The glittering Rallye Sanremo takes place this weekend, one of the most historic and prestigious events on the rally calendar – and the Intercontinental Rally Challenge's penultimate round of the 2009 season.
For the IRC contenders there is the drivers' title battle at fever pitch in both the overall series standings and the 2WD Cup, a dramatic chase for second and third places overall and the unique challenges of an event dating back to 1928.
The Rallye Sanremo sees Britain's Kris Meeke holding the championship lead by just one point after nine riveting events. The Peugeot UK ace has fended off a mighty challenge from Skoda Motorsport star Jan Kopecky, who has won the last two events in Asturias and at home in the Czech Republic to take the title fight down to the last two events. For either man the title could be won or lost on the asphalt stages of Sanremo in the hills of Ponente Ligure.
Based on the coastline of the Italian Riviera, not far from the Principality of Monte Carlo, the Rallye Sanremo makes a mouthwatering backdrop for this great sporting occasion. The narrow, winding roads are punishing and test drivers to their limits, demanding that the cars dance between walls and guardrails amid the spectacular mountain scenery.
As ever the event has drawn a huge number of entries in every class, with a total of 52 cars from Abarth, Honda, Peugeot, Proton, Ralliart and Skoda contesting the overall IRC honours - a total of 24 Super 2000 machines among them. Backing up the asphalt specialist Kopecky, the works Skoda team will field the second car of Finnish gravel ace Juho Hanninen to support him, with Skoda Italia entering Piero Longhi and Frenchman Julien Maurin entering his own Fabia S2000.
The Abarth team grows from its usual two-car squad to field three Grande Punto S2000s for ex-WRC event winner Francois Duval together with Sanremo experts Luca Rossetti and Umberto Scandola. Ralliart sees regular contender Franz Wittmann of Austria at the wheel of his Evo IX competing alongside local aces Simone Campadelli and Fabio Gianfico.
Proton meanwhile relies on the single entry of British front-runner Guy Wilks as the development of this all-new car, the Satria Neo S2000, continues apace. With the team's experience of the car growing on every kilometre, expectations are high for more points to come their way after a sensational performance in Russia and competitive stage times throughout the season.
By far the most numerous car in the field, the Peugeot 207 S2000 armada will be lead by championship leader Meeke and the Benelux Peugeot entries of defending champion Nicolas Vouilloz and Belgian ace Freddy Loix. These two men are locked in a battle for third place in the overall points rankings after a season of enormous highs and disappointing lows, and both men are keen to take the initiative in Sanremo with just two rallies remaining.
Against them will be the cream of Italian rallying talent, all favouring similar machinery and led by Luca Cantamesa, who has been awarded the BF Goodrich Drivers Team entry from a field of exceptional Italian talent. The Kronos-prepared 'guest' car has already taken victory on the opening round of this year's IRC, the Monte Carlo Rally, in the hands of WRC star Sebastien Ogier, and Cantamesa will be eager to equal the feat on this prestigious event.