Kris Meeke, the defending Intercontinental Rally Challenge champion, says the fourth round of the series, Rally Islas Canarias, next week will be the most open of the season so far.
Although the Gran Canaria-based event, which takes place from 29 April-1 May, is well established in European rallying circles, none of the IRC frontrunners have contested the Tarmac event before.
Meeke, currently third in the IRC drivers‘ standings after the opening three rounds, said: "It’s going to be a very open rally because apart from the local Spanish drivers none of us have done the event before so nobody will have an edge. That will make it really interesting and a hard one to call in terms of the result."
The Northern Irishman, 30, will drive a Peugeot UK-backed 207 Super 2000 on the island event alongside his usual navigator Paul Nagle. They are among 60 crews included on the provisional entry list, which is due to be published tomorrow (23 April).
Kris Meeke is braced for a close battle on Rally Islas Canarias
No street superspecial for Sardinia
The superspecial stage through the streets of Cagliari, which had been due to get Rally d’Italia-Sardegna underway on 4 June, has been cancelled after event organisers encountered funding difficulties.
Rally bosses had hoped to run a two-kilometre stage through the island’s capital on the Friday evening but were prevented from doing so due to the costs associated with constructing the temporary course.
However, Cagliari will still form part of the itinerary of the Intercontinental Rally Challenge qualifier as it will host the ceremonial start at 20:00hrs on Friday 4 June.
Had the Cagliari stage gone ahead it would have been the second town to host a superspecial stage in the IRC this season following Rally Argentina’s successful running of a stage through the streets of host town Carlos Paz last month.
Travel chaos disrupts Hanninen’s preparations
Travel disruption, caused by the dust cloud from the Icelandic volcano eruption, forced Juho Hanninen to miss his pre-Rally Islas Canarias test earlier this week.
Hanninen was due to fly to Czech Republic for the asphalt test, which had been scheduled to help the Finn reacclimatise to sealed-surface driving ahead of round four of the Intercontinental Rally Challenge, which takes place from 29 April-1 May.
However, he was forced to remain in his native Finland when he was unable to travel. Despite the set-back Hanninen said he was confident it wouldn’t impact on his chances of extending his IRC points‘ lead.
"It’s never good when you don’t have enough preparation time but what can you do in this situation?" said Hanninen. "It will make things more difficult for sure but there will still be a small test on Monday of next week and a chance then to do some driving."
Kopecky hopes to gain IRC advantage in Italy
Jan Kopecky will be hoping his entry on this week’s Rally 1000 Miglia will give him an important psychological boost for the fourth round of the Intercontinental Rally Challenge on Gran Canaria next week.
The Skoda Motorsport driver is using the combined European and Italian championship rally to gain more mileage behind the wheel of his factory-prepared Fabia Super 2000 and ultimately improve his chances of winning this year’s IRC crown after finishing runner-up last season.
"It’s going to be very difficult because there are some very fast local drivers who know every corner and every stone of every stage so will have a big advantage," said Kopecky, who hails from Czech Republic. "But for sure I will learn a lot and this can only be good for my IRC programme."
Former IRC event winners Giandomenico Basso and Luca Rossetti will also be in action on the Brescia rally, which is due to finish on Saturday 24 April.
Jan Kopecky hopes to boost IRC bid with Italian outing