THE TITLE* FOR PEUGEOT!
With two rounds of the 2008 series still to come, Peugeot made sure of the Intercontinental Rally Challenge Manufacturers' crown this weekend in Italy. Peugeot 207 Super 2000 drivers Nicolas Vouilloz and Luca Rossetti joined the overall winner Basso on the final podium of the Rallye Sanremo to secure sufficient points for the French make to keep the IRC title it won in 2007. The Italian event also saw Luca Rossetti clinch the Drivers' crown in his home championship, while Manufacturers' honours go to Peugeot.
Peugeot's score after eight rounds totals 131 points, 81 of which were notched up by Peugeot Belgium-Luxembourg, and a further 10 by Hanninen, who won the Rally Russia in another Kronos-prepared 207 Super 2000. However, only six 'European' results count towards in the final reckoning, so Peugeot's tally of 103 points from its six best finishes means it can no longer be overtaken in the 2008 IRC Manufacturers' points table.
Following the lightning start in Italy of Abarth driver Scandola, Basso soon took over at the top of the leaderboard in his similar car. He pulled clear of the pack on Thursday evening's long 60km night-time stage and then claimed three fastest times from a possible four the following morning to round off Leg 1 with an assertive lead.
The final leg on Saturday morning, which started with Peugeot Belgium-Luxemburg's Loix and Vouilloz in third and fourth places, produced a great deal of drama. Vouilloz soon eased past his Belgian team-mate before focusing his sights on snatching second place from Luca Rossetti in order to defend his position at the top of the IRC Drivers points table, and a particularly determined run on the penultimate test allowed him to pass the Italian. "I ended up getting used to the amazing lateral grip provided by the new BFGoodrich asphalt tyre," explained the Frenchman. "I am pleased with this weekend's result which takes me four points further clear in the championship. However, that doesn't fundamentally change the mission I face on the next round of the IRC, the Rallye du Valais, in Switzerland."
Indeed, two rounds of the series remain -- the Rallye du Valais in a month's time, followed by a visit to China in December -- but Peugeot Belgium-Luxemburg will not be making the long trip out to Asia. To make sure of the 2008 Drivers' title, Vouilloz will therefore need to win in Switzerland, or else Basso will have to fail to finish in the top-two. For the latter to happen, Nicolas Vouilloz knows that he will be able to count on the support of his loyal team-mate Freddy Loix who had the misfortune of losing ground towards the end of the Rallye Sanremo following transmission trouble.
"I would once again like to congratulate everyone in the team. We are very proud to have won the title for Peugeot, and proud, too, to have earned the confidence of Automobiles Peugeot for our programme," declared Jonathan Goodman, the General Manager of Peugeot Belgium-Luxembourg. "Our team has contributed 80 per cent of the points needed to win the Manufacturers' championship and I said from the outset that 2008 would also be the year of the Lion in the IRC. We have pulled off our first objective. We now need to focus hard on making sure of the Drivers title in Switzerland."
Third place for Luca Rossetti in Sanremo enabled him to wrap up the Italian Championship Drivers' title for himself and the Manufacturers' crown for Peugeot, with one round remaining.
(*) Subject to the approval of the final results by the FIA and by the IRC organisers.