There will be a monster in the moonlit Liguria mountain range next weekend – and unusually for a Škoda story, we’re not talking about Yeti. This monster is what Škoda UK Motorsport driver Guy Wilks describes as the 44km (27.34 mile) special stage, which he says will hold the key to success on this year’s Sanremo Rally (24-25 September).
The said challenging Italian Ronde stage, which is the second longest in the 2010 Intercontinental Rally Challenge (eclipsed only by the 45.17km/28.06 mile St. Pierreville – Antraigues stage on Rallye Monte Carlo), is the giant test in a colossal event which will see Guy and co-driver Phil Pugh complete 220kms (136.7 miles) of high-speed cliff-top competition in their Škoda Fabia S2000 Facelift.
Rallies are normally run over three days, but this year’s Sanremo Rally lasts just 26 hours and yet still features a full and gruelling format of 11 switchback mountain asphalt stages.
Guy predicts the 44km stage will take, depending on weather conditions, in the region of 27 minutes to complete. Attempted at night and with no straight longer than 200 metres, such a sporting challenge demands enormous concentration and fitness on the part of Guy and Phil, whilst it will be one of rally’s most extreme tests for the IRC title winning Škoda Fabia S2000 Facelift and BF Goodrich tyres.
It’s a mouth-watering challenge for the 29-year-old driver from Darlington in Co. Durham, for Guy knows that the Ronde stage could be make or break in this year’s event, and hopes that a consistently fast and trouble-free run through it will help guide him to his aim of a strong championship points-scoring finish.
Guy knows the Sanremo Rally stages quite well, having recced them twice (in 2001 and ’02) before doing the rally for the first time in 2003, when contesting the FIA Junior World Rally Championship. He contested the event again last year, finishing 13th overall. Driving a Škoda in Sanremo for the first time, Guy hopes for a much less troublesome event and in only his second rally after his accident in Sardinia, is aiming for a top five finish.
That will be far from easy, for the event has attracted a quality 90 car entry which includes the Škoda Motorsport trio of Juho Hänninen, Jan Kopecký and Freddy Loix – drivers who are 1-2-3 in the IRC standings. Kris Meeke, Paolo Andreucci, Bryan Bouffier and Bruno Magalhães will be contenders in their Peugeot 207s, Giandomenico Basso and Luca Rossetti head the Abarth challenge and Andreas Mikkelsen and Andrea Navarra will pilot Ford Fiesta S2000s.
Sanremo is also a round of the Italian Rally Championship and Škoda Rally Team Italia will enter a Fabia S2000 for former kart champion and rising rally star Marco Signor.
Guy Wilks: “I’ve reasonable experience of Sanremo, and having done the recce four times and the rally twice, I have a good feeling for the region and the character of the roads. This year’s event is a very different format to other rallies. It starts at lunchtime on Friday and after five decent length stages to warm you up it’s into the monster 44 kilometre stage at night. That is a long way to go on mountainous terrain and it will require high concentration from myself and Phil. I enjoy driving at night and I’m really looking forward to it – plus the atmosphere in the mountains with all the spectators will be fantastic.
“On a long stage there is more opportunity to make up time on rivals, but there is also more chance of a momentary lapse of concentration which can cost you dear. Experience counts, and I’ve done stages as long as 53 kilometres before. It’s a great challenge though, because in 44 kilometres the road surface and terrain changes a lot and there is never a straight piece of road that’s more than 200 metres long. It’s usually corner after corner, up and over mountain passes, down the other side and along the mountain floor, then up the side of another mountain. Ronde is a stage you can really get your teeth in to. All other stages, particularly on the Saturday, are challenging too, but the 44 kilometre monster, the last stage on the Friday night, could be the key to the entire event.”
The 52nd Sanremo Rally starts at 13.00 on Friday 24 September. Day 1 contains five stages before the 44km Ronde test, which begins at 22.09. Service in Sanremo and a short overnight halt follow, before Day 2 gets underway at 07.50 on Saturday 25 September. Crews head straight into a 29.56km (18.36 mile) and 29.03km (18.03 mile) stage, both of which are repeated in the afternoon. After 11 stages totalling 220kms (136.7 miles), Round 10 of the 2010 IRC finishes back in Sanremo at 15.37 on Saturday afternoon.
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