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Azores - 23-25 Feb 12

Posted: February 28, 2012 10:45 AM - 3990 Hits

Round 1 - 2012 Intercontinental Rally Challenge (IRC)


Posted: February 28, 2012 10:45 AM

Andreas Mikkelsen began the defence of his Intercontinental Rally Challenge (IRC) title in perfect style by confirming a start-to-finish victory in the 47th SATA Rally Azores in Ponta Delgada on Saturday.

Mikkelsen and fellow Norwegian co-driver Ola Fløene fended off a determined challenge from last year?s event winner Juho Hänninen to seal victory in their Skoda Fabia S2000 by the margin of 25.1 seconds after 13 timed special stages, held over three days, on the Azorean island of São Miguel.

"It's a perfect start to the season for Skoda UK and I am delighted for the whole team," said Mikkelsen, who clinched a third successive IRC win since Scotland last year and won 10 of the 13 timed tests. "It has been a big fight. Juho kept me on my toes all the way."

The French duo of Bryan Bouffier and Xavier Panseri were never able to match the pair of flying Skodas, but the Peugeot France-backed crew finished a comfortable third overall in their 207 S2000.
"I have learned a lot in a really positive way and a podium is not so bad," said Bouffier.

Sepp Wiegand and Hermann Gassner Jr. resumed their frantic tussle for fourth and fifth overall on day three. An engine stall had pushed Wiegand behind his rival on Friday afternoon and Gassner returned the favour on the first stage of day three, as fractions of a second separated the German Skoda duo.

A crucial soft compound tyre choice gave Wiegand the advantage in the 11th stage and the youngster held on to take fourth place by 1m 03.6s, once Gassner swiped the rear end of his Fabia in the penultimate stage and collected a slow puncture.

"Unbelievable for me," said a delighted Wiegand. "It was my second rally on gravel and my first in IRC. It was a great fight with Hermann. We had the upper hand today. I am really happy."

"I thought I could fight for fourth place, but I made that mistake in the second last stage and that was the end of that," said Gassner. "It was not my best rally I suppose."

Azorean driver Ricardo Moura controlled the IRC Production Cup or Group N category from start-to-finish in his Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution IX and finished an excellent sixth overall into the bargain. "This was really as high as I could go with the opposition above me in faster cars," admitted Moura.

Ukrainian Oleksandr Salyuk was classified in seventh with his M-Sport Ford Fiesta S2000 and the Portuguese trio of Sergio Silva, Ruben Rodrigues and Miguel Barbosa rounded off the top 10.

Local driver Paulo Maciel finished 12th and dominated the two-wheel drive category in his Citroën Saxo, once Britain's Harry Hunt had blotted his copybook on day two with a broken radiator.


Posted: February 28, 2012 10:35 AM

Andreas Mikkelsen has begun the defence of his Intercontinental Rally Challenge title in style by winning SATA Rallye Açores, the opening round of IRC season six, which finished this afternoon (Saturday) following three days and almost 200 kilometres of thrilling high-speed action in the mid-Atlantic.

Juho Hänninen, the 2010 IRC champion and the winner of this event last term, made it a one-two for ŠKODA by claiming second overall with Bryan Bouffier the top Peugeot finisher in third. Local hero Ricardo Moura, in sixth, took top honours in the IRC Production Cup with Paulo Maciel claiming victory in the IRC 2WD Cup.

Mikkelsen’s performance, which extends his run of victories in the IRC to three in a row after he won the 2011 season-closing rounds in Scotland and Cyprus – a new IRC record – earned him the prestigious Colin McRae IRC Flat Out Trophy, awarded to the driver whose heroics behind the wheel best embody the spirit of the rallying legend.

“This is the perfect start to the season, I am so happy for the ŠKODA UK team, for my co-driver Ola [Fløene] and this is the perfect result for ŠKODA,” said Mikkelsen, who set the fastest time on 10 stages. “We had a tough fight with Juho and we had to push but it couldn’t have gone better.”

Hänninen started the event as one of the favourites for victory but a costly spin on Friday morning meant he had to settle for second best in his factory-run Fabia.

