IRC Barum Czech Rally Zlin preview

IRC Barum Czech Rally Zlin previewFrom IRC media [ 22/08/2011 ].
Click to read all other IRC IRC News.
 

Here the full IRC Barum Czech Rally Zlin preview.

THE CHALLENGE

The battle for the 2011 Intercontinental Rally Challenge title will take another twist in Czech Republic next week (26-28 August) when the series returns to asphalt for Barum Czech Rally Zlin, round seven of this scintillating chase for the prestigious drivers’ crown.

Based in the industrial city of Zlin in south-east Czech Republic, the event has appeared on the IRC schedule since 2007 and takes place for a 41st time this year. Famed for its tricky stages on bumpy and sometimes broken Tarmac through narrow woodland areas, experience and commitment are often rewarded.

Another feature of the event is the huge numbers of spectators who traditionally flock to the stages in there thousands to provide raucous support to the competitors, particularly the massed ranks of local crews.

Following the ceremonial start in front of Zlin town hall, the event begins with a superspecial stage through the streets of the host city on the night of Friday 26 August. Crews are released from the start in regular intervals, which means there will be as many as seven cars on the concrete wall-lined course at any time.

Run under the cover of darkness, the stage comprises three laps of Zlin’s central area and crosses over a railway line at one point. With part of the stage on cobbled streets, grip is at a premium, particularly in the event of rain. Competitors tackle the stage in reverse order from 21:15hrs.

Saturday’s action features four repeated stages, including two runs of Trojak, which at 28.29 kilometres is the longest of the rally. Although some of the stage names might be familiar to Zlin regulars the competitive route is 70 per cent different from 2010 in an effort by organisers to increase the challenge facing crews.

The opening Biskupice stage, for example, features a small gravel section, while the Trojak and Semetin tests run in an opposite direction to last season. Saturday’s itinerary also includes three visits to the permanent service park in Otrokovice, which is located 11 kilometres from Zlin.

Sunday’s route covers three repeated stages, including Majak, which is back for the first time in 20 years. In other changes, the Kudlovice and Halenkovice stages will run in reverse and will also include a handful of small changes. Following the sixth and final service halt in Otrokovice, crews head to Zlin for the traditional finish in front of the city’s old cinema at 15:17hrs local time.

In total the rally consists of 15 special stages over a competitive distance of 248.48 kilometres. Shakedown will once again take place close to the service park in Otrokovice, albeit over a new route of 4.3 kilometres.

While the weather in central Europe in August is characterised by sun and warm temperatures, rain is a frequent hazard on the event. With chunks of the route running under tree cover, grip levels can be unpredictable and drivers running further up the order often benefit from a cleaner stage surface due to the practice of corning ‘cutting’ dragging mud and debris onto the optimum line. Tyre choice is also a factor with crews often leaving their selection until the last possible moment to try to ensure they are using tyres best suited to the conditions.

All drivers competing in Zlin 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

Zlin regularly attracts a big entry and the tradition is maintained this year with 122 crews, including 29 in Super 2000 machinery, set to take the start. All eight IRC manufacturers – Abarth, Honda, M-Sport, Peugeot, PROTON, Ralliart, SKODA and Subaru – are represented, while seven IRC event winners will be taking part.

Of these no driver has won more IRC rounds than Juho Hanninen, who made it eight wins with victory on last month’s Sata Rallye Acores in his SKODA Motorsport Fabia Super 2000. Hanninen’s success on the gravel round – the Finn has also triumphed twice on asphalt this season – has given him a 13-point title lead over team-mate Jan Kopecky and Freddy Loix, who drives a Fabia for the factory-run BFO-SKODA Rally Team and won in Zlin last season.

While Belgian Loix is an established frontrunner in the IRC, his victory on the Czech Republic round in 2010 owed much to local hero Kopecky’s costly mistake when he was leading comfortably. Bryan Bouffier could also have capitalised on Kopecky’s error but he lost vital ground when a water leak caused him to go off the road, but not before the Peugeot France driver had created a strong impression in his 207 S2000.

