Straight into the fight!
The long awaited clash between Abarth and Peugeot and more especially between Nicolas Vouilloz and Giandomenico Basso in their duel for the 2008 IRC Drivers' title honours could hardly have got off to a more thrilling start. However, it is the respective team-mates of these two drivers who have emerged at the sharp end of the provisional leaderboard, with Umberto Scandola (Abarth/BFGoodrich) ending today's play just 1.1 seconds clear of Freddy Loix (Peugeot/BFGoodrich). Vouilloz follows in third place, while Basso is sixth.
The fastest time on the opening stage of the 2008 Rallye International du Valais 2008, near the celebrated skiing resort of Crans Montana, went to Giandomenico Basso (Abarth/BFGoodrich) who sought to send a signal to his title rival Nicolas Vouilloz that the scrap for the 2008 crown was by no means over. Indeed, only a win for the Italian this weekend will keep his championship chances alive and force the championship to go down to the wire in China, which means that the Abarth driver has no other choice than to attack.
The entire Abarth/BFGoodrich squad is understandably behind Basso this weekend, and the 23-year old Italian Umberto Scandola, who came third on this event in 2007, claimed the next two stages to emerge at the top of the order at the end of Leg 1, just ahead of Peugeot-Belux team-mates Freddy Loix and Nicolas Vouilloz who are split by a mere tenth of a second!
The way the event has unfolded so far has put the French driver in an ideal situation, since the Polish Champion Bryan Bouffier and the recently-crowned European Champion Luca Rossetti follow in fourth and fifth places respectively, and are in a position to provide Vouilloz with a welcome buffer zone at the wheel of their Peugeot 207 S2000s. Giandomenico Basso is a relatively lowly sixth this evening with his Abarth Grande Punto after dropping 20 or so seconds with a puncture on the Sion super- special.
The second leg features a menu of seven stages totalling 127.88km, beginning with a long 40km test in the mountains near host-town Martigny.
Patrick Letort (Chief Technician, BFGoodrich):
"The three different types of dry weather asphalt tyre we have here in Switzerland were used today. Most of the BFGoodrich runners chose the soft compound g-Force Profiler A03, but Luca Rossetti opted for the hard compound g-Force Profiler A11 and Anton Alèn went for the 'extra soft' 110F. Following yesterday evening's rain, the stages were still a little damp in places this afternoon. Given that the temperature was below 10o.C, the best choice was therefore possibly the g-Force Profiler A03. Basso picked up a puncture when he hit a rock on the super-special."