As the FIA World Rally Championship reaches the halfway point in Italy this week, it would take a brave person to confidently predict the destiny of the drivers’ crown.
Four different winners from the opening four rounds highlighted the unpredictability of the most open title battle in years. As the series reaches round seven at Rally Italia Sardegna (8 - 11 June), most people’s money would be on one of the top four drivers in the standings.
After his Vodafone Rally de Portugal victory last month, championship leader Sébastien Ogier (above) reckoned that he, Thierry Neuville, Jari-Matti Latvala and Ott Tänak remained in contention with seven rounds to go.
Ogier and Neuville are the only drivers with two wins. Master tactician Ogier has a 22-point advantage after success in Monte-Carlo and Portugal, while Neuville enjoyed the champagne in Corsica and Argentina.
Both arrive in Sardinia with solid claims to be the first to score three victories in a new-generation car. Ogier won in 2015, his third in a row on the island, while Neuville enjoyed the victory leap into Alghero Harbour 12 months ago.
Ogier said his aim was to strengthen his points lead having found a good feeling with his Ford Fiesta in Portugal.
“The temperatures we’ll experience are probably the highest of the year and we’ll need to be prepared for that,” said the Frenchman.
“We had a good test where we confirmed our cooling options as well as set-up configurations for the event, so there’s no reason why we shouldn’t be confident of challenging for another strong result.”
Ogier likes the challenge of one of the season’s toughest encounters and said: “We’ll face an element of cleaning on the opening day, but we’ve got a good track record in Sardinia and I’ve learned to enjoy these demanding stages.
“It’s not the easiest of events. You need to keep a margin and be focused from start to finish. Tyre preservation can also prove really important and that could be particularly significant on Saturday with two 70km loops,” he added.
Neuville’s confidence is high after following two straight wins in his Hyundai i20 Coupe with second in Portugal to banish memories of a troubled start to the year.
“We are happy, we are confident, and we are hopeful that we can achieve a positive result,” said the Belgian.
“This is a technical event that we cannot take for granted. The roads are very hard and dry which can be tough on the cars, especially the tyres. Therefore, tyre choice can be crucial depending on road position and will be something we watch closely.”