Bouffier is one of several Peugeot drivers in action in Zlin this season and will be determined to regain some of the ground he has lost in the title fight following his exclusion from the results of June’s GEKO Ypres Rally due to a technical infringement. Other Peugeot runners include Tour de Corse-E.Leclerc winner Thierry Neuville, who competes under the Team Peugeot Belgium-Luxembourg banner, and Peugeot UK’s Guy Wilks.

Pavel Valousek, the reigning Czech champion will also rely on Peugeot power. Like Neuville and Wilks, he will drive for the crack Kronos Racing operation from Belgium. With backing from Peugeot’s Czech importer, Valousek will be determined to build on the third place finish he achieved in Zlin in 2010.

SKODA UK Motorsport’s Andreas Mikkelsen has competed in Zlin on two occasions and will start the event on a high following his impressive second place finish in the Azores. Roman Kresta will also be at the wheel of a Fabia and is a three-time winner of the event. SKODA Sweden’s Patrik Sandell and TGS Worldwide’s Toni Gardemeister will be in the thick of the top 10 battle, while Irish privateer Robert Barrable impressed with a points finish on his IRC debut in Ypres in a Fabia. Estonian teenager Karl Kruuda has scored points on both IRC rounds he has started this season.

Two other Fabia drivers set to create an impression in Zlin are the SKODA Auto Deutschland duo of Matthias Kahle and Mark Wallenwein. The importer is contesting a selection of IRC rounds this season with Kahle, a multiple German champion, making his IRC debut in Zlin.

PG Andersson and Giandomenico Basso head PROTON Motorsports’ challenge in their Satria Neo S2000s and will impress, as will Pole Michal Solowow and young Irishman Craig Breen in their M-Sport Ford Fiesta S2000s.

IRC Production Cup
Vaclav Pech will be the driver to beat in the new-for-2011 IRC Production Cup in his Ralliart Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution IX, which he has upgraded to R4 specification. His rivals include Ralliart driver Vaclav Arazim and Subaru Impreza trio Daniel Behalek, Jan Slehofer and Vojtech Stajf. Japan’s Fumio Nutahara, starting his second event in his Yokohama-backed Impreza R4, will be in contention, as will Jaromir Tarabus who has switched to a Lancer after contesting a handful of IRC rounds in 2010 in a Fiesta. Italian Marco Cavigioli, a former IRC 2WD Cup champion, will begin his five-event IRC Production Cup bid in Zlin in a Lancer.

IRC 2WD Cup
Jan Cerny will be one of the favourites for IRC 2WD Cup glory. The highly rated Czech youngster is armed with an R2 version of SKODA’s successful Fabia and is regarded as an asphalt expert. He will face stiff competition from Estonian Honda Civic ace Martin Kangur, Czech driver Vaclav Dunovsky, Bulgarian Todor Slavov, Italian Stefano Albertini and Frenchman Jean-Michel Raoux, the current leader of the standings. Giovanni Vergnano is the lone Abarth driver on the entry at the wheel of a 500 R3T.

THE EXPECTATIONS

Giandomenico Basso (Italy), PROTON Satria Neo S2000: “The most important thing is to set the car up for the bumpy surface, and that means you have to do a lot of work with the suspension dampers. But we have made a lot of progress in that area, which we hope to confirm with a test in Czech Republic on Monday. We continue to improve and there is no reason why we cannot get a strong result.”

Jan Kopecky (Czech Republic), SKODA Fabia S2000: “It’s my home rally and I’m really excited. For the last two years we have been the quickest but in 2010 we made quite a small mistake and we finished in the forest but without any damage to the car. It’s a big and famous rally and we will get some great support from the Czech fans.”

Thierry Neuville (Belgium), Peugeot 207 S2000: “Having not done a rally for two months could be a problem but we will test for two days next week and that should allow me to get back into the rhythm. I know a bit the rally from last year although a lot of the stages are in a different direction. But having a Czech team-mate [Pavel Valousek] will really help for this rally.”

