Skoda Motorsport will begin the defence of its Intercontinental Rally Challenge manufacturers‘ title on Rallye Monte-Carlo from January 18-22.
The Czech make, which also guided Juho Hanninen to the IRC drivers‘ crown in 2010, will field a brace of factory-prepared Fabia S2000s for Finn Hanninen and co-driver Mikko Markkula plus Czech pair Jan Kopecky and Petr Stary. Several other Skodas will also be in action on the event.
Skoda Motorsport head Michal Hrabanek said: "The Monte Carlo Rally is very special to us, especially because it is where we made our debut with the Fabia Super 2000 in 2009. This is going to be the 100th year of the event, and Skoda Auto is going to celebrate 110 years of its motorsport efforts next year, which certainly is an interesting combination. Furthermore, this rally is one of the best races the whole world of motorsport offers, and we are highly motivated to succeed there."
Rallye Monte-Carlo will once again form the opening round of the IRC series. On the event earlier this year, Hanninen finished second with Nicolas Vouilloz claiming third in a factory-supported Fabia backed by Skoda’s French importer.
Barros impressed by Mecsek organisation
Peugeot Sport Portugal boss Carlos Barros has praised the organisation of the Mecsek Rallye in Hungary, which will join the Intercontinental Rally Challenge schedule for the first time next year.
Barros was in the country last month to follow the 43rd running of the rally, titled the Allianz Rallye in deference to its title sponsor. The rally has enjoyed IRC Supporter Event status for the last two seasons.
"The organisation was very good and the way things were run was very impressive," said Barros, who oversaw Bruno Magalhaes‘ successful IRC bid in 2010. "The stages this year were all on Tarmac but next year there will be gravel as well and this will be interesting."
Barros drove through the stages in a safety vehicle and reported large numbers of spectators lining the route: "It was one hour before the stage went live but already there were a lot of people around. Rallying is clearly popular in Hungary are there were some good drivers in action."
The Mecsek Rallye is scheduled to run from 9-11 September, 2011, and will count as round nine of the IRC.
Van Dalen predicts bright future for Neuville
Thierry Neuville has been tipped for greatness by the man responsible for running his Team Peugeot-Luxembourg 207 Super 2000.
Neuville, 22, impressed throughout this six-event Intercontinental Rally Challenge campaign this season, claiming a podium finish on the Geko Ypres Rally in June on his way to ninth overall in the final drivers‘ standings.
Although the German-speaking Belgian has yet to finalise his programme for 2011, it is expected that he will mount an expanded assault on the 12-event IRC series.
Van Dalen said: "Thierry is very good and is improving all of the time. There’s still a lot for him to learn, but he is 22 years old and clearly a star for the future.
"At the start of Rally of Scotland he was around 1.7s per kilometre slower than the drivers at the front, but then he soon got that down to less than one second per kilometre slower, which is very impressive. He did not know Scotland but he learned the event and the surface very quickly and it was not an easy rally to learn. Okay, he made a mistake at the end, but this can happen."
Gardemeister enters Rallye Monte-Carlo
Toni Gardemeister has entered the centenary edition of Rallye Monte-Carlo, the opening round of next year’s Intercontinental Rally Challenge.
Gardemeister, from Finland, has yet to confirm what car he will use on the event but believes he can fight for victory after scoring two podium finishes on the famous rally in the past.
"We’ve entered the rally because there is a promise of free entry for 100 drivers," said the 35-year-old. "It is more than 50 per cent sure I will be there but I am still trying to find the right possibilities for the car and will see what is going on. If I can get a competitive car with a good tyre package then I believe I can win, why not? But if I want to get a good result in Monte for sure I need to test the car a lot before. Hopefully I can get this deal."
Gardemeister’s last appearance on the IRC qualifier last January ended in retirement when his Abarth Grande Punto S2000 broke down on the final morning of the event after he had challenged for a points finish.