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1 Jul 2016




Text and Photos: Reinis Babrovskis
Video: Ginta Babrovska

Sole, spiaggia e WRC…
Rally d’Italia returned to the beautiful island of Sardinia over June 10-12, where the young Belgium duo of Thierry Neuville and co-driver Nicolas Gilsoul were unstoppable over the weekend, claiming the top spot of the podium in their Hyundai Motorsport i20.

Welcome to the hottest and roughest rally of the season – Rally d’Italia Sardegna 2016, a.k.a. the Acropolis of Italy. With the picturesque landscape, hot weather and rough gravel roads this is the favourite event for many drivers as well as thousands of motorsport fans. 

The beautiful Mediterranean island of Sardinia lies south of mainland Italy; its coastline is surrounded by picturesque sandy beaches whilst mountains spread the inland, making Rally Sardinia a spectacular event with a huge variety of stages on offer.

2016 Rally Sardinia featured 19 stages covering 324,6 competitive kilometers; as always the longest of them all was the gigantic 44km Monte Lerno mountain pass. This years rally also featured two new stages: Sassari-Argentiera and Tula; furthermore, Citta’ di Cagliari super special was moved to the Ittiri Arena near Alghero.

As always road sweeping is a key factor in Rally Sardinia; the FIA WRC regulations dictate that the current leader of the championship has to be the first person on the road for the first days, unsurprisingly the Frenchman wasn't looking forward to the challenge. The hard layer of sand and rocks is very challenging and can do a lot of damage to the car. The top layer is swept away leaving it rougher and harder with rutted conditions for the second run through, additionally the car suspensions require changes. Furthermore the high temperatures also can affect the performance of the cars, so rally Sardinia is most certainly a tough endurance test for both the drivers and cars.

For the third consecutive year the Service park was hosted by the western port town of Alghero; unsurprisingly, yet again, it was one of the best ones in the championship. Located minutes from the beach and port, the service park offered plenty of entertainment, shops and action.

On a Wednesday afternoon the drivers provided a small press conference, autograph session and miniature football tournament before the Euros 2016.

Following the autograph session, it was time to visit the beach bar and enjoy some colourful Sardinian cocktails.

The shakedown stage from previous years was dropped in favour of the 3km Olmedo test. The shorter and faster stage featured hard gravel surface and 2 jumps on the long straight. Whilst the Estonian Ott Tanak was setting the fastest pace during his first two runs, Ogier was playing with the tire choices until he was happy with the hard tire compound and set the fastest time in his fourth and final run. He was closely followed by Mads Ostberg, pushing Tanak to third.

Following the shakedown, the drivers regrouped at the HQ and prepared themselves for the SS1 that took place in the nearby Ittiri Arena. Despite being a paid stage, all the tickets were sold out and the stage proved to be a huge success.

Ogier set the pace for SS1 with Tanak and Latvala sharing second and third with identical stage time at the finish line. With the sun well behind the mountains the then returned to the Service park to prepare for the big day ahead.

Leg 1

Friday featured eight tests totalling 102km of tight, rough and unforgiving roads of the Logudoro and Anglona regions, including the all-new Tula stage. Friday’s opening stage: the 7.50 km long Ardara-Ozieri test turned out to be challenging, causing a few early rally retirements. Whilst some drivers were lucky, like Ott Tanak whose M-Sport Fiesta got away unharmed following an early spin in the stage, the same couldn’t be said for others. First of the Mini driven by the Ukrainian driver Valeriy Gorban rolled a few kilometers from the start line; a rut caused the Mini to launch airborne, under-steer and roll.

Only to be followed by Yazeed Al-Rhaji in his Fiesta WRC few seconds later. Both crews were unharmed; however the day for both teams was over just 700 metres after the start. 

Road position and the ability to preserve tires was the key to success on Friday’s stages. The trio of Volkswagen Motorsport dominated the first stage of the morning with barely 3 seconds between the three drivers; however, it was the new 15km Tula stage that proved to be the first of the “tire-eating” stages from the morning loop with many drivers fighting for grip and decent times. It was Latvala, Ogier and Mikkelsen leading the rest before the midday service.

The tires of Hayden Paddon’s Hyundai i20 finally gave in on Stage 4 where the lack of grip caused the Kiwi man to spin and hit a wall as he was recovering. This resulted in a time loss of 45 seconds and destroyed further chances of a strong finish in the rally. From bad to worse: during the second run through the morning loop Hayden made a further mistake in a left hand corner, understeering and going off the road, damaging yet another €500,00 Hyundai i20. The day also finished quite bad for the duo of Della Casa and Pozzi, where after hittting a tree the crew were lucky to stop on the edge of a cliff; however the car was blocking the road and the stage was cancelled.

With the tires deteriorating it was the last of cars on the road to gain the most benefit, and so the young Belgium driver Thiery Neuville found himself leading the pack overnight with 11.1 second lead over the 3 VWs with Mads Ostberg finishing the day in 5th.

