Rd.7 Rally Ireland

Production Car World Rally Championship
 
16 to 18 November 2007

PREVIEW

Teams Visit Emerald Isle for Demanding Tarmac Event

15 November 2007
Copyright © STI 
The inaugural running of Rally Ireland as a WRC event takes place over the three days of this weekend; and after much speculation and preparation, seems set to be a thriller.

Long considered one of the homelands of the sport, rallying is something of a religion on these shores. With two years' preparation, including being run as a 'candidate' event last year, the organisers are confident of a cracking success on this, the first time the country is represented in competition at the pinnacle of the sport.

It's exciting in the P-WRC for another reason also, the fact that Japanese ace and former champion Toshi Arai could once again be crowned world champion in the Production class. Although Arai is not contesting this event, his chief rival Gabriel POZZO will have to place 2nd or higher here if he is merely to continue his hopes into the last round in Wales in two weeks' time. Even then, he'd have to win in the final round as well for a chance at the crown.

On the surface of it
Conditions are expected to be damp or possibly wet on at least one of the three legs of the event, though the weather in the days leading up to Shakedown were generally very nice. It is the road conditions however, that everyone will be thinking about, as the tarmac here in Ireland is unique and can catch out those less familiar with its remarkably slippery characteristics - even in the dry.

So for all the competitors then, this first foray into Ireland will be a challenge. Those who can keep it between the hedgerows and stone walls that line the particularly narrow stages, as well as land accurately every time after the many, many bumps and jumps, will no doubt be making history on this most demanding event.

Hands across the divide
Rally Ireland is also unique for another, non-rallying reason. The event is a collaboration between the Irish and British governments, with stages run in both countries. The Ceremonial Start on Thursday night takes place at Stormont, the former seat of the British government in Northern Ireland (and now the site of a power-sharing administration), with stages criss-crossing the border throughout the three days of competition.

Pre-event test
Copyright © STI 
As is usual in the P-WRC, there was an official pre-event test, organised and administered by STI Group N Project General Manager George Donaldson.

"From the IMPREZA runners in the P-WRC contesting this event, we had Patrik Flodin and Leszek Kuzaj with us. We ran on a stage that was perfectly representative of what the competitors can expect this weekend; starting with twisty uphill corners, followed by twisty downhill corners, and a long, fast-flowing descent. There were then some very fast and narrow sections, some sharp corners, ending with a 1.5 kilometre bumpy, fast straight. Overall it was a good mixture of what to expect on the rally. Also, as there were fewer cars than usual on this test, every driver had a greater amount of running time."

Leszek Kuzaj - SUBARU Poland Rally Team:
"I am used to bumpy and slippery roads in Poland, but these are so narrow - and more slippery than even I am used to. It is going to be a tough battle this weekend, but we are confident."

Patrik Flodin - Rally Team Olsberg:
"It's my first time on this type of surface, though my co-driver Maria has contested the Irish Tarmac championship before. It's going to be a challenge - and keeping the car on the road while maintaining sufficient speed is the main issue."

GD:"Both drivers came away from the test with a healthy respect for the roads here - and were totally delighted with their progress throughout the day. For Patrik, who is primarily a gravel driver, it will be interesting - but we know Ireland is a unique surface in the world of rallying. Local drivers always do very well here, and of course, we can expect a great run from Niall McShea, who didn't manage to come to the test. Nasser was competing in Lebanon over the past weekend (where he picked up maximum points) and so also wasn't able to be at the test. We therefore don't know quite what he'll manage to do here but again, I'm sure he'll be more of a surprise. He's in a Prodrive-run car, and they have a massive amount of experience on this rally. I expect his car will be very well set up right from the word 'go'."

A massive 150,000 - 200,000 spectators are expected to line the stages over the course of the three days this weekend, in what is surely a coming-of-age for the sport in this country of fanatically devoted rally fans.