The 2008 Intercontinental Rally Challenge season draws to a close this weekend with the Rally China.
This all-new event held in Shaowu, close to Fuzhou, takes in a number of different gravel stages that encompass a wide variety of speeds and terrain. Although this particularly rally is new to the IRC, it has previously formed part of the Chinese Championship, so it will be well-known to the locals.
One of the pre-event favourites will be well-known Finn Juha Salo, who has plenty of experience of Chinese and Asia-Pacific events and has won three Finnish Group N titles. His Mitsubishi Lancer Evo IX will be well-suited to the treacherous terrain of China, where traction and grip is at a premium.
He will be challenged by his compatriot Jarkko Miettinen, in a similar car, who is the reigning Romanian Champion. Brian Green, a protagonist of the China Rally last year, is back for another attempt at the event in his Mitsubishi Lancer and he too could be a threat.
The IRC 2WD category meanwhile will be closely-fought, presenting Marco Cavigioli with a tough task as he attempts to claim his first IRC 2WD title.
As well as the Fiat, there will four Volkswagens and three Hondas, which could deprive Cavigioli of the points that he needs to overhaul compatriot and current points' leader, Alessandro Bettega. Bettega incidentally will not be in action in China.
"We go to China in the hope of winning a championship that we hoped we could have won a while ago, but it was not to be," said Cavigioli. "Certainly over the course of the year to date we've had quite a few mechanical problems, so we hope that won't be the case in China.
"Although we've travelled a lot, this event is entirely new to us, so we've got no idea what to expect. Alessandro has done a very good job over the year, so the pressure is on us to try and secure the result we need. There are sure to be lots of local drivers who are very strong, so it should be a good fight, and whatever happens, a very interesting experience."
The Rally China gets underway on Friday December 5 and concludes on Sunday December 7.