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Mediterranean Call For World Rally Championship

Contributor:
Fuseworks Media
Fuseworks Media

13 May 2008 - The sixth round of the 2008 FIA World Rally Championship heads to the Mediterranean this weekend for Rally d'Italia Sardegna (15 - 18 May). Set in the northern corner of the island of Sardinia, its narrow roads will test the world's elite rally teams as they face 17 gravel stages spread over three days. From the township of Olbia, the event uses identical loops of stages through rock-littered countryside on hard-packed roads with a light sand covering. The first of three WRC events in five weeks through the Mediterranean, the Italian round will feature only one native in the championship lineup: Gigi Galli, driving for Stobart VK M-Sport Ford Rally Team. With 25 nationalities contesting this years event, the seven manufacturer teams are led by BP-Ford Abu Dhabi driver Mikko Hirvonen (Finland). Currently heading the WRC leader-board by five points after the first five rounds, 27-year old Hirvonen says starting first is not the ideal place from which to maintain a championship lead. "That's never the best place on a dry gravel rally because the first car cleans the loose stones and those behind have a better driving line. But it's not usually a big disadvantage in Sardinia and I'm not going to worry about that. My focus is finding the right speed on Friday morning because I can't afford to let any driver break clear," says Hirvonen. Four successive podiums this season has elevated Australian Chris Atkinson (Subaru) to his career-best standing of third, seven points behind Hirvonen, with former world rally championship Sbastien Loeb (Citroen) in second. "It's important to drive smoothly and without mistakes in Sardinia," believes Atkinson. "The roads are very technical and narrow but it's a rally I enjoy." Following Thursday evening's ceremonial start from the exclusive resort of Porto Cervo, a twice-used loop of three stages south of Olbia introduces a number of new tests to the drivers. Saturday's six stages are similar to last year, with Sunday's five tests concluding with a short sprint past the five-star hotel resort 'Cala di Volpe' used by the makers of the James Bond film 'The spy who loved me'. While the weather is expected to remain dry, it can often change as storms pass through. The narrow island roads are lined with car-breaking rocks. Punctures will undoubtedly be a reality for a number of competitors. As part of the sport's new regulations, all teams have just one tyre pattern from Pirelli. The Scorpion gravel tyre will be available in hard compound only - the same as the WRC teams will run in New Zealand in August this year. Because anti-deflation mousse is also outlawed this year, the Scorpion includes reinforced sidewalls to offer increased protection against punctures, but which also significantly increases the weight of each tyre and wheel - adding another factor given each car can carry two spares. Rally d'Italia Sardegna also counts as the third round of the Junior-World Rally Championship with a sizeable quantity of 17 teams entered for the weekend, led by Frenchman Sbastien Ogier.

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