Peugeot UK driver Kris Meeke has claimed the lead after the opening day of the Curitiba Rally in Brazil, making a perfect start by winning all seven of the gravel special stages that were run as leg one. Meeke did not put a foot wrong from the very beginning, and he returns to parc ferme tonight at the Curitiba circuit – which also hosts the opening round of the FIA World Touring Car Championship this weekend – with a 48.6-second cushion over his nearest rival.
While the contest for the lead was clear cut, the battle for second place was much closer. On the final stage of the day, factory Abarth Grande Punto driver Giandomenico Basso got past the Peugeot Belgium 207 S2000 of Nicolas Vouilloz, concluding a battle that had lasted throughout the afternoon. Both drivers enjoyed a clean run throughout the day with no major problems, but in the end it was Basso who overhauled the reigning IRC champion, who had started the rally by taking the FIA WTCC title-holder Yvan Muller for a ride during the shakedown on Thursday morning.
Both Basso and Vouilloz were happy with their performances when it came to the competitive action today, and they are looking forward to resuming their epic battle over the six gravel stages that will make up the final day of the rally tomorrow. They will start tomorrow’s leg separated by just 0.3 seconds.
In fourth place at the end of day one was Argentinean driver Alejandro Cancio, driving a Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution for the Tango Rally Team. Cancio was extremely strong, setting times that were never out of the top six and concluding the day with a third-fastest time on the final stage of the day.
Peugeot Belgium’s Freddy Loix, who finished second on January’s opening round of the IRC in Monte Carlo, was first on the road today and so had the unenviable task of sweeping it clean for all the following competitors. He consquently lost a lot of time sliding on loose gravel and has ended up in a provisional fifth place overall, 18 seconds behind Cancio.
The Paraguayan Victor Galeano is sixth overnight, ahead of the top Brazilian driver who is Oswaldo Scheer, in a similar Mitsubishi. Another Brazilian, Paulo Nobre, rounds out the points-scoring places with eighth, also in a Mitsubishi.
The flat-out Brazilian gravel roads, with a hard and compacted surface, claimed a couple of high-profile victims today. Factory Abarth driver Anton Alen had an impact with a rock on a first gear corner towards the end of SS3, which punctured his rear-left tyre and also broke a suspension joint. The Finn – who had been running in a strong second place – was forced to make emergency repairs by the roadside, and then lost time driving slowly through the following stage. Once back at service, the Abarth mechanics restored the car to full health and Alen was able to continue at his previous pace, setting second-fastest time on the final stage of the day.
Argentinean driver Marcos Ligato, Cancio’s team mate in the Tango Rally Team and a well-established frontrunner in the Production Car World Rally Championship, was running in an excellent fifth place until SS4, when he picked up a puncture that he did not stop to change. Unfortunately the flailing rubber damaged his Mitsubishi’s radiator, and although he got to the end of the stage with not much time lost, the damage inflicted proved to be terminal.
The IRC 2WD Cup is led by local driver Rafael Tulio in a Peugeot 206 S1600. His compatriot Luis Tedesco is second, just over a minute behind in a Fiat Palio S1600. Another Brazilian, Peugeot’s Marcos Tokarski, is third in this hotly-contested category.
IRC RESULTS AFTER SS7, RALLY INTERNACIONAL DE CURITIBA (BRAZIL)
1 Meeke/Nagle Peugeot 207 S2000 50m47.0s
2 Basso/Dotta Abarth Grande Punto S2000 +48.6s
3 Vouilloz/Klinger Peugeot 207 S2000 +48.9s
4 Cancio/Garcia Mitsubishi Lancer Evo 9 +1m03.6s
5 Loix/Smeets Peugeot 207 S2000 +1m22.5s
6 Galeano/Fabiani Mitsubishi Lancer Evo 9 +2m31.6s
7 Scheer/Rocha Mitsubishi Lancer Evo 9 +5m36.6s
8 Nobre/Paula Mitsubishi Lancer Evo 9 +7m03.6s
9 Tulio/Valandro Peugeot 206 S1600 +8m22.2s
10 Alen/Alanne Abarth Grande Punto S2000 +9m32.9s
Two-wheel drive leader: Rafael Tulio (Peugeot 206 S1600)
"It’s been the perfect day for me. I’ve really enjoyed myself driving this car over these fantastic roads. I have to say that this is one of the best rallies I have ever driven on. It’s amazing how when you have a good feeling with the car, everything just comes easily. The contrast with Monte Carlo could not be greater: I think Monte Carlo was the most difficult rally I have ever done. Here, I’m feeling very confident. But tomorrow is sure to be a much more difficult day than today. I’m going to be first on the road and that means I’ll definitely lose time. It’s going to be hard to set fastest times tomorrow but if we can look after the margin that we have, then that’s obviously a great result. If it rains that should help us too, so I’m going to do a rain dance tonight!"
-Kris Meeke, Peugeot UK driver
"It’s been a good day, where we’ve had no problems, and it’s nice to end it with an exciting battle like we had with Nicolas this afternoon. I wasn’t so comfortable with the car on the first stage of the afternoon loop, but we were able to push progressively harder towards the end of it and set some good times. Tomorrow though I think will be a lot more tricky: the route is a lot more technical and also narrower, so there is a bigger risk of punctures and getting into trouble. So far we’ve managed to avoid that, so hopefully we can keep it this way tomorrow."
-Giandomenico Basso, Abarth driver
"Kris seems to have been in a league of his own today and unfortunately there’s not much we can do to compete with that but of course we have our own big battle with Giandomenico, which will continue tomorrow. I like the stages a lot but they are not so easy: it’s important to settle into a rhythm so that the car flows properly and that’s not so obvious. The stages tomorrow are quite different and it looks like the weather could be wet as well, so I think it’s going to be a very exciting finish to the rally."
-Nicolas Vouilloz, Peugeot Belgium driver
THE ROUTE TOMORROW
Saturday’s final day of action in Brazil sees the crews complete a total of six stages, making up 119.51 competitive kilometres. The day starts at 07:20, followed by a loop of three stages that includes the longest and most challenging stage of the rally, the 28.05-kilometre Bocaiuva test. The cars then return for a 20-minute service at the Curitiba circuit at 10:20.
This service halt is followed by three more stages. The cars will return to the Curitiba circuit for the finish at 14:05, which will be followed by the FIA WTCC qualifying session.
Eurosport will broadcast highlights from the Curitiba Rally regularly, and video highlights can also be viewed on the official IRC website: www.rally-irc.com. To watch highlights from Brazil and the rest of year, please click on ‚watch video highlights‘. Alternatively, click on the flag of your preferred language in the Yahoo Eurosport box. All times listed below are Central European Times.
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 Rally Highlights (Eurosport)
Wednesday 11 March
– 08h30 => 09h00 Rally Highlights (Eurosport Asia-Pacific)
– 17h45 => 18h15 Rally Highlights (Eurosport Asia-Pacific)
– 18h30 => 19h00 Rally Highlights (Eurosport 2)
Thursday 12 March
– 17h00 => 17h30 Rally Highlights (Eurosport 2)
Monday 16 March
– 21h00 => 21h30 Rally Highlights (Eurosport Asia-Pacific)
Thursday 19 March
– 03h30 => 04h00 Rally Highlights (Eurosport Asia-Pacific)
Kris Meeke was on dominant form to win all the stages on the opening day of the Curitiba Rally in his Peugeot UK 207 S200