“We came here for the victory but it was not good enough to stop Andreas,” said the Finn, the most successful driver in the history of the IRC. “Andreas made no mistake, I made a big one – he made a good rally and deserved his victory.”

Bryan Bouffier had been embroiled in a close fight for the final podium spot with fellow Peugeot 207 S2000 driver Bruno Magalhães until the Portuguese crashed out on day two. It left Frenchman Bouffier to take a comfortable third overall.
“To be on the podium on the opening round is very good and thanks to Peugeot for a really good car for this race,” he said.

ŠKODA Auto Deutschland’s Sepp Wiegand, making his IRC debut, won the battle to be the top German rising star in impressive fashion after he demoted Hermann Gassner Jr to fifth on Saturday’s first stage when Gassner Jr stalled the engine of his Red Bull Fabia S2000. And it got worse for Gassner Jr when he picked up a right-rear puncture after he struck an earth bank on the penultimate stage in his efforts to close up to Wiegand, whose decision to use soft compound tyres on Saturday morning’s loop of stages paid dividends.
“This is a really big moment for me on my second rally on gravel and my first in the IRC,” said Wiegand. “To be in the top five is unbelievable, I’m really, really happy.”

Behind sixth-placed IRC Production Cup winner Moura, Oleksandr Saliuk starred on his IRC debut in seventh on his first outing in an M-Sport Ford Fiesta S2000. The Dream Team Ukraine driver set out with the sole aim of finishing so was thrilled to reach the end of the rain-affected event. Third fastest time on the second run through the Grupo Marques superspecial was a personal highlight for Saliuk.

Sérgio Silva was the leading Subaru driver in eighth overall with Ruben Rodrigues ninth and Miguel Barbosa claiming the final IRC point in 10th.

Rashid Al-Ketbi and Oleksiy Tamrazov both returned to the action on Saturday after their exits on Friday and both gained valuable experience with Skydive Dubai Rally Team’s Al-Ketbi particularly pleased afterwards. “It was very important for my team to be at the finish line and I have learned so much,” said the Emirati. “For these reasons I am very happy.”

IRC Production Cup

Ricardo Moura made it three wins in a row in the Group N category on SATA Rallye Açores with a dominant performance behind the wheel of his Ralliart Mitsubishi Lancer.

The Azorean was the fastest IRC Production Cup driver on all 13 stages that ran and rarely looked in trouble as he adopted a low-risk strategy in his efforts to clinch victory.

“This was really as high as I could go with the opposition above me in faster cars,” he said. “When I was in a safe situation I tried to push and to enjoy, otherwise I took no risks.”

Sérgio Silva was the top Subaru finisher in second after Romania-domiciled Italian Marco Tempestini retired his R4-specifiation Impreza on day two. Ruben Rodrigues and Miguel Barbosa completed the podium in their Lancers.


Left in the clear when Harry Hunt retired from the category lead on Friday morning, Paulo Maciel gradually opened out a comfortable margin to repeat his 2011 triumph in his trusty Citroën Saxo. Énio Medeiros was second with Henrique Moniz third.

Italian veteran Davide Catania finished fifth but there was disappointment for Robert Consani. The young Frenchman had been on course for a podium finish in his Renault Clio R3 only to crash out on stage 11.

Menya Krószer, the Hungarian two-wheel-drive champion, also had his sights on a strong result only for a broken driveshaft to stop his Honda Civic Type R on stage six. A mechanical fault on the very first stage ended László Vizin’s challenge on a one-off outing in a ŠKODA Fabia R2.

Hunt, meanwhile, restarted on Saturday following his day one exit and set two fastest stage times in the increasingly slippery conditions.


