Mon 27 May 2024

20 years on and still jumping in the dust

Two decades ago, rally fans were shocked to learn that the Italian stop on the FIA World Rally Championship calendar was moving from Sanremo to Sardinia. 20 years on, it is difficult to imagine the WRC without a trip to the Mediterranean island.

Sanremo for Sardinia was both controversial and surprising when it was decided through the off-season between 2003 and 2004.

The recce for the Italian island’s world championship debut was an eye-opener for a generation of drivers who knew little to nothing of the roads threading their way through the hills out the back of the port town of Olbia. 

Too rough. Too many rocks. Too narrow. Put simply: too tough. It would, apparently, be carnage. In many ways, those doubters were proved right as Ford, Peugeot and Subaru all suffered a retirement apiece. And when Petter Solberg finally crossed the line on the 19th and final stage, the Subaru star’s winning time was just 17 minutes short of five hours.

He was more than two minutes ahead of Sébastien Loeb, who in turn was more than a minute ahead of Carlos Sainz. It is difficult to imagine from this start, that Sardinia has gone on to produce some of the closest-ever finishes in the history of the WRC.

In 2018, just 0.7sec divided Thierry Neuville and Sébastien Ogier. In 2020, there were only 20 seconds dividing the top three. But perhaps, none of this was as dramatic as Ott Tänak’s 2019 heartbreak when his eventual championship victory was dealt what could have been a divisive blow, his Toyota Yaris World Rally Car failing him on the Wolf Power Stage.

The risk to move to Sardinia has paid its dividends countless times over and the promoter has never stopped innovating with all eyes closely fixed on an innovative new schedule this weekend. All that awaits now is to see what drama will unfold in the 20th edition of this storied classic.  

Starts: Thursday, July 18, 2024 at 4:31:00 AM
Starts: Friday, July 26, 2024 at 7:00:00 AM
Starts: Saturday, July 27, 2024 at 6:00:00 AM