Belfast Telegraph

Skoda gear up for Circuit of Ireland

By Sammy Hamill

From the Czech Republic comes more good news for the Circuit of Ireland.

Confirmed as a round of next season’s Intercontinental Challenge, the Easter rally can expect to see the arrival of the factory team from Skoda, the reigning IRC champions.

They have announced they will again contest the series next year and although they have not said who the drivers will be it is thought Jan Kopecky will again spearhead their challenge.

Runner-up in the drivers’ championship for the past three years, Kopecky, a Czech, is Skoda’s “favoured son” and the man they would most want to take the IRC title.

He lost out to Peugeot’s Kris Meeke in 2009 and to his Skoda team-mate Juha Hanninen in 2010.

This year he missed the title by one point as another Skoda driver, Andreas Mikkelsen, became champion.

Mikkelsen, who drives for the satellite Skoda UK team, has already been confirmed for next season’s championship but the arrival of the full manufacturer team will be a significant boost for the Donnelly Group Circuit.

However, the driver situation is complicated by the fact that Skoda’s parent company, Volkswagen, are poised to enter the World championship in 2013 and have already been paving the way by using the Czech cars as a test bed for their VW Polo WRC.

VW have signed former Citroen driver Sebastien Ogier and have indicated he will compete on a number of World championships rounds in an S2000 Fabia as preparation for 2013.

And Hanninen, who dipped in an out of the IRC this year while winning the S2000 World championship for Skoda, remains an integral part of the Czech set-up.

Even the Finn admits he is not sure what plans they have for him, whether he will be asked to defend his SWRC title in view of Ogier’s involvement, or return to the IRC.

But whatever Skoda decide they will still come to Belfast with a strong line-up.

Belfast Telegraph

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