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Rally Italy WRC (P) & (J) - 22-25 May 09

Posted: May 24, 2009 9:48 PM - 6118 Hits

Round 6 - 2009 FIA World Rally Championship

Victory for Latvala as Ford takes one-two finish in Sardinia

Posted: May 24, 2009 9:54 PM

BP Ford Abu Dhabi World Rally Team claimed a dominant one-two finish on Rally d'Italia Sardegna today with the Focus RS World Rally Car. Jari-Matti Latvala and Miikka Anttila led from start to finish to claim their second career win in the FIA World Rally Championship. The Finns reached the podium in the resort of Porto Cervo with a 29.4sec advantage over team-mates Mikko Hirvonen and Jarmo Lehtinen after three days of tough competition on the Mediterranean island.

Latvala's victory was his first since his maiden WRC success in Sweden in February 2008 and it was BP Ford Abu Dhabi's first one-two result since Rally Japan in November 2008. Ford, second in the manufacturers' championship, closed the gap on the leader after six of the 12 rounds with a maximum points haul. Hirvonen climbs to second in the drivers' standings with Latvala moving up to sixth.

Competitors tackled 17 speed tests covering 347.12km over narrow, flowing and rough gravel tracks near Olbia during three days of competition. Allied with searing temperatures, which topped 35ºC yesterday afternoon, the conditions placed big demands on cars, crews and Pirelli's Scorpion tyres. However, neither Focus RS WRC missed a beat in the Sardinian hills.

Latvala's win came the hard way. After leading throughout the opening leg, the 24-year-old had the disadvantage of opening the special stages for the final two days, sweeping them clear of gravel to leave a cleaner and faster line for those behind. He started today with a 9.9sec lead and feared he would be unable to hold off his team-mate. However, the still early morning allowed huge clouds of dust to hang in the air, slowing all those behind Latvala and he extended his lead.

"Last season I finished third here and I said to myself that I wanted to come back and win this year," said Latvala. "It wasn't an easy weekend being first through the stages and I'm surprised, but delighted, to win because I thought Mikko would catch me this morning.

"The dust was a surprise and I was lucky with that. This is a very important win for me. I've had many unhappy moments since my first win, but now I'm back on the top step of the podium. I was starting to question my role in the team but I've proved the team's confidence in me was right and I thank Malcolm Wilson (team director) for that. You saw a new evolution of Jari-Matti here," he added.

Hirvonen and Lehtinen both struggled with a fever during the rally and 28-year-old Hirvonen was exhausted at the finish. "I have no energy and I've never felt so tired after a rally," he said. "This result, and the timing of it, is perfect for Ford. I thought I could fight for the win but the dust ended those hopes. Everyone behind Jari-Matti expected to have an advantage because he was sweeping the road but, ironically, he was the one who benefited because of the dust. I went off the road on a fifth gear corner in the first stage this morning because I couldn't see so I stopped taking risks.

"Jari-Matti deserves the win after his problems this season and I'm delighted for him. We had a great pre-rally test and the work we did there paid off on the event itself," he added.

Abu Dhabi's Khalid Al Qassimi and Michael Orr finished 15th in another Focus RS WRC. After climbing to seventh, despite power steering difficulties, they retired late last night after problems in the final service. They restarted today under SupeRally rules and climbed to 10th until brake problems on the final test cost more than four minutes. "It was a difficult three days. We had a lot of bad luck with brakes and power steering, and then the problems last night in service. It's a shame because we were going well yesterday and I felt we could have easily been in the points," said Al Qassimi.

Malcolm Wilson was full of praise for his drivers. "They coped with whatever was thrown at them. It's a dream to see Jari-Matti win after a difficult year and I'm delighted to see him full of confidence. Mikko did an outstanding job and if the conditions were different this morning, there could have been a different winner. It was a great team effort and my thanks go to everyone involved," he said.

