Rally Internacional de Curitiba preview

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THE CHALLENGE

After the snow and ice coated asphalt roads of Rallye Monte-Carlo in January, the Intercontinental Rally Challenge resumes in the Brazilian city of Curitiba from 4-6 March where the conditions could not be more contrasting.

The slippery mountainous lanes and sub-zero temperatures experienced on the IRC season opener will be replaced by high-speed gravel roads and a near tropical climate for Rally Internacional de Curitiba, the second round of the 12-event IRC series.

Residents of Brazil’s ‘smiling city’ will get an extra treat. Not only will the IRC event be fought out within easy reach of central Curitiba, the city will also host the opening round of the FIA World Touring Car Championship.

Just like the rally, the WTCC competitors will be based at Curitiba’s race circuit where the opening two rounds will take place on Sunday 7 March. Both series are promoted by Eurosport Events and will enjoy coverage on Eurosport, Europe’s largest television channel.

Rally Internacional de Curitiba, which became a round of the IRC for the first time last year, is celebrating its 30th anniversary in 2010. The event was originally called the Graciosa Rally in deference to the famous Graciosa Road, which connected Curitiba to the Atlantic Ocean several centuries ago.

Consisting of 15 stages covering 217 kilometres, the event is extremely compact compared to other rounds of the IRC. The total road distance is just short of 500 kilometres.

Friday’s opening leg is identical to 2009 and is made up of seven stages run to the west of Curitiba with a single visit to the permanent service park at Autodromo Curitiba shortly after midday. The first stage, Campo Magro, is run three times during the day with the Ouro Fino and Curitiba tests repeated once.

Saturday’s final leg, run to the north east of Curitiba, will feature eight stages and is set to finish with a spectacular superspecial stage in the district of Pinhais close to the service park. The spectator stage is purpose built and will pitch two drivers running side by side against each other. The bulk of Saturday’s stages will be used only once with the exception of Rio Pesqueiro and Quatro Barras, which will be run twice.

Unlike some gravel rallies, which are held over punishing rock-strewn terrain, the roads around Curitiba are smooth with numerous blind crests peppering the route. Although the surface is largely sandy, because the roads link small towns and villages, the surface is compact and in theory will not deteriorate when the stages are repeated.

Crews making the trip from Europe are due to arrive in Brazil over the weekend ahead of the two-day reconnaissance, which takes place on Tuesday and Wednesday. Following a shakedown test on Thursday morning and a ceremonial start, a run over the Super Prime Pinhais superspecial stage will determine the starting order for day one but won’t have a bearing on the overall result.

Kris Meeke will be aiming to repeat his 2009 Curitiba win

THE COMPETITORS

With the exception of defending IRC champions Kris Meeke and Paul Nagle, none of the other IRC regulars making the trip to Brazil have contested the event before. In theory, that should give the Peugeot UK crew, who won in Curitiba last season, the advantage, particularly as Nagle describes the event as being one of the hardest on the calendar to master. However, what time they might be able to gain on the opening day is likely to be cancelled out on day two if they end up running first on the road and having to cope with the loose surface gravel.

Meeke has prepared for the trip to Brazil with a test in the south of France in early February where he was joined by Peugeot Portugal’s Bruno Magalhaes. Like Meeke, Magalhaes will use a Peugeot 207 S2000 in Brazil and, also like Meeke, his pre-event test was disrupted by snow.

Daniel Oliveira completes the ranks of Peugeot runners in his Stohl Racing 207 following his IRC debut in Monte Carlo. Despite hailing from Brazil, Oliveira, who took part on his first rally last season, has never rallied in his homeland before but will be able to count on his new co-driver, the vastly experienced Denis Giraudet, for support.

Mikko Hirvonen tops the IRC standings following his victory in Monte Carlo, which also marked a maiden triumph for M-Sport’s Ford Fiesta S2000. Because the Finn will spend the rest of the season contesting the World Rally Championship and will not compete in Curitiba, his title lead will be short-lived with Skoda Motorsport’s Juho Hanninen in pole position to capitalise in Brazil.

