PWRC preview: Rally Sweden
The Production Car World Rally Championship is set for another bumper season in 2011 with an entry list brimming in quality and quantity.
Drivers must nominate six events from a list of seven on which to score points and 14 have selected Rally Sweden, which is based in Karlstad from 10-13 February, as their first scoring event of the year in the class for two-litre, turbocharged, four-wheel-drive production cars.
Patrik Flodin begins the season among the favourites having finished a close second to Armindo Araujo in the 2010 title race. With the Portuguese looking to progress his career by stepping up to a World Rally Car, Flodin is one driver who will be capable of capitalising on Araujo's absence starting on his home round in Sweden.
Flodin won the PWRC division on this event last season and will be hoping to make the most of the continuity factor provided by a second term with the Russian Uspenskiy Rally Tecnica squad in a Subaru Impreza WRX STi.
After finishing third in the final PWRC standings last season New Zealander Hayden Paddon also has title-winning credentials in his Symtech Racing Impreza. Paddon begins his campaign on the gravel roads of Portugal in late March having elected not to count Rally Sweden as one of his six scoring events, leaving Flodin with added incentive to achieve a maximum score in Scandinavia.
Norwegian Anders Grondal starts Rally Sweden on the back of winning the opening two rounds of his national championship recently and is highly adept at competing on snow and ice. He finished second in the PWRC section of the event in 2010 and will be out to go one better this year. His co-driver, Veronica Engan, is the girlfriend of Fiesta RS WRC driver Mads Ostberg.
Martin Semerad has shown plenty of promise during his two seasons spent in the PWRC so far and will be a contender for a podium finish in Sweden in his family-run Mitsubishi Lancer. The university student has made a full recovery from the leg injuries he suffered in an accident on a round of the Czech championship last season.
Finnish veteran Jukka Ketomaki has prior knowledge of the Rally Sweden stages, as does Italian gentleman driver Gianluca Linari. Ex-Fiesta SportTrophy International frontrunners Majed Al Shamsi and Bader Al Jabri will make their PWRC debuts in a brace of Team Abu Dhabi Subaru Imprezas.
Four drivers from Ukraine will compete in the PWRC this season including Oleksandr Saliuk, a four-time national champion, and Valeriy Gorban, who has taken his domestic crown on two occasions in the past. Yuriy Protasov, Ukrainian champion in 2008, will also be in action, as well countryman Oleksiyi Kikireshko.
Peruvian champion Nicolas Fuchs is an unknown quantity at world level and has never driven on snow before. The same cannot be said for Mexican Ricardo Trivinho who has competed in Sweden two times in the past and has contested more than 25 WRC events.
Russian Dmitry Tagirov completes the list of PWRC runners in a Subaru Impreza, the bulk of who were finalising their final preparations during a test in Sweden today (Monday).
WRC Academy interest grows with fresh intake
The latest intake of drivers for the WRC Academy has been revealed, which brings the total number of registrations for the all-new category to 12.
Miguel Baldoni (Argentina), Alastair Fisher (United Kingdom), Egon Kaur (Estonia), Yeray Lemes (Spain), Miko-Ove Niinemae (Estonia), and Jose Suarez (Spain) have all signed up for the young driver training series, which gets underway on Vodafone Rally de Portugal at the end of March.
They will join the six Pirelli Star Drivers for 2011, Fredrik Ahlin (Sweden), Craig Breen (Ireland), Jan Cerny (Czech Republic), Andrea Crugnola (Italy), Brendan Reeves (Australia) and Molly Taylor (Australia), whose participation in the WRC Academy was confirmed towards the end of last year.
It means there are now only 12 places remaining for six-event WRC support class, which uses M-Sport-prepared Ford Fiesta R2s as standard. Although registrations do not formerly close until 31 March, they are subject to availability and drivers must register prior to the end of January to ensure their Fiesta is prepared in time for Portugal's WRC counter.
The latest intake demonstrates the international appeal of the WRC Academy, which boasts representatives from nine different countries and three different continents.
Alastair Fisher, who graduates from the British Rally Championship, explained why he chose the WRC Academy for his next career move.
"It's a chance to learn six world championship rallies in a level playing field because all the cars are identical," said Fisher, a 22-year-old from construction engineering and management university student from Northern Ireland.
Crews will pay approximately 135,000 Euros for a season in the WRC Academy, which WRC Commission president Jarmo Mahonen believes will help to make the world championship accessible for young drivers: "We want to make the WRC accessible and with the FIA WRC Academy we have a first step on the ladder for new drivers and a scheme with all the ingredients for success. It will be an excellent learning ground for all taking part and it will be available at a realistic budget."