What happened last week… ERC in Latvia

Jari Ketomaa

The second round of the 2013 FIA European Rally Championship – what used to be the Intercontinental Rally Challenge – brought Latvia to the top table of host nations in the sport. The second successive snowbound event of the year saw a less dramatic result than in Austria, but once again showed that there is a cracking season of rallying to be enjoyed here.

The Rally Liepāja-Ventspils was won by rising Finnish talent Jari Ketomaa in a Fiesta RRC, aided by the turbo car’s grunt against the awe-inspiring commitment of his closest pursuer Craig Breen and the enormous experience of François Delecour, who finished second and third respectively in their Peugeot 207 S2000s.

With opening round winners Jan Kopeçky and the Škoda team absent from Latvia, Ketomaa takes a slender lead in the title race. Banking the points ensures that Delecour is in the hunt, while Breen is no doubt looking forward to getting his hands on Peugeot’s new turbocharged 208 R5 as the limitations of the 207 S2000 – one of the most successful cars of the last decade – become increasingly obvious.

After all the snow of the opening rounds, the next event is the asphalt-based Corta Ingles, which takes place in the Canary Islands on 21-23 March. WRF cannot wait!

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Craig Breen speaks Franglais!

breenpug

You know those things that they call mash-ups – like when the curiously-attired Brazilian fiftysomething Wagner spent week after week shouting to the tune of ‘Love Shack’ and ‘She Bangs’ at the same time on X-Factor? Well the craze has apparently crossed over to rally PR.

Peugeot has issued some seriously interesting news and mashed it up with one of the most preposterous ‘quotes’ ever to grace a press release. The news is that hugely talented young Irishman, Craig Breen, will be driving very fast in a Peugeot 208 R5 on this year’s FIA European Rally Championship. The WRC’s 2012 champion in S2000 and 2011 FIA Academy winner is a major star in the making, and his eight rounds on the ERC will be spent developing the 208 R5 – no doubt with the accumulation of silverware also following in due course.

This news was twinned an alleged quote from Breen that was clearly written by a French PR person in their very best English. It’s endearingly awful. In fact they’ve become our new favourite PR person in the world. Here’s what they imagined Craig’s response to the Peugeot call-up to be:

“This is incredible and beyond my dreams. I am really excited to work with a manufacturer like Peugeot Sport, I think of it since I was a young boy. To arrive here in front of a nice season is a good position to be in. My objective is to show good speed and challenge for some victories on a regular basis. For the testing program, I will give the best I can to support the development of the 208 Type R5.

As the ERC continues to make inroads into people’s affections this year, the addition of the likeable Breen and a bonkers PR team is another major plus. Meanwhile, here’s Wagner in what we at WRF sincerely hope is a preview of how the rest of Peugeot’s press releases will be put together this year…

Fantastic start to FIA ERC

Kopecky in Janner action

Kopecky in Janner action

This weekend saw top-flight rallying get back under way in 2013 with the opening round of the new Eurosport-officiated FIA European Rally Championship. The snow/ice/slush/asphalt of Austria played host to the Jänner Rallye and drew a reasonable entry headed by the works Škoda Fabia S2000 of Czech asphalt ace Jan Kopeçky – who triumphed by just half a second.

A trouble-free run on the opening day, which saw the surface conditions changing from one stage to the next, saw Kopeçky at the front of the field by more than 20 seconds after opting to run on studded wet weather tyres, ahead of the Peugeot 207 S2000 of Bryan Bouffier and the Red Bull-backed Škoda of Raimund Baumschlager, who struggled initially on full snow tyres.

A puncture on the second afternoon, however, saw Kopeçky fall back and he entered the last stage 10.6 seconds behind Bouffier. In a drive that is sure to become a Youtube classic, the Czech star threw caution to the wind and beat Bouffier through by 11.1 seconds, making the margin for victory one of the closest on record.

Baumschlager claimed third, Czech regular Vaclav Pech was fourth in his MINI S2000 and Beppo Harrach finished fifth and first Production Cup runner in his Mitsubishi. The event also saw a return to action for two of the most enduring names in the sport, with François Delecour finishing seventh in his Peugeot 207 S2000 and Stig Blomqvist with a spring in his step aged 66, finishing 12th overall and fourth in Production Cup at the wheel of a Mitsubishi.

