PROTON NINE SECONDS ADRIFT OF FINISHING IN THE TOP 10 AT THE GEKO YPRES RALLY IN BELGIUM
PROTON’S Giandomenico Basso and P-G Andersson made a cautious start at the Geko Ypres Rally in Belgium to finish the first six special stages 11th and 18th respectively after a day of drama which saw several top contenders in the Intercontinental Rally Challenge (IRC) being forced into early retirement.
Racing on asphalt, the rally covers a total distance of 287km with day 1 consisting of six special stages.
Beginning the day 15th fastest, Basso pushed the Satria Neo S2000 into the top 10 by the fourth and fifth special stages before losing nine seconds to drop to 11th in the opening day’s final 18.84km charge through the Belgian countryside.
With light rain and 12 degree celcius temperatures, the rally proved to be a very big challenge for competitors who were left struggling to find grip.
“The special stages are both really fast and tricky. We changed tyres in special stage 4 but unfortunately the choice became too soft now,” said Basso, a previous winner of the Geko Ypres Rally. “The most sensible decision therefore, was to push moderately and to ensure we stay in contention for the final day.”
A total of 121 cars started the rally with only 90 completing the first day of competition. Freddy Loix in a Skoda Fabia S2000 currently leads the Geko Ypres Rally ahead of Peugeot’s Guy Wilks in the 207 S2000. In third place is Bryan Bouffier driving in another Peugeot 207 S2000. The most alarming incident involved Skoda driver Jan Kopecky whose rally came to an end even before the start when a crash during shakedown the day before injured his co-driver Petr Stary. The rally also took its toll on local favourite Thiery Neuville who did not even reach the finish of the first special stage. Also a casualty was Skoda driver Andreas Mikkelsen who crashed in the first corner of the very first special stage.
Meanwhile, from 15th in special stage 2, team mate Andersson too was finding his first time out at the Geko Ypres Rally challenging. The Swedish driver lost 53 seconds in special stage 3 which dropped him to 19th position. He managed to fight his way back up to 17th over the next two special stages but again conceded 45 seconds in the final and longest special stage of the day.
“It’s good fun, but at times we encountered big slides,” said the double Junior World Rally Champion. “Overall, the car feels a lot better since the last round in the Ukraine.”
Finishing in the midfield and just outside of the top 10 front runners however, remains an achievement given the competition.
“Traction, the choice of tyres and excessive tyre wear is definitely a concern in these conditions. Considering this event is only PROTON’s second visit to Belgium, and given the limited amount of data we have in setting up the two cars, both drivers drove sensibly yet was able to remain competitive, to finish the first day without any dramas,” said Head of PROTON Motorsports Datuk Abdul Razak Dawood.
“The stages are a combination of fast straights and very twisty corners with ditches along the narrow asphalt roads. It is a rally that demands experience and good navigational skills, as well as tyre choice
“We hope PROTON will do well in finishing amongst the top 10 from a field of 31 Super 2000 cars.”
The second and final day of rallying tomorrow (Sunday) will be contested over 12 special stages.