Peugeot Sport director Olivier Quesnel hopes the addition of Sebastien Ogier to its ranks on Rally d’Italia-Sardegna this week will help to revitalise the French make’s bid for a fourth Intercontinental Rally Challenge manufacturers‘ title.
After the opening four rounds of this year’s IRC, Peugeot trails Skoda by 31 points having taken one victory to the two scored by its rival. However, in terms of stages won, Skoda drivers have been fastest through 28 stages this season while Peugeot’s representatives have triumphed on 25 occasions, proving Peugeot’s 207 and Skoda’s Fabia are evenly matched.
"For the drivers‘ title I am not anxious because I am sure Kris Meeke can do it again because the Peugeot is still a good car with a good performance," said Quesnel. "For the manufacturers‘ title Kris is a little bit alone because [the other Peugeot drivers] Bruno Magalhaes and Thierry Neuville are inexperienced in the IRC, so I don’t have any problem to ask Ogier to come help Peugeot get the title again."
Ogier won Rallye Automobile Monte-Carlo in 2009 at the wheel of a 207 S2000, his first appearance in the IRC. Since then he has become established in the World Rally Championship and competes in Sardinia on the back of winning the WRC-counting Rally de Portugal recently.
Hanninen prepared for tough challenge
Intercontinental Rally Challenge leader Juho Hanninen believes he has the pace to win Rally d’Italia-Sardegna this week but insists he won’t be taking anything for granted, and not just because of the extra opposition he will face on the island-based event.
The factory Skoda Motorsport driver, currently seven points clear in the title race, says the demanding nature of the stages, four of which will be shown live on Eurosport, will make for a very tough rally.
"I don’t know so much about the new stages but Sardinia is always demanding with hot weather and a lot of grip changes," said the Finn. "Sometimes you have a hard surface then in other places it is very sandy and quite slippery. It’s also narrow so it’s easy to make a mistake like hitting a rock by the side of the road."
Hanninen also pointed to the higher risk of punctures on the event due to the rough nature of some of the roads.
"It will be a risk but it doesn’t help if you are thinking about getting a puncture all the time and trying to be more careful as it is easier to get the puncture at that moment by being too careful," he said.
No Sardinia run for Czech Prokop
Martin Prokop won’t be on the starting ramp when Rally d’Italia-Sardegna gets underway on Friday night, despite having planned to enter the Intercontinental Rally Challenge qualifier in his Ford Fiesta Super 2000.
Prokop’s car required an engine rebuild following its last rally and the work couldn’t be completed in time to enable the Czech to start the Olbia-based gravel event.
He said: "It’s bad news because I like this rally having done it for the last five years and was looking forward to competing there again. Unfortunately we have a problem with the engine and there is nothing I can do."
Prokop could still take part in this year’s IRC when the championship visits his home county for Barum Czech Rally Zlin from 27-29 August.
"It is not decided but I want to do more races and it is obviously a rally I would like to do so I hope to be there," added the 27-year-old.
Interest builds in Cyprus Rally
Young Cypriot driver Nicos Thomas wants to drive a Super 2000 car on the final round of this year’s Intercontinental Rally Challenge, November’s FxPro Cyprus Rally.
The 22-year-old, who became the youngest ever winner of the gruelling gravel event in 2008, currently leads the Greek Rally Championship in a Mitsubishi Lancer IX.
He said: "I hope to find the funds to take part on the Cyprus Rally in either a Super 2000 car or my Mitsubishi. It would be great if I found sponsorship for two or three IRC rounds. In the IRC it is possible to finish on the podium if you have a fast car, that’s what the sponsors want."
The Cyprus Rally runs from 4-6 November. It will be followed, one day later, by the inaugural Golden Stage Rally, which will be contested over a single stage and offers a substantial prize fund to the winning crew.