The Peugeots in hot pursuit at Ypres
Behind a super fast Freddy Loix
This weekend’s Geko Ypres rally, round five of the 2011 IRC, got off to a flying start, with plenty of drama and three Peugeots in close formation on the heels of the overnight leader this evening.
The early part of the rally was marked by several significant incidents which saw Kopecky fail to reach the start, while Mikkelsen and Neuville both disappeared on the opening test. Barely four kilometres into SS1, Peugeot Belgium-Luxemburg’s Thierry Neuville and Nicolas Gilsoul were halted after breaking a rim while cutting a corner. The subsequent damage prevented the Belgian pair from continuing, but they will be able to re-join under the Super Rally ruling on Saturday.
Bruno Magalhaès and Paulo Grave will not have that privilege, however, after their engine failed because of a poorly tightened engine plug. The Peugeot Portugal pair had just posted an eloquent fourth-fastest time on the opening test.
Given how little experience they have of the Belgian event (just one previous attempt which ended in early retirement two years ago), Peugeot UK’s Guy Wilks and Phil Pugh were not expected to figure at the sharp end of the leaderboard so soon. Yet they emerged from SS1 in second place and succeeded in defending their position throughout the first leg.
“I felt confident at the wheel of my 207 S2000 straight away,” observed Guy Wilks, “and I was able to push from the outset. The evening’s last stage in the dark was quite a handful and I am glad we came through it in one piece. Loix’s experience really made a difference on the second loop. We will do our best to put the pressure on him tomorrow…”
The best-placed Peugeot crew in the IRC standings ahead of the Belgian round was Bryan Bouffier and Xavier Panseri who managed to claw back valuable seconds after the tough opening loop of stages. The Peugeot France driver is currently fourth.
“My day began well on SS1, but the next two tests didn’t go so well and I even span on one of them. It’s not easy to find the ideal rhythm on these stages. I don’t feel 100 percent confident and I have yet to give it my very best shot, which is why my position this evening isn’t so bad. I was level with Guy Wilks on the second loop and my aim on Saturday is to finish on the podium. There’s still a long way to go…”
Pieter Tsjoen likes to describe himself as an amateur, which he is, albeit a very enlightened one, to the extent that he has already won the Belgian national title on six occasions. Although he is more accustomed to driving a WRC car, he chose to contest this year’s Ypres Rally behind the wheel of a Peugeot 207 S2000 which is currently third overall, splitting Guy Wilks and Bryan Bouffier.
“I’m still not getting the most out of my 207 S2000,” he admits. “I’m not yet accustomed to the gearing and I found myself using the incorrect gear on several occasions today. It’s a fantastic car which has evolved a great deal since last year. I am proud to be fighting up there with the works drivers, but I don’t think I can catch Loix. I will focus on defending my footing on the podium.”
Eddy Chevaillier, his usual co-driver, was hurt on the recent Acropolis Rally in Greece, so Tsjoen is being co-driven for once by Lara Vanneste.
Saturday’s leg is the longest of the event and features more than 200km of competitive action divided into 12 stages. Following the retirements of Neuville and Magalhaès, seven of the nine Peugeot 207 S2000s which started the rally are still in the event.
Frédéric Bertrand (customer competition manager, Peugeot Sport): “The retirements of Bruno Magalhaes and Thierry Neuville were a big disappointment and a high price to pay for two minor technical issues. An engine plug came unscrewed in the case of Bruno, while Thierry suffered a broken rim. Loix seems to be pretty much unassailable out in front, so we will need to carry on putting as much pressure on him as we can, while at the same time making sure we come way from Belgium with a big Manufacturers’ points haul. Guy is having a good, consistent run. Tomorrow, perhaps the weather will give us a small chance to challenge for the lead, but that promises to be a tough call as things stand at the moment.”