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Jun 21

Geko Ypres Rally (Belgium) preview

2013 FIA European Rally Championship, round six of 12, 27-29 June

FIA ERC 2013 Geko Ypres Rally Zoltan Bessenyey action imageAn action-packed motorsport extravaganza is in store when the 2013 FIA European Rally Championship reaches its halfway point on the Geko Ypres Rally in Belgium from 27-29 June.

An action-packed motorsport extravaganza is in store when the 2013 FIA European Rally Championship reaches its halfway point on the Geko Ypres Rally in Belgium from 27-29 June.
 
More than 100 crews will contest the famous asphalt showcase in the West-Vlaanderen province with hordes of enthusiastic fans descending on the historic market town and the surrounding countryside to savour the high-speed excitement.
 
But this year’s rally is about more than just the battle to be top dog in the ERC and the serious competition ahead: there’s the future of rallying to look forward to after all.
 
The future of rallying, right here, right now
The tens of thousands of spectators that will flock to the farmland roads will witness the future of rallying, right here, right now when two new-generation R5 rally cars take to the stages. Although they won’t be able to chase stage times and overall results as they’re not quite ready for competition use, the M-Sport Ford Fiesta R5 and the Peugeot 208 T16 will be driven through all 20 stages, immediately prior to the course opening zero car, by ace pilots Thierry Neuville and Kris Meeke respectively.
 
Neuville is Belgium’s only full-time world championship driver, while Meeke won in Ypres in 2009. R5 cars are designed to be faster but more affordable than the headlining Super 2000 class and several manufacturers are investing in the category. The Ypres Rally will mark the first time that two R5 cars will have been seen in public and the spectacle is one not to be missed.
 
Serious competition and a serious challenge ahead
Crews will be braced for a tough test in Ypres with a competitive, albeit compact route comprising almost 300 kilometres over 20 stages. The narrow roads are lined by drainage ditches, errant telegraph poles and popularised by tight junctions that lie in wait to catch out the unwary.
 
The practice of corner ‘cutting’ to maximise speed through the tight and twisty turns is commonplace and vital to success in Ypres, but creates a slippery surface as mud and debris are dragged onto the road. Hidden obstacles can also prove to be a menace, particularly when the stages are run after dark, making experience key to success: seven-time winner Freddy Loix is making his 16th Ypres start this season.
 
Battle for victory wide open
As many as five drivers are ranked as genuine contenders for overall victory in Ypres with Freddy Loix among the expected frontrunners in his ŠKODA Motorsport Fabia Super 2000. However, the Belgian veteran will face strong opposition from a number of ERC regulars including three-time podium finisher Craig Breen, Giru di Corsica-Tour de Corse winner Bryan Bouffier, former Production Car world champion Hayden Paddon and rallying legend François Delecour.
 
Share and share alike
It will be an Ypres Rally with a difference for Bernd Casier and Pieter Tsjoen. The Belgian aces have been unable to secure enough funding to take part in their own right. Rather than miss out on the highlight of the Belgian rallying season, Casier and Tsjoen are pooling their resources in more ways than one by sharing a ŠKODA Fabia S2000 and will take it in turns to drive and co-drive.
 
The famous five in Ypres
Five drivers will be in the hunt for FIA ERC Ladies’ Trophy honours. Melissa Debackere, Evelien De Corte, Julie Devalot, Ekaterina Stratieva and Molly Taylor are all set to take part on the Belgian classic, the highest number of participants in the ERC Ladies’ Trophy since it began earlier this season. After four rallies, Bulgarian Stratieva – who finished first on the opening event in Gran Canaria – tops the standings, two points ahead of Australia’s Taylor, who claimed top points on the previous round in Corsica. Debackere, De Corte and Devalot are all new to the contest in Ypres.
 
Support championships will thrill
It’s not just the battle for overall honours that will write the headlines in Ypres: the fight for glory in the ERC Production Car Cup will be equally intense with several leading lights in action. They include Subaru’s championship leader Andreas Aigner, Team Renault Sport Technologies duo Germain Bonnefis and Robert Consani, Mitsubishi drivers Jaroslav Orsák (GPD Mit Metal Racing Team) and Vitaliy Pushkar, the vastly experienced Marco Tempestini of Napoca Rally Academy, plus former Hungarian champion András Hadak, not to mention several rapid Belgian drivers such as Chris van Woensel.
 
The ERC 2WD Championship will also be closely fought with Eurosol-Honda Civic Type R’s Zoltán Bessenyey and fellow Hungarian Kornél Lukács both expected to impress against a horde of Benelux-based competitors and Max Vatanen, the son of 1981 world champion Ari Vatanen.
 
