Peugeot Belgium's Nicolas Vouilloz could clinch the 2008 Intercontinental Rally Challenge drivers' crown on the Rallye du Valais this coming weekend, the penultimate round in the series.

Vouilloz, who is one of three contenders still in with a chance of the title, currently has 60 points on the board, compared to the 42 points notched up by Giandomenico Basso and the 38 points scored by Luca Rossetti.

However his position is less comfortable than it may first appear, since only the best seven results of each driver will be taken into account in the final reckoning, and he will thus lose the benefit of some of the excellent finishes he has already secured. That said, the title will be his on Saturday, if he succeeds in winning the Rallye du Valais for the second year running - or if Basso retires.

"I have prepared for this event by contesting the Rallye d'Antibes in the south of France, which we won. We did that event to carry out some development work with the 207, and we found some promising settings for the Rallye du Valais," said Vouilloz. "The Valais is an event that I really enjoy: I won it last year and I actually have family ties with the region, because my great grandfather comes from Martigny!

"The championship situation is not as clear cut as it might appear on paper, so I need to make sure that I do a good job. Then afterwards we will see where we stand in the championship."

Basso and Rossetti meanwhile both concede that they are up against it and neither have done the all-tarmac event, which is based around the mountain town of Martigny, before.

"Realistically it's going to be difficult for us to win the championship, but I'm very pleased with the job that we have done during the last two to three rallies, to put ourselves back into contention for a title in which our chances seemed compromised by the middle of the season," Basso continued.

"It's actually the first time that I have ever driven the Rallye du Valais, but that doesn't change anything for me and neither does the fact that we're fighting for the title. We've fought for the title since the beginning of the year. However, it's true that we've got a certain momentum behind us now, so we're going to try and conserve that."

"Our chances of winning the title are slim to say the least, as Nicolas Vouilloz has the best chance, but we still have a good possibility of finishing in the top three of the championship at the end of the year, which would also be a good result for us," Rossetti chipped in.

"I've never driven the rally before but I completed the recce last year and I learned a few things from that. I think that the conditions will be very tricky, but on the whole difficult conditions like that tend to suit us. The biggest risk is black ice; if you get on that in the wrong place then anything can happen. But it's all good preparation for the Monte Carlo Rally as well!"

Vouilloz, Basso and Rossetti are not the only ones that could take the victory on Swiss soil however, and Freddy Loix, who has won twice this year, will also be aiming to add to his tally.

Abarth meanwhile come to the event with a squad that has been reinforced to three cars, with young Italian Umberto Scandola joining Basso and Anton Alen. This will be the first time that Alen has contested the Rallye du Valais, but Scandola was an impressive third last year - and he also led the last IRC round, in Sanremo.

Some other contenders could also make a dent in the established IRC order, with Bryan Bouffier returning to the IRC in his familiar Peugeot Poland 207 S2000, after finishing on the podium in the Czech Republic earlier in the season. One of Switzerland's top rally drivers, Olivier Burri, is also in an S2000 car this year - an Abarth Grande Punto.

Mitsubishi is represented by some excellent local drivers, such as Jean Radoux and Philippe Camandona, while French driver Philippe Greiffenberg makes a welcome IRC debut at the wheel of the Volkswagen Polo S2000.

The Rallye International du Valais gets underway at 14:00 on Thursday 23 October from the CERM - Martigny's exhibition centre, which also hosts the service park. The finish is scheduled for 16:45 on Saturday 25 October, after 17 special stages and 266.25 gruelling competitive kilometres [all times local].



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