The seven-year run of victories by Brazilian drivers on the Rally de Curitiba could come to an end when the event hosts the Intercontinental Rally Challenge for the first time next week.
Local hero Tino Vianna started the sequence in 2002 following a 10-year period of success for overseas pilots, including Argentines, Paraguayans and Uruguayans. But with the addition of 16 non-Brazilian drivers to the 36-car entry, it is possible that a foreign competitor could be victorious this year.
Aside from Europe-based IRC regulars like Abarth Grande Punto drivers Anton Alen and Giandomenico Basso, plus the Peugeot 207-mounted Kronos Racing trio of Freddy Loix, Kris Meeke and Nicolas Vouilloz, several South American runners are expected to challenge for victory.
They include Argentines Marcos Ligato and his Tango Rally Team team-mate Alejandro Cancio and Paraguayan ace Victor Galeano Tomboly, who was a participant in the inaugural Pirelli Star Driver Europe Shoot-Out in Austria last October.
But Kris Meeke, one of the likely frontrunners, has played down his chances. The British driver said: “I’ve never rallied in this part of the world before and there will be lots of other drivers who I know are capable of going very well.”
Oswaldo Scheer will carry Brazilian hopes at the wheel of a Mitsubishi Lancer E9.
Juho Hanninen is confident he will be able to display the same level of pace he showed on the Monte Carlo Rally when he resumes his Intercontinental Rally Challenge campaign with the factory Skoda team later this season.
The Finn and his Czech team have not included the Rally de Curitiba in Brazil next week on their six-event schedule. Although it remains unconfirmed, it’s likely they will resume their programme on the Sata Rally Acores on May 7-9, which represents a gap of more than three months since the Monte Carlo Rally.
On that event Hanninen, 27, set three fastest stage times and was leading until he picked up a puncture before ultimately crashing out as he fought to make up lost ground. But while his competitive mileage in the Skoda Fabia Super 2000 is limited, he is convinced that he can demonstrate a similar level of competitiveness when he tackles his next event.
“Yes it has been a long break but we will do some testing before the next event and I am quite sure we will still be very quick,” said Hanninen. “It’s not so good that our rivals are competing in Brazil and getting experience when we are not but the testing will keep me sharp and give the team a chance to work on the car.”
Hanninen, who won the IRC round in Russia last year on a one-off appearance in a Kronos Racing Peugeot 207, is confident he can win again this season.
“Monte Carlo was a very difficult rally but we showed we could be quick and I think this will continue on gravel,” Hanninen said. “Then we have some Tarmac rallies where my team-mate Jan Kopecky will be very fast so I think there will be some victories.”
Skoda’s sporting head Michal Hrabanek has credited the efforts of his employees for the promising start the Czech Republic-based manufacturer has made in the Intercontinental Rally Challenge this season.
Team drivers Juho Hanninen and Jan Kopecky both set fastest stage times on the Monte Carlo Rally in January. Although Hanninen crashed out, Kopecky finished the event in fourth place to move Skoda to third position in the IRC manufacturers’ standings.
Hrabanek, who is responsible for running the 30-strong Skoda Motorsport team, said: “We entered the world of rally with the Fabia Super 2000 with no expectations because we had no comparisons with other competitors. But by working hard and having people in your team who are 100 per cent motivated and enthusiastic then you’ll meet success face to face.
“Monte Carlo has shown us there is still a lot of work waiting for us in the future. But we’re respecting the progress being made by our competitors and this gives us good motivation.”
Skoda has yet to confirm when its next appearance in the IRC will be although it’s likely the Sata Rally Acores in May will be next on its schedule of six events following an extensive testing programme.
Peugeot could move to the top of the Intercontinental Rally Challenge 2WD Manufacturers’ standings following next week’s Rally de Curitiba.
It trails Fiat by two points in the category following the Monte Carlo Rally in January. But with Peugeot the only car maker contesting the 2WD division in Brazil in the absence of current rivals Fiat and Volkswagen, the French company is set to gain an important advantage.
Roberto Theodoro will drive a 1600cc-engined 206 for the Metsistem Rallye Team, Fabiano Botelho will pilot a similar car under the Senior Sistemas/Corpflex banner, while Luciano Fleck has been entered in another 1600cc 206, run by his own Fleck Motorsports concern.
The 2WD Cup was introduced last season. Marco Cavigioli won the inaugural title for Fiat in a diesel-powered Punto. Fiat driver Manuel Villa, from Italy, leads the drivers’ standings after the opening round from Frenchman Guy Mottard (Peugeot) and Briton Nick West (Volkswagen). None of the four are competing in Brazil.
Toni Gardemeister has vowed not to give up in his efforts to return to the Intercontinental Rally Challenge this season.
Gardemeister was on course for a second place finish on the Monte Carlo Rally in January – his debut appearance in the IRC – only for his Abarth Grande Punto’s alternator to fail with two stages of the event remaining.
He had be working towards continuing his programme with the Astra Racing team on Rally de Curitiba in Brazil next week but a lack of sponsorship meant he had to abandon those plans.
“We wanted to be in Brazil but there was not the budget,” said the 33-year-old Gardemeister. “But I am not giving up and I will try to do some more events later in the season.”
He added: “The Azores Rally is a possibility and it is a rally I would like to try and do but, at the moment, I am not sure what will happen although I am working very hard to carry on. All I can say is that I want to be back in a car as soon as possible because it is important to keep the feeling and the confidence that you need for driving and to be fast.”
The top three in the final Scottish Rally Championship Group N standings will receive free entries for the RAC MSA Rally of Scotland, which brings the curtain down on the Intercontinental Rally Challenge on November 19-21.
Contested over eight events, the Scottish championship has nurtured several rallying talents, including the late Colin McRae and his brother Alister, who won the IRC’s pilot event in South Africa in May 2006.
After the opening round of the Scottish championship season, the Snowman Rally on February 14, Jock Armstrong, David Bogie and Rory Young occupy the top three positions in the Group N classification.
Bogie, who drives a Mitsubishi Lancer E9, is regarded as one of Scotland’s most promising rally talents. The 21-year-old will combine a season competing in the Scottish series with a campaign in the British championship. Based on his performances during his career so far, Bogie could be an outside contender for IRC points if he secures an entry for Rally of Scotland.
Details of the event are still being finalised by the organisers but the route is expected to use forests in the counties of Perthshire and Kinross and Stirlingshire. A campaign to recruit volunteer marshals has already begun.

Next week’s Rally Internacional de Curitiba is set to be extremely closely contested, with plenty of foreign drivers to challenge the local specialists


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