Ford of Europe motorsport director Mark Deans said: "I'm thrilled we're back to the level where we can not only compete with, but beat, our rivals. We have a huge mountain to climb in championship terms but we're back on top and it's a large step in the right direction. We'll go to the next round in Greece, for another hot weather, rough road rally, full of confidence after a weekend in which we were in control from start to finish."

News from other Ford teams
Stobart drivers Matthew Wilson and Scott Martin claimed sixth in a Focus RS, recovering well after losing time on the opening day when the hydraulic pipe split. Team-mates Henning Solberg and Cato Menkerud took the final drivers' point in eighth. They started under SupeRally rules today after retiring on yesterday's penultimate test when they hit a tree and broke their car's front right suspension.

Next round
The championship enters its second half next month when the action switches to Greece. The new base of Loutraki hosts the gravel Acropolis Rally of Greece on 11 - 14 June.

P-WRC Report & Analysis

Posted: May 24, 2009 9:48 PM

J-WRC Report & Analysis

Posted: May 24, 2009 9:43 PM

Anglade snatches FSTi championship lead from Breen in Sardinia

Posted: May 24, 2009 9:31 PM

Germany’s Patrick Anglade (21) and co-driver Björn Röhm (29) took an impressive victory in the second round of the 2009 Fiesta SportTrophy International (FSTi) in just his second rally on gravel, beating his nearest rival by just over a minute and finishing 35th in the overall standings. With first-round winner Craig Breen absent from this round of the competition, the young German takes over at the top of the FSTi standings.  

Second place went to Team Abu Dhabi driver Bader Al Jabri (24) and co-driver Stephen McAuley, picking up two stage wins along the way. They finished ahead of team mate Majed Al Shamsi (28) and co-driver Allan Harryman who took an impressive four stage wins over the weekend. Despite being plagued by mechanical problems, Russia’s Denis Grodetskiy dominated the final day’s action to earn his first points of this season’s FSTi series. But Ahmed Al Mansoori (22) was forced to withdraw on Day 2 after hitting a tree.  

After the ceremonial start at the town hall in Olbia on Thursday the real action got underway on Friday morning 70km to the south-west of Service Park in Olbia as the crews tackled two passes of a three-stage loop covering 130km.  The rough, rocky stages and soaring temperatures were a sign of things to come for the FSTi crews as they faced one of the most testing rallies on the WRC calendar so far this season.  

Grodetskiy and co-driver Safoniy Lotko had the perfect start to his rally as he posted a fast time in the rough, dusty conditions winning SS1 Sa Conchedda ahead of Anglade and Al Jabri. Al Jabri got the better of Anglade on SS2 as the German maintained a steady pace in the dusty conditions with Al Shamsi taking third position in the stage. SS3 saw Al Jabri take his second stage win of the morning again ahead of Anglade with Al Shamsi a further 12 seconds back.  

On the afternoon pass Al Shamsi edged out Al Jabri by three second to take his first stage victory on SS4 with Anglade remaining consistent in third place. The German was caught up in confusion at the start of the stage as marshals queried the three-minute gap that he was expecting between his Ford Fiesta ST and the car ahead of him, whose dust Anglade had been catching.  The young German lost out and an additional minute was added to his stage time.  He put that confusion behind to take his first stage win of the weekend on SS5 ahead of the Team Abu Dhabi drivers and, with the final stage of the day cancelled, Al Jabri took a 37.6 second lead over the German into Day 2.  

Team Abu Dhabi’s Ahmed Al Mansoori with Killian Duffy (26) reading the notes led the way on Saturday morning, overcoming the rutted conditions on the Sa Linea stage to take a comfortable win over Anglade and Grodetskiy. But the Russian was again forced to retire at the end of the stage as his engine overheated. Al Shamsi took victory on SS8 ahead of Anglade who moved into the overall lead as Al Jabri finished in third place. SS8 was to witness the end of Al Mansoori’s rally following a collision with a tree.  Anglade consolidated his lead with another stage victory on SS9 ahead of the Team Abu Dhabi drivers.  

