MEEKE EXPECTED SKODA TO DOMINATE IN RUSSIA … AND ALL THE OTHER NEWS FROM THE IRC
Kris Meeke has said he fully expected Skoda to dominate the sixth round of the Intercontinental Rally Challenge in Russia earlier this month and insists he can’t afford to drop any more points as a result.
Despite not including the gravel event in his schedule, 30-year-old Meeke continues to lead the IRC drivers‘ standings by a single point from Jan Kopecky, who finished second to his Skdoa team-mate Juho Hanninen on the Vyborg-based rally.
"We saw on the opening event of the season just how strong the Skoda was," said Meeke. "We also saw on the Azores Rally how good the car was on gravel. Russia was also like a home rally for Hanninen and he showed the pace he could produce when he won in Russia last year."
Peugeot UK driver Meeke said Skoda’s victory was a boost to the IRC, which has been dominated by the French manufacturer so far this season. "From my point of view I’m delighted they won it. They’ve put a lot of effort in so it’s good they’ve been rewarded. Trying to beat them on the next rally they do will also give me another challenge to aim at."
With Skoda missing the next round of the IRC in Madeira, Meeke conceded that it was vital he took full advantage of the Czech firm’s absence. "Skoda winning just shows how close this championship is. There’s no way I can afford any more zero scores."
PROTON PLANS SECOND IRC ENTRY FOR BARUM RALLY ZLIN
Proton will expand its line-up to a two-car team in time for the Intercontinental Rally Challenge’s visit to Czech Republic from August 21-23, team principal Chris Mellors has confirmed.
The Malaysian manufacturer made its IRC debut on the Belgium Ypres Rally last month, fielding a single entry for the British driver Guy Wilks. On Rally Russia recently, the team took its first IRC points when Wilks finished an impressive fourth on the gravel event.
Now Mellors has revealed that the construction of a second Proton Satria Neo Super 2000 will be completed in time for next month’s Barum Rally Zlin, although he is keeping the details of his new signing under wraps.
"We will have a second car for the Barum Rally but I am not able to say who will be driving it," Mellors said.
Meanwhile, Mellors explained that preparations were already underway for the next round of the IRC, Rali Vinho Madeira, from July 30-August 1. "The car returned to the UK on Thursday (July 16) and we will leave with the car for Madeira on Tuesday (July 21). In that time we will carry out a full rebuild and convert the car to Tarmac specification. We plan to test when we get to Madeira."
SKODA BOSS SAYS RUSSIAN IRC VICTORY JUSTIFIED DRIVER CHOICE
Skoda Motorsport boss Michal Hrabanek belives his decision to sign Juho Hanninen and Jan Kopecky to lead his team’s assault on the Intercontinental Rally Challenge has been vindicated after their one-two finish on Rally Russia recently.
The success marked the first triumph in the IRC for Skoda’s Fabia Super 2000 model, which only made its competition debut on the Monte Carlo Rally in January. Kopecky moved to within one point of Kris Meeke at the top of the drivers‘ standings while Skoda is now two points clear of Ralliart in the manufacturers‘ championship.
"I take my hat off to both our crews, selecting them for our team was a good decision," said Hrabanek. "We have known Jan Kopecky for a long time, he puts in stable performances and has improved a great deal. Juho Hanninen showed already in Monte Carlo this year that he could be pretty fast, too, and I am really glad that he’s shown now how good he really is. We have done a great job of promoting the Skoda brand, and I daresay that this has not been our last achievement."
Skoda is set to return to the IRC on Barum Rally Zlin, its home event, on August 21-23. "This victory is a great impulse for further work and we are not going to rest on our laurels," Hrabanek continued. "I believe that this milestone will boost the whole project and attract potential buyers of the Fabia Super 2000. The next event takes place in Zlin, where we will logically be under pressure but we will all look forward to it."
BASSO HOPES RUSSIAN PODIUM WILL LEAD TO MORE IRC SUCCESS
Factory Abarth driver Giandomenico Basso will be hoping to continue the good form he showed on Rally Russia earlier this month when the Intercontinental Rally Challenge resumes in Madeira on July 30.
Italian Basso finished third on the gravel rally, his second podium finish of the season, to climb to fourth in the drivers‘ standings. He now heads to Madeira, an event he has won on two occasions in the past at the wheel of a Grande Punto Super 2000.
"It’s always great to grab some points after such a difficult rally," said Basso, who experienced a few delays in Russia. "On the second day of the rally we had a water leak and that made us worry about the engine. The balance of the car was not good and we couldn’t fix that. Plus I had trouble with punctures and so we need to analyse the data, see what was missing, and use these points to boost our season."
Abarth is currently fourth in the manufacturers‘ standings. Its second driver, Anton Alen, was the fifth IRC-registered finisher home in Russia after he restarted under SupeRally regulations following a car-damaging crash on leg two of the event. He demonstrated his potential by claiming a stage victory.
WITTMANN PRAISES CO-DRIVER AND TEAM FOR RUSSIAN IRC RESULT
Franz Wittmann Jr has praised his co-driver Bernhard Ettel and his Stohl Racing team for helping him to equal his best result in the Intercontinental Rally Challenge so far at the wheel of his Interwetten Racing Mitsubishi Lancer E9.
The 25-year-old from Austria was the best non-Super 2000 finisher in sixth overall in the IRC standings on Rally Russia on July 9-11. The result puts him tenth in the drivers‘ championship.
"Foremost, I’d like to thank my co-driver Bernhard Ettel who didn’t make a single mistake during this fast rally and thereby highly contributed to our success," said Wittmann Jr. "My further thanks go to the team of Stohl Racing who provided me with a perfect and very stable car. We didn’t have the slightest problems despite the high demands of the rally. Throughout the event we only encountered three punctures that cost us some time.
"To me, it was important to learn and get to know the stages in order to raise my chances for next year with improved pacenotes."
Wittmann Jr won’t be competing on the next round of the IRC, Rali Vinho Madeira, but will return to the series on Barum Rally Zlin in Czech Republic on August 21-23.