From IRC media [ 02/04/2012 ].
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The Donnelly Group Circuit of Ireland Rally will be a thrilling additionto the Intercontinental Rally Challenge when it hosts the all-action,Eurosport-backed series for the first time next week (6/7 April).
With an entry list packed full of some of the best drivers in the IRC, notto mention several leading contenders from Ireland and Northern Ireland, theevent features two showcase tests that will create added excitement.
The Titanic Super Special Stage in Belfast’s Titanic Quarter, wherethe famous ocean liner was designed and constructed more than 100 years ago,plus a stage through the streets of Lisburn, will combine with stagesthrough the demanding country lanes based around host town Armagh to formone of the most spectacular events on the 2012 IRC calendar.
Following a ceremonial start in the centre of Northern Ireland’scapital Belfast on Good Friday afternoon, the competitive action begins at17:00hrs local time with the Titanic Super Special Stage, a 1.90-kilometreblast under the iconic Harland and Wolff cranes used in the building of theTitanic. Crews then head north of Armagh for two repeated stages, the secondruns of which will take place at night.
Twelve special stages provide the backdrop to Saturday’s competitiverunning with the demanding 25.12-kilometre Redrock stage, which will be runthree times in total, bringing 221.47 kilometres of high-speed action to aclose on Saturday evening (7 April).
Highlights of the rally will be shown on Eurosport and will also beavailable at www.ircseries.comand via Eurosport Player.
Although the Circuit of Ireland Rally uses Tarmac-only stages, the asphaltin Northern Ireland is unique with a bumpy and low-grip surface set toprovide the IRC regulars with a tough test, which is increased by the narrowand undulating nature of the roads.
Car set-up is a compromise between precision road holding and an allowancefor the flat-out jumps and bumps that will litter the stages, with a highdegree of suspension travel vital.
The inclusion of the tight and twisty Titanic and Lisburn town centrestages merely adds to the task facing the crews when finalising set-up. Theweather can also be unpredictable with periods of sunshine mixed with rainyspells, making tyre choice crucial.
Rallying is hugely popular in Ireland and Northern Ireland and tens ofthousands of fans are expected to line the route during the Easter holidayweekend.
· With the first edition taking place in 1931 as the UlsterMotor Rally, the Circuit of Ireland Rally is the second oldest rally in theworld after Rallye Monte-Carlo.
· The event became known as the Circuit of Ireland due to its1000-kilometre, gruelling five-day route around the island of Ireland.
· Colin McRae is a former Circuit winner, taking a SubaruLegacy to victory in 1991.
· The prospects of a ‘home’ victory are good. Onlyone overseas driver – Pentti Airikkala in 1979 – has won theevent.
· Centenary celebrations of the Titanic’s maiden voyagewill be in full swing when the Circuit of Ireland gets underway in Belfaston Good Friday afternoon.
THE BATTLE FOR VICTORY
Andreas Mikkeslen starts the Donnelly Group Circuit of Ireland Rally withan 18-point advantage in the race for Intercontinental Rally Challenge titleglory. And the defending IRC champion can also count on some‘local’ knowledge having rallied extensively in Ireland duringhis early career.
However, the ŠKODA UK Motorsport driver has yet to win a round ofthe IRC on asphalt and the last non-British or Irish win on the Circuit ofIreland was back in 1979 when the late Finn Pentti Airikkalatriumphed.
The Finnish challenge this year is represented by 2010 IRC champion JuhoHänninen, who finished second to Mikkelsen on the season-opening SATARallye Açores but missed the next round in Gran Canaria after hisŠKODA Motorsport team nominated Jan Kopecký for the asphaltevent instead.
Kopecký took victory and will be looking to build on that maximumscore and his recent successes in the Czech championship when he heads tothe Circuit of Ireland for the first time.
The ŠKODA line-up is completed by Sepp Wiegand, who drives for themake’s German importer and has impressed on his last two IRCappearances this year, plus County Dublin’s Robert Barrable, whoshowed his worth against the IRC regulars with a point-scoring finish on theIRC-counting Ypres Rally in Belgium last season.
