Factory Skoda driver Juho Hanninen believes he can fight for a podium finish on Sata Rally Azores next week, even though he is set to run first on the road on the island-based event.
Hanninen, who led the opening round of the Intercontinental Rally Challenge in Monte Carlo in January before crashing out, is scheduled to be the first of 49 drivers to tackle the 18-stage event in his Skoda Fabia S2000.
Road position, especially on gravel events, can have a huge bearing on the final result of a rally. That’s because it takes approximately two or three cars to clear away the loose surface gravel on a stage, which means the drivers running higher up the starting order are left at a disadvantage because of the reduced levels of grip under braking and traction entering and exiting corners.
"It’s not going to be so easy in my position," said the 27-year-old from Finland. "But I don’t believe it will be such a big problem either. Yes my car will be sideways more but it is a very good car and I am very confident I can get a good result."
Hanninen and team-mate Jan Kopecky, from Czech Republic, are due to test in the Azores on Monday, May 4, when they will fine-tune the set-up of their Fabia S2000s.

Rallye Monte-Carlo, Monaco 20-24 01 2009
Hanninen hopes for another strong performance in the Azores


Nicolas Vouilloz is confident he will still be able to successfully defend his Intercontinental Rally Challenge title this year even if he doesn’t win Sata Rally Azores, which runs from May 7-9.
Vouilloz, the IRC champion in 2008, has yet to register a win this season and is currently five points behind championship leader and team-mate Freddy Loix.
After failing to score points on the Monte Carlo Rally in January, Vouilloz is currently a distant sixth in the drivers‘ standings. But he insists a podium finish will be a satisfactory result and will be enough to keep his season on track.
"There is still a long way to go in the championship so I do not have to win," said Vouilloz, 33. "Besides it will not be easy because you have to consider the road position might not be good for me and there also some very quick drivers who will be hard to beat."
Vouilloz continued: "If I have the feeling in the car then I will try, of course. We had a good test on gravel and I am confident with the car. But as long as I am the top-three places then I will be happy."

Rallye Monte-Carlo, Monaco 20-24 01 2009
Nicolas Vouilloz is aiming for a strategic approach to the year


Keith Cronin, the current leader of the British Rally Championship, has announced plans to contest at least two rounds of the Intercontinental Rally Challenge this season.
Twenty-two-year-old Cronin has won the opening two rounds of the British series and has already set his sights on making his IRC debut.
Cronin, from Ireland, wants to tackle the season closing Rally of Scotland in November but has also declared his intention to take part on a round of the IRC before then. He could event swap his current Mitsubishi Lancer E9 for a Super 2000 machine when he does so.
"The Super 2000 car is the future of rallying at the moment so the more experience I get in one the better," said Cronin. "I want to do the IRC when it comes to Scotland in November and I’m also planning another IRC round to get an understanding of the format of each event. But if I can’t get to drive a Super 2000 car I will continue in my Mitsubishi Lancer. It will still be very competitive."
Volkswagen privateer Nick West is considering a bid for the Intercontinental Rally Challenge 2WD Cup this season.
The 50-year-old finished third in the category on the Monte Carlo Rally and is currently equal sixth in the 2WD division in a Volkswagen Polo.
Now West is contemplating entering the IRC rounds in Asturias (Spain), Italy (Sanremo) and the inaugural Rally of Scotland in November because he believes he can make a impact on the class leaderboad.
He said: "I’m only four points off the lead of the championship and I keep looking at my position on ircseries.com. It makes you think I can still get something out of this but I would need to do a few more events before I begin thinking like that."
West has chosen the rallies in Italy and Spain for his return to the series because their relative close proximity to each other will restrict his costs.
Belgian drivers planning to contest the Belgium Ypres Rally from June 18-20 have from now until May 22 to be considered for selection for the BFGoodrich Drivers‘ Team on the asphalt event.
The tyre firm has teamed-up with leading entrant Kronos Racing to offer a free drive in a Peugeot 207 Super 2000. In partnership with the Royal Automobile Club of Belgium, BFGoodrich and Kronos will select five names from a list of applicants. Those names will be presented to a panel of Belgian journalists who will decide the winner through a secret ballot.
The winner will get the opportunity to test a 207 on June 10 when they will receive guidance from Kronos Racing and advice on tyre selection and usage by engineers from BFGoodrich.
Veteran Belgian driver Patrick Snijers was chosen as the winner last season and finished fifth overall. Sebastien Ogier, who drove the BFGoodrich Drivers‘ Team entry on Rally Monte Carlo.
Meanwhile, Peugeot, which has claimed success on the Belgium Ypres Rally for the last two seasons, will strengthen its association with the famous asphalt event by becoming the competition’s official vehicle supplier.
It will provide approximately 18 cars to rally organisers and sponsors to use during the three-day event through its Belgium-Luxembourg distributor. That will be in addition to the 12 Peugeot 207 Super 2000s likely to enter the rally itself.

Rallye Monte-Carlo, Monaco 20-24 01 2009
Applications are open now for the BFGoodrich prize drive in Belgium


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