Despite the fact that BFGoodrich will have no rivals in Sardinia since all the WRC cars entered for the season's seventh round will be running on its tyres, the development and technical staff of the 2006 championship-winning brand have no intention of resting on their laurels and have come out with a new evolution of the g-Force Gravel for the Italian event's hard-wearing stages.
Canadian research reveals that Sardinia has a particularly high population of over-110-year old men. The jury is still out, however, about whether this is due to genetic factors, diet or healthy mountain air.
In contrast to the propensity of the Mediterranean island's males to age in peace, rally tyres tend to have an ephemeral existence there. Indeed, field studies carried out in the north-east corner of Sardinia over the past three years show that the life expectancy of even the most resilient rally tyres barely exceeds 80km of stages. BFGoodrich's researchers, however, may now well have come up with the answer...
Sardinia features a wide range of surface types, a particularity that has led teams to choose the island for much of their pre-event testing for overseas rallies. The tracks found in the Costa Smeralda region - home of the Rally d.Italia-Sardegna . are largely covered in a deep, sandy top-coating, yet the rocks that form the their foundation - and which, like the islanders, are amongst the oldest in Europe! - are extremely hard and abrasive. Tyre specialists have consequently turned their attention during the past three years to solving a key equation with two unknowns: how to cut through the soft top-surface for enhanced grip and precision without detracting from durability?
BFGoodrich tyres have already shown their potential on this event by monopolising the podium in 2006. Even so, in their quest for perfection, the firm's developers have ceaselessly sought to improve their products and, to this end, worked over the winter on an 'evolution' of the '9+' g-Force Gravel featuring a new extra-hard compound. Following testing with the factory teams, this tyre is believed to be 20% stronger for the same level of performance.
"Despite the fact that we are in a position where we are supplying all the top teams this year, there is no question of us scaling down our efforts to improve the BFGoodrich range," stresses BFGoodrich's Rally programme Manager Matthieu Bonardel. "Our partners would not understand such a laid-back approach from us. Whatever the level, and whatever the discipline in which it competes - from rallying and rally-raids to endurance and MotoGP - it is not the Group's style to rest on its laurels.
"A new gravel construction made its debut recently in Mexico, and this weekend sees the introduction of a new, 'extra-hard' compound for the g-Force Gravel. Just one tread pattern is authorised for this hardwearing rally, so we had to stick to the size and pattern of the conventional g-Force Gravel. We consequently focused our efforts on enhancing the durability of its compound durability without detracting from its performance. The drivers seemed to like the new g-Force Gravel 10 in testing and we hope their first impressions will be backed up during the rally."
BFGOODRICH AND THE RALLY D.ITALIA
Tyre: g-Force Gravel
g-Force Gravel '9': medium compound (for temperatures between 15 and 25Â°C, used for first runs)
g-Force Gravel '9+': hard compound (hard-wearing ground and/or high temperatures).
New g-Force Gravel '10': extra-hard compound (very hard-wearing ground and/or high temperatures)
Features: a relatively compact pattern to favour contact between the tread blocks and the ground for optimal grip and traction. A mousse insert allows drivers to continue without stopping if they pick up a puncture.
QUOTAS. Priority drivers have a maximum quota of 50 tyres, of which they will be able to use a maximum 33 (rally + shakedown). These tyres were registered with the FIA on May 10. This is the smallest permitted quantity for any rally this season.
NEW STAGES. A high proportion of this year's route is new, with 53km of new stages or new portions for Leg 1. Leg 3 is also all new with three short stages to be covered twice each with the same tyres. Drivers will then proceed directly to the podium ceremony in Porto Cervo.
WITHDRAWALS. Notable withdrawals for the event are Italy's Gigi Galli (CitroÃ«n Xsara WRC) and Belgium's FranÃ§ois Duval (Skoda Fabia WRC).
NEW AT MUNCHI.S. From the Italian round on, Juan Pablo Raies has handed over his Ford Focus WRC06 to fellow countryman Federico Villagra, Group N winner in Argentina.
THREE IN A ROW? As in Argentina a fortnight ago, SÃ©bastien Loeb (CitroÃ«n C4/BFGoodrich) stands to make it three wins in a row in Sardinia. To pull that off he will first have to beat the likes of Marcus GrÃ¶nholm (who led before retiring in 2006), Petter Solberg (winner in 2004) and Mikko Hirvonen.
