IRC SATA Azores Rally set to kick-start 2012 Intercontinental Rally Challenge
47th SATA Rallye Açores (SATA Azores Rally), February 23rd-25th, 2012
FIA Intercontinental Rally Challenge (IRC), round 1
For immediate release
Monday, February 20th, 2012
TOP RALLY DRIVERS ARRIVE IN PONTA DELGADA TO
PREPARE FOR THIS WEEKEND’S SATA AZORES RALLY
· Dubai’s Rashid Al-Ketbi relishes first ever island rally challenge
· International drivers from 10 nations arrive in the Azores
PONTA DELGADA (Azores): The tranquil and picturesque island of Saõ Miguel in the Azores plays host to the opening round of the 2012 Intercontinental Rally Challenge (IRC) this weekend.
Seventy-eight competitors in 39 cars will tackle the three-day gravel special stage SATA Rallye Açores (SATA Azores Rally) across the length and breadth of the largest island in the remote volcanic archipelago, situated over 1500km off the Portuguese coast at the same latitude as the Algarve.
The 47th running of the island’s rallying bonanza - that continues to grow in stature every year - has attracted drivers from as far afield as the United Arab Emirates, Ukraine, Finland, Norway, Germany, Hungary, Italy, England, Portugal and France.
Rallying along demanding gravel tracks that dissect lush green, mountain pasture is a far cry from the barren deserts of the Middle East for Dubai’s Rashid Al-Ketbi, who teams up with Khaled Al-Kendi to drive a Skoda Fabia S2000 entered by the Skydive Dubai Rally Team.
“Taking part in the IRC is an exciting new challenge for me,” said Al-Ketbi, the winner of last year’s MERC rally in Jordan and one of the fastest Arab rally drivers on the planet. “It is exciting to be here rallying for the first time and, yes, so very different to the deserts we are used to. The target has to be to finish and score as many points as possible.”
The Azores are better known for their buoyant summer tourism, their very own tea plantation, the second oldest daily newspaper in Europe, whale watching, stunning scenery and one of the most diverse weather systems on earth. But Azoreans have the sport of rallying pumping through their blood as well.
Each of the nine volcanic islands that stretch across the middle of the mighty North Atlantic Ocean - almost as close to the shores of North America’s coast to the west as they are adrift of the Iberian Peninsula to the east - boast numerous rally drivers and Azoreans regularly compete against each other in off-road automotive competition.
“Rallying is in Azorean blood,” enthuses Francisco Rosa Coelho, chairman of the organising committee. “Over the years we have welcomed many of the world’s leading rally drivers to the islands. This year we are delighted to see the return of IRC champion Andreas Mikkelsen and last year’s winner Juho Hanninen. In the past the likes of Sandro Munari and Alister McRae have competed on our stages and our list of former winners includes Markko Martin, Bruno Thiry, Juha Kankkunen, Kris Meeke and Yves Loubet.”
Host airline SATA International continues its multi-year association as main sponsor for the rally that will take place over six gravel stages, each repeated twice, and a pair of runs through a short super special stage.
This short stage will run a mere four kilometres away from the rally headquarters and service park, situated on the marina at Portas do Mar in Ponta Delgada which, on Monday morning, greeted the giant cruise ship Disney Fantasy, making its maiden voyage across the Atlantic to a ceremonial welcome in New York in early March.
All rally equipment and crews have now arrived in the administrative capital of the Azores and teams are finalising preparations for the hectic weekend’s timetable. This begins with documentation, team briefings and scrutineering on Wednesday (February 22nd).
Neil Perkins, NDP Publicity Services, Press Officer, 2012 SATA Rallye Açores, UK mobile: + 44 7831 123153, E-mail: NDPPublicity@googlemail.com
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