The young German further stretched his lead in the championship with victory on the rough and rutted second pass of Sa Linea. But it was Al Shamsi who came to the fore on the tricky forest stage Fiorentini beating team mate Al Jabri and third-placed Anglade by around one minute.  But Anglade returned to winning ways on Monte Lerno, the final stage of Day 2 despite sustaining some minor damage to his exhaust on the rocky roads, to go into the final day with a 29.5 second lead over Al Jabri.  

Grodetskiy returned to the action again on the final day under SupeRally conditions and again posted a stage victory on the opening stage of the day beating Anglade by 20 seconds with Al Shamsi in third. Visibility was a major problem for all crews as dust clouds hung in the damp air and, with the leading crews exercising caution in the tricky conditions, Grodetskiy took another stage victory ahead of Anglade and Al Shamsi on SS14.  

Revelling in his new-found reliability, Grodetskiy won SS15 and SS16 ahead of the Team Abu Dhabi drivers as Anglade took the cautious approach to maintain his lead. Al Shamsi ended the rally on a high taking victory on the final stage.  

Rally d’Italia Sardegna also saw the much-anticipated debut of M-Sport’s Fiesta R2. After it’s unveiling ahead of the rally on Wednesday night, FST International Shootout winner Matthias Boon (BEL) and Italian co-driver Massimiliano Bosi successfully completed the rally as the 00A car.  

FSTi Round 2: Driver by driver  
Patrick Anglade (GER) – the young German had a largely trouble-free day on Friday despite the dusty conditions and the confusion with the marshals which led to him losing a minute on the opening stage of the afternoon loop. Some solid performances on Day 2 saw him build up a lead over his competitors although he sustained some minor damage to his exhaust in the rough conditions. He held his nerve well on the rocky tracks of the final day’s stages to avoid any problems and earn a well-deserved victory.  Four stage wins.  

Bader Al Jabri (UAE) – the Team Abu Dhabi driver coped well with the soaring temperatures on the first day and posted some excellent times to hold the FSTi lead at the end of day one. In the rough, rutted conditions on Saturday he chose to take a cautious approach, staying out of trouble. A similar approach on Sunday earned him an excellent second place.  Two stage wins.  

Majed Al Shamsi (UAE) – the second of the Team Abu Dhabi drivers put the disappointment of his non-finish in Portugal behind him as he earned a podium spot and picked up four stage wins over the weekend. He also coped well with the heat and took a sensible approach to the challenging conditions avoiding any mechanical problems over the weekend. He was handed a ten-second jump-start penalty on SS16.  

Denis Grodetskiy (RUS) – after a spectacular start to the event where he earned his first FSTi point, a broken radiator ended his first-day challenge. After restarting the rally again on Saturday, the Russian’s Fiesta overheated at the end of SS7 due to a technical problem that had not been rectified in the previous service and he was again forced to pull out. Day 3 saw him take four stage victories, but there was confusion on the final stage as the marshals disagreed about his start time, earning him a 20 second penalty for arriving two minutes’ late to the start.  He also got caught in to the wake of a slow moving car on the final stage of the day and the dust created prevented him from completing a clean sweep of stage victories on Sunday.  

Ahmed Al Mansoori (UAE) – following his excellent podium finish in Portugal, the young Team Abu Dhabi driver struggled in the challenging Sardinian conditions. He struggled to breath in the extreme heat of Friday morning and suffered a puncture 6km from the end of SS1. His engine overheated during SS2, forcing his withdrawal from Day 1. On Day 2, he took an early stage victory but then crashed into a tree on SS8 sustaining too much damage to the car to continue in the rally.  