FIA JUNIORS. A close fight is on the cards in the JRC category in Sardinia which all the front-runners have nominated. P-G. Andersson's two wins have promoted the Swede to the top of the provisional standings ahead of Urmo Aava. Crews will have a total quota of 20 tyres for this event and are permitted to carry two spares if they wish.
BFGOODRICH IN FRANCE. All French Championship drivers will run on BFGoodrich tyres. The series kicks off with the Rallye d.Alsace-Vosges (May 18-20) which also marks the debut of the BFGoodrich-partnered Swift Sport Rally Cup which opposes Suzuki Swifts running on standard g-Force Profiler 195/50 R15V tyres, a product acclaimed for its outstanding performance. BFGoodrich is also a partner of the Feu Vert find a young racing driver scheme which uses Logans that are also equipped with g-Force Profiler tyres.
BFGOODRICH IN ITALY. The clash between BFGoodrich and its Italian rival promises to be a closely fought affair. After the four rounds contested so far, Giandomenico Basso (Fiat/BFGoodrich) and Paolo Andreucci (Mitsubishi) are level on points in the championship.
THE RALLY D.ITALIA-SARDEGNA
Host town: Olbia
Total route length: 1,061.84km
Total stage length: 342.86km
Number of stages: 18
NÂ°1 SÃ©bastien LOEB/Daniel ELENA (CitroÃ«n C4 WRC, CitroÃ«n-Total WRT)
NÂ°2 Dani SORDO/Marc MARTI (CitroÃ«n C4 WRC, CitroÃ«n-Total WRT)
NÂ°3 Marcus GRONHOLM/Timo RAUTIAINEN (Ford Focus WRC06, BP-Ford WRT)NÂ°4 Mikko HIRVONEN/Jarmo LEHTINEN (Ford Focus WRC06, BP-Ford WRT)
NÂ°5 Manfred STOHL/Ilka MINOR (CitroÃ«n Xsara WRC, OMV-Kronos-CitroÃ«n WRT)
NÂ°6 Daniel CARLSSON/Denis GIRAUDET (CitroÃ«n Xsara WRC, OMV-Kronos-CitroÃ«n WRT
NÂ°7 Petter SOLBERG/Phil MILLS (Subaru Impreza WRC, Subaru WRT)
NÂ°8 Chris ATKINSON/StÃ©phane PREVOT (Subaru Impreza WRC, Subaru WRT)
NÂ°9 Jari-Matti LATVALA /Mikka ANTTILA (Ford Focus WRC06, Stobart VK M-Sport Ford)
NÂ°10 Henning SOLBERG/Cato MENKERUD (Ford Focus WRC06, Stobart VK M-Sport Ford)
NÂ°11 Luis PEREZ COMPANC/Jose Maria VOLTA (Ford Focus WRC06, Munchi.s Ford WRT)
NÂ°12 Federico VILLAGRA/Jorge PEREZ COMPANC (Ford Focus WRC06, Munchi.s Ford WRT)
NÂ°16 Matthew WILSON/Michael ORR (Ford Focus WRC 06, Stobart VK M-Sport Ford)
NÂ°21 Toni GARDEMEISTER/Jakke HONKANEN (Mitsubishi Lancer WRC)
NÂ°22 Jan KOPECKY/Filip SCHOVANEK (Skoda Fabia WRC)
NÂ°23 Mads OTSBERG/Ole Kristian UNNERUD (Subaru Impreza WRC)
NÂ°24 Gareth MACHALE/Paul NAGLE (Ford Focus WRCO6)
NÂ°26 Juho HANNINEN/Mikko MARKKULA (Mitsubishi Lancer WRC)
DRIVER: 1, S. Loeb (48 points). 2, M. GrÃ¶nholm (45). 3, M. Hirvonen (36). 4, D. Sordo (22). 5, P. Solberg (16). 6, H. Solberg (15). 7, J-M Latvala & C. Atkinson (12). 9, D. Carlsson (9). 10, M. Stohl (6). Etc.MANUFACTURERS: 1, BP-Ford WRT (81 points). 2, CitroÃ«n-Total WRT (72). 3, Stobart M Sport Ford (30). 4, Subaru WRT (29). 5, OMV Kronos CitroÃ«n (22).
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