View from the service park

Is it me or is an alarm that starts with a ‘four’ a touch too early? Five’s not so bad. Six? Pretty normal. Seven? Well, that’s a lie-in.

Rally Italia Sardegna’s first service on Saturday morning was definitely early. The first car into the daybreak 15-minuter was at 05.20, which translated into alarms calls between 04.30 and 04.45. Harsh.

Ordinarily, first service on Saturday is a good place to get words for a story. Maybe the odd soundbite or one-liner. Not last Saturday. Nobody had much to say before the sun made its first move on the Italian coastline. At least nothing printable on a family site like wrc.com.

But then Sébastien Ogier fired up his Citroën in parc fermé and everybody forgot they were out of bed too early. A World Rally Car on idle does that to you.

Then Jari-Matti Latvala arrived at the control. That bit about nobody having much to say didn’t hold for the Finn. He’s far too friendly to let a lack of sleep stand in the way of a salutation and deeper explanation of how hard it is to roll a Toyota Yaris WRC off its roof almost single-handed.

Just as the cars were departing for Monte Lerno, Micky’s Jump and some serious air, the sun popped its head above the mountains around the bay and all was well with the world.

Especially in the fish market behind service. The traders were in full swing, with swordfish, tuna, squid and sea urchin, all of which had travelled around five metres from sea to sale. And, if you’re going to buy fish, you’re going to need lemons. I skipped the fish, but couldn’t resist a couple of lemons, sold from the boot of a beaten-up Renault Clio on the harbourside.

Hyundai team members celebrated with the traditional harbour dip

Like any WRC day in Italy, Saturday was good. Part of the reason Saturday was good was because it was a degree or two cooler than Friday. Friday was insane.

Walking out of the hotel in the morning it was like an industrial-sized hairdryer had been positioned in front of the door. The temperature topped out at 40°C. In the car, a sensor on the camera equipment in the co-driver’s footwell registered 63°C. That’s toasty.

Hot rallies like Italy bring a different approach. When crews arrive at the control before service, bagged and chilled wet towels are delivered from cool boxes to wrap around necks, water and rehydration drinks are the order of the day and umbrellas are a God-send. Toyota’s boys also enjoyed the benefit of menthol underwear. I kid you not.

“When we are sweating,” explained Latvala, “OMP made some menthol spray for the underwear which means we keep cooler.”

Ott Tänak turned keeping cool into an art form, right up until the final stage. Watching the Estonian come to terms with fifth not first on the beach at the end of the Wolf Power Stage really was the low point of the weekend. He and co-driver Martin Järveoja bore the brunt of rallying at its cruellest.

At the polar opposite end of the emotional scale was now two-time WRC event winner Dani Sordo. The Spaniard is one of the service park’s most popular drivers and, typically, he was quick to offer his sympathies to Tänak. 
That done, he led the traditional charge over the edge and into the harbour.

After three baking days behind the wheel, there’s no better splash than a Sunday afternoon in Alghero.

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