Hanninen is second in the IRC standings after finishing runner-up to Hirvonen on the IRC opener. His knowledge of the Curitiba stages has been garnered from watching on-board camera footage from last year’s event and a DVD supplied by the event organisers. He has likened the high-speed undulating roads and numerous crests to the stages in his native Finland and believes it won’t take him long to get up to speed.

His team-mate Jan Kopecky, second to Meeke in last year’s IRC standings, prepared for Brazil with a three-day test in Sardinia following a holiday to Mexico, which the Czech used to acclimatise to the high ambient temperatures that will be a feature of the rally. Hanninen also carried out his own three-day test, which Kopecky described as being very successful.

Guy Wilks, who won his last gravel rally in a Skoda, will drive a third Fabia S2000 in Brazil. The Skoda UK driver travelled to Sardinia for a pre-event test but reported the low ambient temperatures he encountered will mean he will use the shakedown to fine-tune his car’s set-up.

Of the other leading Brazilians on the 48-car entry, Rafael Tulio was the first local driver home last season, finishing ninth overall and claiming IRC 2WD Cup honours in the process. He has switched from his Peugeot 206 to a 207, albeit still only with two-wheel drive and a 1600cc engine.

Eduardo Scheer has also changed cars and will drive a Mitsubishi Lancer after claiming the Brazilian A6 class title in 2009 at the wheel of a Renault Clio. Oswaldo Scheer, the reigning Brazilian champion and Paulo Nobre will also line up in Lancers and will both be in contention for the top six. Nobre’s last event was the snow-based Rally Sweden in early February but he triumphed on his last two starts in Brazil.

Guy Wilks will be making his Curitiba debut

THE EXPECTATIONS

Jan Kopecky (Czech Republic), Skoda Fabia S2000: “My last rally on gravel was in Russia last July and after making two mistakes in Monte Carlo I need to get some points. For sure I would like to fight for first position but I can’t afford to make any more mistakes. From looking at the video of the stages they look really fast and I prefer the faster stages. We had a good test and did some good work with the suspension so I am confident.”

Kris Meeke (United Kingdom), Peugeot 207 S2000: “I’ve obviously been here before and I’ll be looking to capitalise on that but I’m up against some seriously quick guys who can learn the stages just as fast as I did. It was difficult to replicate the hot temperatures we’ll get in Brazil during our test in France because it snowed but I’m happy with the shape we’ve got the car in. However, I know Skoda has not been standing still so the competition is going to be really tough.”

Daniel Oliveira (Brazil), Peugeot 207 Super 2000: “This will be the first time I have competed on a rally in Brazil so I will hope to keep on with my learning and try to finish with a good result. Monte Carlo was really new to me. Snow, asphalt, ice, night time driving, Super 2000, a new co-driver…all at once! It was really a race that made me grow up as a driver and I can say that it was all very hard. But the will to step on the gas and not being able to was the hardest part. I knew that I had to finish and that I could not risk anything.”

Jan Kopecky will drive a Skoda Fabia in Brazil

TV TIMES

Eurosport, Europe’s largest television channel, will show highlights of each day of the rally. Highlights will also be available at www.rally-irc.com

Friday 5 March
24:00-24:30: Day one highlights (Eurosport and Eurosport Asia-Pacific)
Saturday 6 March
05:00-05:30: Day one highlights repeated (Eurosport Asia-Pacific)
24:00-24:30: Day two highlights (Eurosport and Eurosport Asia-Pacific)
Sunday 7 March
23:00-23:30: Magazine (Eurosport Asia-Pacific)
24:00-24:30: Magazine (Eurosport)
Monday 8 March
03:30-04:00: Magazine repeated (Eurosport Asia-Pacific)
Tuesday 9 March
13:00-13:30: Magazine repeated (Eurosport2)
Wednesday 10 March
18:30-19:00: Magazine repeated (Eurosport2)
All times are CET