FSTi winner Patrick Anglade (21) from Germany said:
“It feels great to have won. It’s very nice to finish without any problems. It is very rough out there and it’s not easy in a small two-wheel-drive car. Friday was my favourite day and it was really good fun, but Saturday was very rough and difficult. We expected Sunday not to be rough, but it turned out to be very rough. The last two stages especially were terrible - I was under so much pressure not to make any mistakes!  Every time I heard the car make a noise I wondered if it was something that would end my rally. I am very happy to be leading FSTi and I’m really looking forward to Poland now.”

Citroen WRC Press Release

Posted: May 24, 2009 9:26 PM


Posted: May 24, 2009 9:22 PM

1. J-M Latvala/M Anttila Ford Focus WRC 4hr 00min 55.7sec
2. M Hirvonen/J Lehtinen Ford Focus WRC 4hr 01min 25.1sec
3. P Solberg/P Mills Citroen Xsara WRC 4hr 02min 53.3sec
4. S Loeb/D Elena Citroen C4 WRC 4hr 04min 39.4sec
5. E Novikov/D Moscatt Citroen C4 WRC 4hr 06min 07.5sec
6. M Wilson/S Martin Ford Focus WRC 4hr 08min 25.0sec
7. M Østberg/V Engan Subaru Impreza WRC 4hr 14min 16.3sec
8. H Solberg/C Menkerud Ford Focus WRC 4hr 14min 16.9sec
9. N Al-Attiyah/G Bernacchini Subaru Impreza N14 4hr 20min 39.4sec
10 P Sandell/E Axelsson Skoda Fabia S2000 4hr 20min 40.9sec

Full Results:

Neiksans to restart his P-WRC program in Italy

Posted: May 21, 2009 10:51 AM

The Latvian LMT Rally Team crew of Andis Neiksans and Peteris Dzirkals, tied seventh in the overall 2009 FIA Production car World Rally Championship standings, will start this weekend’s Rally d’Italia Sardegna with one objective – to put the disappointment of Vodafone Rally de Portugal behind them and to score more points and hence advance in the overall rankings.

“We started the season really well – two fifth positions in Norway and Cyprus put us joint third in the P-WRC standings. Unfortunately, this was followed by engine trouble and a retirement in Portugal. We didn’t do Argentina and now we are seventh in the P-WRC. That’s not too bad but we will have to fight hard just to keep that position and extremely hard if we want to improve on it!” says Neiksans, who is the highest-placed P-WRC rookie this season so far.

The AMP Motorsport team had a huge amount of work to do in the six weeks between Portugal and Sardinia. The most important issue was the engine and to ensure everything was in order, the team visited Finland for two days of testing.

“The testing went quite well. We now have completely different engine maps to the ones we used in Norway, Cyprus and Portugal – they are safer but more efficient. We may have lost a little in terms of maximum torque and power but the torque curve is much wider and flatter and the car is easier to drive. We also changed some differential settings – that should also improve our performance in Italy,” concludes Neiksans.

The elder brother of Andis – Maris Neiksans – competed in last weekend’s BTA Rally Talsi, a round of the Latvian Rally Championship in Andis’ car and was positive about the changes made to the engine and differential settings. He finished fourth in Group N, losing out on a podium place to Finland’s Juha Salo by 20 seconds and ahead of Britain’s Guy Wilks.

Andis Neiksans was also present in Talsi but only for the recce. “We have very positive feedback on the car from my brother. That’s encouraging. With 15 P-WRC runners in Italy it is not going to be easy to earn points but that’s our aim. Before the season we said that we want to finish as many rallies as possible and to earn P-WRC points in every rally we finish. Nothing has changed,” said the 24 year-old Latvian.

This year, Andis Neiksans and Peteris Dzirkals are running a full P-WRC campaign. They are competing in Norway, Cyprus, Portugal, Italy, Greece and Great Britain.

FSTi faces tough Sardinian challenge

Posted: May 17, 2009 2:23 PM

The second round of the 2009 Fiesta SportTrophy International moves to the Mediterranean next week as the series returns to Rally d’Italia Sardegna for the fourth consecutive year. With first-round victor Craig Breen concentrating on his British Rally Championship campaign, there will be a new face on the winner’s rostrum this time as Germany’s Patrick Anglade and Denis Grodetskiy from Russia take on Team Abu Dhabi drivers Ahmed Al Mansoori, Majed Al Shamsi and Bader Al Jabri.  

