Basso secures Abarth/BFGoodrich's first success of the season
The 2006 European Champion Giandomenico Basso and the factory Abarth/BFGoodrich team claimed their first win of the 2008 Intercontinental Rally Challenge today after a particularly wet Rally Principe de Asturias during which tyre choices were both complex and decisive. The Italian eased ahead on Saturday morning to finish clear of Peugeot-Belux/BFGoodrich's Nicolas Vouilloz and Freddy Loix, who in turn has moved into second place behind his team- mate in the championship standings. Sergio Vallejo steered the BFGoodrich Drivers Team Peugeot 207 S2000 to a points-scoring seventh place. The result will be a welcome boost for Giandomenico Basso going into his home round of IRC, the 50th Rally Sanremo.
After returning a blank scorecard in the Czech Republic as a result of the transmission problems that affected both the factory Grand Puntos on the Barum Rally, the works Abarth/BFGoodrich squad recovered in style this weekend to win the seventh round of the 2008 Intercontinental Rally Challenge, the Oviedo-based Rally Principe de Asturias in Spain.
Giandomenico Basso, who is the defending Italian Champion and also the 2006 European Champion, produced a remarkable performance despite the weekend's appalling, constantly changing weather. Indeed, tyre choices played a decisive role in the final outcome on the first leg (Friday) which saw Basso complete the day exactly level with Nicolas Vouilloz (Peugeot/BFGoodrich) after nine stages and some 130km of competitive action.
Running on BFGoodrich g-Force Profiler M01 intermediate tyres, the Italian claimed the first two stages of the event which took place in pouring rain, but Vouilloz responded with the fastest time on the longest test of the weekend (SS4, 30km) to go ahead. However, thanks to top-three performances on every one of the day's stages, the Fiat driver was never far behind...
The late afternoon service halt in La Morgal saw the drivers weighing up the different tyre options available to them for Friday's final group of two stages as ominous clouds began to gather over the Asturias region. Going into this loop, Vouilloz led Basso by 17 seconds, with Freddy Loix a further 30.5s adrift. The tension was tangible as the moment to put the tyres on the cars approached, and Vouilloz finally opted for W00 rain tyres, while Basso took M01 intermediates and Loix went for 're -cut' dry weather A03s. It was an aggressive choice which paid off handsomely for the Belgian who went on to win both stages to close on the joint overnight leaders Vouilloz and Basso.
The sky was still extremely overcast as crews set off for the start of Saturday morning's hostilities, but the conditions had dried and all the BFGoodrich crews chose the g-Force Profiler A03. Once again, Basso hit the ground running as Vouilloz complained of under-steer and Loix hit trouble with his power steering. That left the path clear for Giandomenico Basso to cruise home to his first win of the year, while his home round - the Rally Sanremo - is next up on the calendar in two weeks' time.
Freddy Loix profited from the absence of Luca Rossetti to take second place in the provisional Drivers' standings behind his team-mate Nicolas Vouilloz whose runner-up finish in Spain has consolidated his chances of following in the footsteps of the 2007 IRC Champion Enrique Garcia Ojeda who had the cruel misfortune to retire on the final road section when his engine failed while in fourth position.
Giandomenico Basso (winner, Abarth/BFGoodrich):
"I'm delighted for everyone at Abarth. The changeable weather conditions made it a tough rally and the stages were very treacherous. My car performed like a dream, though, and, thanks to BFGoodrich, my tyres delivered first class grip. On top of that, we made the ideal tyre choice for each loop of stages. I hope everything goes just as well on the Rally Sanremo--"
Nicolas Vouilloz (2nd, Peugeot/BFGoodrich):
"I probably lost this rally as a result of my tyre choice for Friday evening's stages, or maybe when I didn't feel perfectly comfortable with my car this morning. In either case, Giandomenico fully deserved to win. He was quick all weekend, but finishing second is good for my chances in the championship."
Freddy Loix (3rd, Peugeot/BFGoodrich):
"I managed to re-join the fight for the lead on Friday evening thanks to my choice of A03 for the Leg 1's last two stages. I had a power steering problem this morning, though, and that ended my chances of beating Vouilloz and Basso. The pace was so fast that you couldn't afford to loose even a few seconds."
Jacques Morelli (IRC Programme Manager, BFGoodrich):
"With the exception of the hard compound A11, our driver partners used practically the whole range of BFGoodrich rally tyres this weekend. We even saw them all used at the same time on Friday evening, and that was very interesting for us. It showed us that the new M01 intermediate tyre is very competitive on this type of surface. We also saw that Basso and his Abarth ended the stages with less wear than Vouilloz and the Peugeot, and that's one of the reasons why Nicolas opted for the W00 rain tyre on Friday evening. The fight between the two drivers was extremely exciting. They ended Day 1 exactly level and then posted identical times on the very last stage of the rally! After a difficult period, there's light at the end of the tunnel at last for Abarth, and that's great news for the Intercontinental Rally Challenge. The level of the IRC seems to be progressing because Spanish drivers like Garcia Ojeda, Monzon and Fuster - who are top players in the highly competitive Spanish asphalt championship - had trouble matching the top IRC regulars. Garcia Ojeda was the IRC Champion in 2007 and is the dominant forced in this year's Spanish Championship when he is spared mechanical problems. Yet he hasn't matched the pace of the others on the last two rounds of the 2008 IRC."
Next round: Rally Sanremo (September 25-27)