Leg 2

Saturday was the longest and toughest of the event featuring 3 stages ran twice totalling 177kms in the Monte Acuto mountain region. Saturday morning started with the 22.20 km long Monti Di Ala’ stage; the fastest time was set by Hyundai’s test driver Kevin Abring, whilst the second fastest (and briefly fastest) time for his surprise was posted by the event rookie Eric Camilli behind the wheel of the M-Sport Fiesta. The rally leader Thierry Neuville had a close call when the i20 entered the corner too fast and caused half a spin, but luckily he got away with it, reminding him Rally Sardinia takes no prisoners. Second of the morning stages – the 22.39km Coiluna-Loelle test featured the first of the iconic Sardinian jumps whereas the longest of the stages SS12 Monte Lerno featured the second iconic – Mickey’s Jump. At the end of the morning loop it was Thierry still in the lead, followed by Jari-Matti Latvala (+2.9 seconds) and Sebastien Ogier in third. 

Following the midday service the crews returned to tackle the stages yet again. The sharp rocks thrown out in the morning loop caused a puncture on Tanak’s Fiesta, causing a minute time loss. 

Latvala just couldn’t match the times of the Belgian who seemed to have got his confidence back raising his lead to 13.7 seconds. 3km into the Loelle stage Andreas Mikkelsen hit a rock hiding on the racing line breaking his track control arm and ending his fight with Mads Ostberg; however, it was Mads who hit a gate on SS15 also damaging his suspension and ending his day early. The day finished with Thierry extending the lead to 16.1 seconds over Jari who admitted he couldn’t have pushed any harder given the slippery conditions,  Ogier was still in third.

 Leg 3

The final leg consisted of 4 stages starting with the know Cala Flumini coastal run and finishing with the new Sassari-Argentiera stage that was the Power stage on the second time through. The Sassari-Argentiera Power Stage included a massive slippery downhill section leading onto a beach side gravel road where the finish was reached after a slippery righ hand corner.

It was Ogier in the end to claim the best time in the second run through snatching any extra points available, continuing his powerstage victory domination. The Frenchman was 0.6 seconds faster than Kevin Abring and 1.1 faster than Jari-Matti Latvala.

It couldn't be any more spectacular than finishing the rally at the end of the power stage with a podium right beside the beach. Following the podium, the crews made their way to Alghero for the official finish ramp the docks.

As for the privateers…

Following Martin Prokop’s FIA regulations breach (a broken gearbox seal) the FIA decided to issue the Czech privateer team “Jipocar Czech National Team” a hefty time penalty, stripping them of any chances of points in the rally. This decision really upset the long term WRC privateer, as the Hyundai WRC manufacturer’s team were found to have broken a similar FIA rule, and in comparison were issued a 50,000 euro fine in favour of a time penalty. 
*However, on 28th June FIA decided to reconsider their decision and give back the 5 minutes to the team, allowing Prokop to gain 9th place overall.

After the rally the disappointed Czech announced his decision to retire from the WRC; these are very sad news as Martin is a much loved character in the Championship and has been taking part in the WRC for many years with his multi-coloured livery Fiesta. 

Italian Lorenzo Bertelli stepped up to the big league in 2016 with his co-driver Carlo Cassina in the passenger seat of the “F.W.R.T.” Fiesta WRC privateer team; however, the season hasn’t really gone their way so far. The bad luck followed them on their home soil where 18km into the infamous Monte Lerno stage a late/misheard pace note caught out Lorenzo under braking, resulting in a roll of his chromed livery Ford Fiesta WRC. 

World Rally Championship has always been a tough sport for privateer teams- an enormous expense in return for minimal TV coverage; however, the latest decision by FIA to stop privateers getting behind the 2017 specification WRC rally cars means an end to “Jipocar Czech National Team” and “F.W.R.T.”, that is unless the drivers get taken under the wing of one of the four manufacturers in 2017. It is a bad decision if you ask me, and for a sport that is already struggling for budget, TV coverage and entries, a decision like this is not helping in any way. What is wrong with you FIA – do you want to kill off the world’s greatest motorsport?

Rally Sardinia also didn't prove to be the best for Henning Solber as sticking throttle and other issues didn't allow Henning to get the result he desired. 


The WRC 2 class was won by Teemu Suninen with a comfortable lead of 49.6 seconds over Jan Kopeck√Ĺ. The Czech driver was followed by Estonian Karl Kruuda. The faultless drive from the flying Finn could hopefully boost his chances of a drive for a manufacturer in 2017.



As always the WRC Sardinia has been an amazing rally with plenty of action, beautiful stages and picturesque landscape, gorgeous food and above all – the greatest and friendliest people in the world – the rally fans. Ciao Sardegna, ci vediamo l'anno prossimo!

Final Results:


 * overall times courtesy of www.wrc.com



  1. Wow, great work and very great shots. I lived again this spectacular WRC, congratulations!!

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