But it’s Saturday’s itinerary in particular that has raised eyebrows. A total of 212.83km of stages in a marathon 16-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 searing summer temperatures of more than 30ºC and it’s no wonder the drivers are gearing-up for a rough ride.
“For sure it’s going to be very demanding – especially driving in such high temperatures,” said championship leader Sebastien Ogier.
“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,” he said.
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 1930hrs on Thursday 11 June with a head-to-head Super Special stage in the heart of the island’s capital, Cagliari.