It wont just be the action on the stages that will be hot when the Mabanol Sliven Rally joins the Intercontinental Rally Challenge schedule for the first time this week.
Ambient temperatures around the Bulgarian city, where the event will be based from 28-30 September, have peaked at 33 degrees centigrade with Saturdays opening day taking place in temperatures of 30 degrees centigrade with only a five per cent risk of rain. The temperature on Sunday is set to reach 27 degrees centigrade, again with a minimal risk of precipitation.
Not only will the high temperatures put a strain on the drivers and co-drivers, their cars will also be subjected to a tough test with tyre wear also at a premium on the undulating asphalt stages.
Consani can go top twice!
Robert Consani starts the Mabanol Sliven Rally on Friday night with a strong chance to move to the top of the standings of the IRC Production Cup and IRC 2WD Cup.
Consanis Renault Mégane RS is eligible for points in both categories and the French ace is well placed in both ahead of round 11 of the Intercontinental Rally Challenge.
In the IRC Production Cup, Consani trails Andreas Aigner by three points, while in the IRC 2WD Cup he is just one point adrift of Harry Hunt. Although Hunt is set to rigorously defend his title lead in Sliven, with Aigner not having nominated the Bulgarian round as one of this scoring events Consani is likely to take full advantage alongside co-driver Nicolas Klinger.
Bicakcioglu out to emulate Cetinkaya
Simin Biçakçioğlu will follow in the footsteps of countrywoman Burcu Çetinkaya when she makes her Intercontinental Rally Challenge debut on the Mabanol Sliven Rally this week.
Çetinkeya became the first female driver to score IRC points during her extended campaign in the series back in 2010. Biçakçioğlu is unlikely to achieve that same level of success in her two-wheel-drive machine in Sliven but will nevertheless be a contender for IRC 2WD Cup honours aboard the Pegasus Racing Abarth Grande Punto Super 1600 she shares with co-driver Cenk Ceylan.
The Turkish youngster, who began her motorsport career in touring car racing in 2008, will be using the IRCs first visit to Bulgaria to gain more experience of competing on asphalt.
IRC season six to finish in Cyprus on 4 November
This years all-action Intercontinental Rally Challenge will finish one day later than originally planned following a change to the date of the season-closing Cyprus Rally.
Instead of running from 2-3 November, the mixed-surface event will take place in Pafos from 2-4 November. After the ceremonial start in the host town on the evening of Friday 2 November, the competitive action will be contained over two days of tough competition from 08:30hrs local time on Saturday 3 November. The first car is due to cross the finishing ramp in Pafos at 16:23hrs on Sunday 4 November.
The event, part of the IRC family since 2010, is the only round of the series to feature a substantial proportion of asphalt and gravel stages. Last year it was the setting of the thrilling five-way fight for the IRC drivers crown, won eventually by KODA UK Motorsports Andreas Mikkelsen.
Three questions to: Ekaterina Stratieva
Bulgaria’s IRC 2WD Cup star on competing in front of her home fans on the Mabanol Sliven Rally
Bulgaria is hosting the IRC for the first time. What can fans expect from the Sliven Rally?
The Bulgarian people are very warm and all the fans will be well received, especially in Sliven, which is the heart of the rallies in Bulgaria. Everybody here is very passionate and they all try their best that everything works out good.
What does it mean to you to be competing in front of your home fans?
I am really happy because I drive for Bulgaria, for Bulgaria automobile sport and for the Bulgarian fans. But every event is important for me because I learn something new for the future.
How tough are the stages around Sliven?
The mountains are full with surprises and like in Yalta all the time the drivers will need good concentration and also very good pacenotes. There are places that are narrow, others that are very bumpy, some big downhill sections and slippery roads even fog is possible. But it will be pleasure to push on the stages and I am sure that it will be the same for the other competitors.
In the spotlight: Andreas Mikkelsen
When injuries curtailed a promising downhill skiing career Mikkelsen turned his attentions to rallying and with great success. He won his first ever event in 2006, aged 17, and two years later he became the youngest driver to score points in the world championship. After a promising IRC campaign in 2010, Mikkelsen signed for KODA UK Motorsport and won the 2011 title with two late-season wins. With two wins to his credit this season the Norwegian currently holds a healthy advantage in his bid to become the IRCs first back-to-back champion.