Tyre giant Hankook is to step up its rally activities following the release of a planned five-round assault on the Intercontinental Rally Challenge this year.
The mini programme will serve as a precursor to of a full championship assault in 2010 after Hankook joined forces with MSD to run its Opel Corsa OPC Super 2000 from this month's Belgium Ypres Rally. It plans to take in the ensuing rounds in the Czech Republic, Spain, San Remo and Scotland with 33-year old Frenchman Alex Bengue at the wheel of the Corsa, which he has already tested on Hankook tyres.
Bengue will be backed by French oil company Yacco, a long-term supporter of his at national and WRC level in the past, and Hankook motorsports manager Mike Patterson believes that the opportunity to compete in such a high-profile championship with such a car/driver package will give the tyre brand huge exposure.
“We have been looking at the IRC for some time, and sampled the championship with Stuart Jones in Switzerland last year," he said, "Now is the perfect time to gain valuable experience on five rounds and plan a comprehensive campaign in 2010."
Patterson claims that the mix of events chosen for 2009 would give the team valuable experience on both asphalt and gravel surfaces, and ensure maximum opportunity for tyre development before the 2010 season gets underway. Further testing will be completed before the team heads to Belgium, while finishing the interim campaign in Scotland gives Hankook the opportunity to link up with leading competitors in this year's Scottish Rally Championship, which it backs.
“The Corsa is a stunning Super 2000 car, and Hankook has proven capabilities on both surfaces, so we will be looking to fine tune the development of the car and tyres during the remainder of 2009," he continued, Meanwhile, rallying in the Scottish Championship is proving a great success for Hankook this year, so it's great that we can finish the IRC season in Scotland.''
For MSD, the opportunity to work with Hankook will give the Opel Corsa valuable development work. The S2000 car was homologated by the FIA in March this year and Gareth MacHale won on its debut in the N4 class of the Mayo Stages Rally in Ireland. Recent development and testing has focused on working with the Hankook engineers to develop a new tarmac tyre which will be used by the team during the Ypres Rally.
“This is a fantastic opportunity for MSD to develop both the car and tyre package together with Hankook in the ultra-competitive IRC," MD David Whitehead confirmed, “Alex is an excellent driver whose experience will be vital in achieving our goals and we're all looking forward to the challenge we are about to face."
The Belgium Ypres Rally runs over 19-20 June, with crews competing over 285km of twisty lanes in 16 high-speed tests.