Uncharted territory for Peugeot’s crews
Heading to Yalta
The Intercontinental Rally Challenge has earned something of a reputation for incorporating classic events like the Rallye Monte-Carlo and the Tour de Corse in its calendar, but it has brought new territory in emerging countries into the public limelight, too.
Examples include the 2010 Rallye de Curitiba, in Brazil, which was won by Kris Meeke in the Peugeot UK-backed 207 Super 2000. This year, it is Ukraine’s Crimea region that will break new ground with the Prime Yalta Rally, the fourth round of the 2011 IRC.
Peugeot 207 S2000s have won two of the first three rounds of the 2011 IRC, namely the Monte Carlo and Corsica.
“That’s an eloquent sign that the 207 S2000 is as competitive as ever on asphalt, especially in Corsica where the conditions were so varied, ranging from smooth to bumpy roads, from good to poor grip, and from slow and narrow to fast and wide. Our car was in its element everywhere.”
This versatility promises to be just as vital in Ukraine where the stages will be new for all the Peugeot crews. “From what we have been told, the stages have a distinct Alpine flavour to them in places, with several passes to climb”, continues Frédéric Bertrand. “Elsewhere, the terrain is less mountainous, but just as twisty. The asphalt is apparently quite smooth, so there might not be much grip, but that won’t put us off.”
Peugeot Sport did not have an opportunity to carry out any testing locally.
“That won’t be a handicap,” believes Bertrand Vallat, the engineer in charge of the Peugeot 207 S2000’s development programme. “We have extensive experience of all types of asphalt and we also have a very big database on the subject. As soon as I arrive in Ukraine, my first mission will be to go and have a look at the stages in order to get a more precise idea of their characteristics. I will also be keen to hear what the crews have to say after recce. Together, we will then establish a basic set-up which we will either validate or adjust as a function of how we go on the shakedown session which the organisers have programmed before the start.”
One of the chief strengths of the Peugeot 207 S2000 is its versatility.
“We have a catalogue of set-ups for a wide range of terrains,” says Bertrand Vallat. “More importantly, though, the latest changes we have made to the car’s suspension following tests ahead of the Rally Islas Canarias and the Tour de Corse enable the drivers to run the same set-up in all circumstances. Thierry Neuville in Corsica was a case in point. The profile of the stages changed every day but Thierry didn’t alter his set-up in any way, apart from the ride-height. And he went on to win…”
The Peugeot Belgium-Luxemburg duo’s result in Corsica has promoted them to second place in the provisional IRC standings.
“I have no intention of getting ahead of myself,” points out Thierry Neuville. “I will approach this event just like all the other recent IRC rounds, which is to say with confidence but one step at a time. Following my recent test, I feel particularly comfortable behind the wheel of my 207 S2000. Given that recce is restricted to just two passes, the main thing will be to take good notes. It will also be necessary to help the engineers by describing the stages as accurately as possible.”
Bryan Bouffier and Xavier Panseri are currently fifth for Peugeot in the IRC standings: “After retiring in Corsica, I have no other option than to chase the big points in Ukraine,” admits the Peugeot France driver. “I don’t see why that shouldn’t be possible, because I was competitive on the last round. This weekend’s rally is new to me, so the most important thing will be to make sure we spot all the hazards during recce…”
Guy Wilks and Phil Pugh are on exactly the same wavelength as the French pair: “I’m still kicking myself for my off in Corsica, because it was entirely my fault,” accepts the Peugeot UK driver. “I had just posted the fastest time on the previous stage, so why did I go and overdo it? My 207 Super 2000 is sufficiently competitive not to have to take it beyond its limits…”
The fourth Peugeot 207 S2000 at the start will be in the hands of Italy’s Marko Tempestini.
“Quality is more important than quantity,” notes Frédéric Bertrand. “The crucial thing for Guy Wilks and Bryan Bouffier will be to reach the finish. They were strong in Corsica, so there is every reason to be optimistic about their chances this weekend. As for Thierry Neuville, he has suddenly changed status. He will now be a favourite for the win each time out. We believe his shoulders are broad enough to carry that responsibility.”