Rallye International du Valais preview

Rallye International du Valais previewFrom IRC media [ 20/10/2008 ].
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The final European round of the Intercontinental Rally Challenge takes place this weekend at the Rallye du Valais in Switzerland, based around the mountain town of Martigny. The all-asphalt route runs over twisty and narrow mountain roads, and one of the main features of the event is cold weather, which can mean that the stages are often covered in black ice and grease.

The roads also contain a variety of different surfaces, ranging from new asphalt to rougher and more broken-up sections, as well as one or two places that are even reminiscent of a gravel rally. The stages take in roads close to some of Switzerland's most famous ski resorts, such as Verbier, and showcase stunning scenery. With a number of lengthy speed tests, such as the 27-kilometre long Vercorin stage, the rally is sure to be a true challenge for drivers and teams.

One of the most difficult aspects of the event will be tyre choice in the cold conditions. With quite large variations in grip levels over the course of the stages, teams will have to select the best compromise carefully. There is also likely to be a wide range of temperatures during the day, with the afternoon stages tending to be considerably warmer than those held in the morning or evening. As is the case with every asphalt rally, the stages will become considerably dirtier during the second passage, as cars cutting corners tend to pull stones and loose gravel onto the road. This carries a high risk of punctures: another important factor that could shape the outcome of the rally.

The idiosyncratic nature of the Rallye du Valais often springs a few surprises when it comes to the final result, especially because it is an event where none of the regular IRC competitors have much experience. A neat and consist approach, with the emphasis on staying out of trouble, often pays dividends. Despite the tricky conditions, average speeds can be quite high as many of the roads are wide with some quick corners.

The Rallye International du Valais gets underway at 14:00 on Thursday 23 October from the CERM: Martigny's exhibition centre, which also hosts the service park. The finish is scheduled for 16:45 on Saturday 25 October, after 17 special stages and 266.25 gruelling competitive kilometres. For more information about the event, please visit the rally's official website: www.riv.ch.

THE COMPETITORS

Once more the Rallye International du Valais comes at a crucial point in the season, with three of the top IRC series drivers fighting for the championship. Peugeot Belgium's Nicolas Vouilloz currently leads the standings, but Abarth factory driver Giandomenico Basso is not so far behind and another win for the Italian would put him right back into the hunt. Peugeot Italy's Luca Rossetti, the winner of the first two IRC rounds this year, is also in contention for the IRC series title.

However, these three are far from the only protagonists for a win on Swiss soil. Vouilloz's team mate Freddy Loix has won twice this year and is aiming to add to his total on the Rallye du Valais. Abarth meanwhile come to the event with a squad that has been reinforced to three cars, with young Italian Umberto Scandola joining Basso and Anton Alen. This will be the first time that Alen has contested the Rallye du Valais, but Scandola was an impressive third last year - and he also led the last IRC round, in Sanremo.

Some other contenders could also make a dent in the established IRC order. Bryan Bouffier returns to the IRC in his familiar Peugeot Poland 207 S2000, after finishing on the podium in the Czech Republic earlier in the season. One of Switzerland's top rally drivers, Olivier Burri, is also in an S2000 car this year: an Abarth Grande Punto.

Mitsubishi is represented by some excellent local drivers, such as Jean Radoux and Philippe Camandona, while French driver Philippe Greiffenberg makes a welcome IRC debut at the wheel of the Volkswagen Polo S2000.

Honda has fond memories of the Rallye du Valais, as it was there that the Civic Type R R3 scored its best-ever result, thanks to Italian driver Luca Betti, who placed the two-wheel drive machine in a remarkable fifth place overall. This year, the Japanese marque is represented by another Italian, Alessandro Bettega, as well as by several local entrants such as Joel Rappaz. Bettega is the current IRC 2WD Cup leader, but he is sure to be challenged by Fiat Punto Diesel driver Marco Cavigioli - who led the category right up until the most recent IRC round in Sanremo.

THE EXPECTATIONS

"I have prepared for this event by contesting the Rallye d'Antibes in the south of France, which we won. We did that event to carry out some development work with the 207, and we found some promising settings for the Rallye du Valais. The Valais is an event that I really enjoy: I won it last year and I actually have family ties with the region, because my great grandfather comes from Martigny! The championship situation is not as clear cut as it might appear on paper, so I need to make sure that I do a good job. Then afterwards we will see where we stand."
Nicolas Vouilloz, Peugeot Belgium.

"Realistically it' going to be difficult for us to win the championship, but I'm very pleased with the job that we have done during the last two to three rallies, to put ourselves back into contention for a title in which our chances seemed compromised by the middle of the season. It's actually the first time that I have ever driven the Rallye du Valais, but that doesn't change anything for me and neither does the fact that we're fighting for the title. We've fought for the title since the beginning of the year. However, it's true that we've got a certain momentum behind us now, so we're going to try and conserve that."
Giandomenico Basso, factory Abarth driver

"Our chances of winning the title are slim to say the least, as Nicolas Vouilloz has the best chance, but we still have a good possibility of finishing in the top three of the championship at the end of the year, which would also be a good result for us. I've never driven the rally before but I completed the recce last year and I learned a few things from that. I think that the conditions will be very tricky, but on the whole difficult conditions like that tend to suit us. The biggest risk is black ice; if you get on that in the wrong place then anything can happen. But it's all good preparation for the Monte Carlo Rally as well!"
Luca Rossetti, Peugeot Italy

THE TV TIMES

A key feature of the IRC is high-quality and innovative television broadcasts. Coverage of the Rallye du Valais on Eurosport, Europe's largest television channel, will be at the times listed below (all times are CET). Live shows will be broadcast direct from the stages. In addition, viewers will also be able to watch the programmes at any time they choose (after the original broadcast time) over the internet. Simply click on www.rally-irc.com for a direct link to the heart of the rally action.

Thursday 23 October
00:00-00:15       Leg one highlights    Eurosport & Eurosport Asia Pacific

Friday 24 October
15:00-16:00       LIVE SS8             Eurosport & Eurosport Asia Pacific & Internet
18:00-18:45       LIVE SS10           Eurosport 2 & Eurosport Asia Pacific & Internet

Saturday 25 October
10:45-11:30       LIVE SS13           Eurosport & Eurosport Asia Pacific & Internet
15:00-16:00       LIVE SS17           Eurosport & Eurosport Asia Pacific & Internet

Tuesday 28 October
23:30-00:00       Rally highlights      Eurosport