Rally Russia - Preview

Rally Russia - PreviewFrom IRC media [ 08/07/2008 ].
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Round four of the Intercontinental Rally Challenge takes the crews into the heartland of the Russian Federation, for Rally Russia. The ceremonial start takes place in the historic city of St Petersburg, which was the home of the Imperial Tsars for more than 200 years. Nonetheless, the stages are based around the town of Vyborg – which belonged to Finland until 1944 – so it is no surprise that the roads are quite similar to those seen on the World Championship’s famous Rally Finland.

Last year Finnish driver Anton Alen claimed a resounding victory through the Russian
forests, which feature wide, fast, and flowing gravel stages. Some parts of the stages are
very fast indeed, making Russia the quickest gravel rally that the IRC drivers will face all
year. However, these fast roads can still contain some traps to catch out the unwary. Several
large stones litter the route, and these can become a particular problem during the second
run through the stages.

Russia could not present a greater contrast to the last rally of the IRC series in Ypres.
Whereas the Belgian asphalt stages require some extremely precise driving, the Russian
gravel stages are all about getting a good flow and rhythm with the car so that it ‘dances’
from one corner to the next.

Rally Russia was run for the first time last year, but this time it has a very different look. The
route has been extended by one day and 70 competitive kilometres, giving it a total
competitive distance of 229.36 kilometres over 12 stages. The first day of stages on
Thursday takes in roads to the north of Vyborg, followed by a ceremonial start in the historic
centre of St Petersburg, while legs two and three are to the east of Vyborg, not far from the
town of Kamennnogorsk. The stages have mostly quite soft and almost sandy surfaces,
which can cut up quite badly to expose the notorious stones. Part of the art of driving Rally
Russia is knowing how to avoid picking up punctures in the tricky conditions. The weather is
forecast to be dry and hot, although there is always the possibility of unexpected showers.

The competitors...
One of the most notable features of the entry list on the Rally Russia is that IRC series leader
Luca Rossetti will not be contesting the event due to commitments at home in Italy. This
presents a golden opportunity for Peugeot Belgium’s Nicolas Vouilloz, who is just four points
behind him after finishing on the podium in every IRC event so far, to take over the lead of
the series.

However one of the pre-event favourites is last year’s winner Anton Alen (Abarth), who feels
at home over the sinuous stages. Also driving a Grande Punto is one of the biggest
attractions of the event: 1994 World Rally Champion Didier Auriol, co-driven as always by
Denis Giraudet. This will be Auriol’s second IRC outing, after he starred in the Portugal Rally
earlier this year. A new face at the wheel of a Super 2000 car is Finn Juho Hanninen, driving a Peugeot 207.
Hanninen’s speed is renowned, and he could be an outside contender for victory. There is
set to be an exciting battle in the IRC 2WD Cup category, with Englishman Guy Wilks making
his first appearance in the IRC with a Honda Civic Type R R3. The car ran as high as sixth
overall in Russia last year with Dani Sola at the wheel, and Wilks is hoping to spring a similar
surprise this time. Marco Cavigioli, a top-10 finisher in Russia last year, is hoping to extend
his lead of the 2WD Cup (currently shared with two other drivers) thanks to another strong
run in his Grande Punto diesel. As always, there will be a very strong contingent of local
drivers who know the roads well, such as experienced Mitsubishi drivers Andrei Zhigunov
and Boris Fedotov. For the full entry list, please visit www.rally-irc.com and click on the ‘entry
list’ button.

The expectations...
“We had a very good run last year, so obviously my aim is to try and do that again this time.
A lot will depend on the condition of the stages: if the conditions are nice and clean then we
will be able to push at our hardest straight away. However, if there are a few rocks and other
things, then obviously we will have to be a bit more careful. I think this rally suits both me and
the Grande Punto very well, so I’m feeling quite confident.”
Anton Alen, 2007 Rally Russia winner, Abarth.

“Winning the last rally in Ypres was a big boost to my confidence and so I think that our
season really starts from now on. I think Russia will be a very interesting rally, although I
really don’t know what to expect. But I know that the car will be very good as always and that
the stages will be quick, so I’m looking forward to it. We need another good result if we want
to finish in the top three of the series at the end of the year.”
Freddy Loix, Peugeot Belgium driver.