EVENT ESSENTIALS

Event: Rally Internacional de Curitiba
Starts: Thursday 4 March
Finishes: Saturday 6 March
Entries received: 48
IRC appearances: one (2009)
2009 winners: Kris Meeke (GBR)/Paul Nagle (IRL) Peugeot 207 S2000
Surface: gravel
Number of stages: 15
Special stage distance: 219.38 kilometres
Liaison distance: 493.26kms
Total distance: 712.64kms
Itinerary (all times shown are local): Prologue stage (Thursday 4 March): Super Prime Pinhais (3.38kms), 15:30hrs. Leg one (Friday 5 March): Start: 08:30hrs; SS1: Campo Magro 1 (18.85kms), 08:55hrs; SS2: Ouro Fino 1 (9.58kms), 10:05hrs; SS3: Curitiba 1 (12.58kms), 10:45hrs; SS4: Campo Magro 2 (18.85kms), 11:10hrs; Service 1: Autodromo Curitiba, 12:40hrs; SS5: Curitiba 2 (12.58kms), 14:50hrs; SS6: Campo Magro 3 (18.85kms), 15:15hrs; SS7: Ouro Fino 2 (9.58kms), 15:45hrs; Service 2: Autodromo Curitiba, 17:55hrs. Leg two (Saturday 6 March): Start: 07:30hrs; Service 3: Autodromo Curitiba, 07:30hrs; SS8: Bocaiuva (28.05kms), 08:30hs; SS9: Rio Pesqueiro 1 (15.06kms), 09:20hrs; SS10: Quatro Barras 1 (12.02kms), 10:10hrs; SS11: Nobre (10.14kms), 11:00hrs; Service 4: Autodromo Curitiba, 11:50hrs; SS12: Rio Pesqueiro 2 (15.06kms), 13:05hrs; SS13: Quatro Barras 2 (12.02kms), 13:45hrs; SS14: Campina (22.78kms), 14:20hrs; SS15: Super Prime Pinhais (3.38kms), 15:15hrs; Finish: Pinhais, 15:30hrs.

LEADING ENTRIES (unseeded)

Juho Hanninen (FIN)/Mikko Markkula (FIN) Skoda Fabia S2000
Jan Kopecky (CZE)/Petr Stary (CZE) Skoda Fabia S2000
Bruno Magalhaes (POR)/Carlos Magalhaes (POR) Peugeot 207 S2000
Kris Meeke (GBR)/Paul Nagle (IRL) Peugeot 207 S2000
Paulo Nobre (BRA)/Edu Paula (BRA) Mitsubishi Lancer Evo IX
Daniel Oliveira (BRA)/Denis Giraudet (FRA) Peugeot 207 S2000
Guy Wilks (GBR)/Phil Pugh (GBR) Skoda Fabia S2000
Eduardo Scheer (BRA)/Geferson Pavinatto (BRA) Mitsubishi Lancer Evo IX
Oswaldo Scheer (BRA)/Gilvan Jablonski (BRA) Mitsubishi Lancer Evo IX
Rafael Tulio (BRA)/Cesar Valandro (BRA) Peugeot 207 S1600

CHAMPIONSHIP POSITIONS

Drivers (after one of 12 rounds):
1 Mikko Hirvonen (FIN) 10pts
2 Juho Hanninen (FIN) 8
3 Nicolas Vouilloz (FRA) 6
4 Stephane Sarrazin (FRA) 5
5 Jan Kopecky (CZE) 4
6 Guy Wilks (GBR) 3
7 Bruno Magalhaes (POR) 2
8 Jean-Sebastien Vigion (FRA) 1

Manufacturers (after one of 12 rounds):
1 Skoda 14pts
2 M-Sport 10
3 Peugeot 7

IRC 2WD Cup drivers (after one of 12 rounds):
1 Kris Princen 10pts
2 Pierre Campana 8
3 Thomas Barral 6
4 Simone Campedelli 5
5 Jean-Michel Raoux 4
6 Arnaud Monnet 3
7 Christophe Fontaine 2
8 Tom Cave 1

IRC 2WD Cup manufacturers (after one of 12 rounds):
1 M-Sport 14pts
2 Peugeot 10
3 Skoda 5