Hermann Gassner Jr Rally Spain 2011 © GEPA Pictures/McKlein

Hermann Gassner Jr. and his German co-driver Klaus Wicha are about to compete in the opening event of their 2012 rally season. And both are hoping for an Azores High ahead of the first round of the IRC, especially in regard to competitive success.

The German rally champion of 2009 will break completely new ground with his Red Bull Skoda Fabia S2000 on the picturesque Portuguese island in the Atlantic.

Fourteen demanding gravel stages await the more than 40 teams who have entered, with no fewer than nine S2000 cars taking the start.

The top favourites are old acquaintances of Hermann Jr: SWRC champion Juho Hänninen, last year's team-mate in the Red Bull Skoda Rally Team, as well as the IRC's defending champion Andreas Mikkelsen.

Besides these two Skoda drivers, the two Peugeot drivers Bryan Bouffier and also Bruno Magalhães are to be taken into consideration as well.

As reported Gassner junior, together with co-driver Klaus Wicha, will contest eight IRC events this season and also compete in the German round of the WRC.

The first IRC special stage of the year – even though untimed – will get under way on Wednesday evening in Ponta Delgada.  

null© GEPA Pictures/McKlein

The Sata Rally Acores will be decided over 14 special stages of 198.4 km from Thursday to Saturday. The peculiarities of this Atlantic rally: Fast and flowing special stages that moreover are regarded as very demanding from a driver's point of view. A variable uncertainty factor is the constantly changing weather in the Azores.

At any rate Gassner Jr. is ready for the season opener: "The past few weeks I primarily spent at the Red Bull diagnostics & training centre in Thalgau," he said. "The improvements in the physical area are clearly perceptible, and I'm feeling as fit as never before. Of course I also prepared especially for this rally. I've been watching on-board videos of past years to know roughly what's in store for me. It looks as if things could get pretty slippery.

"Unfortunately our scheduled test in Austria had to be cancelled because of snowfall, and hence we're going to catch up on this test directly in the Azores on the Monday prior to the rally. There I also can get used to the Red Bull Skoda Fabia S2000 again. After all my last rally was almost three months ago already. I'm really looking forward to finally sitting in the car again!

'I'm really looking forward to finally sitting in the car again!'

"My expectations for the IRC opener are difficult to define, especially since it's hard for me to assess the competitors. Some of them already have experience with the Azores. In any case I'm going to orientate myself towards my team-mate from last year, Juho Hänninen. Thanks to him we have comparative values from last year. I think that if we get by without trouble, a good result should be possible."

BRR team principal Raimund Baumschlager added: "We in the team are also looking forward to the season finally getting under way – and for us this year and especially this rally in the Azores will be a completely new experience as well. But I'm sure that, thanks to our professional team and with the top equipment that's available to us, we'll be able to master this challenge appropriately as well."

The 2012 IRC calendar
Feb 23–25: Sata Rally Acores / Portugal - gravel
March 15–17: Rally Islas Canarias El Corte Ingles / Spain - tarmac
May 11–12: Tour de Corse / France - tarmac
June 2–3: Canon Mecsek Rallye / Hungary - tarmac
June 21–23: GEKO Ypres Rally / Belgium - tarmac
Aug 31–Sept 2: Barum Czech Rally Zlin / Czech Rep. - tarmac
Oct 12–13: Rallye Sanremo / Italy - tarmac
Nov 2 –3: Cyprus Rally / Cyprus - gravel/tarmac

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