IRC news in brief before Rally Canarias
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CREWS SET FOR CANARIAS IRC SPECTACULAR
Rally Islas Canarias El Corte Inglés, round two of the 2012 Intercontinental Rally Challenge, is just hours away from starting with prospects high for another close dice for glory.
On this event last season, the top two drivers were covered by 1.5s at the finish with four different crews taking it in turns to lead the all-asphalt rally based on the island of Gran Canaria.
This year’s rally, the 36th running, features 15 special stages over a gruelling competitive distance of 240 kilometres. Earlier this week, drivers and co-drivers completed a two-day reconnaissance of the stages. This morning they took part in the official event shakedown to finalise car set-up.
The rally formally gets underway with a ceremonial start at 20:30hrs local time in Las Palmas. Special stage one, the 8.30-kilometre Guia test, begins at 07:53hrs on Friday (16 March).
Brothers hunt Canarias IRC 2WD Cup success
Two brothers will chase glory in the IRC 2WD Cup on their home event, Rally Islas Canarias El Corte Inglés, this week.
Angel and Victor Marrero, who compete in a Honda Civic Type R for the Juan Armas Canarias Racing Team, finished third in the two-wheel-drive category on this event last season, a result that played an important role in Honda capturing its first IRC 2WD Cup manufacturers’ crown in 2011.
“Winning in 2WD is one of our goals for this season and we think we have a great chance,” said Angel Marrero, who has been competing alongside his brother since 2005. “Certainly, this year the competition in the 2WD Cup will be very close.”
Despite their intimate knowledge of the demanding asphalt stages, the Marrero brothers admit a podium finish in the IRC 2WD Cup is by no means guaranteed.
“Precise set-up, good pacenotes and a lot of experience is the recipe for success here; that is what you need to battle in the front in the Canarias,” said Angel Marrero. “Joan Vinyes will be a strong opponent for sure. He is a very experienced driver who has competed in the rally many times.”
The Honda challenge on the all-asphalt rally is boosted by the appearance of German Hernandez and co-driver Israël Pereira who will compete in an ex-Guy Wilks Civic.
IRC fans flock to SKODA Canarias event
Rally fans descended on Las Palmas in great number on Tuesday night to meet the official ŠKODA crews contesting round two of the Intercontinental Rally Challenge this week.
Alberto Hevia, Jan Kopecký, Andreas Mikkelsen and Sepp Wiegand were all present at the ŠKODA Canarias-organised event, which traditionally signals the start of the build-up to Rally Islas Canarias El Corte Inglés.
“There is a real buzz of excitement on the island, and it was great to meet so many fans at the reception,” said Mikkelsen, ŠKODA UK Motorsport’s reigning IRC champion. “We’ve already seen a lot of fans out watching the tests, so we expect a big crowd during the rally this weekend.”
Ian Montgomery, a local radio presenter, hosted the event.
IRC event attracts huge interest from islanders
Leading crews took time out of their preparations for Rally Islas Canarias El Corte Inglés by attending an autograph signing session at the event sponsor’s store in Las Palmas last night (Wednesday).
And such is the interest in the second round of the 2012 Intercontinental Rally Challenge, which takes place from today (Thursday) until Saturday, that fans queued for more than two hours to meet their heroes, including Hermann Gassner Jr, Andreas Mikkelsen, Luis Monzón, Ekaterina Stratieva and Sepp Wiegand (pictured alongside co-driver Timo Gottschalk).
Event organisers have reported “huge interest” in this year’s rally with ferries bringing fans from neighbouring islands to Gran Canaria fully booked.
Fans will get another chance to get close up to the stars of the IRC at the ceremonial start in Las Palmas at 20:30hrs local time tonight.
The on-stage action gets underway on Friday morning with the first of 15 special stages.
NÜRBURGRING TAMED, NEXT STOP CANARIAS FOR IRC CHAMPION
Andreas Mikkelsen has put his asphalt driving skills to the ultimate test by taking on the daunting Nürburgring race circuit in Germany, which features a lap length of 20.8 kilometres.
Mikkelsen, who will continue the defence of his Intercontinental Rally Challenge title on Rally Islas Canarias El Corte Inglés this week, has completed a handful of endurance races at the demanding track to increase his experience - and pace - of driving on Tarmac, the surface used on round two of the 2012 IRC season.
"I’m a much stronger driver on Tarmac now, so we want to be faster for sure, but we also want to finish and score points," said the ŠKODA UK Motorsport driver.
ALL-FEMALE TEAM SET FOR IRC 2WD CUP ACTION
The all-female crew of Ekaterina Stratieva and Carmen Poenaru will begin their quest for IRC 2WD Cup honours on Rally Islas Canarias El Corte Inglés as they start what could be a nine-event programme in the Intercontinental Rally Challenge.
Bulgarian Stratieva, 29, and Poenaru, a 27-year-old from Romania, are trying to secure the necessary funding to tackle an expanded campaign. While both are keen to exploit their all-lady crew status, Stratieva and Poenaru have achieved considerable success during their careers and are expected to impress aboard their Citroën C2, which they could upgrade to a DS3 R3T later in the season.
Stratieva, a two-time Bulgarian hillclimb champion, is no stranger to the IRC either having tackled the Prime Yalta Rally and Barum Czech Rally Zlín in 2011 where she finished as the top female driver.
CO-DRIVER KLINGER RETURNS TO IRC
Nicolas Klinger, the man who co-drove Nicolas Vouilloz to the second Intercontinental Rally Challenge drivers’ title in 2008, will return to the all-action series on Rally Islas Canarias El Corte Inglés this week.
Klinger, a 35-year-old from France, partnered Vouilloz in the IRC for three seasons before he joined forces with rising star Thierry Neuville for 2010.
Having been absent from the IRC for more than a year, Klinger will return to partner young French driver Robert Consani in a Renault Mégane RS. Consani is aiming to contest a full schedule of events this season as he chases the IRC 2WD Cup crown.
GARDEMEISTER TAKES ON A CHALLENGE OF A DIFFERENT KIND
While his Intercontinental Rally Challenge rivals will be in action on the second event of the season in Gran Canaria this week, Toni Gardemeister is in Italy to undertake a task of a different kind, a cross-country rally.
The 36-year-old from Finland is still working on securing funding to contest an expanded programme of IRC events this season in a ŠKODA Fabia Super 2000 prepared by his own team, TGS Worldwide.
He has taken time out of his sponsorship search to tackle the Italian Baja, round one of the FIA World Cup for Cross-Country Rallies, after he accepted an invitation from the Latvian RE Autoclub operation.
"It will be my first off-road experience," said Gardemeister, who scored points on all nine IRC rounds he contested in 2011. "Here you need to drive without recce and pacenotes so I hope I can keep the car in one piece and reach the finish."
YOUNG STARS CHASE ROOKIE TROPHY IN CANARIAS
Eight young drivers will bid for the Third Rookie Trophy on Rally Islas Canarias El Corte Inglés this week.
Open to local drivers with experience of up to two asphalt rallies, the accolade will be keenly fought when the event gets underway tomorrow morning (Friday). Drivers eligible for the award include Damian Suarez and Cristian Gil, who will also be in contention for IRC 2WD Cup honours.