Jan Kopecky has tipped defending Intercontinental Rally Challenge champion, Nicolas Vouilloz, to win the next round of the series in Brazil on March 5-7.
Czech Republic star Kopecky will skip the Rally de Curitiba because it’s not part of his Skoda team’s six-event schedule. But he reckons Vouilloz, who failed to score on the season-opening Monte Carlo Rally last month when he broke his Peugeot 207’s suspension sliding into a ditch, will bounce back from that disappointment and claim all ten drivers‘ championship points in South America.
"He will be trying to do his best after Monte Carlo and I believe he will win this rally," said the 27-year-old Kopecky. "This guy is really amazing, very nice but also very, very fast."
Kopecky competed against Vouilloz on four rounds of the IRC in 2008 and beat him to third place on the Rally of Portugal last May.
"Not only is Nicolas a very good driver," Kopecky continued, "but he doesn’t make so many mistakes. Monte Carlo was the first rally where I had seen him go off. He’s very professional and will come back."
Vouilloz, who turned 33 earlier this month, will drive one of three Peugeot 207 Super 2000s prepared by the Belgian Kronos Racing squad in Brazil. He will be co-driven by fellow Frenchman Nicolas Klinger.
Mitsubishi’s chances of claiming a strong haul of manufacturers‘ points on the Rally de Curitiba have improved after rapid Argentine Marcos Ligato entered the Intercontinental Rally Challenge qualifier next month.
The Japanese make is fourth in the standings after the Monte Carlo Rally but could move up to third in the table at the expense of the factory Skoda squad, which is missing the trip to South America.
Ligato, who was a regular in the Production Car World Rally Championship for ten seasons, won the event, when it was named the Graciosa Rally, in 2000. He will compete again this year albeit at the wheel of a Mitsubishi Lancer E10, the Japanese firm’s latest generation rally car.
"Marcos has a good chance of challenging the IRC regulars," the event organisers said. "He has the experience of competing all over the world and he is familiar with this rally."
The 31-year-old will team-up with regular navigator Ruben Garcia, who has partnered him for most of his professional career, including the 2001 Safari Rally, when they placed seventh overall. The Safari Rally is the next event on the IRC schedule after Rally de Curitiba.
Mitsubishi will also be represented by Brazilian championship runner-up, Oswald Scheer, who will be competing in a Mitsubishi Lancer E9 alongside co-driver Gilson Rocha.
Freddy Loix has admitted he won’t drive flat-out to win the Rally de Curitiba in Brazil next month.
The 38-year-old Peugeot 207 Super 2000 pilot finished second on the Monte Carlo Rally last month and could move to the top of the Intercontinental Rally Challenge drivers‘ standings with a strong result in South America.
However, he has vowed to be cautious in order to ensure he reaches the finish of the event, which will appear on the IRC schedule for the first time this year.
"This kind of rally suits my driving style because the stages are quite fast with some crests and that’s what I like," Loix said. "I can see the rally being a bit like a sprint because the stages are quite short. But my target will be to take it steady. There are six Super 2000 cars competing and it’s important to be in one of the top places at the finish."
Loix said he will also be taking into account the fact he hasn’t contested a gravel event for eight months.
"I want to show that I can be quick but my last gravel event was in Russia last July where I finished fourth," the Belgian said. "Because I have not driven on gravel for a very long time it will take me some time to find a good rhythm and it’s important not to take too many risks."
Crews competing on the Rally de Curitiba in Brazil on March 5-7 have been given a sneak preview of the stages that will make up the second round of the Intercontinental Rally Challenge.
They have each been sent a DVD of on-board footage filmed from a car driving through the seven different venues.
Freddy Loix, who is second in the IRC standings following the first event of the season, January’s Monte Carlo Rally, said: "It looks like it’s going to be a nice rally. The stages are quite quick and from looking at the DVD there will be lots of crests."
Meanwhile, Kris Meeke, the British ace who will compete at the wheel of a Peugeot UK-backed 207 Super 2000, likened the roads to Italy’s round of the World Rally Championship. "They’re a bit like the roads in Sardinia, quite smooth and fast," he said.
Among the most demanding stages is the Bocaiuva test, which is 28 kilometres in length and features 400 curves on undulating roads. It is scheduled for the second day of the two-day rally.
The Rally de Curitiba will be made up of 13 special stages totalling more than 220 kilometres. The event is due to finish at the Autodromo Internacional de Curitiba, the city’s racing circuit, on Saturday March 7, one hour before the start of qualifying for the World Touring Car Championship round the following day.
Fans attending the Ypres Westhoek Rally in Belgium will be able to take advantage of several new initiatives when the Intercontinental Rally Challenge heads to the historic Belgian town from June 19-21.
Organisers are creating several spectator zones to provide improved viewing opportunities for members of the public on special selected special stages. They will also erect enhanced signage to give fans better guidance when travelling to the stages.
In addition, the amount of space available in the service area in the market square in Ypres will be extended, with the intention of giving more members of the public a chance to view the competing cars close-up while their teams are working on them.
The challenge for the competitors will be increased with several stages set to undergo modifications to make them more technical and even faster. The route could also a stage across over the border in France.
Rally manager Alain Penasse said: "The growing success of the IRC has attracted more manufacturers and sponsors to the Ypres Rally. If we combine this with our changes I am confident the 2009 event will be one of the best. It will be an event you will not want to miss and I am really looking forward to this challenge."

Reigning IRC champion Nicolas Vouilloz has been tipped as a potential winner of the Curitiba Rally


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