Bengue at the wheel of an Opel Corsa at Ypres
Tyre manufacturer Hankook is stepping up its rally activities with plans to contest five rounds of the Intercontinental Rally Challenge this year, ahead of a full championship assault in 2010.
Hankook has joined forces
with MSD to run an Opel Corsa OPC Super 2000 on five rounds of the IRC starting with the Belgium Ypres Rally this month before tackling rounds in the Czech Republic, Spain, San Remo and Scotland.
Driving the Opel Corsa will be 33-year-old French sensation Alex Bengue, who has already tested the car fitted with the South Korean tyre manufacturer's tyres.
Bengue will also be supported this year by French oil company YACCO which has been a long term supporter of Bengue in France and at the WRC level.
Hankook Motorsports Manager Mike Patterson said the opportunity to compete in such a high profile and forward thinking championship with such a great car/driver package would give the tyre brand huge exposure.
"We have been looking at the IRC for some time and sampled the championship with Stuart Jones in Switzerland last year," said Patterson. "Now is the perfect time to gain valuable experience on five rounds and plan a comprehensive campaign in 2010."
Patterson added that the mix of events chosen for the 2009 programme would give the team valuable experience on both asphalt and gravel surfaces, and ensure maximum opportunity for tyre development before the 2010 season gets underway.
"The Corsa is a stunning Super 2000 car and Hankook has proven capabilities on both surfaces so we will be looking to fine tune the development of the car and tyres during the remainder of 2009," he explained.
Further testing will be completed before the team heads to Belgium. For MSD, working with the Hankook team will give the Opel Corsa valuable development work.
"This is a fantastic opportunity for MSD to develop both the car and tyre package together with Hankook in the ultra competitive IRC," declared David Whitehead, MSD's Managing Director.
"Alex is an excellent driver whose experience will be vital in achieving our goals," he added. "We're all looking forward to the challenge we are about to face."
The Opel Corsa OPC S2000 was homologated by the FIA in March this year and won its debut rally in the N4 class on the Mayo Stages Rally in Ireland, driven by Gareth MacHale.
Recent development and testing of the Corsa has focused on working with the Hankook engineers to develop a new tarmac tyre which will be used by the team during the IRC round in Ypres.
The Belgium Ypres Rally is based in Westhoek and runs from Friday June 19 until Saturday June 20, with crews competing over 285km of twisty farming lanes in 16 high-speed tests.