Sata Rally Acores Review

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Mikkelsen sets new IRC record with Acores victory --- ŠKODA celebrates one-two finish as Bouffier stars for Peugeot --- Support category wins for Moura and Maciel

Andreas Mikkelsen has begun the defence of his Intercontinental Rally Challenge title in style by winning SATA Rallye Açores, the opening round of IRC season six, which finished this afternoon (Saturday) following three days and almost 200 kilometres of thrilling high-speed action in the mid-Atlantic.

Juho Hänninen, the 2010 IRC champion and the winner of this event last term, made it a one-two for ŠKODA by claiming second overall with Bryan Bouffier the top Peugeot finisher in third. Local hero Ricardo Moura, in sixth, took top honours in the IRC Production Cup with Paulo Maciel claiming victory in the IRC 2WD Cup.

Mikkelsen’s performance, which extends his run of victories in the IRC to three in a row after he won the 2011 season-closing rounds in Scotland and Cyprus – a new IRC record – earned him the prestigious Colin McRae IRC Flat Out Trophy, awarded to the driver whose heroics behind the wheel best embody the spirit of the rallying legend.

“This is the perfect start to the season, I am so happy for the ŠKODA UK team, for my co-driver Ola [Fløene] and this is the perfect result for ŠKODA,” said Mikkelsen, who set the fastest time on 10 stages. “We had a tough fight with Juho and we had to push but it couldn’t have gone better.”

Hänninen started the event as one of the favourites for victory but a costly spin on Friday morning meant he had to settle for second best in his factory-run Fabia.

“We came here for the victory but it was not good enough to stop Andreas,” said the Finn, the most successful driver in the history of the IRC. “Andreas made no mistake, I made a big one – he made a good rally and deserved his victory.”

Bryan Bouffier had been embroiled in a close fight for the final podium spot with fellow Peugeot 207 S2000 driver Bruno Magalhães until the Portuguese crashed out on day two. It left Frenchman Bouffier to take a comfortable third overall. “To be on the podium on the opening round is very good and thanks to Peugeot for a really good car for this race,” he said.

ŠKODA Auto Deutschland’s Sepp Wiegand, making his IRC debut, won the battle to be the top German rising star in impressive fashion after he demoted Hermann Gassner Jr to fifth on Saturday’s first stage when Gassner Jr stalled the engine of his Red Bull Fabia S2000. And it got worse for Gassner Jr when he picked up a right-rear puncture after he struck an earth bank on the penultimate stage in his efforts to close up to Wiegand, whose decision to use soft compound tyres on Saturday morning’s loop of stages paid dividends. “This is a really big moment for me on my second rally on gravel and my first in the IRC,” said Wiegand. “To be in the top five is unbelievable, I’m really, really happy.”

Behind sixth-placed IRC Production Cup winner Moura, Oleksandr Saliuk starred on his IRC debut in seventh on his first outing in an M-Sport Ford Fiesta S2000. The Dream Team Ukraine driver set out with the sole aim of finishing so was thrilled to reach the end of the rain-affected event. Third fastest time on the second run through the Grupo Marques superspecial was a personal highlight for Saliuk.

Sérgio Silva was the leading Subaru driver in eighth overall with Ruben Rodrigues ninth and Miguel Barbosa claiming the final IRC point in 10th.

Rashid Al-Ketbi and Oleksiy Tamrazov both returned to the action on Saturday after their exits on Friday and both gained valuable experience with Skydive Dubai Rally Team’s Al-Ketbi particularly pleased afterwards. “It was very important for my team to be at the finish line and I have learned so much,” said the Emirati. “For these reasons I am very happy.”

IRC Production Cup

Ricardo Moura made it three wins in a row in the Group N category on SATA Rallye Açores with a dominant performance behind the wheel of his Ralliart Mitsubishi Lancer.

The Azorean was the fastest IRC Production Cup driver on all 13 stages that ran and rarely looked in trouble as he adopted a low-risk strategy in his efforts to clinch victory.

“This was really as high as I could go with the opposition above me in faster cars,” he said. “When I was in a safe situation I tried to push and to enjoy, otherwise I took no risks.”

Sérgio Silva was the top Subaru finisher in second after Romania-domiciled Italian Marco Tempestini retired his R4-specifiation Impreza on day two. Ruben Rodrigues and Miguel Barbosa completed the podium in their Lancers.

IRC 2WD Cup

Left in the clear when Harry Hunt retired from the category lead on Friday morning, Paulo Maciel gradually opened out a comfortable margin to repeat his 2011 triumph in his trusty Citroën Saxo. Énio Medeiros was second with Henrique Moniz third.

Italian veteran Davide Catania finished fifth but there was disappointment for Robert Consani. The young Frenchman had been on course for a podium finish in his Renault Clio R3 only to crash out on stage 11.

Menya Krószer, the Hungarian two-wheel-drive champion, also had his sights on a strong result only for a broken driveshaft to stop his Honda Civic Type R on stage six. A mechanical fault on the very first stage ended László Vizin’s challenge on a one-off outing in a ŠKODA Fabia R2.

Hunt, meanwhile, restarted on Saturday following his day one exit and set two fastest stage times in the increasingly slippery conditions.

TOP IRC POSITIONS AFTER DAY THREE

http://www.rallye-info.com/event_results.asp?event=576

IRC Production Cup: Ricardo Moura (POR)/Sancho Eiró (POR) Ralliart Lancer Evolution IX

IRC 2WD Cup: Paulo Maciel (POR)/Filipe Gouveia (POR) Citroën Saxo VTS

IRC STANDINGS (BEST EIGHT SCORES OF 13 COUNT)

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

TV TIMES

Coverage of the opening round of the 2012 Intercontinental Rally Challenge season, SATA Rallye Açores, will be shown on Eurosport as follows (all times are CET):

Wednesday 29 February: 00:00-00:35hrs: Inside IRC – Açores (Eurosport)

NEXT EVENT

Rally Islas Canarias El Corte Inglés, 15-17 March 2012.