Round 1 winner Breen set a blistering pace in Portugal finishing 25th in the overall classification and equalling Barry Clark’s record-breaking finish. Anglade also put in a strong performance in the opening round of the competition and will be gunning for victory this time around.  

The Fiesta SportTrophy International, supported by Pirelli, gives the competitors a chance to experience rallying at international level, pitting themselves against the best drivers in the world. The championship winner will receive an all-expenses-paid test in the latest specification Ford Focus RS WRC with Ford factory driver Mikko Hirvonen and the chance to discuss the test over dinner with the flying Finn and M-Sport Managing Director Malcolm Wilson.  A prize fund has also been introduced and the winner of each rally will receive a €1,500 M-Sport voucher.  

The FSTi competitors will be among the 60 entrants in the rally who will take on the picturesque stages to the south-west of the Service Park at Olbia. The tree-lined stages are often strewn with large rocks causing hazards to be avoided for the crews.  Day 2 includes two new stages (as well as the longest of the rally), Monte Lerno, which features one of the most famous jumps on the WRC calendar. On the final day, the crews will head north towards the Costa Smeralda before mounting the finish ramp in the millionaire’s playground of Porto Cervo.          

                                                                  German Patrick Anglade (21), competing with co-driver Björn Röhm (29), is on a steep learning curve after completing his first ever gravel rally at the Vodafone Rally de Portugal last month.  It was also his first WRC event outside his home country, so he will be putting the experience gained in Portugal to good use on the fast, sandy stages in Sardinia.  

Denis Grodetskiy and co-driver Safoniy Lotko had their challenge in Portugal ended by an oil leak on the final day of the rally.  The Russian, as the most experienced FSTi campaigner, will be looking to put that disappointment behind him as he returns to Sardinia for a second time by putting his extra experience to good use and claiming his first points of the season.  

Ahmed Al Mansoori (22) was the best placed of the Abu Dhabi finishers in Portugal earning a stage victory on his way to third place.  He will again be teaming up with Irish co-driver Killian Duffy (26) as he looks to score more good points for Team Abu Dhabi.  

Abu Dhabi team mates Bader Al Jabri (24) and Majed Al Shamsi (28) both crashed out midway through the Vodafone Rally de Portugal, rolling their Ford Fiesta STs on a tricky section of road. Both drivers are relatively new to the sport and are gaining valuable experience all the time with the help from their respective co-drivers Allan Harryman and Steve McAuley.  

Rally d’Italia Sardegna will also be host to the much anticipated launch of the Fiesta R2.  The car will be launched at an exclusive media event before the rally and will then run on the

stages as the 000 car before the WRC cars, driven by 2008 FST International Shootout winner Belgian Matthias Boon (19) and navigated by J-WRC regular Italian Massimiliano Bosi.  

Patrick Anglade (21) from Germany said:
“Coming second in Portugal was the ideal start of the season and, naturally, we would like to get another good placement in Sardinia. I enjoy racing and the break between the Rally de Portugal and the Rally d'Italia is quite long – I really miss it and I’m hungry for more!  Physical fitness is my only way of preparation, since commitments besides the FSTi and the tests would blow our budget. 
Furthermore, there are several weeks left until the next FSTi round in Poland, so I need to enjoy and make use of every single rally kilometre. It is great that I do not have to take charge of the organization of the event since we are perfectly supported and cared for by the FSTi package. So I get to have a level head and can fully concentrate on the stages.”  

FSTi Driver Goals (Rally d’Italia Sardegna)  

Patrick Anglade (GER) – following a promising first round performance on his first ever gravel rally in Portugal, the young German is aiming to increase his gravel experience and will be going all out for victory in Sardinia.  

