Nicolas Vouilloz claims his first IRC win
Nicolas Vouilloz and his co-driver Nicolas Klinger took victory at the wheel of their BFGoodrich-equipped Peugeot 207 S2000 on this weekend's Rali Vinho Madeira, round five of the 2008 Intercontinental Rally Challenge. The result marks the Peugeot- Belgium-Luxembourg crew's first win of the season andtakes them clear at the top of the provisional Drivers' standings.Italy'sGiandomenico Basso (Abarth/BFGoodrich), who has this event twice, snatched second spot from the hands of local hero Alexandre Camacho (Peugeot/BFGoodrich) on the final stage. The hard compound g- Force Profiler A10 was unanimously praised by the BFGoodrich runners.
After successive rounds in Belgium (Rally of Ypres) and Russia (Rally Russia) which saw Freddy Loix and then Juho Hanninen win practically unchallenged for Peugeot/BFGoodrich, the Intercontinental Rally Challenge provided an exceptionally thrilling clash this weekend between the top IRC, European Championship and Portuguese Championship campaigners on the slopes of the volcanic island of Madeira.
The gap between the leader and the driver in second place never exceeded 11.1 seconds, which was the difference between Vouilloz and Camacho at the end of Leg 1. The gap between the two Peugeot drivers rarely exceeded five seconds, in fact, while the top-three were covered by a mere 12.6s going into the final stage (21km)!
In the end, the spoils ended up going to the 2007 IRC vice-Champion Nicolas Vouilloz who was chasing after his first success of the season. The Frenchman inherited the lead late on Friday afternoon when Peugeot Portugal'sBruno Magalhaes lost three minutes following a puncture on SS12. For much of the first day, however, the two-time Rali Vinho Madeira winner Giandomenico Basso (Abarth/BFGoodrich) had been the only driver able to match the pace of Magalhaes.
The works Abarth/BFGoodrich driver - whose team-mate Anton Alen picked up a virus and was replaced at the last minute by Umberto Scandola - had opted for soft compound g- Force Profiler tyres for Friday'ssecond loop of four stages after rain was reported to have fallen over the higher ground. However, sunshine soon returned to dry out the mountain roads and the Italian fell back to fifth, while Vouilloz, Camacho and Renato Travaglia - all on hard compound g-Force Profiler A10s - found themselves ideally placed in Magalhaes' wake.
The Portuguese driver's puncture leftVouilloz and the surprising Alexandre Camacho in front and prepared the ground for an exciting shootout. Indeed, their duel on the second day was little short of breathtaking. With just 5.3 seconds in it before the final 21km test, a steady hand was essential and Nicolas Vouilloz profited from his greater experience to claim victory,
his fourth in the IRC and his first of 2008. Meanwhile, Alexandre Camacho was hauled in by Giandomenico Basso who snatched second place in a last gasp effort after claiming seven of the second day's eight stages.
Thanks to his score of three podium finishes and one win so far, Nicolas Vouilloz has gone clear at the top of Drivers' standingsahead of Rossetti who came fifth in Madeira. The result puts the Frenchman in a strong position prior to the Barum Rally Zlin - one of the events he won in 2007 - which takes place in three weeks time. Meanwhile, Abarth scored its best finish of the year thanks to Giandomenico (2nd) and Renato Travaglia (4th) who harvested valuable European Championship points.
Jacques Morelli (IRC Programme Manager, BFGoodrich):
"With the decision going down to the wire, just tenths of a second in it on most of the stages and a fantastic route, this event had all the ingredients to be a fantastic rally. Nicolas Vouilloz fully deserved to win, although Magalhaes and Basso were perhaps both quicker than him. Had it not been for his bold tyre choice on Friday, which saw him drop perhaps 25 or 30 seconds, victory might well have gone to Basso. Magalhaes was quick, too, and he never gave up, even after his puncture which he recognises was due to him clipping something on the inside of a corner. Last but not least, Alexandre Camacho repeated the same sort of speed we saw last year when he gave Jean-Joseph and his Citroen C2 a good run for his money. He perhaps lacked a little experience, but Basso was on a charge and warding him off was never going to be easy. Our g-Force Profiler tyres were competitive and consistent throughout this event which is known to be particularly hard on the fronts."
Nicolas Vouilloz (1st, Peugeot/BFGoodrich)
"This is my first win of the season, and it has been a long time coming! The weekend went very well for us. We were fastest on the first stage and we then recovered the lead at the end of the first leg when Bruno punctured. That's part and parcel of the sport. We went on to win by a handful of seconds. That said, we did take a few risks in the final stage! We didn't make any mistakes in our tyre choices, though, and our BFGoodrich tyres performed impeccably, although it was important to try not to understeer in order to spare the fronts."
Giandomenico Basso (2nd, Abarth/BFGoodrich)
"I don't think choosing the soft compound g-Force Profiler on Friday was an error. It was a realistic option because certain portions were reported to be damp. They just dried out quicker than we thought. I pushed as hard as I could today and my hard compound g-Force A10 tyres were consistent over all four of the loop's stages. Finishing second overall is a nice reward for everyone in the team."