Yuriy Protasov will come under pressure to defend his WRC 2 lead at Rally Italia Sardegna this weekend after failing to score in the last two rounds.
The Ukrainian, who won in Monte-Carlo and Mexico, must make amends in Italy on the sixth of his seven nominated rounds if he is to keep his title hopes alive.
Protasov again lines up in a Fiesta RRC after starting the year in an R5 version but has switched to Pirelli rubber from Michelin. He heads a massive 26-car entry, including all three winners from the opening five rounds.
Just four points behind is the consistent Lorenzo Bertelli in another Fiesta RRC, but both are chased by Nasser Al-Attiyah who is emerging as title favourite after back-to-back wins in Portugal and Argentina on his only two outings. The tough conditions in Sardinia will favour the former Dakar Rally winner, also in a Fiesta RRC.
Rally Sweden winner Karl Kruuda is fourth, 23 points behind Protasov, and gives a category debut to Peugeot’s 208 T16.
Fifth-placed Jari Ketomaa is absent and that allows Peru’s Nicolas Fuchs the opportunity to climb the rankings. Fuchs finished second in Argentina and drives a Fiesta R5.
Estonia’s Ott Tänak desperately needs a strong result in his Drive DMACK Fiesta R5 after outings in Mexico and Argentina were blighted by heavy accidents. Also looking to put a disappointing start behind him is Quentin Gilbert in a similar car.
Look out also for 2013 championship runner-up Abdulaziz Al-Kuwari and Yazeed Al-Rajhi, who returns after missing Argentina through illness, while Portugal’s Bernardo Sousa makes his second appearance after a solid opening at his home round.
Last year’s WRC 3 winner, Sébastien Chardonnet, steps up to WRC 2 for the first time, the Frenchman debuting Citroen’s DS3 R5 car.
Max Rendina will aim to extend his 30-point advantage in the Production Cup, which runs within WRC 2. Second and third-placed Gianluca Linari and Juan Carlos Alonso will hope to close the gap on the Italian.