Rally Italia Sardinia is one of the roughest gravel events on the current calendar, characterized by its narrow gravel roads. This year the base of the rally has shifted back to Alghero from Olbia, but the latter city also features in the rally. All the stages are familiar from the past few years in some way apart from the new super special which was planned already for 2020. Saturday will be a gruelling endurance test with no midday service available.
The shakedown is back to Olmedo with a slightly new configuration. On this 2018 video we can see the middle part of the stage from 0:55 onwards. This year’s stage has a different beginning and will extend a bit longer after the 2018 finish.
In addition to the fast section with jumps, the beginning and the end are sinuously technical. The road is all the way narrow and quite soft. It’s a fairly decent representation of the route, maybe save for a tarmac section, which is quite common in this rally.
SSS1 Olbia – Cabu Abbas is a brand new opening super special, although it was planned for 2020. It’s situated in Olbia and combines paved streets and gravel roads on some sort of wasteland. To me it seems like an exceptionally nice super special. This street view shows where the stage will go onto gravel from tarmac.
The organizers in Sardegna adopted already last year a new structure for the rally where stages are run in quick repeats – one double-run stage pair for the morning loop and another one for afternoon. For spectators this is nice, because they can stay in their place and see the repeat of the stage without a long wait, but for competitors it must mean some trouble for not getting to change the setup for the second passes.
SS2+4 Terranova returned onto the route for 2021 and remains unchanged for this year. Most of this stage is angular, which means that you go flat out for 5-10 seconds, then brake for a tight corner and then go flat out again for 5-10 seconds. It’s not the most typical rhythm for this rally. However, the roads are typically narrow, medium wide at best. There’s also two very short tarmac sections, the first one at 2.3 km ending onto a jump (seen on the video below) and the second one at 7.4 km essentially just crossing the road with narrow gates on both sides. There’s a technical passage at 10.2 km and the last 2 km are very slow, narrow, bumpy and twisty, almost like in Safari Rally.
SS3+5 Monti di Alà e Buddusò is the longest stage of the rally at 24.7 km. The stage has been run often in the rally with constantly varying configuration. Compared to two last years, the driving direction is reversed.
The first 5.3 km are completely new for this year. First up is a some sort of spectator-friendly twisty section and then narrow wind farm service roads, also partly paved ones.
As the direction is reversed to last two years, the rest of the stage is actually similar to the 2019 version with two detour loops omitted. Upon joining the 2019 route, there’s a good view for spectators in the open hills of the wind farm. For the most part the road is actually quite wide for Sardinian standards, and mostly fast-flowing. There is one narrower technical section which eventually becomes paved, as well as some junction turns.
Halfway through the stage becomes narrower, rougher and more technical with fast passages mixed in. The very ending is actually borrowed from the beginning of 2018’s Monte Lerno, and the section after going around the small lake is the narrowest and roughest of the whole stage.
SS6+8 Osilo – Tergu is a reversed version of the past years’ Tergu – Osilo stage, as you could guess from the title. The stage was last used in 2020 but the start and finish are now closer to what they were in 2016 – except reversed, of course.
Most of this stage is relatively narrow but not the narrowest, except for several narrow bridges on the way. The rhythm of the stage alternates from the beginning to the end between straightforward and technical. There are lots of square bends and hairpins, but also lots of long straights or flat out passages. The start is on tarmac and there’s a tarmac road crossing in the middle.
This stage is remembered from Kris Meeke’s roll in 2017 or Thierry Neuville’s spin in 2019. Due to the hard road base, in 2020 the cleaning effect was so severe that many WRC2 cars were faster than Sebastien Ogier first on the road. Remember that the onboard is in the opposite direction.
SS7+9 Sedini – Castelsardo has many pace and surface changes. It’s unchanged from last year.
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.
However, a more drastic 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. This 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.
Similar quick-repeated pairs are also used on Saturday. However, all the 131 km of the whole day are run without a midday service, with only a remote tyre zone between the stage pairs.