TV TIMES

Eurosport, the Intercontinental Rally Challenge’s media partner and Europe’s leading sports entertainment group, will show coverage of Barum Czech Rally Zlin as follows:

Saturday 27 August:
23:00hrs-23:30hrs: Day one highlights (Eurosport)
26:15hrs-26:45hrs: Day one highlights (Eurosport Asia-Pacific)

Sunday 28 August:
23:00hrs-23:30hrs: Day two highlights (Eurosport)*
26:15hrs-26:45hrs: Day two highlights (Eurosport Asia-Pacific)
*Please note this programme will be broadcast at 24:00hrs on Eurosport France

Monday 29 August:
08:45hrs-09:15hrs: Day two highlights repeated (Eurosport Asia-Pacific)

Tuesday 30 August:
15:00hrs-15:30hrs: Rally Review (Eurosport Asia-Pacific)
15:15hrs-16:40hrs: Rally Review (Eurosport)

Wednesday 31 August:
03:00hrs-03:30hrs: Rally Review repeated (Eurosport Asia-Pacific)
08:45hrs-09:15hrs: Rally Review repeated (Eurosport Asia-Pacific)

Friday 9 September:
12:00hrs-12:30hrs: Rally Review repeated (Eurosport 2)

EVENT ESSENTIALS

Event: Barum Czech Rally Zlin
Base: Zlin, Czech Republic
Starts: Friday 26 August
Finishes: Sunday 28 August
Entries received: 122
IRC appearances: Four
2010 winners: Freddy Loix/Frederic Miclotte (SKODA Fabia Super 2000)
Surface: Asphalt
Number of stages: 15
Special stage distance: 248.48 kilometres
Liaison distance: 371.25 kilometres
Total distance: 619.73 kilometres

Itinerary (all times shown are local):

Day one (Friday 26 August and Saturday 27 August):
Special stages: Nine
Special stage distance: 133.40kms
Liaison distance: 268.65kms
Total distance: 402.05kms
Start: City Square, Zlin, 17:00hrs
SS1: SSS Zlin (9.36kms), 21:15hrs
Service A: Otrokovice (0:15hrs), 08:30hrs
SS2: Biskupice 1 (8.89kms), 09:38hrs
SS3: Pindula 1 (12.95kms), 10:11hrs
SS4: Trojak 1 (28.69kms), 10:54hrs
SS5: Semetin 1 (11.49kms), 11:37hrs
Service B: Otrokovice (0:30hrs), 13:37hrs
SS6: Biskupice 2 (8.89kms), 15:00hrs
SS7: Pindula 2 (12.95kms), 15:33hrs
SS8: Trojak 2 (28.69kms), 16:16hrs
SS9: Semetin 2 (11.49kms), 16:59hrs
Service C: Otrokovice (0:45hrs), 18:19hrs

Day two (Sunday 28 August):
Special stages: Six
Special stage distance: 115.08kms
Liaison distance: 102.50kms
Total distance: 217.63kms
Service D: Otrokovice (0:15hrs), 07:40hrs
SS10: Majak 1 (22.69kms), 08:33hrs
SS11: Kudlovice 1 (10.48kms), 09:21hrs
SS12: Halenkovice 1 (24.37kms), 09:54hrs
Service E: Otrokovice (0:30hrs), 11:04hrs
SS13: Majak 2 (22.69kms), 12:12hrs
SS14: Kudlovice 2 (10.48kms), 13:00hrs
SS15: Halenkovice 2 (24.37kms), 13:33hrs
Service F: Otrokovice (0:10hrs), 14:16hrs
Finish: Zlin, 15:01hrs

LEADING ENTRIES (SELECTED)

http://www.rallye-info.com/event_entrylist.asp?event=557

IRC STANDINGS

http://irc.rallye-info.com/points.asp?sid=11