Mathieu Arzeno and Craig Breen will count on the exciting upgrades made toPeugeot’s 207 Super 2000 to bring them success next weekend. The carhas been widened by 20mm to provide improved cornering stability, whileminor bodywork changes will aid brake cooling and air flow around the wheelarches. While rising star Arzeno is new to the Circuit of Ireland stages,talented Irishman Breen has extensive knowledge of the terrain and will beexpected to fly.
Alastair Fisher is the lone M-Sport Ford Fiesta S2000 driver on the entry.Like Breen, the 23-year-old from Northern Ireland has a wealth of localknowledge to count on, not to mention an abundance of pace and the expertguidance of his co-driver Rory Kennedy, who partnered Fisher’s lateuncle Bertie Fisher to three Circuit of Ireland victories in the past.
IRC Production Cup
In the absence of category regulars Robert Consani and Marco Tempestini,the battle for IRC Production Cup honours will be fought out between severallocal stars including Garry Jennings, Donagh Kelly, Alan Ring and DanielBarry, who has previous IRC event experience having taken part on selectedasphalt rounds in the past. IRC Production Cup drivers traditionally havethe pace to challenge for outright IRC points and that will be no differenton the Circuit of Ireland.
IRC 2WD Cup
The IRC 2WD Cup fight is set to be close with Mark Donnelly, Tommy Doyle,Jonny Greer and Martin McCormack all capable of winning the category. Allfour have tackled IRC events previously with Renault Clio R3 driversDonnelly and Doyle both impressing. McCormack is also highly rated havingtasted success on national events in France and the United Kingdom.Hungary’s Menya Krózser will make his second start of theseason in a Honda Civic Type R.
IN THE SPOTLIGHT: CRAIG BREEN
Your first IRC appearance of the season and your first in aPeugeot 207 S2000, how did your test go last week?
“It was exceptionally good, the car is very much a Tarmac racer.Straight out of the box it was very, very good, stable and powerful. Havingspent time developing my Fiesta S2000 I’m going to have to dropeverything and start from the ground up but I’m sure Peugeot can giveme a car capable of winning.”
What can drivers competing on the Circuit of Ireland for the firsttime expect?
“Ireland is different to anywhere else in the world with big jumps,compressions, dips and narrow roads. In a Super 2000 car it’s horrificto try and keep the car in the middle of the road.”
So finding an optimal set-up isn’t easy then?
“It’s a compromise between gravel and Tarmac settings. Thebiggest thing is you need to have as much travel in your suspension and youwill find the left wheel is never doing what the right wheel is doing. Theroads are also uneven and you can do six kilometres on narrow lanes and thenget onto a wide and smooth road before it goes narrow again. It’s abig compromise but a fantastic challenge.”
How much will your local knowledge help you?
“I’ve never driven in the region where the stages are butI’ve done the Circuit twice. The first time was in a completelydifferent area, the second time was quite close to where this year’srally will be but we crashed on the second stage. Okay it’s homeadvantage in that I know what the stages can be like but I won’t getto see them until I do the recce next week. I just hope it stays dry becauseif there is rain then it will be very slippery.”
What can you achieve on this rally?
“I want to win and showcase what I can do in my own country. I wantto find a good pace on Friday evening and then push like hell on Saturdayand try to get a win. It will be difficult first time in the car but if weput the homework in early in the week and have a good recce it’s verypossible.”
Event: Donnelly Group Circuit of Ireland Rally,Intercontinental Rally Challenge, round three of 13
Starts: Belfast, 16:00hrs, Friday 6 April
Finishes: Armagh, 19:00hrs, Saturday 7 April
Base and permanent service park: Armagh, Northern IrelandSurface: Asphalt
Facts and figures: Entries received:100; IRC appearances: None; Stages: 15;Stage distance: 221.47 kilometres;Liaison: 386.12 kilometres; Total: 607.59kilometres