Happy New Year, WRC fans

Plenty to happen in the next fortnight - then Monte is 'go!'

Plenty to happen in the next fortnight – then Monte is ‘go!’

We’ve got a fortnight until the WRC bursts back to life. In that time, big things will happen:

  • Red Bull, Sportsman and the FIA must get on the same page regarding the WRC’s promotion and TV coverage.
  • Nasser Al-Attiyah will be in the thick of the action on the Dakar.
  • The all-new FIA European Rally championship will kick off in the snow of Austria.

In the meantime the entry list for Monte Carlo is rather promising, with Citroën fielding Sébastien Loeb, Mikko Hirvonen and Dani Sordo with support for Bryan Bouffier in a fourth DS3 WRC. Volkswagen has its new Polos ready for Sébastien Ogier and Jari-Matti Latvala. M-Sport has two teams and four Fiestas for Mads Østberg, Evgeny Novikov (running DMACK tyres), Juho Hänninen and Thierry Neuville.

The remaining WRC entries are for Martin Prokop’s Czech Fiesta, another Fiesta for Julien Maurin and a lone MINI WRC entered by Lotos for Poland’s former JWRC contender Michal Kościuszko.

In the first ever WRC2 class, there’s a works Škoda Fabia for Esapekka Lappi with a sister car entered by Škoda Deutschland for Sepp Wiegand. Leading the competition against the Czech cars will be Italy’s Luca Betti in his Peugeot 207 S2000. Four more S2000s (three Peugeots and another Fabia) will also take the start, as will a phalanx of Mitsubishi Lancer Evo X and Subaru Impreza WRXs, including a new-build R4 car for Ireland’s Eamonn Boland.

In the WRC3 classes a total of eight Citroën DS3 R3Ts will meet the challenge of a single Peugeot 208 R3T, six Renault Clio R3s will take on a lone Honda Civic R3, R2 is populated with Citroën C2s, Peugeot 208s and Ford Fiestas, there are five Suzuki Swifts, a pair of Citroën DS3 R1s, a Renault Twingo R1 and a smattering of Monte Carlo ‘randoms’ – including Czech driver Martin Rada in an Alfa Romeo 147!

Plenty to look forward to there…

Kubica to tackle ERC?

Kubica - from national events in 2012 to internationals in 2013?

Kubica – from national events in 2012 to internationals in 2013?

French magazine Auto Hebdo has run the story that former BMW and Renault F1 star Robert Kubica will contest the 2013 FIA European Rally Championship at the wheel of an M-Sport Ford Fiesta RRC.

Given the number of drivers that both M-Sport and Citroën is having to juggle between its cars on the WRC campaign, and the 28-year-old Pole’s habit of doing things in a proper manner, it would make a good deal of sense not to try and squeeze in to the mix in the rebooted WRC. The shorter format of ERC events will give him the opportunity to build up strength in his injured arm and experience of top-flight competition – in what will doubtless be a well-run and extremely pleasant atmosphere engendered in the service parks of the Eurosport series.

Elsewhere, it is understood that both M-Sport and Citroën have applied to the FIA for homologation of left-mounted gearshifts on its cars in order to allow more customers to compete in them. Kubica would prefer a left-mounted shift to reduce the strain on his injured right arm, but other drivers may also request the modification in future.

Delecour ready for 2013

Silver fox: Delecour on 2012 IRC duty

Silver fox: Delecour on 2012 IRC duty

Former WRC hero and revered asphalt ace François Delecour is getting ready to contest 17 events in 2013 at the wheel of a Kronos-run Peugeot 207 S2000.

Delecour has not strung a full season’s campaign together for a few years, but was rejuvenated by appearing in Romania during this year’s IRC. He will return with Romanian backing to compete on the whole FIA European Rally Championship schedule (formerly the IRC), together with selected rounds of Romania’s national championship.

WRF is looking forward to some choice Romanian action in 2013.