The fourth round of this year’s Intercontinental Rally Challenge takes the competitors to the Azores for the first time, as the Sata Rallye Acores – previously an IRC Supporter Event – makes its debut on the full championship. Although it is new to the IRC, the Sata Rallye Acores has a long and illustrious history behind it in the European Championship, with legends of the sport such as Juha Kankkunnen amongst the former rally winners. Other drivers to have competed on the event include Alister McRae, Bruno Thiry and Gregoire de Mevius.
Nonetheless, for the vast majority of the regular IRC drivers – who will all be present this weekend – the Azores will represent a big leap into the unknown: just one of the factors that will make it such a fascinating event.
The Sata Rallye Acores is held on a wide variety of sinuous gravel roads with predominantly soft surfaces, featuring some stages that are not dissimilar to the rollercoaster roads found on the Rally New Zealand. The mid-Atlantic climate also makes for variable weather conditions, which will have a profound effect on tyre choice. The key to success on the Sata Rallye Acores will be to establish a fluid rhythm from the outset. The stages are not expected to be overly rough, meaning that the drivers should be able to make full use of the roads without too much risk of a puncture.
Many of the roads are quite wide and fast, with steep cambers that should lead to a reasonably high average speed on the stages. The driving style required to succeed on these quick stages is neat and precise, in order to establish a good flow between corners. With the rally being brand new to all the IRC competitors, it will be essential to make a good set of pace notes from the very start.
The Sata Rallye Acores gets underway with a ceremonial start from the Portas da Cidade in Ponta Delgada, the capital of San Miguel island where the event is based, at 17:30 on Thursday 7 May. The real action begins on Friday morning with the first of 18 special stages totalling 229.86 competitive kilometres. The centralised service park is located in Ponta Delgada, with the rally finish scheduled for Saturday 9 May back in Ponta Delgada at 20:05. For more information about the event, including entry lists, maps and timetables, please visit: www.satarallyeacores.com
The Sata Rallye Acores is an event that could favour the local crews, with the top Portuguese driver being Bruno Magalhaes – a previous podium finisher on the IRC and last year’s winner in the Azores – starting as car four in his Peugeot Portugal 207 S2000. In total, an impressive line-up of 49 crews will contest the first International Rally Challenge event to be held on the Azores islands. Of the registered drivers, 12 will compete in Super 2000 machinery, including Freddy Loix, who heads the IRC drivers‘ standings after three events. Loix will have a new co-driver for the Azores event, with Frederic Miclotte replacing Isidoor Smets.
One of the highlights of the event will be the return of Skoda, which made an impressive IRC debut on the Monte Carlo Rally.
Juho Hanninen, who led the opening IRC event of the season in Monte Carlo, will carry number one on the side of his factory Skoda Fabia S2000. Hanninen’s team-mate Jan Kopecky is also entered for the event, which marks the second appearance of the season by the Czech manufacturer.
Anton Alen and Giandomenico Basso will represent Abarth in two factory Grande Puntos, while Bernardo Sousa from Portugal will appear in a semi-works machine.
Freddy Loix, Bruno Magalhaes, Kris Meeke, Vitor Pascoal, Nicolas Vouilloz and newcomer Conrad Rautenbach will drive the six Peugeot 207 S2000s on the entry. Rautenbach, a World Rally Championship regular, will be getting his first taste of Super 2000 machinery on the Azores.
Portuguese drivers Ricardo Moura and Fernando Peres will lead the Mitsubishi Ralliart effort in a pair of Lancer Evo IXs. The talented Austrian Franz Wittmann Jr will also be at the wheel of a Lancer as part of his extensive IRC programme this year.
Julien Maurin will drive the sole Volkswagen Polo S2000 on the entry, while category leader Manuel Villa returns to the IRC 2WD Cup in a Fiat Punto S1600 where he will compete against Denis Millet in a Peugeot 207 RC Rallye. The top local driver in the category will be Sergio Silva, who starts as car number 20 in a Peugeot 206 GTI. For the complete entry list, please visit www.satarallyeacores.com and click on the ‚entry list‘ button.
"For me, the objective in the Azores will be to maintain my position as championship leader in the IRC. But this won’t be easy. I think there will be lots of fast drivers out there: Juho Hanninen, my team mate Nicolas Vouilloz, Kris Meeke and Bruno Magalhaes. The route of the rally is very varied, with lots of uphill and downhill sections and some bits of asphalt as well. The start order I think will be quite important as there will be a lot of loose gravel. In Brazil, I was first on the road as I was the IRC leader. But in the Azores, the FIA ‚A‘ and ‚B‘ priority drivers will be first on the road. I should have a road position of about sixth, which should be ideal."
Freddy Loix, Peugeot Belgium.
"This is a new event for me, so I’m looking forward to it a lot. I’m sure that the conditions are going to be quite tricky, and the weather could play an important part. We’ve not had so much luck up to now this season, but when things go well we have the speed, so it’s a question of once more doing our best and hoping for a clean run. I’m sure it’s going to be a very exciting weekend."
Anton Alen, factory Abarth driver
"We’ve been doing some more tests with the car since Monte Carlo and it feels good but there are still quite a lot of question marks that need to be answered. In particular, it is the first time for us on a rally with this car on gravel, so we will need to see how it performs relative to everyone else. From my point of view I am happy though as gravel is definitely the surface that I am more used to. Our pace in Monte Carlo was a very pleasant surprise, so my idea is to start this rally with the objective of finishing on the podium. If we have no problems I think it should be possible. We have a short test before the rally and hopefully that will answer a few questions for us. I’m quite sure that all our rivals will be very strong though."
Juho Hanninen, factory Skoda driver
The Sata Rallye Acores will be broadcast on the Eurosport platform at the following times. On demand video footage, featuring highlights throughout the season to date, can also be accessed via the IRC website: www.rally-irc.com. All times listed are Central European Time (CET).
Friday 8 May
– 24h30 => 25h00 LIVE highlights of Day 1 (Eurosport)
Saturday 9 May
– 03h00 => 03h30 Highlights of Day 1 (Eurosport Asia-Pacific)
– 08h00 => 08h30 Highlights of Day 1 (Eurosport 2)
– 21h15 => 21h45 LIVE highlights of Day 2 (Eurosport)
Sunday 10 May
– 04h00 => 04h30 Highlights of Day 2 (Eurosport Asia-Pacific)
– 08h00 => 08h30 Highlights of Day 2 (Eurosport 2)
– 08h30 => 09h00 Highlights of Day 2 (Eurosport)
Tuesday 12 May
– 23h00 => 23h30 Rally Highlights (Eurosport)
Thursday 13 May
– 03h30 => 04h00 Rally Highlights (Eurosport Asia-Pacific)
Friday 14 May
– 04h00 => 04h30 Rally Highlights (Eurosport Asia-Pacific)
– 13h00 => 13h30 Rally Highlights (Eurosport 2)
– 18h30 => 19h00 Rally Highlights (Eurosport 2)
Thursday 20 May
– 18h30 => 19h00 Rally Highlights (Eurosport 2)
Any media enquiries should be addressed to Anthony Peacock on firstname.lastname@example.org or +44 (0) 7766 163151. Please check the IRC series website www.rally-irc.com for all the latest information and full TV times from the Sata Rallye Acores on Eurosport. The Sata Rallye Acores media office can be contacted on: email@example.com. Copyright-free, high-resolution photographs will be available for download at the end of each day on the official IRC website. To access them, please log in with the username IRC and password media.