Sunday 17 April 2011

IRC - Rally Islas Canarias : Neuville, the top-roaring lion

IRC - Rally Islas Canarias : Neuville, the top-roaring lion

image This weekend’s Rally Islas Canarias, round two of the 2011 IRC, ended with Peugeot in second place in the Manufacturers’ standings. The feat of the weekend was the performance of Peugeot Belgium’s Thierry Neuville who finished on the podium after challenging for the win all the way, despite his limited experience.

A thrilling four-cornered scrap

The visit to the Canary Islands has accustomed us to extremely close gaps and exciting battles. This time round, Kopecky, Hanninen, Loix and Neuville rapidly emerged as the foursome to beat. Guy Wilks (Peugeot UK) profited from the first loop to claim two fastest times but was then unable to match the pace of the leaders. Crews had to cope with fog, the occasional patches of damp and the cancellation of Day 1’s final stage because of excessive spectator numbers, but Thierry Neuville never left his rivals a moment to relax. The Belgian youngster and his co-driver Gilsoul even figured at the top of the overall order after the second leg’s opening stage before a mistake on the following test handed control to the eventual winner, Hanninen, who succeeded in getting the better of Kopecki. image

A competitive display from the Peugeot 207 Super 2000

We always knew it was going to be a close-run thing here in the Canary Islands and that the fight for victory would probably be tough,” said Frédéric Bertrand, the Customer Competition manager of Peugeot Sport. “And that’s exactly how it turned out. The main lesson for us this weekend was that the Peugeot 207 S2000 is perfectly competitive. Neuville and Wilks did everything they could to prove that on both days. Having a good ‘feeling’ with the car on this sort of terrain is very important. That was less the case for Bryan Bouffier and Bruno Magalhaès.” The two-day rally ended with Neuville as the best-placed Peugeot runner, a mere 8.2 seconds behind the winner. “I don’t think we can talk about Thierry as a revelation; this event has simply confirmed his talent,” continues Frédéric Bertrand. “We have always been aware of his potential, but he seems to have progressed in his grasp of the niceties of driving a four-wheel drive car. He produced a fine performance which makes up for his error on the Rallye Monte-Carlo in January.” image

Thierry Neuville: briefly on top

The balance of my Peugeot 207 S2000 was perfect,” reports Thierry. “I was wide awake when the rally resumed on Saturday and I was able to up my pace, and that enabled me to take the lead. Unfortunately, I asked a little too much of my tyres which weren’t as quick on the following stage. I tried to make up for that by pushing harder, but that only caused my tyres to suffer more. I ended up dropping valuable seconds with a half-spin.” image

After the incident, Thierry chose not to take any excessive risks, but still kept up the speed in order to defend his footing on the podium, despite pressure from his compatriot Freddy Loix. Guy Wilks/Phil Pugh finished in fifth place after spending much of the event on the pace of the front-runners. “I lost my chance on day 1, on the same stage which we did twice,” said the Peugeot UK driver. “It featured two portions that were very fast with a sequence of flat-in-sixth corners. Everywhere else, my 207 performed perfectly but it tended to move about a bit through the very fast sections. It’s my fault. I didn’t opt for the wider tracks which would have helped make the car more stable. It was my call, and it’s a shame.” image

Bryan Bouffier, second in the Drivers’ standings before Corsica

Bouffier/Pansery led the Drivers’ standings before the trip to Spain and finished the event in seventh spot. “I felt quite tense,” admits the Peugeot France driver. “It just wasn’t a good event for me. I tried different settings but that didn’t change anything. It’ll get better, though!” The winner of January’s Rallye Monte-Carlo is still second and the best-placed Peugeot runner in the Drivers’ championship, however, just two points behind the new leader, Finland’s Juho Hänninen. Bruno Magalhaès (Paolo Grave), too, believes he could have done better. “You only have to look at my times to see that I wasn’t on form. On the last day, I had nobody I could really target in front of me, and nobody on my tail, so I focused on reaching the finish.” image

Next IRC round: Tour de Corse (May 12-14).


Rally Islas Canarias

1. Hanninen (Skoda) 1h40mn38s1

2. Kopecky (Skoda) +1s5

3. Neuville (PEUGEOT) +8s2

4. Loix (Skoda) +16s7

5.Wilks (PEUGEOT)+48s3

6.Mikkelsen (Skoda)+55s6

7.Bouffier (PEUGEOT) 1mn00s6

8.Maglhaes (PEUGEOT) +1mn49s8

9. Basso (Proton) +2mn37s8

10.Gardemeister (Skoda) + 2mn38s2

Drivers championship standings

1. Hänninen, 33 points
2. Bouffier, 31
3. Loix, 30
4. Wilks, 25
5. Kopecky, 22
6. Neuville, 15
7. Sarazin, 12
8. Delecour, 10
9. Mikkelsen, 8
10. Vouilloz, 6
11. Basso, 4
12. Magalhaes, 4
13. Gardemeister, 2

Manufacturers championship standings

1. Skoda, 73 points

2. Peugeot, 67

3. Subaru, 18

4. Proton, 16

5.M-Sport (Ford), 12

6. Honda, 9

7. Ralliart, 6

8. Abarth, 1

Peugeot Sport.

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