The Intercontinental Rally Challenge will embrace a new concept with the Rally Internacional de Curitiba, which gets underway in Brazil on Friday. This event will be held at the same venue as the opening round of the FIA World Touring Car Championship – which is also promoted by Eurosport Events.
The rally runs around the city of Curitiba, to the south of Rio de Janeiro, with the service park based in the Curitiba International circuit, alongside the FIA World Touring Car Championship paddock. The special stages get underway on Friday morning and finish on Saturday lunchtime, just before qualifying for the World Touring Car races. With this innovative timetable, rallying and racing has come together in a way that has not yet been seen before. A number of activities are scheduled to take place before the rally that will see the racing drivers get close to their rallying counterparts and vice versa.
For the majority of the regular drivers, the Rally Internacional de Curitiba will also be a brand new event, marking the IRC’s first gravel round of the season and the first time that the series has visited South America. The roads contain a wide mixture of fast and flowing gravel stages, which will allow every crew to exploit the capabilities of their cars to the maximum. However, there are a number of traps to catch out the unwary, giving the local drivers a distinct advantage in terms of experience.
The weather in Brazil is another factor that is sure to play a part. At this time of year, weather conditions around Curitiba are expected to be uncertain, and rain has been forecast along with warm temperatures. This makes tyre choice a vital element of success, and with no previously established data to go on, crews will have to rely on both accurate information and a little bit of luck.
The first stage of the Curitiba Rally gets underway at 09:00 on Friday 6 March, after the cars leave parc ferme at the Curitiba circuit, located just outside the city centre. The competitors will contest seven stages on the opening day, with the last of those stages starting at 15:15. Day two, Saturday 7 March, will see the crews start off again at 09:00 to take in six more stages, including the most challenging stage of the rally – the 28 kilometres of Bocaiuva – which is run twice as SS8 and SS11. The final stage of the rally begins at 14:45, concluding the 234 competitive kilometres after a total of 13 tough special stages. The finish then takes place at the Curitiba circuit, just before the FIA World Touring Car qualifying session starts. For more information about the event, please visit the rally’s official website: www.rallydecuritiba.com.br.
The Rally Internacional de Curitiba will see five of the IRC’s regular stars battle it out against a strong contingent of local drivers, who know the terrain well and are strongly poised to spring a surprise. A total of 35 cars are scheduled to take the start.
The first car off the ramp is the Peugeot UK 207 S2000 of up-and-coming British star Kris Meeke. After setting a fastest stage time on the opening round of this year’s IRC series in Monte Carlo, Meeke proved himself to be capable of fighting for the podium until his impressive progress was halted by a big accident. Consequently, Meeke will have a new Peugeot prepared for him by Kronos Racing – which is actually the same car that Sebastien Ogier used to win the Monte Carlo Rally in January and Juho Hanninen used to triumph in Russia last year.
Two more Peugeots will be entered by Peugeot Belgium on the Curitiba Rally, for reigning IRC Champion Nicolas Vouilloz and last year’s runner-up, Freddy Loix. With Vouilloz failing to score in Monte Carlo following an off-road excursion, the Frenchman will be out to redress the balance in Brazil. Loix, who finished second in Monte Carlo, has stated by contrast that he will not be going all-out to take a win at any cost, as he can afford a certain safety margin.
The Abarth factory team will be represented by Giandomenico Basso and Anton Alen, both driving the Grande Punto S2000 The event is brand new to both drivers but 30 years ago Markku Alen – Anton’s famous father – contested and won the very first Rally do Brasil, in 1979 with a Fiat 131 Mirafiori. That event marked the last time that Fiat entered a rally in Brazil as a factory team, so some history will be recreated in Curitiba this weekend and both Abarth drivers are looking forward to the challenge, in order to reclaim the initiative in the manufacturers’ championship.
The regular IRC drivers will also face strong competition from some of the local crews in Mitsubishi Lancers. Oswaldo Scheer is set to be the top Brazilian, starting as car number 10 in his Mitsubishi Lancer Evo 9, but a star attraction is sure to be Argentinean driver Marcos Ligato, who was for many years a frontrunner in the Production Car World Rally Championship. Ligato will give the new Mitsubishi Lancer Evo 10 its IRC debut in Brazil, and the experienced Argentine is sure to be a top contender throughout both full days of action.
