IRC Geko Ypres preview

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The full IRC Geko Ypres preview with TV & stage times....

THE CHALLENGE

A mainstay of the Intercontinental Rally Challenge since the series’ inception in 2007, the Geko Ypres Rally is one of the highlights of the IRC season. Based in the historic market town of Ypres in northwest Belgium, the event’s central location and compact route makes it a must for competitors and fans alike.

At first glance the asphalt stages appear tame by comparison to the rock-lined Tarmac tests on the previous IRC round in Ukraine. But appearances can be deceptive. Despite consisting mainly of long, narrow and flat straights and 90-degree junctions through areas of open farmland, the competitive route is littered with hazards waiting to catch out the unwary driver.

Drainage ditches and telegraph pylons pepper the roads, which can become notoriously slippery due to mud and gravel being dragged onto the surface by drivers taking ‘cuts’ through corners. With changeable weather conditions and stages run at night adding to the challenge, not to mention a condensed timetable, the Ypres Rally tests crews and their teams to the limit.

The proliferation of long straights and tight corners put the onus firmly on driver commitment and accurate pacenotes. With top speeds of up to 180kph being recorded, drivers have to judge their braking points to perfection to maximise the amount of speed they carry into and out of corners, meaning it’s not just the competitor with the most powerful engine and strongest brakes that wins.

While drivers such as Luca Rossetti and Kris Meeke won on their Ypres Rally debuts in 2007 and 2009 respectively, local knowledge is considered essential, particularly knowing where to cut the tight corners and when to play safe by taking a more conventional line to avoid punctures. Belgian hero Freddy Loix is testament to that theory with a record six wins to his name.

But Ypres – or Ieper to Flemish speakers – is more than just a rally. The town, which was painstakingly rebuilt after it suffered heavy damage and loss of life during World War I, becomes the event’s epicentre for the duration of the rally with the central service park, the Ieper Rally Center, dominating the famous Grote Markt and filling the surrounding streets. With thousands of spectators flocking to the town to watch the numerous service halts and start and finish ceremonies, the atmosphere is electric, particularly when darkness falls.

The rally itself is condensed into a 30-hour period with the action getting underway late on Friday afternoon and concluding on Saturday night. Friday’s itinerary features three repeated stages north and southwest of Ypres, separated by service in the town. The route includes the new Dikkebus-Westouter stage, which is a merger of the two tests. The first car is due to reach the overnight halt just before 22:30hrs.

Action resumes on Saturday morning with two stages based around the town of Poperinge to the west of Ypres. In total there are five repeated stages plus two standalone tests on day two, including the Lille-Eurometropole stage, which straddles the French border. With the final stage not getting underway until 21:56hrs, it won’t be until the early hours of Sunday morning when all crews have completed the finishing formalities.

All drivers competing in Ypres will be in contention for the prestigious Colin McRae IRC Flat Out Trophy, which is awarded on all rounds of the IRC to the driver whose performance best embodies the spirit of the rally legend.

THE COMPETITORS

With upwards of 30 pacesetting Super 2000 cars on the capacity 124-car entry, predicting a winner in Ypres will be a tough call. However, two drivers set to produce standout performances are Belgians Freddy Loix and Thierry Neuville.

Loix, who will drive a BFO Skoda Rally Team-run Fabia, is a six-time event winner and led the IRC drivers’ standings following the third round in Corsica. After skipping the previous round in Yalta, the 40-year-old will be eager to get his title bid back on track by repeating his Ypres victory of 2010. In contrast, Neuville is a virtual novice having contested the event just twice in a Super 2000 car. He was third last season but has developed into a formidable force in 2011, claiming a podium finish in the Canary Islands and winning in Corsica in his Team Peugeot Belgium-Luxembourg 207.

With the Ypres Rally not on IRC title leader Juho Hanninen’s schedule, his Skoda Motorsport team-mate Jan Kopecky is well-placed to move to the top of the standings if he can secure a strong finish in Belgium. The Czech is three points shy of the championship lead and his highly adept on sealed-surface stages.

Bryan Bouffier won Rallye Monte-Carlo in January and took second last time out in Ukraine following an impressive performance at the wheel of a Peugeot France 207. The Frenchman lacks Ypres knowledge having contested the event just once in the past but is set to be a contender.

