A first-time winner is guaranteed in this season’s WRC 2 title fight as the series reaches its midpoint at this week’s Rally Italia Sardegna (8 - 11 June).
The hot weather, rough road encounter is not one of four-time winner Pontus Tidemand’s nominated rounds. Andreas Mikkelsen, who has won the other two events, returns to the headline World Rally Car category, so the door is open for a new face.
Jan Kopecký (above) starts as one of the favourites. The Czech has finished second in Sardinia for the past two years and victory for the Skoda Fabia R5 driver would be the 10th consecutive category win for Skoda Motorsport.
It is Kopecký’s first gravel rally this season and he must keep a close watch on Ole Christian Veiby, who drives a similar Fabia R5 for the Printsport squad.
The 20-year-old Norwegian is on top form, having won his first Asia-Pacific Championship round in Australia last month. He heads Kopecký by a point in the WRC 2 standings and could better his third place in Sweden.
“I’ve just competed two good events in the Asia-Pacific series, with one victory and one second place. That has given many valuable kilometres on gravel, which I reckon is good to bring with me for this event,” said Veiby, who makes his Sardinia debut.
Pierre-Louis Loubet is the leading Ford Fiesta R5 contender. He hails from Corsica, a short boat journey across the Strait of Bonifacio, which brings an extra incentive.
“I still have a lot to learn so I’m not setting myself any particular goals. The main aim will just be to enjoy and give my maximum. If we can do that, I’m sure the result will be a good one,” he said.
Japan’s Hiroki Arai and Takamoto Katsuta are also in Fiesta R5s with the Tommi Mäkinen Racing squad. The entry is completed by Yohan Rossel (Citroën DS 3 R5, Lukasz Pieniazek (Peugeot 208 T16) and Fabio Andolfi (Hyundai i20 R5).