Double America’s Cup winner Jimmy Spithill swapped the high seas for the high-speed dirt roads of Sardinia on Thursday morning during the build-up to the latest round of the FIA World Rally Championship (WRC).
Spithill, helmsman of the Luna Rossa Prada Pirelli challenger for the 2021 yacht race in New Zealand, enjoyed a flat-out co-drive alongside Fabio Andolfi in the warm-up speed test for Rally Italia Sardegna (13 - 16 June).
The Australian athlete eagerly accepted the invitation to sit alongside the ACI Team Italia driver in his Skoda Fabia rally car, hours before Andolfi began his bid for honours in the championship’s WRC 2 category on the Mediterranean island.
Spithill is currently based in Sardinia where the Luna Rossa Prada Pirelli team is training for the 36th America’s Cup in Auckland.
“That was absolutely incredible,” said a wide-eyed Spithill after completing the twists, turns and jumps of the 3.92km rough road test, where in-car temperatures approached 50°C.
“The limits of the car were amazing, it goes right to the edge. The braking was incredible, to be able to stop like that on those slippery gravel roads was unreal.”
Prior to the co-drive, Spithill rubbed shoulders with fellow Red Bull athlete Kalle Rovanperä, who will compete against Andolfi this weekend. There was also the chance to meet Hyundai Motorsport star driver Thierry Neuville and team principal Andrea Adamo.
Spithill said his interest in the WRC started early. “Rallying is a very popular sport in Australia," he said. "I’m a big fan and I always watched it growing up. It’s a dream to sit in one of these cars and watch Fabio at work.”
Coming from one of the fastest sports on water, Spithill said there were comparisons between rallying and America’s Cup sailing. “The speed is similar and also the G-forces at times, something you get a lot of now in America’s Cup.”
The 39-year Sydney-born sailor won the America’s Cup in 2010. He successfully defended it three years later during one of sport’s greatest comebacks in the waters off San Francisco, when his team overturned an 8-1 deficit to triumph 9-8.
He is now focused on a third victory, this time with the Italian squad, but enjoyed meeting his fellow sportsmen.
“One of the great things about being a sailor is travelling around and meeting athletes from other sports," he added. “It doesn’t matter what the application is, even though I am on the water and Fabio and his team are competing on the dirt, you still learn something. It’s great to be able to get away and talk with new people. I am sure some of my team-mates are jealous."