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WRC Rally Italy

WRC drivers set for Safari Rally-like conditions in Sardinia

World Rally Championship drivers believe this weekend’s Rally Sardinia is more extreme than previous editions, with some sections harder than those at the gruelling Safari Rally Kenya.

Ott Tänak, Martin Järveoja, M-Sport Ford World Rally Team Ford Puma Rally1

Sardinia is renowned for producing rough gravel stages but a revised route for this weekend's 20th-anniversary event is set to deliver perhaps the toughest conditions of the season.

Four-time Sardinia winner Sebastien Ogier, returning to the championship this weekend after sitting out Portugal, is expecting a gruelling rally after likening the stages to those seen in Kenya, which has earned a reputation as one of the toughest events in global motorsport.

"I thought Safari Rally Kenya was in three weeks' time but we have a taste of it already because some sections are very rough," Ogier told Motorsport.com.

"Honestly some sections do feel like Kenya, there are lots of stones and basically there are some sections that are harder than a lot of sections we go through in Kenya."

The rough stages will require plenty of focus on car management to reach the finish according to reigning world champion and Ogier's Toyota team-mate Kalle Rovanpera.

"Some of the new parts they have used to connect the stages like the long one and the new stage on Friday morning are really rough now, so I cannot imagine what it will be like on the second pass. It will be tough to keep the car and the tyres in one piece," Rovanpera told Motorsport.com.

"We will be managing the car on some parts."

Toyota struggled for outright pace on rough gravel rallies last year and particularly in Sardinia, with Rovanpera's fifth being its best result at the event 12 months ago.

Elfyn Evans is however confident the Japanese marque has made improvements to the GR Yaris that will bring the team closer to the pack this year, but the Welshman is wary that simply finishing the event is a result.

"I don't think the car is an issue now let's say I think the performance has been proved to be there in most of these types of rallies more recently," said Evans.

Thierry Neuville, Martijn Wydaeghe, Hyundai World Rally Team Hyundai i20 N Rally1

Thierry Neuville, Martijn Wydaeghe, Hyundai World Rally Team Hyundai i20 N Rally1

Photo by: Austral / Hyundai Motorsport

"But of course the event is a massive challenge I think it is probably the roughest or more difficult Sardinia that we have seen in quite a few years in terms of some of the roughness in places

"It's a pretty extreme rally so finishing is something here and with a thin field like we have, there is always decent points if we can get to the end."

Friday's schedule is tipped to be particularly gruelling, opening with the new Tantariles test, which is followed by an extended 49.9km pass through Monte Lerno.

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In addition to the rough roads, crews are expected to face changeable weather which will add to the challenge.

When asked about the challenges of the Monte Lerno test, Evans added: "It is a long way and I really think you need to have a good rhythm. If you have a problem there then definitely the weekend is over. It is going to be a challenge.

"I think we have been lucky with the weather because this time last year we were all panicking about cockpit temperatures and now we have a 50-kilometre stage. Luckily it is not so hot."

Rally Sardinia begins with a super special stage in host city Olbia this evening. Hyundai's Esapekka Lappi topped the times in today's shakedown with a 0.6s margin over team-mate Thierry Neuville, with Ogier third fastest ahead of M-Sport's Pierre-Louis Loubet.

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