UK: Fiat Stilo Rally Cup round one preview

Stilo Cup Gets Green Light in Gateshead Nine Fiat Stilo Rally Cup crews will join battle for the first time on UK soil at the Pirelli International Rally on April 23/24. The Hi-Tec and Fiat Auto (UK) backed Fiat Stilo Rally Cup ...

Stilo Cup Gets Green Light in Gateshead

Nine Fiat Stilo Rally Cup crews will join battle for the first time on UK soil at the Pirelli International Rally on April 23/24.

The Hi-Tec and Fiat Auto (UK) backed Fiat Stilo Rally Cup one-make championship is based around the 3 door 1747cc Stilo and is the only manufacturer backed one-make series supporting this year's Kwik Fit Pirelli British Rally Championship.

The 187bhp Group A cars will contest the first round of Britain's premier rally championship, vying for the lucrative prize drive in a Fiat Punto Super 1600 car in 2005. Until the Pirelli, only one Stilo will have competed in the UK, but the 2004 Fiat Stilo Rally Cup has attracted high quality entries and is based on the successful Italian Stilo Trofeo, which has been running since 2002.

The cars are all built in Italy by Fiat's competition department, N. Technology, and come to competitors ready to go at £21,500 plus VAT. Ten of the Italian cars were scheduled for the UK in 2004 and all came in striking Broom Yellow.

The 2004 UK prize drive will be awarded to the highest points scorer after seven classic rallies across the UK, only missing the Ulster from the British Rally Championship programme. Each Stilo Cup round also boasts substantial prize funds and television coverage as part of Channel 4's commitment to UK rallying.

With drivers from England, Scotland, Wales, Ireland, Spain and Italy, the series has a truly European feel and competition will be fierce in the equal specification machinery.

Five of the cars made their debuts in March at BRC Live, a publicity event and shakedown for cars competing in the British Championship. Although teething troubles with the new rally car sidelined Chris Davies and co-driver Nathan Parry, the other four drivers pronounced themselves very happy with their purchases. Davies will have a chance to rectify the problem and test before facing the infamous Kielder forest with its fast stages and yawning ditches.

Fellow Abergavenny driver Paul Tod will be partnered by Iestyn ap Dafydd in Gateshead; the truck salesman and engineer partnership making the leap from a lower powered Peugeot 205 seem effortless.

Power station fitter Shaun Woffinden will have the experienced Howard Pridmore alongside, the Gainsborough driver having also made his mark in less powerful machinery over the last fourteen years. He contested the Astra Stages in mid March but retired with an intermittent electrical fault that, now repaired, should not hamper his efforts in the Kielder forests.

Dumfries-based mechanic, Tom Metcalfe, has Roger Herron to guide him, and his Dad to keep everything harmonious in the service area. In only his second year of rallying, he has thrown everything into the campaign for the 2004 Stilo Cup title.

Absent from the shakedown was the second driver to have tested his Italian built machine in anger. Scots Willie Bonniwell and co-driver Ian Fraser contested the Border Counties Rally on the same weekend, finishing a very respectable 35th overall and 2nd in class on the Stilo's UK rally debut. Bonniwell must be in a strong position on round one and will be a man to watch.

Englishman Paul Alexander's attendance on the Pirelli Rally is still in doubt, as he is convalescing after a back operation. Sensibly taking medical advice, he has not driven the car at speed yet.

The final three competitors are headed by a truly dedicated and very experienced pairing. Catalan driver Joan Roca is joined in the car by Jordi Barrabes. Having tried one-make rallying in the BRC in 2003, the Spanish duo liked it so much that they're back. Runners up in the Peugeot series last year, they have moved to the Fiat Stilo Rally Cup to continue in the British Rally Championship, keeping the car in the UK between rallies and flying in for each event. With four-wheel drive WRC car experience and numerous Spanish gravel titles, Joan may not be the youngest driver in the series at 27 years old, but he will be amongst the favourites.

Italian drivers will make up the last two places in Gateshead and although still not confirmed, Davide Gatti and Andrea Perago should be bringing their Stilos from southern Europe to sample the classic Kielder experience.

The 120 mile event will prove a stern test of nerve for the Stilo crews, with two days of action meaning both speed and stamina is required. Nobody knows who will win the first round, but you can be sure of both entertainment and excitement.

The Pirelli International Rally starts from the Baltic centre in Gateshead on Friday at 7.30pm, with three stages running into darkness and an overnight halt in Hexham. This will be the home for the event on Saturday with the re-start at 7.00am and a central service area in the town's Auction Mart. After seven more gruelling stages the rally finishes back at the Baltic Centre at around 7.00pm.

The Fiat Stilo Rally Cup acknowledges support from Fiat Auto (UK), Hi-Tec, Toora Competizione, PIAA, Bardahl and Pirelli.

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About this article
Series Other rally
Drivers Roger Herron , Jordi Barrabes , Paul Tod , Shaun Woffinden , Tom Metcalfe