Posted: February 28, 2012 10:31 AM

1 Andreas Mikkelsen (NOR)/Ola Fløene (NOR) ŠKODA Fabia S2000 2h12m43.2s
2 Juho Hanninen (FIN)/Mikko Markkula (FIN) ŠKODA Fabia S2000 +25.1s
3 Bryan Bouffier (FRA)/Xavier Panseri (FRA) Peugeot 207 S2000 +2m04.8s
4 Sepp Wiegand (GER)/Timo Gottschalk (GER) ŠKODA Fabia S2000 +5m20.3s
5 Hermann Gassner Jr (GER)/Klaus Wicha (GER) ŠKODA Fabia S2000 +6m23.9s
6 Ricardo Moura (POR)/Sancho Eiró (POR) Ralliart Lancer Evolution IX +8m43.5s
7 Oleksandr Saliuk (UKR)/Pavel Cherepin (UKR) M-Sport Ford Fiesta S2000 +10m28.1s
8 Sérgio Silva (POR)/Fernando Nunes (POR) Subaru Impreza STI +16m00.1s
9 Ruben Rodrigues (POR)/Estevão Rodrigues (POR) Ralliart Lancer Evolution IX +17m15.0s
10 Miguel Barbosa (POR)/Justino Reis (POR) Ralliart Lancer Evolution IX +18m01.6s


Posted: February 22, 2012 11:16 AM

Finland's Juho Hänninen will lock horns with Norwegian rival Andreas Mikkelsen when the 47th SATA Azores Rally gets the 2012 Intercontinental Rally Challenge (ITC) underway in Ponta Delgada, tomorrow (Thursday).

The Skoda duo fought a frantic battle for supremacy in last year's three-day event over the technical and demanding gravel tracks that make the Azores' premier sporting event such a challenge.

Hänninen and co-driver Mikko Markkula managed to snatch a narrow victory on that occasion after team orders came into play, but Mikkelsen had the last laugh by eventually securing the IRC title. Both drivers are likely to be equally matched once again in their Skoda Fabia S2000s over the 14 special stages that will decide the outcome of the first of 13 rounds of this year's IRC.

The Norwegian may, however, have a slight advantage after taking part in three events already this season.

"Rally Azores is my favourite rally in the IRC calendar, so to begin my title defence there could not be better," said Mikkelsen. "The scenery is beautiful, the atmosphere on the island is fantastic and I love the nature of the stages. The gravel roads are really tricky in places - sometimes fast and narrow, but always really nice to drive.

"The weather this year could play a big role in the outcome of the results. If it's wet and slippery with low cloud and poor visibility it will be very good for us, because the tougher the challenge the more we like it."

The narrow, undulating gravel special stages make rallying on the Azores a unique experience and one that has already won high acclaim with IRC entrants over the last three years.

In total contrast to the super special stage that runs twice through a quarry near Ponta Delgada on Thursday afternoon and Saturday lunchtime, the picturesque Sete Citades stage - repeated twice on Friday - takes cars along the rim of a dormant volcano and provides one of the most spectacular backdrops in world rallying.

Both Hänninen and Mikkelsen know that they face fierce competition from several other regular IRC faces. Frenchman Bryan Bouffier ran strongly last year and is sure to be competitive in his Peugeot France-backed 207 S2000.

Multiple Portuguese rally champion Bruno Magalhäes won the event in both 2008 and 2010 and would dearly love to start his 2012 campaign with a third win to complete the Azores' hat-trick and join only two other drivers - Carlos Bica (four wins) and Fernando Peres (seven victories) - who have achieved at least three outright successes in the illustrious 47-year history of the rally.

The UAE's Rashid Al-Ketbi tackled a solitary round of the IRC in 2011 before committing to a full programme of rallies this year with his Skydive Dubai Rally Team Skoda. The Dubai-based driver is the first Arab to tackle a full IRC programme and will be aiming for a points-scoring finish rather than a podium on his Azores' debut.

The talented Hermann Gassner Jnr. has his eyes firmly set on the top three with a Red Bull-backed Skoda and young Sepp Wiegand is also likely to feature at the business end of the leader board.

The Ukrainian duo of Oleksandr Salyuk and Oleksii Tamrazov sandwich the experienced Romania-based Italian driver Marco Tempestini (Subaru) on the starting line-up. Tamrazov has teamed up with the 2010 FIA Middle East Rally Championship's winning Italian co-driver Nicola Arena in his Dream Team Ukraine-backed, M-Sport Ford Fiesta S2000.

