FIA ERC 2013 event preview: Rallye International du Valais

Rallye Sanremo (ITA) 11-12 10 2013

4 November

EVENT PREVIEW: 2013 FIA European Rally Championship, round 12 of 12
Rallye International du Valais, 7-9 November (Switzerland)

ERC crews ready and waiting for season finale in Switzerland

After 11 all-action rounds, the 2013 FIA European Rally Championship is set for a thrilling climax in the mountains of southwest Switzerland next week (7-9 November) when Rallye International du Valais brings the curtain down on a dramatic season.

The mainly asphalt-based event is a regular feature on the ERC calendar and takes place between the towns of Sion and Martigny in the canton of Valais close to Lake Geneva. Running for the 54th time in 2013, Rallye International du Valais is ranked as the biggest event in Swiss motorsport and also hosts the closing round of the country’s national rally championship in conjunction with the headlining ERC.

While Jan Kopecký has already clinched the coveted ERC drivers’ title for ŠKODA Motorsport*, the prestigious runner-up spot remains up for grabs with Craig Breen bidding to overhaul Bryan Bouffier in the final standings. The event will also provide an opportunity for several young stars to stake claims for ERC campaigns in 2014 with the new season due to begin on the Internationale Jännerrallye in Austria from 3-5 January, subject to FIA World Motor Sport Council ratification.

Second place in sight for Peugeot driver Breen
Craig Breen will make his Rallye International du Valais debut knowing that victory would be enough for second place in the final championship table. The Peugeot Rally Academy talent currently trails Bryan Bouffier by 26 points but with Bouffier unable to secure the financial backing required to compete in Switzerland, Irishman Breen has a gilt-edged opportunity to move ahead. If Breen and Belgian co-driver Lara Vanneste did win then it would be their first outright triumph in the ERC. Jérémi Ancian, from France, will compete in a second Peugeot Rally Academy 207 S2000 and will be looking to make an impact having endured a frustrating run of results.

Valais king Burri back for more
He’s won Rallye International du Valais a record eight times and now he’s back for more having skipped the event in 2012. Burri, who scored his maiden Valais win in 1993, will be competing in a Ford Fiesta S2000 for the first time. Although he’s better known for his exploits in production-based Mitsubishi Lancers and Subaru Imprezas, Burri spent the 2009 season in an Abarth Grande Punto S2000. And the 50-year-old won’t be the only member of the Burri family competing: son Michaël, a regular in the Junior WRC, will also be in action with the 25-year-old driving a Ford Fiesta R2.

Champions on show in Switzerland
Two notable champions will be competing on the 18-stage event next week: ERC Production Car Cup champion* Andreas Aigner will be at the wheel of his familiar Subaru Impreza R4 STI, while Grégoire Hotz starts the rally he won in 2009 having secured his seventh Swiss title in a Peugeot 207 Super 2000 this season. Aigner will use the event to test the new-pattern Yokohama tyres, which were used in competition for the first time on last month’s Rallye Sanremo.

Flying the champions’ colours in the ERC
With Czech Republic aces Jan Kopecký and co-driver Pavel Dresler having completed their ERC schedule for 2013, Finns Esapekka Lappi and Janne Ferm will bid to bag ŠKODA’s first win in Valais. Lappi was second on his most recent ERC appearance in Sanremo last month and will travel to Switzerland directly from China where he’s currently contesting the Asia-Pacific championship finale, the China Rally Longyou.

Orsak steps up as GPD Mit Metal Racing Team doubles up
Having missed the last two ERC rounds through injury, Jaroslav Orsák is back in action only this time he’ll be competing in a second GPD Mit Metal Racing Team ŠKODA Fabia Super 2000 alongside team-mate and fellow Czech Antonín Tlusťák. Orsák has been a frontrunner in the ERC Production Car Cup this season and has experience of the Fabia S2000 from the 2010 Rallye Monte-Carlo. GPD Mit Metal Racing Team is the winner of the FIA European Rally Championship for Teams for 2013*.

Consani bids to end 2013 on a high for Renault
Robert Consani will be hoping to sign off from his 2013 ERC Production Car Cup campaign in style with a strong result in his Team Renault Sport Technologies’ Mégane R.S. N4. The talented Frenchman has often been out of luck this season but has the pace to shine. However, he will have to outgun several rivals to secure category spoils including Andreas Aigner and Lugano Racing Team Subaru drivers Urs Hunziker and Florian Gonon, a former Swiss champion.

Swiss juniors to battle ERC star Lefebvre
ERC 2WD Championship ace Stéphane Lefebvre will be braced for a tough battle with several rising Swiss stars. In addition to Michaël Burri, Lefebvre, who competes in a Peugeot Rally Academy 208 R2, will face opposition from Renault Twingo drivers Kim Daldini and Mathias Kaufmann. Daldini currently tops the Swiss Junior and Twingo R1 Trophy standings with a 252-point lead over Kaufmann. However, with 280 points still on offer, the titles are undecided. Last year’s winner, Laurent Reuche, will also be a favourite for ERC 2WD glory in his Renault Clio R3.

