The penultimate scheduled round of the 2020 FIA World Rally Championship takes place in Italy this weekend, with Toyota’s Elfyn Evans leading the Drivers Standings by 18 points over teammate Sebastien Ogier.
After a crazy end to the previous round in Turkey, where Evans took his second win of the season after all of his title rivals hit problems, the Welshman now takes a somewhat surprising lead into the event in Italy, although will be the first car on the gravel stages on Friday.
The sixth round of this shortened season has already had its date moved twice for various reasons. Firstly, Sardegna was one of the rallies to be hit by the lockdown earlier this season, meaning it has moved from its June date to much later in the year for 2020.
As the revised calendar was revealed, originally Italy had been set to take place in late October, but due to Rally Germany being cancelled altogether, it means the event has moved forwards three weeks to prevent a potential clash with the San Marino Formula 1 Grand Prix.
This weekend, despite the restrictions that are still in place, still sees a healthy total of 16 stages split between the three days.
Friday is based around the top of the island, with a pair of stages around the Tempio Pausania and the first runs through both the Sedini – Castelsardo and Tergu – Osilo stages taking place in the afternoon – the latter pair are repeated the following day.
The next morning sees the start of the longest day of action in terms of stage miles with just over 100km awaiting the crews. The longest stage of the rally, Monte Acuto, gets the day underway before afternoon tests on the other side of the island complete the day.
Sunday then sees a further four stages take place, with the 6.89km Sassari – Argentiera test double up as the Power Stage in the early afternoon.
With Evans relatively far out in front and with only two rounds to go (potentially three depending on what happens with the Monza Rally Show!), it’s looking as if it’s a four-horse race for the title.
With a maximum of 60 points up for grabs, two strong results is key for an end of season title push. Currently, Evans leads Ogier with defending champion Ott Tänak in third and a further nine points behind after his poor run in Turkey.
The question for Mr Adamo is for sure, what do you tell Thierry Neuville this weekend?
Do you encourage him to push and try and win the rally outright (he currently sits fifth and 32 points behind Evans) or do you try to get him to play the team game and try to help teammate Tänak as much as possible in the quest for a second successive crown?
This weekend sees the third i20 Coupe driven by Italy 2019 winner Dani Sordo, but surely he couldn’t make it back-to-back victories could he? The Spaniard hasn’t driven the car in the WRC since pre-lockdown in Mexico and has surely been drafted in to take points off the Toyota trio?
Both Adamo and Tommi Mäkinen have potential headaches awaiting them, with the Finn in charge of all three of his drivers who are still mathematically in the title race.
Kalle Rovanperä is fourth in the standings, 27 points behind the championship leader, but could be well and truly back in the fight if another crazy day like in Turkey happens again.
M-Sport Ford could also be dark horses for a strong result this weekend. Teemu Suninen, who at times has shown he’s arguably quicker than teammate Esapekka Lappi this season, took second here in 2019 so could be a driver to watch for sure.
The pair are again joined by Gus Greensmith, who will be looking to build on his fine fifth place finish last time out in what was his best WRC finish to date.
Takamoto Katsuta, as like Greensmith, continues his WRC transition in Italy. The Toyota development driver will likely be wanting to go up against both the British driver and Hyundai’s Pierre-Louis Loubet.
The Frenchman was another driver to hit problems on the final day in Turkey and had to retire on the final day of action with mechanical issues, so will be hoping to show he’s capable of a strong result this weekend.
A noticeable pair of names on the entry list this weekend are Petter Solberg and Andreas Mikkelsen.
The duo are set to enter only the Power Stage at the end of the rally in a Pirelli-backed Citroen C3 WRC as the tyre manufacturer continues its testing ahead of its return to the championship next year.
WRC2 has a full six drivers on the entry list for Italy, with new leader Pontus Tidemand again set to compete against Mads Østberg.
Østberg goes into the event having won every event he’s competed in so far in 2020 but didn’t take part in Turkey enabling the Swede to take the lead of the standings in the Skoda Fabia Rally2.
They’re joined by Adrien Fourmaux, who has performed well since the season restarted at the beginning of September, Russian Nikolay Gryazin, Ole Christian Veiby and Eyvind Brynildsen.
WRC3 also sees a packed entry, with all of the championship contenders including series leader Marco Bulacia Wilkinson, Jari Huttunen and Kajetan Kajetanowicz all set to take part.
Oliver Solberg, fresh from a dramatic round in the FIA European Rally Championship last weekend, is set to return to the class behind the wheel of a Skoda Fabia R5.
Other noticeable WRC3 entrants include French trio Nicolas Ciamin, Yohan Rossel and Eric Camilli and defending Junior FIA World Rally champion Jan Solans.
Finally, the JWRC also makes a return in Italy. Championship leader Mārtiņš Sesks has an eight point advantage over Sami Pajari, with two rounds left in 2020 after the series confirmed they’ll also contest Ypres alongside the WRC between November 19-22.
Rally Italia Sardegna gets underway on Friday morning and continues throughout this weekend.