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Juniors Tackle Toughest Championship Round In Sardinia

Competitors battling for the 2017 FIA Junior World Rally Championship are set to take on what’s expected to be the toughest challenge of the season at next week’s Rally Italia Sardegna. The rough rally on the rocky Mediterranean island will be a huge test for both man and machine on the demanding sun-drenched stages.

Championship leaders Nil Solans and Miki Ibanez from Spain hold a nine-point advantage after victory on the opening round in Corsica. Leading from start to finish, they came under pressure from French drivers Nicolas Ciamin and Terry Folb – and can expect a similar battle next week in Sardinia.

Folb has a point to prove after missing out on second place on the final day in Corsica. And, with 19 additional points available for individual stage victories, next week’s event is going to reward competitors who can balance outright speed with the need to protect the car.

While the identical M-Sport-prepared Ford Fiesta R2T cars are renowned for their strength and pace, the Sardinian stages are potentially some of the roughest of the season. More powerful cars at the front of the field will rip out rocks and create badly rutted roads, forcing Junior WRC competitors to drive with their heads as well as their hearts.

Such are the conditions, tyre supplier DMACK is providing a specially reinforced version of its DMG+22 gravel tyre in hard GH23 compound to deal with the challenge.

Next week’s event is also a chance for drivers to target improvements after Corsica. Ireland’s Rob Duggan has been working on his pacenotes with new co-driver Tom Woodburn while Germany’s Julius Tannert is aiming for a podium after his fourth place on the opening event.

Leading Rookie Dennis Rådström, along with newbies Sebastian Careaga from Bolivia and USA’s Dillon van Way, will be aiming to stretch their experience while Estonia’s Miko Niinemäe is out to prove his pace on gravel after a troubled outing in Corsica.

After a private shakedown just outside rally base Alghero on Thursday morning, the rally starts on Thursday evening with the Ittiri Arena stage and an overnight halt in Olbia. Friday sees crews tackle a four-stage loop twice with the longest day of action on Saturday featuring over 143km of stages. Sunday finishes with four short tests close to Alghero.

Retaining last year’s prize structure, Rally Sardinia is paired with Corsica and two prize drives in next year’s WRC 2 will be awarded to the driver with the most points over the two events.

Maciek Woda, M-Sport’s Junior WRC manager, said:

“It’s not going to be an easy event for our R2 Fiestas passing through the stages already damaged by four-wheel-drive cars. With one point available per stage win, it will be crucial to keep the car in good shape and find places where it’s safe to push. I’m looking forward to meeting all the Junior drivers in Alghero and to see who will be leading the championship after the Italian round.”

Dick Cormack, DMACK managing director, said:

“Corsica was a very competitive start to the season but Sardinia will reward the clever drivers who can manage their pace and protect the car. Such are the demands, we’ve developed a reinforced tyre specifically designed for the rough roads in Sardinia.”


Rally Italia Sardegna Junior WRC entry list

61 Nil Solans (Spain) / Miguel Ibanez (Spain)
62 Nicolas Ciamin (France) / Thibault de la Haye (France)
63 Terry Folb (France) / Christopher Guieu (France)
64 Julius Tannert (Germany) / Jurgen Heigl (Austria)
65 Dennis Rådström (Sweden) / Johan Johansson (Sweden)
66 Robert Duggan (Ireland) / Tom Woodburn (UK)
67 Sebastian Careaga (Bolivia) / Rodrigo Sanjuan (Spain)
68 Dillon Van Way (USA) / Dai Roberts (UK)
69 Miko Niinemäe (Estonia) / Martin Valter (Estonia)


Driver Comments

Nicolas Ciamin from France: “Corsica was on Tarmac, now we are on gravel so I still have a lot of things to improve on this surface and try to be on the pace from the first stage. We will definitely need to manage the car because it will be very rough and try to avoid punctures as best as possible. The winner will not be the fastest, but the person who can find a good balance between speed and saving the car.”

Sebastian Careaga from Bolivia: “Like in Corsica, the main objective for us is to make it to the finish and get the most amount of experience. Rally Sardinia is one of the toughest in WRC so we need to try and finish without any major problems. I won some national races in Bolivia, where I was improving my pacenotes so that should help. For this rally I also have a new co-driver.”

Robert Duggan from Ireland: “We didn’t have the best start to the season but I’m looking forward to getting back out again. We have been working to improve our pacenotes as that’s where I struggled in Corsica and also building my fitness as everything else will fall into place if we have those covered. My aim is to get a few stages wins and target the podium, but keeping the car in one piece will be difficult here.”

Terry Folb from France: “Our goal in Sardinia is to get the maximum points possible to catch the championship lead, there are 19 stages so that means 19 extra points for stage wins. The level is very high this year so it will be necessary to give it our best and attack to win this event. We have made some good practice sessions and feel comfortable with the car – which will be important for Sardinia.”

Miko Niinemäe from Estonia: “We had a few problems in Corsica but the driving side went as planned and we increased our pace. Gravel is my preferred surface so we need to show our pace here but the heat and rough roads will both be a difficult challenge. It will be important to find the balance between maintaining tyres, the car and at the same time go fast.”

Dennis Rådström from Sweden: “As Corsica was my first ever WRC event, our aim in Sardinia is again to make it to the finish, improve our speed, have a lot of fun and see how far that can take us up the results list. The roads will be tough on our R2 cars and the high temperatures will also be a big challenge. But we’ve been working hard for this rally, especially on pacenotes and fitness so I’m really looking forward to it.”

Nil Solans from Spain: “It was fantastic to win the first round in Corsica but we’ve never been to Sardinia and have heard that the roads are very difficult there. The biggest challenge will be to find a good speed that still allows you to save the car because it will be very tough on the Fiesta R2T. We competed in Portugal a few weeks ago which was a big benefit for us as now we are back in gravel mode and ready for next week.”

Julius Tannert from Germany: “After our fourth place in Corsica, my aim is to be on the podium in Sardinia. We still need to learn a lot and find the limit, with gravel rallying still new to us we need to take as much experience as possible. It will be a hard rally for the cars and all round so we need to try and survive and make no mistakes.”

Dillon Van Way from USA: “We have room for improvement after Corsica and more seat time will definitely help to get back to the pace I know I’m capable of. Sardinia is notoriously rough and it will be a challenge to balance pushing hard and protecting the car. My preparations haven’t been as extensive as I would have liked but we will shake the rust off and give it our best shot.”

 

Championship Positions after round 1

1. Nil Solans / Miguel Ibanez 29
2. Nicolas Ciamin / Thibault de la Haye 20
3. Terry Folb / Christopher Guieu 19
4. Julius Tannert / Jurgen Heigl 12
5. Dennis Rådström / Johan Johansson 10
6. Robert Duggan / Gerard Conway 8
7. Sebastian Careaga / Claudio Bustos 6
8. Dillon Van Way / Dai Roberts 4
9. Miko Niinemäe / Martin Valter 2
10. William Wagner / Kevin Parent 0