Eighteen rising stars are contesting the new-for-2011 category in identical M-Sport-prepared Ford Fiesta R2s using Pirelli control tyres. However, only 10 finished the Portuguese qualifier, which was won by Estonian Egon Kaur ahead of Swede Victor Henriksson and Germany’s Christian Riedemann.
Among the drivers who faltered on the demanding stages of the Algarve were Irishman Craig Breen, who was leading in Portugal by almost one minute when he crashed into retirement, Canary Islander Yeray Lemes, Czech Jan Cerny, Spaniard Jose Suarez and Swede Calle Ward. All are capable of hitting back in Sardinia.
While all 18 drivers who competed in Portugal are back for the Italian round to continue their chase of the 500,000 Euros scholarship awarded to the eventual champion, there have been five co-driver changes in the intervening period.
Pirelli Star Driver Andrea Crugnola will link up with fellow Italian Michele Ferrara, Russian Sergey Karyakin will join forces with countryman Dmitry Balin, Bjorn Nilsson will co-drive Fredrik Ahlin, while Carlo Pisano will partner Matteo Brunello in place of Ferrara who transfers to Crugnola’s car.
Round one winner Egon Kaur also has a new navigator: Erik Lepikson will replace Mait Laidvee. Kaur and Lepikson won last year’s Estonian title together although Laidvee is likely to return for the third event in Finland in late July.
Hakan Jacobsson had partnered Pirelli Star Driver Ahlin in Portugal but Nilsson, a family friend, steps in for a one-off appearance with Ahlin planning to recruit a new navigator from Neste Oil Rally Finland onwards.
Despite all the changes to the crew line-ups 14 nationalities will again be represented in the WRC Academy, thereby underlining the appeal of the category to world championship hopefuls around the world.
With no WRC Academy event since March, drivers have kept busy contesting other events. Brendan Reeves and co-driving sister Rhianon Smyth won the showroom class on Targa Tasmania, Craig Breen has contested two rounds of the British Rally Championship, while Yeray Lemes took part on Rally Islas Canarias.
Alastair Fisher, who was leading in Portugal only to go off the road and roll on the penultimate stage, has been unable to tackle any rallies due to his university exams, which he’ll complete following his trip to Sardinia. However, the Northern Irishman has managed three short tests in a spare Fiesta.
Run over days one and two of Rally d’Italia Sardegna, the WRC Academy event will cover 14 stages over a competitive distance of 274.12 kilometres. The podium ceremony is due to begin at 1758hrs local time on Saturday May 7. In addition to the competition element, crews will attend a pre-rally lecture and a post-rally debrief.
With Rally d’Italia Sardegna renowned for its demanding rock-strewn gravel stages, drivers will be able to build their experience of preserving their tyres, particularly as they will be working with a restricted allocation of 18 Pirelli K4 Scorpion tyres for the entire event.