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PHOTO: Hayden Paddon will mark the first anniversary of his involvement with Hyundai at this year’s Rally Italia Sardegna (Hyundai Motorsport [pic)

DRIVERS will face the longest single day’s competition in the modern era of the FIA World Rally Championship at Rally Italia Sardegna, which starts later today.

The Mediterranean island rally, the sixth of the 13-round season, features the longest stage distance of the year, with 23 speed tests and 394.63km of competitive action.

But it’s Saturday’s itinerary that has raised eyebrows. A total of 212.83km of stages in a16-hour day makes it the longest leg since the WRC’s final visit to the Safari Rally in Kenya in 2002.

Add in narrow gravel roads that are among the most abrasive in the championship, a limited allocation of tyres and summer temperatures of more than 30ºC and it’s no wonder the drivers are gearing up for a rough ride.

(The hot conditions should suit the Australian crew of Scott Pedder and Dale Moscatt, who will be starting their second event in WRC2. The pair are the current Australian champions and have experienced extreme heat often in their long local careers. Read Scott Pedder’s news from Sardinia HERE.)

“For sure it’s going to be very demanding – especially driving in such high temperatures,” championship leader Sebastien Ogier said.

“We tested here last week and the cockpit temperature was about 20ºC hotter than outside – and that makes it hard to stay concentrated and give your best all day.

“It’s easy to lose concentration. And on these technical, narrow stages it’s very easy to hit rocks by the roadside and get a puncture.

“At the end of Saturday I’m sure we’ll all be exhausted.”

However, the Volkswagen Motorsport driver is hoping to turn the adversity to his advantage.

“I’m not afraid. I train hard and normally I can handle these sorts of conditions.

“To be honest, I hope it will be very hard for the second loop, if the roads cut up and become hard on the tyres then I can normally make something back. That’s one of my biggest chances here.”

As well as the physical challenge, this year’s stages – most of which are new – also put the cars under pressure.

M-Sport World Rally Team driver Elfyn Evans said: “In general the road surface looks very, very abrasive and that, combined with the temperature, is going make it hard on tyres, even the hard compound ones we have here.

“We’re also going to have to look after the brakes in the technical sections where there is not so much airflow to cool them.

“It will be hard to settle into a rhythm too. The character of the stages is very mixed – ranging from fast and open to others that look like they’ve been carved out of a mountain with a blade.”

The rally starts at 7.30 pm local time (3.30 am AEST Friday) with a head-to-head Super Special stage in the heart of the island’s capital, Cagliari.

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Chris Nixon

Chris Nixon is Media Manager for Kennards Hire Rally Australia.

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