Points make prizes
ERC regulations allow drivers to count their best four scores from the opening six events and their best four scores from the final six rounds. This means that Ypres is the final chance for drivers and co-drivers to play catch-up in the title race. With three wins and one second from four appearances, European championship leader Jan Kopecký has elected not to compete in Ypres due to his near-perfect run of results.
 
Qualifying comes to Ypres
History will be made on the Geko Ypres Rally when it becomes the first all-asphalt event to include a Qualifying Stage. The move will add a new and exciting dimension to the traditional shakedown stage held on the evening before the event. FIA and ERC priority drivers (a maximum of 20 will be nominated) will get two runs of free practice from 19:00hrs CET on Thursday 27 June before the Qualifying Stage goes live at 20:00hrs. The fastest driver will be the first to select their starting position at a ceremony in the Ypres Rally Center from 13:30hrs on Friday 28 June with the second fastest driver next up and so on until all starting positions have been selected.
 
New stages on the itinerary
Despite the huge success of the Ypres Rally, the organisers never rest on their laurels and have revamped the itinerary to include three new stages for 2013. Mesen is an updated version of the old Middelhoek test and starts in the centre of Mesen, while Heuvelland is being run in an opposite direction to last season. Wijtschate is a longer version of Mesen-Sauvegarde. There are a total of 20 stages, six from early Friday evening and 14 from Saturday morning and into the night.

 

Service with a smile
As well as the action on the stages, the atmosphere in the service park is simply sensational. The central setting in Ypres’s Grote Markt creates an unforgettable ambience and party vibe, especially at night when it’s possible to enjoy frites mayonnaise or a hot Belgian waffle while watching the cars being serviced… Tickets for the event are still on sale by visiting the official event website, www.ypresrally.com.
 
Q&A: THIERRY NEUVILLE
Belgian hero to drive new-generation Ford Fiesta R5 on ERC counter
 
What’s the objective for you on this rally?
“We need to show the reliability of the car of course and I am sure this will be quite easy because the car is very good. But there’s another R5, the Peugeot 208 T16, and maybe we can compare the times. It will be interesting for the spectators to follow the car because it’s something new. Of course we will do some testing during the event so it’s not all about having fun.”
 
How excited are you to be back in Ypres and involved in this project?
“I’ve done a lot of work on developing cars in the past. I know what will be expected from me, to give our feedback, so it’s always exciting. But always it’s great to be in front of my Belgian fans and my Belgian supporters. Ypres is a really nice atmosphere and it’s nice to be back again. Of course I would like to be going for the victory, it’s not possible but to be there with a new car is great.”
 
It’s not always been a happy rally for you…
“No, I’ve finished one time only in 2010 when I was on the podium. In 2011 we had a lot of problems. Although it has not always been the best event for me I like it really a lot, I like the stages even though I was not really successful.”
 
What is the appeal of Ypres to the drivers – it’s a very popular rally?
“The atmosphere is something special. The roads are long straights with deep cuts. It’s a high-speed rally with corners that are very tight. But you go so fast in because you cut so much. It’s something exciting and every corner you get a bit nervous because you are not sure what is going to happen in the cut.”
 
Would you describe it as a difficult rally?
“Many, many drivers who come here crash and most of the time it’s a big crash because it’s always high speed. People underestimate the rally because it’s long straights and tight corners but it’s easy to brake too late on a junction and you don’t have one or two metres more to turn, you are directly in a ditch. It’s a very difficult rally.”
 
You obviously can’t win the rally so who do you think will be challenging for victory?
“I know Craig Breen can be fast but does not have the experience and Freddy Loix will go very fast and does have the experience.”
 
FIVE FACTS
* At just short of 300 kilometres, the Ypres Rally is the longest round of the 2013 ERC so far in terms of competitive distance
* No driver has won in Ypres more times than Freddy Loix. The 42-year-old has taken victory on his home round of the ERC on seven occasions
* Don’t be confused by signs to Ieper: it’s how Flemish-speaking Belgians spell Ypres
* The town of Ypres’ history dates back to Roman times but it’s not always been a happy place: during World War I it was the centre of a number of battles between German and Allied Forces
* As well as hosting a round of the ERC, Ypres is home of the Kattenstoet, or Cat Parade, a tri-annual event that involves a colourful parade of cats and witches no less
 
EVENT ESSENTIALS
Starts: 16:25hrs, Friday 28 June, Grote Markt, Ypres
Finishes: 22:20hrs, Saturday 29 June, Grote Markt, Ypres
Headquarters: Ieper Business Park, Ter Waarde 10, Ypres
Service park: Grote Markt, Ypres
Facts and figures:
Entries received: 103
ERC appearances: Nine (since restructuring of ERC in 2004)
Stages: 20
Stage distance: 297.93 kilometres (101.86 kilometres leg one, 196.07 kilometres leg two)
Liaison: 351.19 kilometres
Total: 649.12 kilometres
Surface: Asphalt
 
source: fiaerc.com


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