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GP Week : Issue 169
RALLY >>> PREVIEW Three to go! The Rallye de France, round 11 out of the 13 rounds in the 2012 WRC series, takes place for the third time in the Vosges mountains of Alsace, around Strasbourg, the heartland of world champion Sebastien Loeb. This will be the third out of four rounds this year to be based on asphalt stages and comes at a critical period when Ford still holds an outside chance of regaining the manufacturers’ title, at a time when their Fiesta WRC has never been so competitive. Citroen however are now assured of the Drivers’ title in which only Mikko Hir vonen now has the chance to deprive Loeb of the championship. Much of the route is familiar to crews. Essentially the Friday and the Saturday stages have been exchanged, but other important specific changes include (a) instead of a Thursday evening downtown ceremonial start, there will be a four-lap downtown special stage outside the European Parliament building on the outskirts of Strasbourg; (b) the final stage of the main Friday loop is completely new; (c) the Mulhouse downtown stage will be run over three laps instead of two; (d) the final day’s stage 20 (out of 22) will serve as the official Power Stage, not the traditional final stage. This 17km stage run very close to the frontier with Germany north of Strasbourg, will be largely new; (e) This time the finish will be in the service park, not outside the European Parliament buildings. Being an asphalt event there is no Qualifying Stage, and cars will start Day 1 on championship position order. The entry list shows an important and unusual increase in entries compared with last year, with a total of 74 against 64, notwithstanding a sharp drop this year in the number of WRC Academy drivers and the smaller number of entries in the SWRC support championship. There are 19 World Rally Cars, six SWRC entries, nine Academy entries (this time not including Martin Koci) and the usual four Rally Class drivers but no support championship Guest drivers. Latest Academy ews is that Ashley Haigh-Smith is now unable to start. It is mathematically possible for Elfyn Evans to clinch the title on this event, with one more event still to go. Academy drivers are to tackle Days 1 and 2 only. There are 21 fully privateer French entries. Four young French drivers have been entered by the French federation’s Collectif Equipe de France Rallye (Stephane Consani and Sebastien Chardonnet in WRC cars, Quentin Gilbert in a DS3 R3 and Nicolas Romiguiere in a Twingo R2). Chardonnet, Gilbert and Romiguiere were selected after finishing in the top three places of the FFSA’s 2011 Junior Championship, Consani (younger brother of Robert, the IRC driver of Renault cars) being the national Twingo R2 winner last year. Chardonnet is a well respected name in international motor sport. Sebastien’s grandfather was Andre Chardonnet, Lancia importer in France and the patron of the Stratos rally team for which Bernard Darniche won the European rally title twice. Darniche also individually won both Monte Carlo and the Tour de Corse world championship rallies as a private entry with the Chardonnet team. There is little news from the official WRC teams except that Mini Portugal have made their second crew change in three events. Their driver Chris Atkinson reverts for this and the next event to an earlier co-driver, fellow Australian Glenn MacNeall. Atkinson's regular co-driver Stephane Prevot is other wise engaged in the Tour de Corse Historique, the date for which clashes with the WRC Rallye de France. The continued indisposition of co-driver Denis Giraudet means that Evgeniy Novikov continues with Ilka Minor. This means that Andreas Aigner, the Austrian making his debut with the official SWRC Proton team, had to find Detlef Ruf as a replacement co-driver at short notice. This is the penultimate round of the SWRC series, both final rounds being held on asphalt based rallies. Five drivers remain in the title hunt with 21 points separate them: series leader Per_ Gunnar Andersson (Proton), Hayden Paddon (Skoda), Craig Breen, Maciej Oleksowicz and Yazeed Al Rajhi (all in Fords but Al Rajhi the only one with a 1.6 version car). Waive goodbye to Nasser Al Attiyah, as Rallye de France is expected to be his final personal rally appearance with a Citroen, and maybe also in the WRC, before he embarks next year on a programme of cross country and MERC events. Welcome back French racing driver Yvan Muller, reigning world champion touring car driver, for his third attempt at the event, and hello to 2010 Le Mans winner Romain Dumas, both entered in Mini World Rally Cars. They have no doubt been enticed by the increased percentage of multi-lap street special stages on this event. There are four such stages on the event, totalling more than 5% of the total stage distance. This event is one of the most critical of the season for weather conditions. This is not just a matter of whether it will rain or not, but also the consequences of corner cutting which brings a considerable quantity of dirt on the road. The most slippery conditions are in the moist rather than full-rain conditions, when mud is washed away. Correct weather predictions is traditionally a forte for the Citroen team. Tyre availability is generally balanced between soft and hard compounds. On account of changeable and often extreme weather conditions, the local Rallye Vosgien (21-22 September) was run as a real-live pre Rallye de France test session, using stages in the hills to the west of Colmar. Winner was the official Citroen driver Mikko Hivonen, who scored his first ever victory on an asphalt event, his second in a Citroen. He finished 22.2 seconds in front of Mads Ostberg’s private Fiesta WRC and more than six minutes in front of Sebastien Chardonnet (DS3), who was making his first event in a World Rally Car. This was the event won by Kimi Raikkonen last year. Sebastien Chardonnet 38 GPWEEK.com // PARTNERS: