like in Turkey, so obviously the super specials are also cancelled. Thus, Thursday offers only the shakedown. Because of the exceptional schedule, it’s not run until 13 in the afternoon.
The Olmedo shakedown has been changed again, and now it resembles the 2017 version, with just a new start on a very small track, and the finish line slightly earlier.
After the new start, the road is actually wider than typically in Sardegna, and the character is angular – long fast passages are linked with few tight corners. At 2 km the road becomes narrower, increasing the technicality. Near the end there’s a downhill section which is a bit rougher than rest of the stage.
I would claim Olmedo is a faster stage than the rally mostly is. There’s no hairpins or other super technical places. The character of the stage is closest to the Saturday stages.
This year’s itinerary structure is quite exceptional. Both Friday and Saturday morning loops have two stages each, which are repeated within the loop. Then the afternoon consists of two more tests, the same stages run once on both afternoons. All of the Friday stages are driven on the North part of the island
SS1+3 Tempio Pausania is a new stage and not much can be said about it. It’s situated in a mountainous area and it’s mostly descending. The ending was used in 2005 is a part of the San Bachisio stage. The beginning has two short paved bits but other than that it’s all gravel and there’s not even that many junctions on the way.
SS2+4 Erula – Tula is the longest stage of Friday. Along with a new title, the stage has five kilometres of new in the beginning. After that last year’s route is used up to the end with just a shortcut taken near the end, last used in 2017. In the previous years, this has been the slowest proper stage of the rally, often also the slowest of the whole season, with average speeds barely over 70 km/h.
Erula – Tula is mostly driven on narrow gravel roads with often soft or coarse surfaces. However, there’s also stretches of tarmac here and there. The road character also varies from hairpins to long straights and everything in between. There’s also a total of 25 junctions over the course of 21.78 km – most of them in the wind farm area midway through the stage.
After the wind farm the road gets more rough and technical. The slow hairpin at 19.7 km is where Jari-Matti Latvala rolled his car from the lead last year.
Tula hasn’t been a happy stage for the championship leader Elfyn Evans. In 2018 he broke a steering arm – which he managed to fix at the road side – but in 2017 the car needed towing to the service park after going off at the wind farm. The same corner features on this year’s route at 13.5 km.
SS5+11 Sedini – Castelsardo also has an updated title, but the route is unchanged from last year, where it had a slight update. It is an interesting stage with many rhythm and surface changes.
The stage begins smooth, fast-flowing and relatively wide, at a wind farm. However, after the first kilometre is completed, the road turns abruptly into a coarsely rough and narrow track. 600 metres later there’s a junction turn onto a road which is better in surface but highly technical and twisty. The road turns again into a track at 3.5 km but around the 4 km mark there’s a bit of broken tarmac before the surface is back to normal gravel. Yet another surface change appears at 4.5 km in form of a wide tarmac road with some bends.
The stage turns away from the wide tarmac road at 5.8 km. The road is again narrow and has broken tarmac for 400 metres before returning onto gravel – although there’s yet another paved junction at 6.8 km. The road is now very narrow and quite soft, with a hectically technical character, constantly turning somewhere.
A highway is crossed through a tunnel at 9.5 km and then there’s yet another acceleration on broken tarmac. Once the stage is back on a narrow, soft and coarse gravel road, it’s again more straightforward apart from the quintet of climbing hairpins.
The turn at 12.4 km takes the crews onto the newest section of the stage, a very rough track with a series of jumps. The rest of the stage in the forest provides still multiple surface changes from smooth to coarse, but is mostly technical.
SS6+12 Tergu – Osilo has been shortened for this year because the road in the beginning of the stage is now paved. This stage reminds me of Rally Portugal or Catalunya’s gravel stages, because the road is a bit wider than typically in Sardegna. It’s a quite straightforward stage with no major rhythm changes.
The beginning of the stage has a nice flow to it with long corners. However, some narrower places are more technical. This is where Kris Meeke rolled his Citroen in 2017
Midway through a tarmac road is crossed quickly. The road remains similar, but starts descending with a more angular character with faster straights and tighter corners. At the bottom of the valley there’s some narrow bridges before the stage climbs up again with a more flowing character.