Denis Grodetskiy (RUS) – after the disappointment of failing to finish in Portugal, Grodetskiy will be keen to make his mark on this year’s driver standings by challenging for the win and gathering points by winning stages.  

Ahmed Al Mansoori (UAE) – with a stage victory in Portugal already under his belt, Al Mansoori is determined to pick up more points in Sardinia.  

Bader Al Jabri (UAE) – his rally might have ended early in Portugal, but the Team Abu Dhabi driver showed good pace and will be aiming for a place on the podium.  

Majed Al Shamsi (UAE) – another driver with the pace to challenge for a podium position. Al Shamsi will be hoping to add to the Team Abu Dhabi presence in the points in Sardinia.

Stobart strive for Sardinian success story

Posted: May 15, 2009 11:06 AM

Stobart VK M-Sport Ford drivers Matthew Wilson and Henning Solberg are aiming for another points haul as they prepare for round six of the FIA World Rally Championship, Rally d’Italia Sardegna.  Solberg and Wilson are returning to Europe full of confidence after scoring the best result of the season for the team with third and fifth place at Rally Argentina and hope to consolidate the squad’s excellent position in the manufacturer standings.  

After the high-altitude challenge of Rally Argentina the teams return to sea level for Rally d’Italia Sardegna, based in the port of Olbia on the north-east coast of the Mediterranean island.  The 60 entrants will face 347.12kms of tricky, gravel stages in the hills around the stunning Costa Smeralda region including two new challenging stages introduced by organisers this year.  

Solberg snatched his first podium of the season in Argentina and with a strong record in Sardinia, including fourth place in 2007, will be looking to stretch his lead over his brother Petter in the drivers’ standings with another noteworthy result.  He, and co-driver Cato Menkerud, have worked hard on achieving a comfortable base setting with their Focus RS on gravel and the recent improvements have helped the Norwegian’s confidence on this surface.  

It will be Wilson’s fourth visit to Sardinia, the home of Rally d’Italia since 2004, and with the experience from his previous rallies there to build upon, he is aiming to maintain his momentum from the last event.  The fast-progressing Briton, partnered by Scott Martin, has finished in the points in all but one round of the championship so far this season and 2009 has really seen a new level of confidence and pace from the Cumbrian.  

Solberg and Wilson’s Ford Focus RS WRC cars will be shod with the hard version of the reliable Pirelli Scorpion gravel tyre that stood up so well to the rough conditions in Argentina last month.  

This year’s ceremonial start has a new home at the town hall in Olbia where the drivers will be introduced to the fans.  A big turn-out is again expected as thousands of enthusiastic supporters from all over Europe flock to this fan-friendly rally.  

Day one takes the drivers into the hills to the south west of the city where they will face 130.20kms of fine, sandy gravel stages and narrow tree-lined roads.  While the stages, which all featured in last year’s edition will be familiar, the drivers will have to balance speed with the need to avoid the large rocks which litter the roads and pose major problems to the competitors.  Tactical driving could come into play as the early starters have to clear the loose surface from the top of the dusty stages.  

Two new stages, Sa Linea which follows a disused railway line and Fiorentini through forest roads in the island, have been introduced to the itinerary for day two.  These form a three-stage loop with the 29.15km Monte Lerno, the longest stage of the rally, which the crews will pass through twice providing the fans with a breathtaking spectacle as the drivers take on one of the most famous jumps on the rally calendar.  

The landscape changes again on the final day as the stages move north towards the Costa Smeralda, 1960’s playground of the Aga Khan, for five short stages with a finish ceremony again taking place in the ultra-exclusive tourist resort of Porto Cervo.  

Stobart VK M-Sport Ford team news since Rally Argentina Matthew Wilson and Scott Martin took part in the Fred Whitton Challenge, a 112-mile cycle race over all of the highest peaks in the Lake District region of their native Cumbria.  Competing alongside fitness trainer Barry Johnson the pair finished the course in just over nine hours.  On Monday, Wilson will be taking part in a short pre-rally test in Sardinia.  The lads will also be the focus of a TV crew from their local ITV Border region who are attending the rally to compile a series of short documentaries on the Stobart team.  

