Title race goes on in Switzerland

Title race goes on in SwitzerlandFrom Skoda Press [ 21/10/2014 ].
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The battle for the Drivers’ crown in the FIA European Rally Championship (ERC) is coming to a head. When Europe’s rallying elite line up at the penultimate round of the season – the “Rallye International du Valais” – this weekend (23 to 25 October), ŠKODA works duo Esapekka Lappi/Janne Ferm (FIN/FIN) will do so as championship leaders. Their closest rivals for the title are also at the wheel of a Fabia Super 2000: Germany’s Sepp Wiegand and his co-driver Frank Christian of the ŠKODA AUTO Deutschland team start the event 19 points behind the leading ŠKODA pair.

“I have very fond memories of the rally in Switzerland,” said Lappi. “Last year, Janne and I claimed our first major win at an asphalt rally here. That was a very special moment in our careers – particularly as we had won the APRC rally in China for ŠKODA just a few days earlier. I would ideally like to repeat last year’s success in Switzerland, in order to take as large a step forwards as possible in the championship. However, you don’t always get what you want in the ERC: we have a long and extremely demanding rally ahead of us.”

Lappi has already won two events this season, including the prestigious “Circuit of Ireland Rally”, which is also held on asphalt. Fellow ŠKODA driver Wiegand finished second at the same event to claim his first podium in the European Rally Championship. A further two podiums were to follow – third place at the “Ypres Rally” in Belgium and second at the “Barum Rally” in ŠKODA’s backyard in the Czech Republic – putting the 23-year-old in contention for the ERC Drivers’ title with two rounds remaining.

“My best results this year have come at asphalt rallies: I made it onto the podium in Northern Ireland, Belgium and the Czech Republic. That has to be the goal at the ‘Rallye International du Valais’ too if I am to keep the race for the championship alive,” said Wiegand. “This rally is completely new to me. So far, I only know the special stages from video recordings of last year’s race. Some of it reminds me a bit of the Rally Monte Carlo, at which Frank and I won the WRC2 class in 2013. However, the roads are narrower in Switzerland and there is no room for mistakes. There are also a few short gravel sections, which makes it even more exciting.”

The “Rallye International du Valais” is one of the most demanding rounds of the ERC for both man and machine. From Thursday to Saturday, the teams must overcome a total of 260.2 kilometres against the clock, spread over 19 special stages through the Swiss canton of Wallis. The majority of the stages are held on narrow asphalt roads around the cities of Sion and Martigny. However, eight special stages also feature short gravel sections, which the drivers must overcome in cars set-up for asphalt conditions. On top of that come the vast differences in elevation: the lowest point of the route is 400 metres above sea level, while the rally reaches a highest altitude of 1,800 metres. The first car gets proceedings underway at 09:00 local time on Thursday with the 3.3-kilometre qualifying stage in Sion. The competitors reach the finish in Martigny at 17:30 on Saturday.

While the race for the ERC crown is still wide open, the destination of the title in the APRC has already been decided. ŠKODA made motorsport history at the penultimate round of the season in Japan at the end of September: the Czech manufacturer won both the Manufacturers’ and Drivers’ titles in the Asia-Pacific Rally Championship for the third time in a row*. ŠKODA works driver Jan Kopecký (CZ) won the Drivers’ Championship with one race still to come, ahead of his team-mate Gaurav Gill (IND), who won the championship last year. European champion Kopecký is the first rally driver to win first the ERC then the APRC in successive years.

These victories and titles are intrinsically tied to the successful Fabia Super 2000. The high-tech four-wheel drive powerhouse from Mladá Boleslav has also enjoyed great success in national rally championships. Experienced Belgian rally driver “Fast” Freddy Loix, who won his home round of the FIA European Rally Championship in a Fabia Super 2000 in June of this year, claimed the title in the Belgian championship. Prior to this, Pedro Meireles (P), who is supported by ŠKODA Portugal, had also won the championship in Portugal. And old hand Raimund Baumschlager (A) also won his twelfth title in Austria at the wheel of a Fabia Super 2000.

* Subject to the official publication of the results by the FIA.

Did you know that …

... the “Rallye International du Valais” is the penultimate round of the 2014 ERC season? The season finale will take place on the French island of Corsica from 6th to 8th November. The ERC presentation ceremony follows on 9th November in the Corsican capital Ajaccio.

... the “Rallye International du Valais” is being staged for the 55th time this year? The first organiser was the rally-mad wine merchant Philippe Simonetta, who managed to combine his two great passions: that the motorsport world should discover the canton of Wallis, which is ideally suited for rallying, and the region’s outstanding wines.

... the “Rallye International du Valais” was initially called the “Rallye du Vin” (Rally of Wine)? From 1981 to 1984 it bore the name “Rallye International du Vin et du Valais”. It then took on its current title in 1985 and has been known as the “Rallye International du Valais” since.

... the rally in Switzerland first formed part of the European Rally Championship in 1980? The event also featured on the calendar of the Intercontinental Rally Challenge (IRC) in 2007 and 2008.

... the name ŠKODA went down in the list of winners of the “Rallye International du Valais” last year? Esapekka Lappi/Janne Ferm won just six days after their success at the APRC rally in China. The two Finns completed a 40-hour journey between the presentation ceremony in China and the start in Wallis.

... the rally circus will pitch its tents in two places at this year’s “Rallye International du Valais? The start of the rally is in the capital of the canton, Sion, which will also play host to the teams’ service areas until Friday. From Saturday on, the service park will be located about 30 kilometres away in Martigny, where the presentation ceremony will also take place.

... that September 2014 has been the best September in the history of ŠKODA? The Czech automobile manufacturer saw deliveries rise by 10.4 per cent last month to a global figure of 95,600 cars (same month last year: 86,600). In Europe, ŠKODA’s market share rose to 4.4 per cent in the first nine months of this year.

The number for the “Rallye International du Valais”: 30.18

Unusual: although the “Rallye International du Valais” is declared as an all-asphalt rally, the teams must still overcome 30.18 kilometres of gravel road. The “Caserne” special stage, which the drivers tackle twice on Friday, includes a 0.14-kilometre section on loose ground. Saturday will be particularly tricky, as the competitors face a further 29.9 kilometres of gravel on the “Bruson”, “Verbier”, “Les Cols” and “Col des Planches” stages. Here, the drivers must be particularly careful – after all, their cars will be set up entirely for asphalt roads. The teams will also only have access to wide asphalt tyres throughout the rally weekend – not the considerably narrower gravel tyres with their deeper tread.