After the snow and ice coated asphalt roads of Rallye Monte-Carlo in January, the Intercontinental Rally Challenge resumes in the Brazilian city of Curitiba next weekend where the conditions could not be more contrasting.

The slippery mountainous lanes and sub-zero temperatures experienced on the IRC season opener will be replaced by high-speed gravel roads and a near tropical climate for Rally Internacional de Curitiba, the second round of the 12-event IRC series.

Consisting of 15 stages covering 217 kilometres, the event is extremely compact compared to other rounds of the IRC. The total road distance is just short of 500 kilometres.

Friday's opening leg is identical to 2009 and is made up of seven stages run to the west of Curitiba with a single visit to the permanent service park at Autodromo Curitiba shortly after midday. The first stage, Campo Magro, is run three times during the day with the Ouro Fino and Curitiba tests repeated once.

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Saturday's final leg, run to the north east of Curitiba, will feature eight stages and is set to finish with a spectacular superspecial stage in the district of Pinhais close to the service park. The spectator stage is purpose built and will pitch two drivers running side by side against each other. The bulk of Saturday's stages will be used only once with the exception of Rio Pesqueiro and Quatro Barras, which will be run twice.

With the exception of defending IRC champions Kris Meeke and Paul Nagle, none of the other IRC regulars making the trip to Brazil have contested the event before. In theory, that should give the Peugeot UK crew, who won in Curitiba last season, the advantage, particularly as Nagle describes the event as being one of the hardest on the calendar to master. However, what time they might be able to gain on the opening day is likely to be cancelled out on day two if they end up running first on the road and having to cope with the loose surface gravel.

"I've obviously been here before and I'll be looking to capitalise on that but I'm up against some seriously quick guys who can learn the stages just as fast as I did," Meeke said. "It was difficult to replicate the hot temperatures we'll get in Brazil during our test in France because it snowed but I'm happy with the shape we've got the car in. However, I know Skoda has not been standing still so the competition is going to be really tough."

Meeke was joined for the French test by Peugeot Portugal's Bruno Magalhaes. Like Meeke, Magalhaes will use a Peugeot 207 S2000 in Brazil and, also like Meeke, his pre-event test was disrupted by snow.

Daniel Oliveira completes the ranks of Peugeot runners in his Stohl Racing 207 following his IRC debut in Monte Carlo. Despite hailing from Brazil, Oliveira, who took part on his first rally last season, has never rallied in his homeland before but will be able to count on his new co-driver, the vastly experienced Denis Giraudet, for support.

Mikko Hirvonen tops the IRC standings following his victory in Monte Carlo, which also marked a maiden triumph for M-Sport's Ford Fiesta S2000. Because the Finn will spend the rest of the season contesting the World Rally Championship and will not compete in Curitiba, his title lead will be short-lived with Skoda Motorsport's Juho Hanninen in pole position to capitalise in Brazil.

Hanninen is second in the IRC standings after finishing runner-up to Hirvonen on the IRC opener. His knowledge of the Curitiba stages has been garnered from watching on-board camera footage from last year's event and a DVD supplied by the event organisers. He has likened the high-speed undulating roads and numerous crests to the stages in his native Finland and believes it won't take him long to get up to speed.

His team-mate Jan Kopecky, second to Meeke in last year,s IRC standings, prepared for Brazil with a three-day test in Sardinia following a holiday to Mexico, which the Czech used to acclimatise to the high ambient temperatures that will be a feature of the rally. Hanninen also carried out his own three-day test, which Kopecky described as being very successful.

"My last rally on gravel was in Russia last July and after making two mistakes in Monte Carlo I need to get some points," the Czech driver said. "For sure I would like to fight for first position but I can,t afford to make any more mistakes. From looking at the video of the stages they look really fast and I prefer the faster stages. We had a good test and did some good work with the suspension so I am confident."

Guy Wilks, who won his last gravel rally in a Skoda, will drive a third Fabia S2000 in Brazil. The Skoda UK driver travelled to Sardinia for a pre-event test but reported the low ambient temperatures he encountered will mean he will use the shakedown to fine-tune his car's set-up.

"I was very pleased with the test," he said. "We started off with a basic gravel set-up and made some changes to suit my driving style. The Skoda Fabia is very good on the quick stuff, so I think we'll be able to compete in Brazil."

Of the other leading Brazilians on the 48-car entry, Rafael Tulio was the first local driver home last season, finishing ninth overall and claiming IRC 2WD Cup honours in the process. He has switched from his Peugeot 206 to a 207, albeit still only with two-wheel drive and a 1600cc engine.

Eduardo Scheer has also changed cars and will drive a Mitsubishi Lancer after claiming the Brazilian A6 class title in 2009 at the wheel of a Renault Clio. Oswaldo Scheer, the reigning Brazilian champion and Paulo Nobre will also line up in Lancers and will both be in contention for the top six. Nobre's last event was the snow-based Rally Sweden in early February but he triumphed on his last two starts in Brazil.