Andreas Mikkelsen has proved quick for Skoda UK Motorsport so far this term but hasn’t always enjoyed the best of fortune. He should have finished on the podium on at least two occasions but a spate of punctures and a handful of driving errors have held him back. The Norwegian will turn 22 in the build up to the rally, which could signal a coming of age moment for the rising star.

Peugeot UK’s Guy Wilks missed out on an appearance in Ypres last season while he recovered from injuries sustained in a high-speed crash on Rally d’Italia-Sardegna. Absent from the podium since Rallye Monte-Carlo, the Briton will be determined not to let his lack of recent Ypres running prevent a push for a top-three finish.

Bruno Magalhaes is back on IRC duty after his Peugeot Sport Portugal team elected not to make the 3600-kilometre trip from its base near Lisbon to Yalta for round four. The 30-year-old thrives on events where he has previous experience and will hope to make the most of the knowledge gained when he tackled the event for the first time last season.

PG Andersson and Giandomenico Basso will be banking on the continued improvements being made to their factory PROTON Satria Neos in order to score points in Ypres after showing further promise in Yalta where Basso, a winner in Ypres back in 2006, ran in the top five.

Luca Rossetti is also a former Ypres winner, taking victory on his debut in 2007 in a Peugeot. Now armed with an Abarth Grande Punto, the Italian is a big fan of the rally. And with four IRC wins to his name, Rossetti is a threat for top honours.

Finn Toni Gardemeister will be expected to extend his 100 per cent point-scoring run to five events in his TGS Worldwide Skoda. Peugeot privateer Pierre Campana is back in the IRC after his impressive run to fourth place on the Tour de Corse, while Karl Kruuda makes his second IRC start at the wheel of his Me3 Rally Team Fabia.

Experienced Polish driver Michal Solowow and Frenchman Julien Maurin head the M-Sport Ford attack in their Fiesta S2000s, while Jasper van den Heuvel will be an unknown quantity in his R4-specification Ralliart Mitsubishi Lancer, as will rapid Dutch youngster Hans Weijs, who will drive a Fabia. British Rally Championship frontrunners Robert Barrable and Jonathan Greer will face a steep learning curve in their Skodas as they look to build their experience for the future.

IRC Production Cup
The IRC Production Cup, which is being run for the first time this season, has attracted 23 entrants with Belgians Alexandre Romain and Jonas Langenakens the highest seeds in their Ralliart Mitsubishi Lancers. However, Florian Gonon – a two-time IRC Production Cup winner this season – will be tough to beat in his Subaru Impreza.

IRC 2WD Cup
Sixty-one crews will be in contention for IRC 2WD Cup drivers’ championship points in Ypres with Kevin Abbring, last season’s class winner, set to pose the biggest threat. Other notable names include Ghislain De Mevius, the son of Belgian rallying legend Gregoire, in a Kronos Racing-run Peugeot 207 RC. Promising young Belgian Matthias Boon will drive a Skoda Fabia R2, while Martin Kangur will start his third IRC event of 2011 in his Honda Civic Type R. Defending IRC 2WD Cup champion Harry Hunt will return to the series after missing the last round in Ukraine.

THE EXPECTATIONS

Andreas Mikkelsen (Norway), Skoda Fabia S2000: “The Ypres Rally will be very tough, especially against the local drivers, but we still have the possibility to do very well ourselves. The weather forecast is for mixed conditions, so I hope it rains. There is always a lot of mud pushed out by cars cutting the corners, and if it’s wet it will be very slippery, which I prefer.”

“Winning my home rally would be incredible, not just for me but for my team, Peugeot Belgium and all the suppliers who help us. They can have a big party if it happens but it won’t be easy, especially against Freddy Loix. He did not do the last rally so will be very motivated to win. It will be a big battle.”

Luca Rossetti (Italy), Abarth Grande Punto S2000: “It’s a tough race, but it also was one of the most important and unforgettable of my career, the victory of 2007 will always be in my heart. The location of this rally is beautiful, many fans follow the race and I will be at the start to honour a rally that is one of the most important in the world.”

