TOYOTA GAZOO Racing embarks on intense Italian island event

TOYOTA GAZOO Racing World Rally Team aims to rise to another tough gravel challenge when Rally Italia Sardegna hosts round six of the 2024 season from May 31 to June 2.

After victories in the last three events in Kenya, Croatia and Portugal, TGR-WRT will once more target a strong result on the Italian island of Sardinia as it looks to fight back in the championship – with just four points separating it from the lead in the manufacturers’ standings.

Sébastien Ogier will contend for a third win from as many rounds in Sardinia, where he has triumphed four times previously – most recently with TGR-WRT in 2021. He’s joined in the line-up by Elfyn Evans, who finished second to his team-mate on that occasion, and Takamoto Katsuta, who has placed as high as fourth on the event previously.

Twenty years since Sardinia first hosted Italy’s round of the FIA World Rally Championship, it will debut a new more condensed format that will pack the competitive action – totalling 266.12 kilometres – into just 48 hours. While the event might be more compact, it should remain just as demanding: the fast but narrow and technical stages leave little margin for error, while the sandy surface is swept away by each passing car to expose a rocky and abrasive base. This can combine with temperatures in excess of 30 degrees centigrade to punish cars and tyres.

The service park switches back from Olbia to the historic city of Alghero on the island’s northwest coast and, after shakedown takes place on Friday morning at the nearby Ittiri rallycross circuit, the rally starts in the afternoon with two stages to be driven twice on the northern coast. Saturday heads further east and features over half of the competitive distance, with 149 km to be driven without mid-day service. Two stages will be run twice in the morning, before a tyre-fitting zone and another two stages are tackled twice in the afternoon. On Sunday there’s a return to two repeated stages along the northwest coast.

Fresh from its maiden WRC2 victory in Portugal, the GR Yaris Rally2 will again be well-represented in Sardinia with seven drivers competing: Sami Pajari (Printsport), Georg Linnamäe (RedGrey), Roope Korhonen (Rautio Motorsport), Jan Solans (Teo Martín Motorsport), Yuki Yamamoto, Hikaru Kogure (both TGR-WRT Next Generation) and Jean-Michel Raoux (ERACE WRT).

Jari-Matti Latvala (Team Principal)

“It’s going to be interesting to see the new more compact format in action in Sardinia: it will be a shorter event but not an easier rally, with long days and still quite many kilometres, and I think it could be even more exciting. Saturday afternoon is especially long and tough with the notorious Monte Lerno stage, and managing the tyres and avoiding the rocks will be key for success. It was great to win again in Portugal and our performance there was good, but it wasn’t the best rally for some of our drivers and after some small mistakes we didn’t get so many points. Hopefully in Sardinia we can maintain the performance and keep all our cars on the road without issues. We learned and improved the car in Portugal, and the work done during our test in Sardinia should be suited even better for this rally.”

Elfyn Evans (Driver car 33)
“For us, Portugal was a difficult weekend, but it’s still quite early in the season and we just have to aim for some stronger rallies ahead. Every rally is important and we need to try and make the most of the opportunity in Sardinia. We definitely made some progress with the feeling in the car in Portugal and we’re working with the team to try and come up with some further improvements for Sardinia, even though it’s difficult with the limted testing we have. It’s quite a similar rally to Portugal in some ways and maybe trickier in others, but I’m sure we can turn things around and make it a better weekend.”

Sébastien Ogier (Driver car 17)
“We have been on a good run recently with our wins in Croatia and Portugal and we would of course like to try and carry on like this – so the target for Sardinia has to be to continue the sequence if we can. I think we are in a good position: we had a good test there recently, and in Portugal when the surface was sandier and more like Sardinia the car was working well, so hopefully that can be the case there as well. It’s always a difficult challenge with long stages and the need for tyre management, but it’s a rally that I learned to love and to master over my career and I hope we can have another successful trip there.”

Takamoto Katsuta (Driver car 18)
“My result in Portugal was not what I wanted but I had a good feeling with the car during the weekend and I hope we can take that feeling into the next rally in Sardinia. The gravel and the surface on this rally are a bit different, so there are some things that we need to adjust, but we had a good test in Sardinia recently and I know that the engineers and the whole team are working hard to be stronger there. Usually I don’t feel as confident on this event with the more slippery surface, but our starting position should be good for Friday and I will try to find confidence from the beginning.”