Neuville on his own in Cyprus
He’ll be the sole Peugeot representative
The last round of the 2011 Intercontinental Rally Challenge (November 3-5) takes teams to Cyprus where Thierry Neuville will be the best-placed 207 S2000 runner in the chase for the Drivers’ crown.
Despite his limited experience of the event, the Peugeot Belgium-Luxemburg youngster will have just one aim, and that will be to defend his title chances to the very end.
Ever since the creation of the series, the IRC’s promoters have sought to innovate to keep their championship at the forefront of the sport, and that has included frequent and spectacular live broadcasts of stages. This will again be the case in Cyprus, but the decision has also taken to run a points ‘coefficient’ system for this season’s last two rounds.
Taking this into account, positions in the Drivers’ Championship are, in fact, much closer than they first appear, and six drivers can still hope to claim the title. Their ranks include the best-placed Peugeot runner Thierry Neuville. The trip to Cyprus wasn’t part of the Belgian’s original programme, but it has been added to enable him to fight for the top prize all the way.
Like Thierry Neuville, none of the other Peugeot subsidiary-backed drivers had plans to contest the year’s ultimate round.
Frédéric Bertrand, manager of Peugeot Sport’s Customer Competition Department: “We have become accustomed to seeing at least four 207 S2000s entered by our French, British, Portuguese and Belgian subsidiaries, but only the latter will have a car at the year’s finale. Bryan Bouffier still had a chance to win the title, too, but we needed to favour our best-placed driver in the provisional standings. We would have liked to have done more, but we took a reasoned decision to enter and could only enter just the one car. We wish Thierry and Nicolas the best of luck. Their mission won’t be easy, but they have to keep their challenge going all the way.”
The organisers of the Cyprus Rally have a long record of innovative ideas. Some years ago, they were the first to bring back the principal of mixed-surface events, with a combination of all-gravel and all-asphalt stages, as well as stages that included a bit of both. In 2011, the split between the two is practically ideal, with 51.6 percent of the competitive distance on the loose and 48.4 percent on sealed surfaces.
“The programme for our pre-event test took this parameter into account,” notes Bertrand Vallat, the Peugeot Sport engineer in charge of the 207 S2000’s design and development. “Our aim was to find a compromise set-up that will allow the 207 S2000 to be as competitive as possible on the two types of surface.”
Rain is rare in Cyprus and the dirt stages tend to be hard-packed and often rough, so a ‘gravel’-type suspension set-up will be run for the entire event.
“We are pleased with the evolutions we introduced in Scotland,” adds Bertrand Vallat. “That said, the Scottish stages were wide, fast and also quite soft, so we will need to adapt the latest modifications to the narrower and twistier tests we will find in Cyprus. The test also gave Thierry a chance to get more time in the 207 S2000 test car, so that was obviously a good thing.”
“First of all, I am delighted that Peugeot chose to enter my co-driver Nicolas Gilsoul and myself for the Cyprus Rally. Given the little experience I have on gravel, I won’t be the favourite, but I don’t see that as a problem! I will take my time to familiarise myself with the stages and then gradually up my pace.”
There are too many results combinations that would enable the Belgian driver to clinch the title for us to list them all, but the most effective way of achieving that objective would be to win the rally outright, with his biggest rival Juho Hänninen finishing third, or lower…
“The outcome isn’t entirely in my hands,” agrees Thierry Neuville, “and I’m expecting it to be a tough rally with plenty of incidents. I will do all I can to stay out of trouble and, if I succeed, the title just might be possible.”