TV TIMES

The IRC’s media partner Eurosport, Europe’s leading sports entertainment group, will show coverage of the Geko Ypres Rally as follows:

Friday 24 June:
22:30-23:00: Day one highlights LIVE from the service park (Eurosport 2)
24:00-24:30: Day one highlights LIVE from the service park – delayed (Eurosport)
24:00-24:30: Day one highlights LIVE from the service park – delayed (Eurosport Asia-Pacific)

Saturday 25 June:
24:00-24:30: Day two highlights (Eurosport)
03:00-03:30: Day one highlights LIVE from the service park repeated (Eurosport Asia-Pacific)
06:15-06:45: Day one highlights LIVE from the service park repeated (Eurosport Asia-Pacific)
10:15-10:45: Day one highlights LIVE from the service park repeated (Eurosport Asia-Pacific)
24:00-24:30: Day two highlights (Eurosport Asia-Pacific)

Sunday 26 June:
06:15-06:45: Day two highlights (Eurosport Asia-Pacific)
08:30-09:00: Day two highlights repeated (Eurosport)
20:00-20:30: Day two highlights (Eurosport Asia-Pacific)
21:30-22:00: Rally Review (Eurosport)*
24:00-24:30: Rally Review (Eurosport Asia-Pacific)
* This programme will be start at 25:30hrs (01:30AM) on Eurosport France

Monday 27 June:
06:15-06:45: Rally Review repeated (Eurosport Asia-Pacific)
18:30-19:00: Rally Review (Eurosport 2)

Tuesday 28 June:
03:00-03:30: Rally Review repeated (Eurosport Asia-Pacific)
25:00-25:30: Rally Review repeated (Eurosport Asia-Pacific)

Wednesday 29 June:
13:00-13:30: Rally Review repeated (Eurosport 2)
18:00-18:30: Rally Review repeated (Eurosport Asia-Pacific)

All times are CET.

EVENT ESSENTIALS

Event: Geko Ypres Rally
Base: Ypres, Belgium
Starts: Friday 24 June
Finishes: Saturday 25 June
Entries received: 124
IRC appearances: Four
2010 winners: Freddy Loix/Frederic Miclotte (Skoda Fabia Super 2000)
Surface: Asphalt
Number of stages: 18
Special stage distance: 287.89 kilometres
Liaison distance: 361.98 kilometres
Total distance: 649.87 kilometres
Itinerary (all times shown are local):

Day one (Friday 24 June):
Special stages: Six
Special stage distance: 95.78kms
Liaison distance: 123.35kms
Total distance: 219.13kms
Service A: Ieper Rally Center (0:15hrs), 16:15hrs
SS1: Dikkebus-Westouter 1 (14.30kms), 16:49hrs
SS2: Mesen-Sauvegarde 1 (14.75kms), 17:44hrs
SS3: Langemark 1 (18.84kms), 18:23hrs
Service B: Ieper Rally Center (0:30hrs), 19:29hrs
SS4: Dikkebus-Westouter 2 (14.30kms), 20:18hrs
SS5: Mesen-Sauvegarde 2 (14.75kms), 21:13hrs
SS6: Langemark 2 (18.84kms), 21:52hrs
Service C: Ieper Rally Center (0:45hrs), 22:28hrs

Day two (Saturday 25 June):
Special stages: 12
Special stage distance: 192.11kms
Liaison distance: 238.63kms
Total distance: 430.74kms
Service D: Ieper Rally Center (0:15hrs), 10:30hrs
SS7: Proven-Vleteren 1 (14.76kms), 11:18hrs
SS8: Watou 1 (12.33kms), 11:40hrs
SS9: Heuvelland 1 (24.74kms), 12:16hrs
Service E: Ieper Rally Center (0:30hrs), 13:15hrs
SS10: Hollebeke 1 (28.82kms), 14:03hrs
SS11: Lille-Eurometropole (8.47kms), 15:06hrs
SS12: Show Wasquehal (1.88kms), 15:38hrs
SS13: Kemmelberg 1 (10.23kms), 16:41hrs
Service F: Ieper Rally Center (0:30hrs), 17:09hrs
SS14: Proven-Vleteren 2 (14.76kms), 18:27hrs
SS15: Watou 2 (12.33kms), 18:49hrs
SS16: Heuvelland 2 (24.74kms), 19:25hrs
Service G: Ieper Rally Center (0:30hrs), 20:24hrs
SS17: Hollebeke 2 (28.82kms), 21:12hrs
SS18: Kemmelberg 2 (10.23kms), 21:56hrs
Service H: Ieper Rally Center (0:10hrs), 22:28hrs
Finish: Ieper Rally Center, 22:38hrs