Crews contesting the Curitiba International Rally next month are being told to expect plenty of high-speed action. The event marks Brazil’s first appearance on the Intercontinental Rally Challenge calendar and will form the second round of the series from March 5-7.
Run as the Graciosa Rally for the last 29 years, the event has adopted a new title this season to reflect its rise in status after it was included on the IRC schedule for 2009.
"The drivers coming to Brazil will experience a very traditional rally but with different characteristics," said Marcos Marcola, the promoter of the Curitiba-based rally. "The stages will be very fast and will demand a lot from the drivers."
Marcola visited the IRC-opening Monte Carlo Rally last month. He said the trip was extremely worthwhile. "The organisation was impeccable," Marcola said. "It was a good experience and I am sure we will have a rally worthy of the worldwide status the IRC demands. The cars in the IRC are spectacular and our public will see some very impressive performances."
The event will include a ceremonial start in the centre of Curitiba on Thursday March 5 and will consist of a total competitive distance of 234.65 kilometres.
Toni Gardemeister believes fans attending rounds of the Intercontinental Rally Challenge this season will be treated to an ‚exciting‘ spectacle. Gardemeister made his debut in the series on the Monte Carlo Rally last month, the tenth time he had tackled the legendary event.
Although he retired from second place due to an electrical failure, the former World Rally Championship regular was full of praise for the format of the IRC.
"It is very interesting for the people on the stages because all the times are close and the positions are changing all of the time," he said. "You have to drive the Super 2000 cars on the limit to get the most out of them and that means it is easier to make small mistakes. There are very chances for drivers in the WRC but in the IRC it is cheaper and there seems to be more opportunities."
The 33-year-old from Finland is hoping to return to the IRC this year and has confirmed he is in discussions with the Italian Astra Racing team about driving its Abarth Grande Punto on selected events, including the next round in Brazil in March.
Astra Racing team boss Luca Pregliasco commented: "We’ve still got some hurdles to overcome, but we’re racing against time to get Toni out to the next round in Brazil. He did a great job for us again, as we expected, in Monte Carlo. He’s simply one of the world’s top drivers."
Franz Wittmann Jr believes his performances in the Intercontinental Rally Challenge can only improve this season following his debut on the Monte Carlo Rally last month.
Despite being forced to retire when his Mitsubishi Lancer E9 developed an engine fault on the final leg, the Austrian was satisfied with his efforts after running in ninth overall before he stopped.
"We didn’t have the luck this time," Wittmann Jr said. "Nevertheless we learned a lot during this rally, gained international recognition and can be confident that we can keep up with our rivals on the next rallies with a similar performance."
Wittmann Jr is contesting six further IRC rounds this season in his Interwetten Racing Lancer, which is being run by Manfred Stohl’s eponymous team. His next event is the IRC’s inaugural visit to the Portuguese Azores islands for the gravel-based Sata Rally Acores from May 7-9.
Stohl, a former podium finisher in the World Rally Championship, praised his driver’s showing on the Monte Carlo Rally.
"In my opinion Franz has already graduated to the international stage with this performance," said Stohl. "Monte Carlo was a very difficult rally with a lot of snow and extremely difficult conditions. He did very well."
Factory Skoda pilot Juho Hanninen has revealed he is relishing the prospect of driving his Fabia Super 2000 on gravel. But he’ll have to wait for a couple of months after team officials confirmed it was highly unlikely that the Czech Republic-based team would enter round two of the Intercontinental Rally Challenge in Brazil next month.
Skoda is contesting a selected programme of rallies this season and the Sata Rally Acores, which runs from May 7-9, is likely to be the next event on the manufacturer’s schedule. It came close to winning last month’s Monte Carlo Rally, the first event for the new Fabia challenger.
"I feel a bit more confident on gravel, so I was very surprised at how quick we could be in Monte," said Hanninen. "To be honest I really wasn’t expecting that. So I’m very excited to go onto gravel now to see what we can do. If we have a good feeling straight away, then I think we are in a strong position.
"The car is already very good, but I’ve seen already how tricky it will be this year on the IRC. There are a lot of good drivers and the competition is very close. As a driver that is a lot of fun, but of course it makes it very hard. But the level of preparation of the Skoda is extremely impressive and the team works well."

Mitsubishi driver Franz Wittman Jr (pictured) was encouraged by a strong performance on the Monte Carlo Rally


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