Azorean Ricardo Moura heads the strong IRC Production category in his Ralliart Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution IX and Paulo Maciel starts as the favourite for honours in the IRC 2WD Cup at the wheel of his Citroën.

Tomorrow (Thursday) five of the leading drivers will attend the official pre-event press conference at Portas do Mar in Ponta Delgada, shortly before the official podium start in the centre of the administrative centre of the island of São Miguel precedes three day one special stages.

The opening Coroa Da Mata special runs for 8.25km from 14.29hrs (16.29hrs CET) and winds its way through scenic rural land to the north of the island, to the east of the town of Ribeira Grande.

The second special starts at 15.02hrs and offers 16.18 competitive kilometres between São Brás and Vila Franca, while the day's action draws to a close with a short super special stage of 2.2km in a quarry, near Ponta Delgada, from 16.07hrs.

The event will be filmed and broadcast by official rights holder Eurosport and live updates will also be aired on World Rally Radio via www.ircseries.com.


Posted: February 22, 2012 11:11 AM

Honda begins the defence of its IRC 2WD Cup manufacturers’ title in this weekend’s Sata Azores Rally and is in the process of homologating a series of upgrades to the popular Civic Type R.

The car will appear on the opening IRC round in the hands of the MHH Rally Team’s Hungarian driver Menyhért Króser and co-driver György Papp. The Japanese manufacturer clinched the 2011 title at the RAC MSA Rally of Scotland, following a victory for Martin Kangur and third position for Janos Puskadi.

Challenging the Hungarian duo for IRC 2WD Cup honours over the demanding Azorean gravel stages on the island of Saõ Miguel will be the Portuguese sensation Paulo Maciel – defending IRC 2WD Azores Rally champion with his Citroën – the talented young British driver Harry Hunt at the wheel of a Citroën DS3 R3T, Hungary’s László Vizin in a Turán-Motorsport SE-entered Skoda Fabia R2 and Portuguese driver Robert Consani (Renault Clio R3.

Italy’s Davide Catania (Citroën DS3 R3T), Frenchman Robert Consani (Renault Clio R3), defending Azorean 2WD rally champion Carlos Costa (Citroën C2 R2 GT) and Ivo Nogueira (Citroën DS3 R3T) complete the competitive line-up.

Ricardo Moura is the home favourite to achieve success in the IRC Production Cup or Group N category at the wheel of his Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution IX. The Azorean driver is held in high esteem as a top gravel specialist and was entered by the Portuguese organisers as their wild card in last year’s PWRC category of the WRC Rally of Portugal.

Main competition for Moura – who finished sixth overall and first in Group N last year in the Azores - will come from a host of Portuguese drivers, with the likes of Ruben Rodrigues and Luis Pimentel leading the way in their Mitsubishis. Showroom category cars dominate the lower reaches of the 39-car entry and a further 10 will challenge for Group N honours.

The event is also a counting round of the local Saõ Miguel Trophy Rally and has attracted a provisional 19 starters, who will tackle just five of the 14 special stages (58.04 competitive kilometres) on Thursday and Friday.

Paulo Rego tops the entry list with co-driver Abel Carreiro and other Portuguese and Azorean drivers are evident in cars as diverse as a Ford Sierra Cosworth, an Opel Corsa, a Toyota Rav-4, a Toyota Starlet and a quartet of Seat Marbellas entered by the Fastbravo team.

This weekend’s event marks the fourth time that the Sata Azores Rally has been included in the Intercontinental Rally Challenge (IRC). The 14 timed special stages start on Thursday afternoon and run through until Saturday evening, with 198.44 competitive kilometres on offer in a total route of 701.61km across the largest island in the Azores archipelago.

Before the official starting ceremony in Ponta Delgada at 13.30hrs on Thursday afternoon, teams will tackle a City Demo Stage on the promenade in Ponta Delgada on Wednesday evening (February 22nd). This will not count towards the overall classification, but participation is compulsory and is sure to attract a large crowd.