Last year this stage caused a spin for Teemu Suninen, as well as overshoots for Thierry Neuville and Elfyn Evans. In 2017 it gave Esapekka Lappi his career-first stage win, with five gears only!
The two Saturday morning stages are driven a bit more to the South-East from the Friday stages. These are the only stages to have featured on Sardegna’s route every year.
SS7+9 Monte Lerno is the longest stage of the rally at just over 22 km. It has an updated route where it actually uses mostly roads typically associated with the Monti di Ala stage, although it’s not the first time the border between these two stages is blurred.
Now the stage starts only 500 metres before the infamous Micky’s jump, on a quite narrow road where fast passages and tight corners take turns.
At 4.6 km there’s a right turn instead of left and now the stage turns towards the Monti di Ala territory, but the driving direction is opposed to the past years. These roads are a bit wider but the rhythm remains alternating restlessly between technical and fast-flowing. The only exceptions are a short bit of narrow tarmac at 13.6 km and a fast passage at 15.4 km.
SS8+10 Coiluna – Loelle is driven almost like last year, only a short section has been changed. It has often been the fastest stage of the rally, although the route was made considerably slower last year.
The stage starts relatively fast, smooth and wide, although some corners are still technical. A junction turns onto a smaller road and right after it deviates from last year’s route onto a road which was driven in the opposite direction in 2014 and 2015. It’s quite soft and technical, with lots of crests.
The first road of the stage is rejoined at 5.6 km. The fast section is cut by a detour onto a road which is so narrow that even easier corners must be taken with slower pace.
Next up is the motocross track, which is wide and flowing but soft and twisty. This year the section is shortened slightly.
The ending is again fast on the main road. A chicane and a junction turn make the drivers select smaller gears.
Coiluna – Loelle is best remembered for 2017 when Hayden Paddon damaged the rear suspension while leading, and ended up jumping the motocross track with a burning wheel!
After the midday service the stages Sedini – Castelsardo and Tergu – Osilo are repeated.
The Sunday stages in the North-West corner of the island have remained the same for the fifth successive year, and the routes have changed only slightly during that time – and not at all since 2017. Although Sardegna is known for narrow gravel roads, these are the narrowest and most claustrophobic lanes of the whole rally!
SS13+15 Cala Flumini opens the day. The stage starts amid fields and goes mostly between stone walls, making the road appear narrower than it actually is. The beginning has very fast passages stitched together by tight bends, but also some more continuously technical sections and a good number of square corners.
At the midpoint of the stage after 7 km there is a hyper fast blast on a wide tarmac road but it only lasts for one kilometre. The following gravel road is angularly fast and slightly wider than the beginning. At 11 km the stage passes a village with a bit of paved road. After that the gravel road is again narrower and softer than before, as well as more technically twisty.
SS14+16 Sassari – Argentiera acts as the power stage like the four previous years. The stage starts amid fields and approaches the sea. The road is mostly just one car wide. The surface alters constantly but the beginning is more firm and the ending more soft. Similarly, the pace alters constantly from moderately fast to moderately slow. There’s a couple of tight bends and some steep downhills but nothing particularly technical. Once the stage comes near to the end there’s some rallycross like bends and then a fast blast on a slightly wider and firm road to the finish line.
Road conditions and starting order
Sardegna has one of the worst sweeping effects of the whole season. If it’s dry, the later runners will have a considerable advantage. We have seen this in the past with even surprising names scoring stage wins. However, hanging dust can be a problem on the morning stages.
If it rains, things turn around. The first runners could now have a benefit as the road becomes more muddy with each car. Fog could also throw some surprises like in 2018. Conditions like this could be more likely now that the rally is run in October as opposed to June!
As the championship stands, Rally Turkey winner Elfyn Evans will have the task of going through as the first car, followed by his teammate Sebastien Ogier. Thierry Neuville, who won this event in 2018 and 2016, starts fifth. Meanwhile, his teammate Dani Sordo will be even further back behind all the three M-Sport cars, so we could expect a strong performance from last year’s winner.