The reigning IRC champion, Nicolas Vouilloz, got the Rally Internacional de Curitiba off to an unusual beginning when he took the reigning FIA World Touring Car Champion, Nicolas Vouilloz, for a ride in his Peugeot 207 S2000 on the shakedown stage prior to the start of the event.
For the two French Champions, the short gravel stage on the outskirts of Curitiba was an interesting ride – although both admitted to feeling slightly nervous about the experience.
Muller, who has some experience of rally driving in the past and drove his Seat Leon TDi to victory on last year’s FIA WTCC, commented: "For any driver, it’s not easy to sit in the passenger seat, so I was a bit nervous to begin with. But in the end I was able to appreciate the experience, and I really like rally cars. It’s very hard though to compare the driving style with what we do on the circuit. For a start, on the shakedown stage I was in the right-hand seat, which is an unusual place for me to be. Secondly, there is a world of difference between driving on a rally stage on gravel and driving on a circuit on asphalt. But it was fun, and this experience has certainly re-awakened my enjoyment of rallying."
While gravel may be a comparatively new experience for Muller, he has plenty of knowledge of how to slide a competition car through corners, as he is a multiple ice racing champion. Nicolas Vouilloz’s background is slightly more unusual, as he came to rallying via downhill mountain bike racing, where he is a 10-time World Champion. Nonetheless, he said that driving the reigning World Touring Car Champion was a rare privilege.
"Yvan said before the start that he was a little bit apprehensive, which I understand completely as I would be exactly the same in a similar situation," explained Vouilloz. "So I made sure that I drove well within my limits, although we were still going at a good pace, because I wanted him to experience it properly. Actually it was quite strange for me, because normally even on the shakedown stage my co-driver, Nicolas Klinger, reads me pace notes but obviously on this occasion I did not have them. It meant that I had to really concentrate, but I hope that Yvan enjoyed it and that the experience hasn’t put him off rallying forever!"
Vouilloz now faces the first of 13 special stages on the Rally Internacional de Curitiba this morning, round two of the IRC, while Muller will embark on his title defence with the opening two FIA WTCC races on Sunday.
Two champions meet: Yvan Muller (left) enjoyed a ride with Nicolas Vouilloz on the shakedown stage before the Rally Internacional de Curitiba