For the second straight year, Rally Italia Sardegna marks the halfway point of the 2018 FIA World Rally Championship, as the June event sits seventh on the 13-round calendar. Unlike last year, when Rally Poland was on the schedule in early July, Sardegna marks a clear delineation between the two halves of the season, as competitors won’t return to the stages until Rally Finland at the end of next month.
Ott Tänak and Martin Järveoja enter the event as its defending winners, but will look to reclaim the title with Toyota Gazoo World Rally Team this time around instead of with M-Sport as they had in 2017. Meanwhile, Thierry Neuville and Nicolas Gilsoul lead the Hyundai Shell Mobis World Rally Team into the event as points leaders in both the individual and team championships. With the stage set for four days of exciting action, here’s what we’re watching out for:
How will Sebastien Ogier respond to being put on the back foot in the championship?
Ogier and Julien Ingrassia didn’t earn a single point in Portugal after an incident eliminated them from contention, leaving the door wide open for Neuville and Gilsoul to take advantage. And with an overall victory that enabled them to retake the points lead, the Belgian crew did just that. Now 19 points back at the halfway mark of the year, Ogier has to shake an unsettling trend from 2017: he didn’t take a single victory in the second half of the season, relying on Neuville’s inconsistency to hold onto first.
How much clarity will Italy provide for Citroen’s long-term driver situation?
Parting company with Kris Meeke and Paul Nagle was a risky move for Citroen, as they’ve been the only duo capable of wringing a victory out of the finicky C3 WRC. But the vacancy enables Craig Breen and Scott Martin to see if they’ve got number one potential, and perhaps more importantly, if they can return to the form that earned them second in Rally Sweden. Otherwise, will the team have to elevate Mads Østberg and Torstein Eriksen to full-time status—or even look for another solution elsewhere?
Which team needs the halfway break between Italy and Finland the most?
Obviously, Citroen is the lead candidate in this because of what a mess their driver situation has become. Having a month and a half would go a long way towards identifying a permanent solution in the lineup for the second half of the year. But with Meeke on the sidelines, both Hyundai and M-Sport could consider bringing him on to bolster their lead drivers’ title hopes. And all four factory-backed teams could use the time to make some more headway on their respective vehicles.