YPRES PERFORMANCE BOOSTS SKODA … AND ALL THE OTHER NEWS FROM THE IRC
Skoda Motorsport boss Michal Hrabanek believes Jan Kopecky’s second place finish on the Belgium Ypres Rally recently will be a major step towards the Czech manufacturer achieving its debut win in the Intercontinental Rally Challenge.
Speaking after Kopecky’s second consecutive runner-up placing in the IRC, which also marked his first podium on a full asphalt rally, Hrabanek said the result was very significant.
"Just like we presumed the Ypres Rally was a tough fight for every second, which is actually typical of the entire IRC series and certainly attractive from the perspective of the rally fans," said Hrabanek. "The final result confirms that our success at the Azores Rally was no coincidence and that we are indeed good enough to fight for the overall victory."
Hrabanek, however, urged caution, adding: "We haven’t made the last step, though, and we know that we still have a lot of hard work to do. The experience we have gained in Belgium will definitely help us in our development work and in preparing the car for the races to come, as well as in our customer sales programme."
Skoda will return to the IRC on Rally Russia, which is due to run from July 9-11.
Skoda enjoyed another strong run in Belgium
HONDA AND PIEPERS AIM FOR IRC 2WD GLORY
Honda driver Marcel Piepers has emerged as an outside bet for 2WD Cup honours in this year’s Intercontinental Rally Challenge following his victory in the emerging class on the recent Belgium Ypres Rally.
Piepers was the first of two Honda drivers in the top three of the 2WD section on the popular asphalt event. Fellow Dutchman Martijn Braat was third in a similar Civic Type R, while fourth place for Belgian Patrick Vandeputte completed an astonishing Honda performance after it scored more manufacturer points than any other make on the event.
Although Piepers will skip the next two rounds in Russia and Madeira, he is set to return for Barum Rally Zlin in August when he will be a favourite for 2WD Cup honours.
"The result means that we are now joint second in the IRC 2WD Cup drivers‘ rankings and we have also boosted Honda’s score in the IRC manufacturers‘ standings," said Piepers. "It was an excellent rally for us and our Honda performed perfectly throughout all 16 stages. All we did was put in fuel and change the tyres."
Alessandro Mariani of JAS Motorsport, the company responsible for overseeing the Honda Civic Type R rally programme, added: "To achieve such a successful result on one of the toughest events of the IRC only increases our satisfaction."
Piepers won the IRC 2WD Cup for Honda in Belgium
WILKS HAS HIGH HOPES FOR PROTON DESPITE TOUGH DEBUT
Guy Wilks has said he will be able to take many positives away from his retirement on the Belgium Ypres Rally recently.
Wilks, who was giving Proton’s Satria Neo Super 2000 its debut in the Intercontinental Rally Challenge, retired on the opening day of the event following a crash. However, the British driver said the fact he was as high as 11th on the car’s first proper event suggested the Proton has a huge amount of potential.
"I’m disappointed and the whole of the Proton team is that we weren’t able to finish and get the mileage in the car we were looking for," said Wilks. "The Proton had been really well received by the IRC fans and they were brilliant helping us to get back on the road after our accident."
Wilks said he had already turned his attentions to the next round of the series, Rally Russia, which runs from July 9-11.
"I’m already thinking ahead to Rally Russia," said Wilks. "We always knew it was going to be difficult against the more experienced teams here. But we know what we have got to do and given time and testing and some data to compare our performance against the others we’ll be right up there."
BFGOODRICH DRIVERS‘ TEAM SEARCH UNDERWAY FOR CZECH RALLY
The search for the next BFGoodrich Drivers‘ Team participant will begin in earnest shortly following the recent Belgium Ypres Rally.
Giving the opportunity for a rising star from selected countries to tackle their home event of the Intercontinental Rally Challenge in a fully funded Peugeot 207 Super 2000, the programme will continue on Barum Rally Zlin in August.
Before then, however, representatives of tyre firm BFGoodrich, Kronos Racing (the company responsible for preparing the 207 S2000 used for the project), the Czech Republic’s motorsport governing body and members of the Czech media will have to consider applications from various candidates before eventually selecting a winner.
Last year’s recipient on Barum Rally Zlin, Pavel Valousek, finished fourth on the asphalt event, while the pedigree of the candidates was demonstrated when Sebastien Ogier won the Monte Carlo Rally, the IRC opener, in January.
Meanwhile, Thierry Neuville, who was selected to drive the car on the Belgium Ypres Rally, lived up to the strong reputation created by the BFGoodrich-backed drivers. Although he would ultimately retire from the asphalt event before the completion of day one, he had run as high as fourth on his first outing in a four-wheel-drive car.
"The BFGoodrich Drivers‘ Team operation was once again a huge success with the local crowd," said the company’s Jacques Morelli. "Thierry’s retirement no way calls his talent into question. He failed to finish but that’s rallying."