In the IRC 2WD Cup category, Peugeot currently trails Fiat by two points following the Monte Carlo Rally, but the French manufacturer has a chance to make up lost ground thanks to a strong entry in Brazil. 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 team.
Fiat is represented in the IRC 2WD Cup by the Palios of Luis Tedesco and Marcelo Franco, while additional entries from Volkswagen and Honda mean that nearly all the IRC-registered manufacturers will be present in Brazil.
For the complete entry list, please visit the IRC website, www.rally-irc.com, or the Curitiba Rally website, www.rallydecuritiba.com.br.
“This kind of rally suits my driving style because the stages are quite fast with some crests and that’s what I like. 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 five Super 2000 cars competing and it’s important to be in one of the top places at the finish. I want to show that I can be quick but my last gravel event was in Russia last July where I finished fourth. 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.”
Freddy Loix, Peugeot Belgium driver.
“I’m looking forward to Brazil now. What happened in Monte Carlo, when I went off the road, was just down to my inexperience of these conditions. Brazil is going to be a level playing field and I’m sure we can get back on track there I’m very excited by both this rally and the whole IRC in general. It really hands drivers such as me a fantastic opportunity, and I’m absolutely delighted to be here. Nobody has any particular advantage in terms of experience here, so I think that will help me.”
Kris Meeke, Peugeot UK driver
“There’s a little bit of family history here as my dad won the rally back in 1979: before I was even born! But as for me, I’m not really so sure what to expect. I hear though that it is a very nice gravel rally with some quite quick places, so hopefully it should suit us well. We’ve done some testing in Italy and I think the car is in good shape, so I’m aiming for a good result here. We had a bit of a disappointing start to the season in Monaco, so we need to make up for it.”
Anton Alen, Abarth driver.
A key feature of the IRC is high-quality television broadcasts. Coverage of the Monte Carlo on Eurosport, Europe’s largest television channel, will be at the times listed below (all times are CET). There will also be video highlights on the internet allowing on-demand viewing. Simply click on www.rally-irc.com for a direct link to the heart of the rally action.
Friday 6 March
– 00h00 => 00h30     Highlights of Day 1 (Eurosport)
– 00h30 => 01h00     Highlights of Day 1 (Eurosport 2)
– 02h30 => 03h00     Highlights of Day 1 (Eurosport Asia-Pacific)
Saturday 7 March
– 10h05 => 10h35     Highlights of Day 2 (Eurosport 2)
– 00h00 => 00h30     Highlights of Day 2 (Eurosport)
– 02h00 => 02h30     Highlights of Day 2 (Eurosport Asia-Pacific)
Sunday 8 March
– 04h45 => 05h15     Highlights of Day 1 (Eurosport Asia-Pacific)
– 05h15 => 05h45     Highlights of Day 2 (Eurosport Asia-Pacific)
– 08h00 => 08h30     Highlights of Day 2 (Eurosport 2)
– 08h30 => 09h00     Highlights of Day 2 (Eurosport)
– 16h00 => 16h30     Highlights of Day 2 (Eurosport Asia-Pacific)
Tuesday 10 March
– 23h30 => 24h00      RallyHighlights (Eurosport)
Wednesday 11 March
– 08h30 => 09h00      RallyHighlights (Eurosport Asia-Pacific)
– 17h45 => 18h15      RallyHighlights (Eurosport Asia-Pacific)
– 18h30 => 19h00      RallyHighlights (Eurosport 2)
Thursday 12 March
– 17h00 => 17h30      RallyHighlights (Eurosport 2)
Monday 16 March
– 21h00 => 21h30      RallyHighlights (Eurosport Asia-Pacific)
Thursday 19 March
– 03h30 => 04h00      RallyHighlights (Eurosport Asia-Pacific)

The Rally Internacional de Curitiba, which gets underway on Friday, will see rallying and racing come together – as the venue also hosts the opening round of the FIA World Touring Car Championship



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