IRC: Peugeot Rally Azores preview

A fresh approach The specification of the 207 S2000s that have made the journey out to the Azores is very similar to that of the cars seen in Sardinia. "We did a long gravel test ahead of the Italian round of the IRC," says Bertrand Vallat,...

A fresh approach

The specification of the 207 S2000s that have made the journey out to the Azores is very similar to that of the cars seen in Sardinia.

"We did a long gravel test ahead of the Italian round of the IRC," says Bertrand Vallat, the engineer in charge of the car's development. "We will start with the same basic set-up that we established after that test and then fine-tune it as a function of the specific difficulties we come across in the Azores. Our main challenge will be to optimise grip and traction over the softer ground and deliver faultless stability through the faster portions."

The ideal compromise is never easy to find, and Kris Meeke's recent misfortunes in Sardinia and Ypres have led to him expressing more caution than usual: "The last two IRC rounds showed how difficult victory can be. Both times, I threw everything by trying too hard. It's probably time to change my approach: rather than going for the win whatever the cost, I will try to let the win come to me."

That's a message you rarely hear from the defending IRC champion!

The rally starts on Thursday, July 15, with a short programme of three stages totalling 24.4km.

Friday, July 16: nine stages totalling 100km. Saturday, July 17: seven stages totalling 103km. The rally finishes at 7:10pm.

Three-in-a-row for the 207 S2000?

After Bruno Magalhaès' victory driving a 207 S2000 on the 2008 Rally Acores and Kris Meeke's win 12 months ago, again in a 207 S2000, Peugeot's chances once again remain largely in the hands of the Portuguese and British pair this time round.

Volcano rims and dry stone walls

"Last year, I had to get out an atlas to find out where the Azores actually were," admits Kris Meeke. "What I discovered was a magnificent island situated in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean. The scenery was stunning and its gravel tracks were ideal for rallying."

The Peugeot UK driver has never been one to shirk a challenge: "The most spectacular stage takes you along the rim of a volcano," remembers the Ulsterman.

"The surface tends to be covered with a thin top-coating of particularly slippery lava dust, and the roads are generally narrow, but also very fast. There are few well-defined, tight turns. The roads wind their way past farms and fields and are often lined by inhospitable stone walls. The slightest mistake can put you out," recalls the defending champion who survived all the hazards thrown at him and his 207 S2000 on his way to victory in 2009.

Bruno Magalhaès: targeting a podium finish

Peugeot Portugal's Bruno Magalhaès is aware that a repeat of his 2008 win will not be easy, even though this event counts as one of his favourite rallies: "There are always big crowds of spectators who know their rallying. I remember coming here to watch as a kid. Year after year, more and more asphalt is being laid, though, and top quality dirt tracks are becoming fewer and further between. The gravel sections often include portions of asphalt which can actually be extremely slippery. I have done this event three or four times now, but many of the stages will be run in the opposite direction this year."

Bruno is hoping that his experience will enable him to battle for a top finish: "I know how fast I can go, my motivation is sky-high and my Peugeot is well suited to the terrain. It won't be easy but may aim is to finish on the podium."

-source: peugeot

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