Posted: February 21, 2012 1:53 PM

The tranquil and picturesque island of Saõ Miguel in the Azores plays host to the opening round of the 2012 Intercontinental Rally Challenge (IRC) this weekend.

Seventy-eight competitors in 39 cars will tackle the three-day gravel special stage Sata Rallye Açores (Sata Azores Rally) across the length and breadth of the largest island in the remote volcanic archipelago, situated over 1500km off the Portuguese coast at the same latitude as the Algarve.

The 47th running of the island's rallying bonanza - that continues to grow in stature every year - has attracted drivers from as far afield as the United Arab Emirates, Ukraine, Finland, Norway, Germany, Hungary, Italy, England, Portugal and France.

Rallying along demanding gravel tracks that dissect lush green, mountain pasture is a far cry from the barren deserts of the Middle East for Dubai's Rashid Al-Ketbi, who teams up with Khaled Al-Kendi to drive a Skoda Fabia S2000 entered by the Skydive Dubai Rally Team.

"Taking part in the IRC is an exciting new challenge for me," said Al-Ketbi, the winner of last year's MERC rally in Jordan and one of the fastest Arab rally drivers on the planet. "It is exciting to be here rallying for the first time and, yes, so very different to the deserts we are used to. The target has to be to finish and score as many points as possible."

The Azores are better known for their buoyant summer tourism, their very own tea plantation, the second oldest daily newspaper in Europe, whale watching, stunning scenery and one of the most diverse weather systems on earth. But Azoreans have the sport of rallying pumping through their blood as well.

Each of the nine volcanic islands that stretch across the middle of the mighty North Atlantic Ocean - almost as close to the shores of North America's coast to the west as they are adrift of the Iberian Peninsula to the east - boast numerous rally drivers and Azoreans regularly compete against each other in off-road automotive competition.

"Rallying is in Azorean blood," enthuses Francisco Rosa Coelho, chairman of the organising committee. "Over the years we have welcomed many of the world's leading rally drivers to the islands. This year we are delighted to see the return of IRC champion Andreas Mikkelsen and last year's winner Juha Hanninen. In the past the likes of Sandro Munari and Alister McRae have competed on our stages and our list of former winners includes Markko Martin, Bruno Thiry, Juha Kankkunen, Kris Meeke and Yves Loubet."

Host airline Sata International continues its multi-year association as main sponsor for the rally that will take place over six gravel stages, each repeated twice, and a pair of runs through a short super special stage.

This short stage will run a mere four kilometres away from the rally headquarters and service park, situated on the marina at Portas do Mar in Ponta Delgada which, on Monday morning, greeted the giant cruise ship Disney Fantasy, making its maiden voyage across the Atlantic to a ceremonial welcome in New York in early March.

All rally equipment and crews have now arrived in the administrative capital of the Azores and teams are finalising preparations for the hectic weekend's timetable. This begins with documentation, team briefings, scrutineering and the pre-event press conference on Wednesday (February 22nd).

ŠKODA champion begins IRC title defense

Posted: February 17, 2012 3:32 PM

ŠKODA UK Motorsport’s Andreas Mikkelsen will begin the defense of his Intercontinental Rally Challenge drivers’ title on his favourite round of the series, the Sata Rallye Açores (22-25 February).

Andreas has good reason to like the Azores, as it was his 2nd place finish in his factory-prepared ŠKODA Fabia S2000 last year that signaled the start of a sensational second half of the series, which led to the 22-year old becoming the youngest ever IRC champion.

Rain, low cloud and poor visibility made conditions on the mid-Atlantic archipelago extremely difficult in July last year, so the rally is likely to be even more challenging with its new winter date. But thanks to a highly developed pace note system, Andreas and co-driver Ola Fløene are at their best when conditions are at their worst and hope wintry weather plays to their strengths.

The event has received a strong entry, with Juho Hänninen and Andreas aiming to give ŠKODA a solid start in the series – as it aims to win the IRC Manufacturers’ title for a third consecutive time.