SS10+12 Tempio Pausania is familiar from the last two years, a very slow, narrow and tricky stage, run again unchanged. Last year the average speeds were as low as 72 km/h. In 2020 Sebastien Ogier described the stage “difficult”, Elfyn Evans “challenging”, while Kalle Rovanperä said bluntly it’s “the trickiest stage” he has ever done. Meanwhile, Teemu Suninen was “sending it”, winning everyone else by 12.4 seconds!
SS11+13 Erula – Tula is also very technical, but offers some drastic rhythm changes. It is one of those stages that changes slightly every year. This year there’s a completely new section on the route, as well as something reversed from the past editions.
The beginning is narrow, technical and mountainous. At 3 km there’s a mostly straight tarmac section leading into the wind park, only punctuated by a few bends, a bumpy gravel section parallel to the tarmac road (seen on the video below) and a couple of chicane like additional junction turns.
The wind farm service roads can be a bit rough but not overly technical. This year the exit from the wind farm is Southwards instead of North-East. First up is a very small road section used in the opposite direction in 2020. Then it proceeds on a new section that seems quite sinuous, joining again the 2020 route and then proceeding onto the old beginning – last used in 2018 – in the opposite direction. At 13.3 km there’s a straighter concrete section, otherwise it’s all technical, narrow and downhill.
SS14+16 Coiluna – Loelle is familiar as the TV stage from year to year. The route has extended a bit for this year.
The beginning is fast-flowing with just a handful of tighter corners – but also a big jump – on the way. There’s also some very narrow and/or rough passages. This section has been cut shorter since 2019, so onboards from 2018 are showing it in its entirety. This is where Hayden Paddon damaged the rear suspension in 2017, setting the wheel subsequently on fire.
At 6.5 km there’s a turn on to smaller forest roads which are generally more technical and there’s many junction turns. These roads have been used in various configurations, for example the first 2.3 km of this loop was used in the opposite direction the last two years.
The stage returns onto the main road at 14.1 km and is fast for a while before taking another small road loop, which was introduced in 2019. This very narrow section is remembered for Kalle Rovanperä’s crash into the trees in 2020.
After that there’s the familiar wide section on a rallycross track including a big jump. Then the stage is again fast on the main road with one natural junction chicane and a 90° junction turn just before the finish line.
SS15+17 Monte Lerno di Pattada has also resorted back to its pre-2020 form and direction, just like Monti di Ala. Most of the stage is going Northwards, but the ending that goes first West and then South has not been driven since 2015.
The stage begins narrow, quite rough and technical. Very soon after the start there’s the infamous Micky’s jump, which has a bit of straight on both sides of it. At 2 km the stage becomes faster and angular, with long straights or flat out passages connecting the tight corners or technical passages. The road at 4.6 km is a bit wider and smoother as well as more fast-flowing – albeit still angular and technical at times.
The little shortcut at 9.2 km has never been driven before, just like the additional 2 km loop at 13.7 km. The parts shared from 2015 are similar to most of the stage – alternating from very narrow, rough and technical to medium wide, relatively smooth and fast. There’s even two hairpin turns at the end of the stage.
Sunday has resorted back to two familiar stages from the years 2016-2020, but now there are small changes.
SS18+20 Cala Flumini has changed for this year. In the past the stage was split by a tarmac main road section, but now the start is after that, and a new section leads the stage back to the old beginning, in reversed direction.
Cala Flumini is mostly angular with some more technical sinuous passages. There’s also many crests, with several making the cars jump. The roads are distinctively narrow, set almost all the time between barriers, bushes, buildings or fences. The beginning is a bit wider and faster with long straights and some jumps. There’s also a narrow tarmac part through a village at 2.7 km and another one on the new section at 6.3 km.
This stage is remembered for Hayden Paddon’s crash into a rock wall in 2017, or the edge-of-the-seat battle for the win between Ogier and Neuville the year later.
SS21+23 Sassari – Argentiera is back as the power stage. The start line on tarmac is from the opposite direction than usually, otherwise it’s unchanged.
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.
In 2020 Takamoto Katsuta showed how treacherous the banks on the sides of the roads can be, crashing out heavily.