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GP Week : Issue 44
>>RALLY FEATURE start T he IRC got off to a tentative start in South Africa, at the Zulu Rally, based at Durban, in 2006. These really were early days. Championship rules had not been printed, at the end of the first year the name of the series was slightly but significantly changed, it was “see-how-we-go”. While South African companies embraced the concept of the Super 2000 formula, which the IRC encouraged through the ban on World Rally Cars, only one European based company jumped into the unknown world of four-wheel drive normally-aspirated lower-cost rallying. Fiat Abarth were truly in at the beginning of a brave new venture. It was another year, 2007, before Peugeot came on board seriously, and in 2009 Skoda arrived with an official IRC team. Abarth competition manager Nic Gullino (left) has been there from the outset, staying on when the Abarth company was re-launched in Italy in February 2008. He has been watching the way the IRC has developed since Fiat came back as an international rally team. How does he think it is developing? “Even better than we expected. I think Eurosport is doing a lot to provide good media exposure – I think the live TV coverage they showed at Monte Carlo this year was the best ever, the way they followed the cars through the long stages in real time. “Now that Skoda has arrived and joined Fiat and Peugeot, we have three manufacturers actively engaged in the series, so the IRC is growing and getting stronger all the time, like a young child.” New designs of S2000 cars are coming all the time. Are the newcomer Super 2000 cars getting more performance than the cars designed earlier? “The cars are still all very similar. Personally, I think that the best show we could want is to have several cars all of similar specification. I am not an engineer so I have no opinion about the technology of expensive or sophisticated devices. However, I know that good sport is like in a one- make trophy, with everyone having cars of equal performance. That is what makes the show interesting and spectacular. “It places more emphasis on the driver. At each IRC event we have around 10 drivers fighting for a win. This makes the championship very interesting.” What are your thoughts about the new World Rally Car design being based on Super 2000 cars? “I am very much in favour. To be honest, I would prefer the new World Rally Cars to be exactly the same as the current Super 2000, even without the additional kit! “Fiat believe that cost-wise the development of the new World Rally Cars will not be easy to control. We believe that if you keep the costs as low as possible, you will keep a high standard of ‘show’. What I think is important is not to limit a specific type of car to one championship, but to be allowed to use cars which can be rallied in different circumstances. “World Rally Cars used to be allowed to compete in championships everywhere, and this provided a big market for these cars. This encouraged manufacturers to invest in this type of car because privateer and local importer customers helped fund their activity in the world championship. Now, however, World Rally Cars are limited to little more than just the world championship because the alternative outlets for these cars has almost disappeared. “I want the same category of car to be allowed to run everywhere in every championship”. The IRC championship is getting bigger, with more events, increasing from four in 2006 to a provisional 12 in 2009. Is this good? “Not entirely. On one side we like to see the increase in the potential for the championship, with bigger markets and more spectators. On the other hand we must try to contain the logistics costs of running the team. For me the ideal for the series would be to be based on ten events, with events in all six continents.” Skoda has come into the formula three years after Fiat. Does this give them an advantage of learning from the experience of the teams who were present earlier? 35