“Rally Azores is my favourite rally in the IRC calendar, so to begin my title defense there could not be better. The scenery is beautiful, the atmosphere on the island is fantastic and I love the nature of the stages. The gravel roads are really tricky in places – sometimes fast and narrow, but always really nice to drive. The weather this year could play a big role in the outcome of the results. If it’s wet and slippery with low cloud and poor visibility it will be very good for us, because the tougher the challenge the more we like it.

“I don’t feel under any pressure starting this year’s IRC as champion and I won’t change my mindset entering each rally. The competition will once again be strong, so I need to do what I did last year – stay focused, keep calm and do my best behind the steering wheel.

“The 2011 Rally Cyprus was my last event with ŠKODA UK Motorsport, and although we’ve all seen each other since then, it’s a long time since we’ve done a rally together and I’m really looking forward to that. The continuity within the team will be one of our strong points this year, as we all know what’s expected – and we all work at one hundred percent to support each other to achieve the same goal, which is to win!”

Sata Rallye Açores takes place on the picturesque island of São Miguel, located 930 miles (1500kms) west of Portugal and 2400 miles (3900kms) east of the USA. It begins on the evening of Wednesday 22 February with a ceremonial start, which is immediately followed by an innovative speed test along Ponta Delgada’s main seafront avenue. A large crowd is expected, and whilst the City Stage, which contains several chicanes and hairpins, won’t form part of the overall rally results, a separate trophy will be presented for the fastest crew.

The first competitive stage takes place the following afternoon, with three stages on Thursday 23 February, including the popular Grupo Marques super-special.

Leg 2 on Friday 24 February is a full day of competition. Starting at 09.30, it contains six stages, including two runs over the event’s signature Sete Cidades stage, which runs around the rim of an extinct volcano. Evening flex-service brings the day to an end after 51.48 miles (82.85kms) of action.

The third and final leg on Saturday 25 February is, at 53.56 miles (86.2kms), the longest of the event. It contains four long stages (including the Tronqueira test which, at 13.9 miles (22.4kms), is the longest of the event) and a repeat of the Grupo Marques super-special, totaling 53.56 miles (86.2kms). The finish ceremony is at 17.30, after a total of 14 stages and 120.79 miles (194.4kms) of competition.

Eurosport will broadcast edited highlights of the event, so please check TV listings for details.

Seeded Entry List

Posted: February 17, 2012 11:02 AM

Mikkelsen aims for revenge in Azores

Posted: January 27, 2012 11:44 PM

Intercontinental Rally Challenge champion Andreas Mikkelsen says he’s desperate to win SATA Rallye Acores next month after coming close to success on the event last season.

The SKODA UK Motorsport star was embroiled in a tight battle for victory with factory SKODA driver Juho Hanninen until he was instructed to hold position in second place in order to secure a one-two finish for the Czech manufacturer.

“I’m really motivated to win this rally,” said Mikkelsen. “Of course it will be a great start to the year and great for SKODA UK if I do but after last year I would really like to win this special event. It’s one of my favourite rallies with a really good atmosphere and amazing stages.”

SATA Rallye Acores forms round one of the 13-event IRC season in 2012. It takes place from 23-25 February on the island of Sao Miguel.

Street stage confirmed for 2012 IRC opener

Posted: January 12, 2012 2:56 PM

The 2012 Intercontinental Rally Challenge will get off to a spectacular start with a street stage on Sata Rallye Acores, the opening round of the 13-event all-action series.

Scheduled for 2200hrs on Wednesday 22 February, the City Stage in Ponta Delgada will be compulsory for all IRC crews even though it won’t form part of the competitive itinerary.

Drivers and co-drivers will carry out reconnaissance of the stage from 1830hrs on the Wednesday prior to the official crew presentation to members of the public at the Praca Goncalo Velho from 2100hs. The short stage will begin on Ponta Delgada’s seafront on the corner adjacent to the presentation podium. Crews will tackle the stage in two-minute intervals.

Event Website / Details

Posted: January 10, 2012 10:53 AM

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