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.
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.