A first for Vouilloz and the Peugeot 207 S2000/BFGoodrich First IRC outing and first win for Nicolas Vouilloz and Peugeot Nicolas Vouilloz, his co-driver Nicolas Klinger and their Peugeot 207 S2000/BFGoodrich hit the ground running in the 2007...
A first for Vouilloz and the Peugeot 207 S2000/BFGoodrich
First IRC outing and first win for Nicolas Vouilloz and Peugeot
Nicolas Vouilloz, his co-driver Nicolas Klinger and their Peugeot 207 S2000/BFGoodrich hit the ground running in the 2007 Intercontinental Rally Challenge by winning the Fiat Rally Rally Turkey, second round of the series. The Peugeot team clinched victory late in the Istanbul- based event to finish clear of Italians Andrea Navarra/Guido d'Amore (Grande Punto S2000/BFGoodrich) and Spain's Enrique Ojeda/Jordi Barrabes (207 S2000/BFGoodrich). Anton Alen (Grande Punto S2000/BFGoodrich) momentarily led the Turkish thriller but finally had to settle for 4th place. Ten or so S2000 cars are expected for the next round of the IRC which takes competitors to Belgium for the Ypres Rally on June 22-23.
The pace of the 36th Fiat Rally, a qualifying round of both the European Rally Championship (ERC) and the Intercontinental Rally Challenge (IRC), proved extremely fast even before competitive action began with competitors having to rush from Friday morning's shakedown to the start ceremony in front of Istanbul's Blue Mosque before continuing with a super-special on the shores of the Sea of Marmora to a backdrop of peacefully rusting container ships.
The pace was even faster, however, when the rally began in earnest on Saturday morning with some magnificent stages a sort of cross between Finland and New Zealand covered with a deep top-coating of loose gravel. Nicolas Vouilloz and Anton Alen profited from their respective debuts in a S2000 car to pull clear of the pack. After just three stages, a mere 3 seconds split the reigning French Champion and the son of the great Markku Alen, while Andrea Navarra IRC-category winner on the recent Safari Rally with his Abarth Grande Punto S2000/BFGoodrich had to cope with running first on the road and was already more than 30s adrift.
The first turning point came on Saturday's second loop when provisional leader Nicolas Vouilloz picked up a puncture and was forced to cover 7km on the rim, losing 53s in the process. Vouilloz eventually completed Leg 1 in 4th place, 48.5s behind Alen. Enrique Garcia Ojeda (Peugeot 207 S2000/BFGoodrich) was overnight 2nd (+21s), with Turkey's Volkan Isik (Grande Punto S2000/BFGoodrich) following in 3rd (+32.1s). "I think I punctured in one of the few rough portions," explained Nicolas Vouilloz at the end of the day. "I didn't feel anything but I think it was in a chicane formed by stones positioned by a bulldozer. It's a shame, but there's still a long way to go."
Indeed there was. Wirth a menu of 8 stages totalling 112km, the second and final leg had the potential to throw the whole rally wide open, especially since it was now the turn of Anton Alen and his Fiat Grande Punto S2000 to tackle the stages first. Despite a slow puncture at the end of one stage, Vouilloz succeeded in fighting his way back to 2nd overall and was just 13s behind Alen after SS12. And although his earlier puncture prevented him from pushing as hard as would have liked over the loop's three remaining stages (he was only carrying one spare), Vouilloz was able to fight back to within 0.8s of Alen as competitors returned to the service park in Pendik with 56km of stages remaining!
The final part of the rally was poised to be something of a cliff-hanger but the Finn was unfortunately slowed by a brake problem and progressively slipped back to 5th overall, leaving Vouilloz with a seemingly safe cushion in front since he had chose to carry two spare wheels for the final loop. Profiting from his team-mate's misfortunes, Andrea Navarra (Grande Punto S2000/BFGoodrich) moved into 2nd place while Enrique Ojeda, who started the final stage in 5th position, managed to clinch a podium finish by passing Volkan Isik (off) and the hapless Anton Alen (puncture in the final stage) in one go.
In Group A, the rally didn't begin well for Simon Jean-Joseph (Citroen C2 S1600/BFGoodrich) who was forced to do a little 'road-sweeping' on Friday morning (fifth on the road) with his two-wheel drive car and with a set-up which wasn't ideally suited to the terrain. After changing his settings at the first service halt, the Frenchman was much more competitive and posted several top times as he fought his way back up to 8th place, hard on the heels of the top Group N runners. After an excellent start, the brand new Honda Civic R3 of Dani Sola retired with engine failure.
Navarra and Abarth maintain their lead in the provisional Drivers' and Manufacturers' standings prior to the first asphalt round of the series at the end of June in Belgium.
Quotes from Turkey
Nicolas Vouilloz (Peugeot 207 S2000)
"The stages were fast and nice and wide, but the ground remained covered in a layer of gravel even after the cars had been through. We therefore had to 're-cut' all weekend to help clear this loose top-coating. We aren't allowed to run the mousse systems used in the WRC, so punctures were always going to be part and parcel of the weekend and everyone suffered. Even so, I was delighted with the grip of my g-Force Gravels on the faster stages."
Anton Alen (Abarth Grande Punto S2000)
"This was my first experience of BFGoodrich tyres and I have to say I was pleasantly surprised. Their grip and traction was the same from the start to the finish of each stage."
Frederic Henry-Biabaud (Michelin Group Competition Director)
"BFGoodrich is present in the IRC following the demand of its partners Fiat-Abarth and Peugeot who wanted to use catalogue competition tyres in order to minimise costs in keeping with the spirit of this new championship. The weekend showed that these tyres are both reliable and competitive. The IRC has plenty of scope for development and all those involved, from the organisers to the manufacturers and tyre manufacturers, are intent on keeping down costs and putting on a great show."