Meanwhile Henning Solberg has been helping to promote greener motoring in Norway.  He took part in a PR event, as a co-driver for the Prince of Norway, in a hydrogen-powered Ford Focus to help raise public awareness of environmentally friendly motoring options.  He and Cato Menkerud have been opening new stores for their main sponsors Expert and on Saturday, Solberg will be driving his 600bhp Ford Fiesta Rallycross car in a round of the Nordic Championship in Sweden.   

On Sunday the pair will be celebrating Norwegian Constitution Day, the most important public holiday in the country.  It’s a special day for families, with every school taking part in festivities, and it’s the first time in four years that rallying commitments have allowed the two competitors to attend.  

Stobart VK M-Sport Ford driver Henning Solberg said:
“Now that we have managed to open up a gap to Petter (Solberg) in the championship, it will be important to get more points here, so I’d like to think we could finish inside the top-five again.  The podium in Argentina was fantastic and it was exactly what we needed and at the right time.  It helped so much with our sponsors back home in Norway and they really appreciate the extra media coverage.  We have gone back to basics with the gravel set-up and not tried to over complicate things; it worked in Argentina and hopefully it will be the same next week.”  

Stobart VK M-Sport Ford driver Matthew Wilson said:
“I really like Sardinia and I’ve got a lot of experience there.  It is a tricky event and the pace notes have to be very accurate.  There will be lots of stones close to the road which you have to avoid and on the second part of the stages there are often a lot of ruts.  There are a couple of new stages this year so it will be interesting to see what those are like.  Things went well for us in Argentina and it would be really good to be able to keep that momentum going.”  

Stobart VK M-Sport team principal Malcolm Wilson said:
“After a great result for the team at Rally Argentina with Henning coming third and Matthew fifth we want to build on that in Sardinia.  Hopefully Henning will be in a position to challenge for a podium again after his excellent result in Argentina.  Matthew will also be aiming for another solid top-five finish to continue the great momentum that he has built so far this season.  It’s a difficult rally and it is imperative to be neat and tidy to avoid the rocks but both Matthew and Henning have been very reliable this season so the aim is for that to continue.”

Citroen Preview

Posted: May 15, 2009 10:08 AM

Hirvonen and Latvala look to shine on Sardinia's Emerald Coast

Posted: May 15, 2009 10:05 AM

Ford's FIA World Rally Championship drivers return to competition in Europe next week following last month's Argentine voyage as the 2009 season reaches its midpoint on the Italian holiday island of Sardinia. However, there will be little opportunity to enjoy the pleasures of the sparkling Emerald Coast as the high temperatures and tough gravel tracks of Rally d'Italia Sardegna (21 - 24 May) pose a tough challenge to the BP Ford Abu Dhabi World Rally Team line-up.

Both Mikko Hirvonen and Jarmo Lehtinen and team-mates Jari-Matti Latvala and Miikka Anttila have good reason to look forward to this sixth round of the 12-event series. Hirvonen has finished runner-up for the past three seasons, while Latvala claimed third last year and led a world rally for the first time there in 2007. The record-breaking Ford Focus RS World Rally car is no stranger to success there either, having won in 2007 in the hands of Marcus Grönholm.

The industrial town of Olbia, situated just below the shimmering Costa Smeralda in the north-east of the island, hosts the rally. But the bulk of the competition is held in the hills and forests to the south, where a sandy road surface masks a hard base beneath. As a result the roads can become rough during the second pass, demanding strength from the Focus RS WRC and durability from Pirelli's Scorpion tyres. The tracks are generally fast and flowing, but are frequently narrow, demanding precision in both the preparation of pace notes and driving lines.

