Brazil’s first appearance in the Intercontinental Rally Challenge will be a big success according to one of the championship’s leading team bosses.
Marc van Dalen, the joint head of the Belgian team Kronos Racing, said that the IRC’s promoters deserve significant praise for the format of the Rally de Curitiba, the next round of the IRC from March 5-7.
After covering 234.65 kilometres of gravel stages, the event will culminate with a 23-kilometre special stage before the finishing ceremony at the Autódromo Internacional de Curitiba, the city’s racing circuit. The following day it hosts a round of the World Touring Car Championship, which is organised by Eurosport Events, the same company behind the IRC.
The revolutionary format of combining a rally and a circuit race has never been attempted before but it will give spectators a unique opportunity to see rally cars and touring cars in action at the same venue.
"It is a very good idea by the organisers and they should be congratulated for their efforts," said van Dalen. "It will be great for the spectators but also for the IRC because it will be seen by a new audience and that can only be good. I have seen a DVD of the stages and it looks like a very nice rally with some fast and smooth roads."
Sebastien Ogier would like to compete on more rounds of the Intercontinental Rally Challenge in 2009.
The 25-year-old from France won the season-opening Monte Carlo Rally in a Peugeot 207 last month – his debut in the IRC and his first outing in a Super 2000 car – after being selected to drive the BFGoodrich Drivers‘ Team’s entry on the legendary event.
Ogier is contesting the World Rally Championship this season for the Citroën Junior Team but is keen to tackle as many rallies as possible as he looks to build his competitive experience.
"I liked the experience of the IRC very much and of course I would like to do some more rounds of the series," said Ogier, who won the Junior World Rally Championship title last season. "If I was offered a chance to do more IRC rallies then of course I would say ‚yes‘."
Meanwhile the BFGoodrich Drivers‘ Team will be back in action on the Ypres Westhoek Rally in Belgium in June when a panel of the country’s leading motorsport journalists will be called upon to select a driver to contest the challenging asphalt event.
The factory Abarth team has been testing the Grande Punto S2000 in preparation for the forthcoming gravel rounds of the IRC. All three works drivers – Giandomenico Basso, Anton Alen, and Luca Rossetti – spent time behind the wheel of the latest-specification Grande Punto on some gravel stages near Siena in Tuscany. The test aimed to develop some new running gear on the Grande Punto, and also to reacquaint the drivers with gravel, following the ice and snow of the Monte Carlo Rally.
Alen, who was set for a top-six finish in Monte Carlo before retiring on the final road section, said: "It’s good to get back to driving on gravel again: really fun. We know that the car has plenty of speed on gravel already, now we’re just trying to develop it a bit further and check a couple of new things. I don’t know quite what to expect on the Curitiba Rally as it’s a new experience for me, but I like the sound of it very much."
While Brazil is a new experience for both the IRC and Anton, his famous father Markku Alen previously competed in the country exactly 30 years ago – on the first Rally Internacional do Brasil in 1979.
Bernardo Sousa could compete on as many as three rounds of the Intercontinental Rally Challenge this season.
The 21-year-old has signed to drive for the Portuguese Sports & You team to contest the Production Car World Rally Championship (PCWRC) in an Abarth Grande Punto. He is also targeting a programme of additional events, including the IRC.
"I am looking at the Azores, plus one Tarmac event and maybe one more gravel event," Sousa said. "Madeira is a possibility but that is my home rally so there is always a big pressure on you to try to win your home event and that is not easy. The Rally Principe de Asturias in Spain could also be quite interesting but we will have to see."
Sousa said one of the attractions of the IRC was the regulation controlling the number of passes a driver can make of a stage during the reconnaissance. On PCWRC events, drivers are restricted to two passes only. On selected IRC events, they are allowed to drive through a stage up to four times.
"That could also be an advantage for me because my experience is not so high on some events," Sousa said.
Sousa also said he was keen to try an asphalt-based rally with his new Abarth Grande Punto: the PCWRC calendar is made up of snow or gravel events.
The Peugeot 207 Super 2000 used to win the Monte Carlo Rally last month will be in action on Rally de Curitiba in Brazil in March, even though Sebastien Ogier, the event winner, won’t be in action in South America.
Kronos Racing, the team responsible for overseeing the young Frenchman’s stunning victory on the opening round of the Intercontinental Rally Challenge in January, shipped the car to Brazil earlier this week where Peugeot UK’s Kris Meeke will drive it.
Meeke’s original car suffered irreparable chassis damage in the roll that put the 29-year-old out of the event. With insufficient time to build a replacement, Meeke will transfer to Kronos-run BFGoodrich Drivers‘ Team machine for the rallies in Brazil and the Azores, which aren’t part of the tyre firm’s schedule of rallies.
"It is no problem for Kris because all our cars are the same specification so it will be easy for him to change cars," said Kronos Racing team principal Marc van Dalen. "It may even provide him with some good luck because it is not only the car Ogier used in Monte Carlo but it is also the same car Juho Hanninen used to win Rally Russia last season."
In addition to a car for Meeke, Kronos will field additional entries in Brazil for Belgium’s Freddy Loix and defending IRC drivers‘ champion Nicolas Vouilloz, from France.

Abarth has been encouraged by some recent tests in preparation for the forthcoming gravel rounds of the IRC

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