Social media campaign saves the day for Stratieva
Ekaterina Stratieva will complete her FIA ERC Ladies’ Trophy bid on Rallye International du Valais after ERC fans responded to her appeal on Facebook for additional funds to compete in Switzerland. The Bulgarian driver didn’t have enough sponsorship to take part so launched a campaign to encourage fans to contribute to an online bank account. She will now compete in her regular Citroën C2R2 as she looks to cement her second place in the final ERC Ladies’ Trophy standings behind Molly Taylor.

Valais: no ordinary asphalt rally
While it’s billed as a Tarmac event, Rallye International du Valais features sections on gravel on all three days, including 35.48 kilometres on Saturday’s closing leg, the longest at 146.3 kilometres. The stages vary in layout from narrow and twisty to wide and flowing. Weather can also be a factor with the ambient temperature forecast to drop to as low as four degrees centigrade during the rally. Ice and snow have been an issue in the past, particularly with one stage, the first Crans-Montana test, taking place 1800 metres above sea level.


Subaru’s ERC Production Car Cup champion* gets set for his rally of honour in Switzerland

As we approach the final round of the 2013 ERC season, looking back, how satisfied are you with what you have achieved?
“I’m very happy with the season for sure. I am also really satisfied with the performance of the team because we had absolutely no problems with the car – it was working really well. What was also important is that I did some quite good results overall and that’s what makes me really happy.”

You mentioned the team and car but what about your own performance?
“I was very consistent and this was important. I didn’t push really hard because it was not necessary. My R4 car is not able to compete against the Super 2000 cars. I just had to look at the competition in Production and there was no point taking maximum risk against the faster cars.”

What was the best moment for you and what was the worst?
“For sure on the last stage on Rallye Sanremo when it was sure we were winning the ERC Production Car Cup was a special moment after a long gap from when I won the PWRC title in 2008. In Croatia, where I led overall, it was a nice feeling but it was a big surprise for me. I wasn’t pushing quite hard, I just wanted to go to the finish and I was surprised about the stage times. The Yokohama tyres are very good in damp conditions and that helped. The bad moment was in Ypres where we hit the tree and we lost the lead. Luckily we were able to go to the service park.”

You’re seeded number two for Rallye du Valais. What experience do you have of this event and how confident are you of finishing on the podium?
“I’ve never been to the rally before but I’ve heard a lot about it and the nice stages. It’s a long rally, 284 kilometres. But the main target is to test the new Yokohama tyres on a completely different surface than it was in Sanremo. In Sanremo it was abrasive Tarmac and it was still quite warm. In Switzerland it will be completely different so we will look how the tyres are working then. It depends on the conditions how hard we push. In difficult conditions on stages under 15 kilometres it’s possible to be 1.2 seconds per kilometre off the Super 2000 cars but when the stages are longer and more twisty it’s difficult to be that close.”

With 2014 getting close, what’s your target and how are your plans progressing?
“It’s quite difficult to say something now because it’s too early to have a clear idea. There are many options and [team boss] Manfred Stohl is helping me a lot and looking for my future. We will check our options and hopefully we can find a strong package for 2014.”

*The Valais canton doesn’t just contain 11 of the best special stages in Europe it’s also home to 40 luge tracks as it’s one of Switzerland’s leading winter sports regions
*Two of Switzerland’s best rally drivers will be competing on Rallye International du Valais: Grégoire Hotz is a seven-time Swiss champion, while Olivier Burri is an eight-time Valais winner
*The history of Rallye International du Valais dates back to 1960 and the running of the Rallye du Vin, which was organised to allow competitors to discover the region and its wines
*Martigny is not only the joint host town of Rallye International du Valais, it’s also home to the Saint Bernard dog museum where the region’s favourite four-legged friend is celebrated
*Valais is in the French-speaking part of Switzerland where fondue, made from local Swiss cheese, is a speciality

Starts: 13:30hrs, Thursday 7 November, Casernes, Sion
Finishes: 16:30hrs, Saturday 9 November, CERM Expo, Martigny
Headquarters: Hôtel Vatel, Rue Marconi 19, 1920 Martigny, Switzerland
Service park: Casernes, Sion (7-8 November), CERM Expo, Martigny (9 November)
Facts and figures:
Entries received: 72
ERC appearances: Four (since restructuring of ERC in 2004)
Stages: 18
Stage distance: 287.84 kilometres (30.89 kilometres leg one, 110.74 kilometres leg two, 146.30 kilometres leg three)
Liaison: 315.02 kilometres
Total: 602.86 kilometres
Surface: Asphalt (30.47 kilometres leg one, 107.54 kilometres leg two, 110.82 kilometres leg three) and gravel (0.33 kilometres leg one, 3.20 kilometres leg two, 35.48 kilometres leg three).






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