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GP Week : Issue 122
2011 is the sixth season for the IRC series and its identity is now clearly defined. It is an alternative international series to the WRC, which provides some major attractions to competitors. For serious championship contenders there is no obligation to commit to entering every event in the season. Teams can pick and choose their events and so maximise their opportunities on the events they select. The series excludes World Rally Cars and concentrates on providing sport for Super 2000 cars, Production Cars and two-wheel-drive cars. This makes the series attractive for national dealer teams and the reduced costs of running an IRC event is especially attractive to privateers. The series was originally called International, soon changed to Intercontinental, when opportunities to enlist long haul events arose, but by 2011 these events proved too ambitious and every event was run in Europe. The IRC is a series in which a completely different range of manufacturers is able to compete, essentially companies which specialise in providing competitive cars at all levels for customer use. Currently Proton is the only manufacturer officially committed to the series, but no fewer than eight individual manufacturers are registered. The IRC rule is that individual drivers can score championship points if the manufacturer of their car has registered for the series, though IRC registration has always been on a more laissez-faire basis than for the WRC. The series thrives through hard promotional work and a lot of political effort. The IRC’s strongest asset is the support of Eurosport who provide a lot of imaginative footage, often transmitted live through their networks. The IRC is an alternative not only for competitors but also organisers, as illustrated by Rallye Monte Carlo who found themselves for three years unable to accede to the stringent formats demanded by the FIA for the WRC. The IRC’s idea is that cars must be fully homologated and run to current FIA class rules, but the arrival of the New Generation (1.6 litre turbo) S2000 rules has caused difficulties. Delays by the FIA to define turbo restrictor sizes for use in their own Regional championship led to continued uncertainty as to what to accept for the IRC, a problem because several IRC events also run as FIA regional events. It was not till round 5, Ypres, that one of the new Class 1 cars (the Mini John Cooper Works S2000) finally appeared in an IRC event, but BMW Mini did not register for the series. Even now the exact vehicle rules for 2012 have yet to be defined, in face of considerable pressure from interested parties to continue supporting the Old Generation Super 2000 cars. After the late decision not to include Madeira in the 2011 series, there are now eleven rounds in the series. Another major deviation from the WRC is the absence of a single-contract tyre supply system. This means that any manufacturer can supply tyres for use in the series, and bring any number of available compounds. With Pirelli the control supplier for the WRC for three years, this has meant that the IRC also been home for Michelin, with other suppliers like Pirelli, Yokohama and Hankook also participating. This tyre freedom means there is no chance for suppliers to provide specially puncture- proof tyres, so that punctures are a far greater feature in the IRC than on the WRC. The IRC provides a home for drivers young and old. Veteran Freddy Loix, Ypres specialist and current series leader, has a history of professional WRC competition with Mitsubishi and Hyundai and others. Juho Hanninen found professional opportunities in IRC which eluded him in the WRC. Strong local dealer support from the Benelux has given Thierry Neuville top line opportunities as a next step up from his programme in the Junior World Rally Championship. Drivers come to discover a career in IRC from many different backgrounds. Being a second level series, the IRC is a major part of the sport as it provides a professional rally life outside the WRC, where opportunities have in recent years become very limited. What is the IRC? IRC YPRES >> 53