Hyundai World Rally Team crews Freddy Loix/Sven Smeets and Armin Schwarz/Manfred Hiemer head to the southern Mediterranean next week for the Rally of Turkey, the first event of the season outside of the European Union, running from 27 February --...
Hyundai World Rally Team crews Freddy Loix/Sven Smeets and Armin Schwarz/Manfred Hiemer head to the southern Mediterranean next week for the Rally of Turkey, the first event of the season outside of the European Union, running from 27 February -- 2 March.
Formerly known as the Anatolian Rally and a round of Turkish Rally Championship, this year sees the inaugural running of the Rally of Turkey as a part of the FIA World Rally Championship. Originally a tarmac event, it moved location from its old home of Izmir to Antalya, the environs of which are home to roads more favourable to a gravel event. After only one year as a gravel rally, the event saw itself included in the WRC after Safari Rally was dropped from the calendar for 2003.
As a new rally to the championship it is also new to almost all international competitors. Only Sebastien Loeb and Jusso Pykalisto contested the rally in 2002 so Citroën and Peugeot may have the advantage of a small amount of data over other manufacturers but on the whole it is a new minefield for all.
At this time of year the weather can reach a high of 14C with plenty of sunshine but the mountains rise steeply out of Kemer, the service park base for the rally, and temperatures can drop rapidly and weather change drastically, to the point where competitors may even be faced with snow on the higher stages.
Freddy Loix is looking forward to a new event, always enjoying a fresh challenge. "It is good that Turkey is a new rally - I have a good feeling about it," said the 31-year-old Belgian. "The best times that I have set in the Hyundai Accent WRC" in the past, like in Greece last year, were on new stages. I think my style of driving and making notes on new stages is good. On these rough gravel events power is also not so important on new stages so all competitors should be on a more level playing field."
He added, "Based on information we have been given we know that the ground can get very muddy and slippery so we will need tyres that can cut through the mud well like in Portugal and Great Britain, as well as tyres suited to the rough dryer surface. Personally I hope we don't see snow on the higher stages."
German team-mate Armin Schwarz is also looking forward to tackling a new rally. "In general we only have the information from people who visited the rally last year and we have been told it is a mixture between Greece and Cyprus and maybe a bit like Portugal. It can be loose, soft and muddy if it rains but it obviously won't be anywhere near as hot as Greece," explained Armin.
"As Turkey is classed as a longhaul rally, nobody has been allowed to test there so it won't be that easy for anyone. Personally I will address it as openly as possible -- I will have a really good look at the stages, make good notes, make good tyre choices and then we just have to wait and see but I think it could provide some surprises all round," he concluded.
According to Sven Smeets, co-driver to Freddy Loix: "Turkey could be one of the surprise events this year. Only Loeb and Pykalisto have done the rally before so Citroën and Peugeot may have a small bit of data from last year but in general everyone else will be starting the rally with the same amount of information.
We have been told it is a bit like Cyprus and Greece -- quite rough and quite hard on tyres. I did visit the rally last year but there are some new stages this year which nobody will see until the recce.
The stages go as high as 1700m above sea level so we can expect very bad weather and maybe even snow. Last year every morning it was nice and by the afternoon it had clouded over and was raining -- a bit like Portugal a few years ago when it was difficult for helicopters to fly. If the cloud is low it can get quite wet so you'll need to find grip and if it's warm we'll have to deal with tyre wear, even though temperatures won't actually be anywhere as near as high as in Greece.
Leg two will be the hardest. It covers almost 160 kilometres of special stages and only one of the seven stages that day is less than 20 kilometres. But because it is a new event we could see a surprise result."
The Mediterranean tourist town of Kemer in the Turkish Riviera, 40km south of Antalya, plays host to the single service park for the rally. The event begins with a ceremonial start on the evening of Thursday 27 February in Antalya, followed by a superspecial stage. The Anatolian Mountains, which rise steeply to the west of Kemer, are home to the remainder of the rally route and provide stages reaching an altitude of 1700 metres with an average altitude of 1400 metres, making the rally one of the highest in the Championship. As is becoming more popular in the world series, the rally features a high percentage of repeated special stages to make the event more compact. Eight of the 18 special stages are used twice and a percentage of the route of these featuring a third time. Turkey is GMT+2hrs.