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The all-action Intercontinental Rally Challenge is back on gravel next week when Rally San Marino joins the series for the first time.
Based in the Republic of San Marino albeit with all but one stage in neighbouring Italy, the event marks the halfway point of the season and a crucial stage in the title race with six points separating the top two drivers.
Rally San Marino is the first of two loose-surface rounds in succession, with Sibiu Rally Romania running two weeks later. It’s also the second IRC round in a row to take place in two different countries following the Geko Ypres Rally, which included stages in Belgium and France.
This year’s Rally San Marino is the 40th running of the event. To mark the occasion, organisers have altered the route considerably by including stages not used for a number of years. They are also planning various activities to celebrate the milestone including the commissioning of a commemorative watch and book and the hosting of a post-event party for former winners.
The competitive action consists of five repeated all-gravel stages, plus a single-use Tarmac stage through the streets of San Marino City. Day one features two runs over the 19.33-kilometre Sestino stage and two passes over the 24.15-kilometre Mercatello test with regular service halts in San Marino, plus the day-closing 6.43-kilomete San Marino street stage, which gets underway at 21:32hrs local time.
Saturday’s route includes the 6.82-kilometre Monte Benedetto stage and the 15.85-kilometre Rofelle stage, both run three times, plus the Sant’Agata Feltria test, which measures 14.45 kilometres in length and runs twice. The finish is set for 20:00hrs on Saturday in San Marino.
All drivers competing on Rally San Marino will be in contention for the prestigious Colin McRae IRC Flat Out Trophy, which is awarded to the driver whose performance best embodies the spirit of the rallying legend.
Rally San Marino is considered to be a straightforward gravel event with the stages consisting of a smooth surface, formed of soft stones, but with a hard base. Road cleaning, normally such a factor on gravel rallies is less prevalent with the surface changing minimally from one run to the next, which means consistency is rewarded.
The gravel stages, held in the picturesque countryside, are generally high speed and fairly wide in nature with some undulation. Specialist knowledge is not so crucial as it is on other IRC rounds with the stages relatively easy to master with an effective set of pacenotes. 

*The constitution of San Marino was enacted in 1600 and is the oldest constitution still in effect.
*San Marino’s sporting stars are not universally known although motorbike riders Alex De Angelis and Manuel Poggiali, footballer Davide Gualtieri – whose goal against England after 8.3s in a World Cup qualifying match in 1993 is still a record – and rallying brothers Mirco and Loris Baldacci have bucked that trend.
*Despite its size San Marino has a rich motorsport history, giving its name to a Formula One grand prix, which took place 100 kilometres into neighbouring Italy at the Imola circuit from 1981 until 2006.
*A local delicacy worthy of sampling in San Marino is Torta Tre Monti, a wafer layered cake covered in chocolate.
*Piero Longhi is one of the most successful drivers in Rally San Marino history, winning from 2005-2008 in a Subaru Impreza.
Andreas Mikkelsen will be out for revenge when the Intercontinental Rally Challenge resumes on Rally San Marino next week. Although the defending IRC champion holds a six-point advantage heading to the gravel event, he will arrive in the republic on the back of his first non-score in the series since the Canon Mecsek Rally last September.
Mikkelsen, who crashed out of the recent Geko Ypres Rally, won in San Marino last season during his stint in the Italian Gravel Trophy. However, with the route for this year’s rally significantly altered, the ŠKODA UK Motorsport driver won’t necessarily have an advantage.
Giandomenico Basso is the man most likely to push Mikkelsen for top honours in the same M-Sport Ford Fiesta RRC he took to a podium finish on Targa Florio-Rally Internazionale Di Sicilia. The Italian has previous San Marino knowledge to call on and is fast on gravel as he is on asphalt.
Sepp Wiegand returns to action after missing the recent trip to Ypres through illness. The ŠKODA Auto Deutschland youngster has impressed during his maiden IRC campaign, scoring points on his five appearances so far.
Rapid Swede Patrik Flodin will form part of the two-strong Petter Solberg Engineering line-up in San Marino and will joined by Finn Kristian Sohlberg in a second M-Sport Ford Fiesta S2000. It will be Sohlberg’s first IRC appearance and his first on an international rally for several years.
Frenchman Germain Bonnefis will make his IRC debut in San Marino after being handed a dream opportunity by Peugeot Sport. Bonnefis is competing in the French Gravel championship in a 207 Super 2000 as his prize for winning Peugeot’s Volant 207 one-make series last season. His entry in San Marino is a bonus following several strong performances in his homeland.
Other contenders include Skydive Dubai Rally Team’s Rashid Al-Ketbi and Janós Puskádi, who will be back behind the wheel of his Eurosol Racing ŠKODA Fabia having spent the Ypes Rally running it for fellow Hungarian László Vizin.

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