By Paul Evans
Rally Italy starts tonight, and Elfyn Evans is hoping that the rugged and sun-baked stages on the picture postcard Mediterranean island of Sardinia will be kind to him as he attempts to close the gap on the top three in the FIA World Rally Championship.
The Dolgellau ace touched down in Sardinia lying fourth in the points table, although the three drivers ahead of him have already amassed twice as many points. But the fast and narrow rock-lined loose surface tracks leave absolutely no margin for error, and running first on the road is a considerable disadvantage – while starting fourth on the road, which is what Evans will do, is much better. If there is to be a dramatic turn in fortune, one that will see the Welshman challenge for the world title this year, it has to start in Sardinia this weekend.
And Evans has fond memories of the island, as it is here where he made his world rally car debut in 2013. In five previous starts, fourth in 2015 is his best result.
Rally Italy will be a punishing test of man and machine, as not only is the surface a potential car wrecker it’s one of the hottest rounds of the WRC. As outside temperatures are set to hit 40°C, it will be nothing less than oven-like inside an M-Sport Ford Fiesta WRC, where Evans and co-driver Scott Martin will have to be at their magical best to beat the likes of title favourites Sébastien Ogier / Julien Ingrassia (Citroen C3 WRC), Ott Tänak / Martin Järveoja (Toyota Yaris WRC) and Thierry Neuville / Nicolas Gilsoul (Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC).
“I think every driver remembers the first time they got behind the wheel of a world rally car, and for that reason Sardinia will always be a really special place for me,” says Evans. “It’s not an easy rally, but once you’ve been there a few times you really learn to enjoy the challenging nature of the stages.
“We haven’t done a pre-event test for this event, but I did join the guys at Red Bull UK for ‘Red Bull Cut It’ – which is basically a lawnmower race! I’m not sure how much it will help me out on the stages this week, but it was a lot of fun and a good chance to catch up with all of the other Red Bull UK Athletes.
“Looking ahead to Sardinia, our aim has to be the podium. It won’t be easy as the competition is extremely strong at the moment, but if we can deliver a clever rally I see no reason why we can’t be up there challenging for the top results.”
This year’s Rally Italy starts tonight (Thursday 13 June) with a super special stage at the former Ittiri motocross track, near host coastal town of Alghero. Friday’s leg features four stages to the northeast, which are tackled twice to give a total distance of almost 78 miles. Saturday (15 June) is the longest day of the event, with nearly 90 miles of competition over a tightly clustered group of three stages, which are driven morning and afternoon, in the Monte Acuto region. One of the main features of the day is the famous Micky’s Jump, situated in the Monte Lerno stage, where the cars hang in the sky as the road drops away beneath them. The final day on Sunday (16 June) features two repeated stages covering 26.06 miles on the coast north of Alghero. It ends with the Sassari – Argentiera Wolf Power Stage, which contains a stunning final section alongside the sea. The podium ceremony starts at 15.00, after all 19 stages and 192.94 stage miles have been completed.