SATA RALLY ACORES PRESENTED … AND ALL THE OTHER LATEST NEWS FROM THE IRC
The Sata Rally Acores, which will be the fourth round of the IRC from May 7-9, was recently presented at a press conference on San Miguel Island, which will host the event.
Representatives of the Azorean Government, event backers Grupo Desportivo Comercial (GDC) and the IRC were present at the press conference. The Sata Rally Acores, which previously formed part of the IRC Supporter Event scheme, is set to become a major tool of promotion of the Azorean Islands.
The presentation ceremony, held in the presence of major local dignitaries, underlined the values that the Sata Rally Acores shares with the IRC: namely heritage and the beauty of the landscape.
Francisco Coelho, the president of the organising committee, said: "Our event meets the standards of excellence needed to be a part of the IRC. It forms a great vehicle for the promotion of the Azorean Islands abroad."
Antonio Gomes de Meneses, the president of event sponsor Sata added: "This is a happy day for all Azoreans and for Sata, a company on its way to becoming a benchmark worldwide."
Xavier Gavory, the IRC’s General Coordinator, concluded: "The Sata Rally Acores is a valuable tool to promote the Azores due to the IRC’s increasing television presence in over 100 million households. We look forward to seeing everyone during the first weekend of May. "
A press conference was held to mark the launch of the Sata Rally Acores
VOLKSWAGEN TEAM TARGETING AZORES RETURN
The number of Super 2000 variants contesting the Sata Rally Azores in May looks set to grow after the René Georges Rally Sport squad confirmed it was planning to enter a Volkswagen Polo on the island event.
Designed by Volkswagen’s distributor in South Africa, the car has been developed by René Georges‘ eponymous team in Belgium over the last couple of seasons and made its debut in the Intercontinental Rally Challenge in 2007.
Jack de Keizjer, the team co-ordinator, revealed he was confident at least one car would compete in the Azores with a second entry being planned for the Ypres Rally in Belgium in June.
"We are talking to some drivers at the moment but we cannot say exactly who for at least one week," de Keizjer said. "The plan is to do between five and six rallies with one car in Azores and then a second car in Ypres."
René Georges‘ team has subjected the Polo to extensive development over the winter and has prioritised enhancing the engine and suspension.
"It is not easy because we are only a private team against many big factory teams but we believe in this car and we are confident we can be in the top five when we come back to the IRC," said de Keizjer.
AUSTRIAN DRIVER CONSIDERS IRC CAMPAIGN
Andreas Waldherr could combine a programme of Intercontinental Rally Challenge events with his domestic championship campaign in Austria.
Waldherr, 40, will pilot the Volkswagen Polo Super 2000, previously driven by Bernd Casier in the IRC, on the remaining six rounds of this year’s Austrian championship, starting with the Lavanttal Rallye on March 27/28.
The car is one of two owned by Volkswagen Motorsport Austria, which has combined forces with the Belgian René Georges Rally Sport operation.
"We will provide technical support to Volkswagen Motorsport Austria in their challenge for the 2009 Austrian Rally Championship and two of our team members will be on all Austrian rallies," said René Georges Rally Sport team co-ordinator Jack de Keizjer.
"We are progressing with the car all of the time and doing our best to improve the power of the engine and the handling. Andreas is one of the favourites for the title this year and will have a strong challenge against the Skoda Fabia Super 2000 of Raimund Baumschlager."
Although Waldherr has yet to commit to any IRC events, de Keizjer added: "It is also possible he will compete on some rallies outside of Austria, including some selected IRC rounds."
If Waldherr join the IRC, he would double the Austrian representation in the series: Franz Wittmann Jr is contesting seven events in an Interwetten Racing Mitsubishi Lancer E9.
LEADING BRITISH DRIVER HOPES FOR IRC ENTRY
Guy Wilks, a two-time winner of the British Rally Championship, is planning to progress to the Intercontinental Rally Challenge this season.
The 29-year-old Briton actually contested the IRC-counting Rally Russia in a Honda Civic Type-R last July but was unable to continue in the JAS Motorsport-run car this season after Honda withdrew from international competition at the end of 2008.
Wilks has since linked-up with the Mellors Elliott Motorsport team, the British company responsible for Proton’s Satria Neo Super 2000 challenger, and completed a test in Wales last month. Proton became the seventh manufacturer to register for the IRC in March.
"I would like to do the IRC," said Wilks. "There are lots of opportunities in the IRC because it is attracting manufacturers who all seem to be very enthusiastic. I’ve tested the Proton for one day and I was very impressed with it. There are some areas where it can be improved but I am sure that will come. I’m convinced it can get some very good results in the IRC."
Wilks was a former rival of his fellow Briton Kris Meeke in the Junior World Rally Championship. Meeke has established himself as one of the IRC’s leading drivers after winning the second round of the series in Brazil last month.
SOUSA CONFIRMED IN PROCAR-RUN ABARTH
Portuguese driver Bernardo Sousa has confirmed he will take part on two rounds of the Intercontinental Rally Challenge this season in an Abarth Grande Punto run by the Italian Procar Rally Team.
Sousa, who was born on the Portuguese governed island of Madeira, is also contesting the Production Car World Rally Championship in the Italian-built machine. His IRC programme will include the rallies in Azores in May and Madeira at the end of July.
A spokesperson for the Procar team said: "He showed last year a considerable level of performance and it is a very important agreement we have defined."
Sousa, 21, has contested the Sata Rally Azores on two previous occasions but has twice failed to finish. Nevertheless, he has described the event as one of the best on the international calendar, despite the traditional rivalry that exists between Madeira and the Azores, another Portuguese territory.
"I love the rally," said Sousa. "The roads are in very good condition but in some places they are narrow with a lot of rocks. What is the most impressive is the countryside. It is beautiful and also very peaceful."
The event will begin with a shakedown on Thursday May 7. The two competitive legs take place on Friday May 8 and Saturday May 9.
SKODA ACE HANNINEN IS FIRST TO START PRACTICE EVENT
Skoda’s Finnish star Juho Hanninen will lead a field of more than 70 crews when the Valasska Rally gets underway in the Czech Republic on March 27.
Hanninen and his factory Skoda team-mate Jan Kopecky, who will be the fourth driver to leave the start ramp in Valasska, are using the event as part of the ongoing development of the Skoda Fabia Super 2000, which made its competition debut on the Monte Carlo Rally in January, the opening round of this year’s Intercontinental Rally Challenge.
The event consists of six special stages covering a total distance of 67.86 kilometres on Friday evening before the restart on Saturday when competitors face a further 94.90 kilometres of competitive action split between eight stages.
Skoda’s motorsport director Michal Hrabanek said: "We appreciate having another opportunity to test the vehicle in a real competition after the Monte Carlo Rally. Like on the previous occasion, we want to move a few steps forward with our vehicle development efforts, and although the main purpose of our appearance at the Valasska Rally is to test the new vehicle, our ambitions also include achieving the best possible result."
Czech Roman Kresta is set to provide the Skoda drivers with their closest opposition. The former World Rally Championship star is due to drive a Peugeot 207 Super 2000 run by the Mogul Racing Team.
Skoda’s next appearance in the IRC will be the Sata Rally Azores in May. It will enter a further four events with Rally Russia in July and Barum Rally Zlin in its native Czech Republic in August also likely to be included on the schedule.
Volkswagen could return to the IRC on the Sata Rally Acores