STRONG ENTRY FOR BELGIUM YPRES RALLY … AND ALL THE OTHER LATEST IRC NEWS
Fans of the Super 2000 formula are in for a bumper weekend of action at the forthcoming Belgium Ypres Rally (June 19-20), with a record number of cars filling the manufacturer entries for this, the fifth round of the 2009 Intercontinental Rally Challenge. So far a total of 17 cars from seven manufacturers are being readied for the off, with a host of different nationalities represented.
Host country Belgium, one of Europe’s great rallying nations, leads the way with a six-strong contingent of talent led by former WRC star Freddy Loix, who topped the IRC points standings until the previous round in the Azores. Switzerland, Italy, France, Poland, Finland, the Czech Republic and the United Kingdom will also be represented amongst the crews.
For the manufacturers Ypres will showcase entries from runaway leader Peugeot with its 207 S2000, with strong competition coming from the new Skoda Fabia, Abarth Grande Punto and Volkswagen Polo, with the Proton Satria making its debut. Additionally the turbocharged ’showroom‘ specification Mitsubishi Lancer Evos will be out in force, ready to pounce on their non-turbo opposition.
TSJOEN SET FOR BELGIUM YPRES RALLY IN FIFTH KRONOS PEUGEOT
Pieter Tsjoen will return to the Intercontinental Rally Challenge on the Belgium Ypres Rally on June 18-20. A Belgian native, Tsjoen will drive a Peugeot 207 Super 2000 for the Kronos Racing squad, bringing the total number of cars being entered by the Namur-based team to five.
Now 35, Tsjoen hasn’t competed in the IRC since retiring from the Ypres Rally in 2007 When he was at the wheel of an Abarth Grande Punto: A result which culminated in him briefly quitting the sport and handing over his drive to countryman Freddy Loix for the remaining of that season.
He prepared for his IRC comeback by testing in Belgium on June 10, where he familiarised himself with his new car. He also practiced wheel changes alongside co-driver Eddy Chevaillier in the unfortunate event of his Peugeot suffering a puncture during the asphalt rally.
Marc van Dalen, the joint team principal of Kronos Racing, said: "Pieter is a good guy with a lot of experience. The road he tested on wasn’t completely representative of the stages he on the Ypres Rally but that won’t be a problem for him. His car will be the same as all the others and I think he can do a good job."
NEUVILLE TIPPED TO IMPRESS ON BELGIUM YPRES RALLY
Thierry Neuville is capable of producing a surprise result on the Belgium Ypres Rally according to his team boss. Neuville, who will be 21 by the time the event starts in Ypres on June 18, impressed joint Kronos Racing team principal Marc van Dalen during a test in Belgium on June 10.
Kronos is responsible for preparing the Peugeot 207 Super 2000 Neuville will use on the asphalt event, which is his prize for being selected as the BFGoodrich Drivers‘ Team representative on the Intercontinental Rally Challenge qualifier.
"I was surprised how well he did in the test because it was his first time in a four-wheel-drive car," said van Dalen. "He seems to be very mature for his age and providing he does what he is told then I really think he can get a good result because he understood very quickly how to drive these cars and what he must do."
Neuville, a German-speaking Belgian, forged a strong reputation competing in the one-make Ford Fiesta and Citroen C2 championships in his homeland. A panel of Belgian journalists, members of Belgium’s motorsport governing body and representatives of tyre company BFGoodrich and Kronos Racing selected Neuville for the drive.
WILKS AIMS TO BRING PROTON TO THE FINISH ON IRC DEBUT
British driver Guy Wilks is determined to get to the finish the Belgium Ypres Rally as he looks to increase his experience at the wheel of the Proton Satria Neo Super 2000, which makes its debut in the Intercontinental Rally Challenge on the asphalt event from June 18-20.
Wilks, a double national champion, will contest seven rounds of the IRC with the factory-backed Proton team, which could expand to run as many as three cars before the end of this season.
Although Wilks has previous experience of the IRC through an appearance in a Honda Civic Type-R on Rally Russia last year, the British designed and built Proton has only competed on three events.
"We’re comfortable with the car but I’m sure we’ll develop it and continue to better the set-up the longer the event goes on for," said Wilks. "We’re going to be going at a good enough pace to make the car work properly but we have to drive within ourselves because we just want to get to the end of Ypres with a good, solid result and put some mileage on the car because that’s one thing we haven’t got."
Wilks, 28, will be co-driven by countryman Phil Pugh.
HANNINEN IS THE FANS‘ FAVOURITE TO WIN IN YPRES
Juho Hanninen could produce a shock victory on the Belgium Ypres Rally on June 18-20, if the results of an online poll predicting the winner of the asphalt event are to be believed.
Event organisers have invited members of the public to nominate who they think will win round five of the Intercontinental Rally Challenge from a list of 11 drivers.
With the event fast approaching, Hanninen, the event’s top seed due to his FIA priority status, also heads the public poll with 27.2 per cent of the votes as of 2200hrs on Thursday June 11.
Hanninen, from Finland, has never won an event on asphalt before but impressed on the Tarmac-based Monte Carlo Rally in January, when he led in his factory Skoda Fabia Super 2000.
Freddy Loix, last year’s Ypres Rally winner, is next up with 26 per cent of the vote, while Francois Duval, another Belgian hero has attracted 20.2 per cent of the vote. Kris Meeke, who heads the IRC drivers‘ standings, is fifth with 5.3 per cent of the vote.
One factor that could work in Hanninen’s favour is his co-driver Mikko Markkula. Although Hanninen hasn’t competed on asphalt for several months, his co-driver Mikko Markkula entered the Tarmac-based British championship Jim Clark Rally in late May.
ALL-STAR FRENCH COMMENTARY TEAM ON EUROSPORT
Two of France’s great rally heroes will join forces to give their expert views on the IRC action on this weekend’s Belgium Ypres Rally. Jean-Luc Thérier and Jean-Pierre Nicolas will share the microphone and bring French-speaking fans a whole new perspective on what promises to be an extremely competitive event.
Thérier has the distinction of being the driver who scored the most points in the inaugural World Rally Championship, back in 1973. Sadly his achievement went unrewarded as the series was for manufacturers only until 1977! Synonymous with the successes of Alpine-Renault in the 1970s, he is an icon of the sport around the world.
Meanwhile Nicolas, teammate to Thérier in the 1973 season and the 1980 Monte Carlo Rally winner, will also bring his enormous expertise to bear on the coverage. "I’m really looking forward to teaming up with Jean-Luc again," Nicolas said. "The IRC is our kind of series and Ypres is always afantastic event for the competitors and spectators I can’t wait to get started."
RALLY JAPAN TO MAKE IRC DEBUT IN 2010
Rally Japan is expected to make its inaugural debut on the IRC calendar in 2010, following discussions with the local organisers to create a permanent IRC event in this country from next season onwards. Japan was due to have been the 11th round of this year’s IRC series from October 22-24, but instead the Rally Hokkaido, a round of the Japanese Rally Championship from July 11-12, will form part of the IRC Supporter Events programme.