KTM factory riders Marc Coma and four-times Dakar winner and arch rival Cyril Despres are preparing to launch a bid for victory in the Sardinia Rally that starts this weekend on the Italian island.
Coma, who has won two of four rallies held so far in the 2012 Cross Country World Championship series is looking to extend his lead and may even secure the title.
While the Spanish rider has a mathematical chance of wrapping up the title, he will be mostly looking to extend his lead to go into the final rally in Egypt later this year. The task will not be easy. Coma’s successes to date in 2012 have been at two distinct desert rallies – the Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge and the new Sealine Rally in neighboring Qatar. The Sardinia Rally is entirely different in terrain and characteristics. It covers 1500 km (825 km of timed stages) and is run over five days without the usual prologue. The race starts in San Teodoro on the Italian island’s north east coast Sunday June 24 and finishes back at the same location on Thursday June 28.
Coma has formidable rivals for the Sardinia title amongst his own factory teammates, including French-born Despres, who has not competed in the previous two world championship events and finished second in 2011. Also ranked very high is Portuguese KTM rider Ruben Faria who is currently second in the overall rankings, trailing Coma by 14 points. Other strong candidates for the title are Poland’s KTM rider Jakub Przygonski and Paulo Gonçalves of Portugal. Added to this, the second day of the rally is a marathon stage where riders are not allowed any mechanical support and this can be a ‘make or break’ factor in any such event.
There is a lot at stake for Coma, who topped the podium here last year. He could secure the title if he wins the event, if Faria finishes off the podium and Przygonski doesn’t finish second. The character of the rally is also such that it is more akin to Enduro riding than traditional rally. Because of this, Coma will ride the KTM 450 EXC instead of his usual KTM 450 rally bike, the same machine used in the Enduro World Championship by KTM factory rider Johnny Aubert of France. Despres will rider the light and agile KTM 350 EXC used by KTM Enduro factory teammate Cristobal Guerrero and by Taddy Blazusiak, KTM’s Polish Extreme Enduro rider competing in the US EnduroCross series.
Coma, a three times Dakar winner goes into the rally motivated and positive, but he says navigation is tricky and can play a crucial role. “It is the last race of the first part of the season and I want to do well there. The Sardinia Rally is a special race, with an Enduro bike and short distances. Due to its features and being very different from the ones we are used to, it will probably be one of the most difficult rounds. In these short rallies, tactics become very important.”
Organizers have also announced that KTM MX1 factory rider will be a special guest at the start of the rally.