"The roads are quite narrow sometimes and although their nature is good, I prefer tracks that have a little more width to them," said 28-year-old Hirvonen. "There are also many sections with rocks, bushes and trees located on the very edge of the road. Branches often overhang the road and in corners they can obscure the driver's view of the exit.

"If it's dry then start order will be important. The surface will be covered with slippery loose gravel and the early starters will clean that away to the benefit of those behind. I will be third to start on Friday which I think will be a very good position. I wouldn't like to be first in the order on Saturday. This could be a rally where it is best to attack from behind as the weekend goes on," he added.

After the previous round in Argentina last month, Hirvonen returned to the grass roots of motor sport to compete in an autocross event in Veteli, 200km north of his home town of Jyväskylä. He won the front-engined, rear-wheel drive class on the opening day in a self-prepared Ford Escort Mk1, which, according to the rules of the competition, was immediately made available for sale. The Escort attracted 105 bids!

This is Latvala's fifth start in Sardinia and the 24-year-old Finn was boosted by a solid performance in Rally Argentina. "As in Argentina, I will start with the aim of finishing third or fourth. I was happy with my driving there and hope to repeat that performance in Italy. Sardinia has been good to me and I enjoy driving there, so maybe my target will change as the rally progresses," he explained.

"Along with Rally Finland and Rally GB, this is one of my favourite rallies. It's similar to the last European rally we tackled in Portugal, with narrow and fast roads, but without the crests we experienced there. The roads are hard and compact, with a sandy surface on top. It's not so easy for the first cars because if it is dry, then the roads will clean a lot. Sandy roads normally cut up during the second pass but because the base is compact, they don't become so rough here. Every year the roads become better, so it's clear the organisers repair them well after each rally," he added.

Both drivers are taking part in a comprehensive test on the island which ends on Sunday. The test was launched by ex-Ford WRC driver Markko Märtin, who drove yesterday (Thursday) and part of today. "To ensure the team is extracting every possible gramme of efficiency from the Focus RS WRC, we invited Markko to work with Mikko and Jari-Matti on this test," said team director Malcolm Wilson. "We benefited from Markko's testing expertise when he drove for Ford and adding his skills to that of Mikko and Jari-Matti can only benefit our preparations for this event."

Abu Dhabi's Khalid Al Qassimi makes his second Sardinia start in another Focus RS WRC, partnered by the experienced Michael Orr. The pair finished 16th last year. "I have a gravel test as soon as I land next week. I need to get a feeling for the car and get to know it as my friend so I'll have half a day to prepare. I need to be ready for the roads there, which are challenging and great fun. I will need to be very precise as they are so narrow. It's been a great year for me so far. I've performed well on various terrains and conditions and I hope to continue that in Sardinia," said Al Qassimi.

Team News
* Tyre partner Pirelli will provide BP Ford Abu Dhabi with just the one regulation tyre pattern. The Scorpion gravel tyre will be available in hard compound only. Teams are not allowed to hand-carve additional cuts into the rubber and each car can carry two spare wheels.

* Three other Focus RS WRCs will start. Henning Solberg / Cato Menkerud and Matthew Wilson / Scott Martin are nominated by the Stobart VK M-Sport squad, while Federico Villagra / Jorge Perez Companc are nominated by the Munchi's Ford team. The rally also marks the second round of the Fiesta SportingTrophy International and five crews are entered.

* Hirvonen and Lehtinen will attend the Champions League soccer final between Manchester United and Barcelona in Rome on Wednesday 27 May as guests of Ford of Europe. Ford is a major partner of the Champions League. Sadly for the Finns, both are fans of beaten semi-finalists Liverpool.

Entry List

Posted: May 11, 2009 2:52 PM

Petter Solberg to have 2006 spec Xsara for Sardinia

Posted: May 11, 2009 2:46 PM

Petter Solberg will start Rally Sardinia with an updated version of his Xsara.


Event Website / Details

Posted: January 1, 2009 12:01 AM

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