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GP Week : Issue 135
For just the second time the French world championship rally will be held in metropolitan France, based at Strasbourg, the principal city in the Alsace region and the location of the European Parliament. From 1956 through to 2008 the event was held in Corsica– which this year hosted the IRC, while plans were made to bring the WRC event to the mainland. This year there are changes in the layout of the event. The Day 1 and Day 2 routes of 2010 have been swopped while new stages have been found for Day 3, located further north than last year, replacing the military camp stages used. In addition to the Day 3 Superspecial round the streets of Sebastien Loeb’s hometown of Haguenau, run twice, there is a new Superspecial in the city of Mulhouse, run once as the final stage on Day 2. 11km of the stages on the event are spent racing round houses! The Haguenau stage will serve as the Power Stage at the end of the event. In addition, one stage (now numbers 2/6) is run in the opposite direction to last year. Locations for the headquarters (the Zenith complex west of town of Strasbourg), shakedown (next to the Service Park), the start (Place Kleber, in the city of Strasbourg) and the finish (European parliament) ceremonies are unchanged. Team News: All the teams will have carried out pre-event testing for the event. Citroen had a significant pre-event test, as part of which Sebastien Ogier competed on the national Vosgien Rally and won. Team manager Sven Smeets: “Seb had a very good rally. Drivers faced a wide variety of conditions - wet, dry, humid, mud – just like we expect next week on the WRC event!”. Ford had a four-day test at Ales, near Nimes. The team drivers will drive the cars they had in Germany, the customer drivers the cars they ran in Australia. Mini will use the same cars as in Germany, with no significant changes other than dedicated set-up alterations for the event. The team was due to do a short final test in France the Sunday before the event. The VW candidate driver team will not appear on this event – their Skoda S2000s are to compete next time in Spain. A total of 66 entries have been accepted. Last year Sebastien Loeb was able to clinch his eighth successive World Drivers’ title here, on his home event, but thanks to his crash in Australia this cannot happen this year. Four drivers can (theoretically) still win the title Hirvonen is Loeb’s strongest challenger 15 points behind, Ogier and an extreme outsider is Latvala. Citroen Total however stands an outside chance of being able to claim its fourth successive manufacturers’ title. The event counts for the SWRC and the WRC Academy categories, and in both categories a champion might be found in Rallye de France. This is the penultimate round of the SWRC ¬– five drivers are still in the hunt for the title. Juho Hanninen is currently 18 points clear of Ott Tanak at the head of the points chart with Martin Prokop another four behind. The organisers have nominated Fiesta driver Julien Maurin as a Guest in the SWRC. This is also the penultimate round of the Academy season with the all-gravel Rally GB still to come. Egon Kaur stands 26 points clear of Craig Breen, who has more experience on asphalt and who gained maximum points on the asphalt Rallye Deutschland. Kaur’s lead sounds impressive but the competitive nature of the series means it is easy to drop many places, and points, through the slightest misfortune. Be this as it may, it remains that two support- championship Estonians, Tanak and Kaur, go to France with title hopes. South African driver Ashley Haigh-Smith comes to the Academy as a late entry in the series, while Sepp Wieland, who was a substitute entry for Christian Riedemann in Germany, returns in his own right to the series this time. Special entries for this event include Touring Car driver Yvan Muller, this year in a Peugeot S2000, while fellow Frenchman Pierre Campana drives a Mini JCW WRC on his second world rally entry. The weekend before, in Sanremo, he drove a Peugeot S2000. Being only the second all-asphalt round of the WRC this year, this is the second time this year that registered championship drivers have a choice of tyre compound. And once again competitors’ ‘ouvreurs’ will be out in action, and already there is a surprise. Ken Block has appointed a World Champion for this course-checking work for Rallye France, 2010, Jari-Matti ... 44