ERC crews ready and waiting for season finale in Switzerland

After 11 all-action rounds, the 2013 FIA European Rally Championship is set for a thrilling climax in the mountains of southwest Switzerland this weekend when Rallye International du Valais brings the curtain down on a dramatic season.

The mainly asphalt-based event is a regular feature on the ERC calendar and takes place between the towns of Sion and Martigny in the canton of Valais close to Lake Geneva. Running for the 54th time in 2013, Rallye International du Valais is ranked as the biggest event in Swiss motorsport and also hosts the closing round of the country’s national rally championship in conjunction with the headlining ERC.

While Jan Kopecký has already clinched the coveted ERC drivers’ title for ŠKODA Motorsport, the prestigious runner-up spot remains up for grabs with Craig Breen bidding to overhaul Bryan Bouffier in the final standings. The event will also provide an opportunity for several young stars to stake claims for ERC campaigns in 2014 with the new season due to begin on the Internationale Jännerrallye in Austria from 3-5 January, subject to FIA World Motor Sport Council ratification.

Craig Breen will make his Rallye International du Valais debut knowing that victory would be enough for second place in the final championship table. The Peugeot Rally Academy talent currently trails Bryan Bouffier by 26 points but with Bouffier unable to secure the financial backing required to compete in Switzerland, Irishman Breen has a gilt-edged opportunity to move ahead. If Breen and Belgian co-driver Lara Vanneste did win then it would be their first outright triumph in the ERC. Jérémi Ancian, from France, will compete in a second Peugeot Rally Academy 207 S2000 and will be looking to make an impact having endured a frustrating run of results.

He’s won Rallye International du Valais a record eight times and now he’s back for more having skipped the event in 2012. Oliver Burri, who scored his maiden Valais win in 1993, will be competing in a Ford Fiesta S2000 for the first time. Although he’s better known for his exploits in production-based Mitsubishi Lancers and Subaru Imprezas, Burri spent the 2009 season in an Abarth Grande Punto S2000. And the 50-year-old won’t be the only member of the Burri family competing: son Michaël, a regular in the Junior WRC, will also be in action with the 25-year-old driving a Ford Fiesta R2.

Two notable champions will be competing on the 18-stage event: ERC Production Car Cup champion Andreas Aigner will be at the wheel of his familiar Subaru Impreza R4 STI, while Grégoire Hotz starts the rally he won in 2009 having secured his seventh Swiss title in a Peugeot 207 Super 2000 this season. Aigner will use the event to test the new-pattern Yokohama tyres, which were used in competition for the first time on last month’s Rallye Sanremo.

With Czech Republic aces Jan Kopecký and co-driver Pavel Dresler having completed their ERC schedule for 2013, Finns Esapekka Lappi and Janne Ferm will bid to bag ŠKODA’s first win in Valais. Lappi was second on his most recent ERC appearance in Sanremo last month and will travel to Switzerland directly from China where he’s currently contesting the Asia-Pacific championship finale, the China Rally Longyou.

Having missed the last two ERC rounds through injury, Jaroslav Orsák is back in action only this time he’ll be competing in a second GPD Mit Metal Racing Team ŠKODA Fabia Super 2000 alongside team-mate and fellow Czech Antonín Tlusťák. Orsák has been a frontrunner in the ERC Production Car Cup this season and has experience of the Fabia S2000 from the 2010 Rallye Monte-Carlo. GPD Mit Metal Racing Team is the winner of the FIA European Rally Championship for Teams for 2013.

Robert Consani will be hoping to sign off from his 2013 ERC Production Car Cup campaign in style with a strong result in his Team Renault Sport Technologies’ Mégane R.S. N4. The talented Frenchman has often been out of luck this season but has the pace to shine. However, he will have to outgun several rivals to secure category spoils including Andreas Aigner and Lugano Racing Team Subaru drivers Urs Hunziker and Florian Gonon, a former Swiss champion.

ERC 2WD Championship ace Stéphane Lefebvre will be braced for a tough battle with several rising Swiss stars. In addition to Michaël Burri, Lefebvre, who competes in a Peugeot Rally Academy 208 R2, will face opposition from Renault Twingo drivers Kim Daldini and Mathias Kaufmann. Daldini currently tops the Swiss Junior and Twingo R1 Trophy standings with a 252-point lead over Kaufmann. However, with 280 points still on offer, the titles are undecided. Last year’s winner, Laurent Reuche, will also be a favourite for ERC 2WD glory in his Renault Clio R3.

Ekaterina Stratieva will complete her FIA ERC Ladies’ Trophy bid on Rallye International du Valais after ERC fans responded to her appeal on Facebook for additional funds to compete in Switzerland. The Bulgarian driver didn’t have enough sponsorship to take part so launched a campaign to encourage fans to contribute to an online bank account. She will now compete in her regular Citroën C2R2 as she looks to cement her second place in the final ERC Ladies’ Trophy standings behind Molly Taylor.

While it’s billed as a Tarmac event, Rallye International du Valais features sections on gravel on all three days, including 35.48 kilometres on Saturday’s closing leg, the longest at 146.3 kilometres. The stages vary in layout from narrow and twisty to wide and flowing. Weather can also be a factor with the ambient temperature forecast to drop to as low as four degrees centigrade during the rally. Ice and snow have been an issue in the past, particularly with one stage, the first Crans-Montana test, taking place 1800 metres above sea level.

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