The Intercontinental Rally Challenge has been boosted by speculation that WRC stars Sebastien Ogier and Mikko Hirvonen will return to the series in the next two events.
Ogier has been tipped to drive a Peugeot 207 S2000 on Rally d'Italia-Sardegna and on the Ypres Rally, while Ford's Hirvonen has been linked to a Fiesta S2000 run in the Belgian event.
Ogier and Hirvonen, both of whom compete in the World Rally Championship for Citroen and Ford, respectively, starred on the opening round of this year's IRC – the Monte Carlo Rally. Hirvonen won the event, while Ogier set fastest times but retired with mechanical problems. Both said at the time they would like to return to IRC later in the year.
Next month's Ypres Rally is rapidly building into one of the most competitive rounds of the series to date, with Proton committing its two-car team to the Belgian event. The British-based team, which runs Alister McRae and Chris Atkinson, had been expected to start its campaign in Sardinia, but will focus on asphalt development of the car instead.
"It's no secret that we had looked at starting our IRC program in Sardinia," said team boss Chris Mellors, "but we've decided to go for Ypres instead. If we had gone to Sardinia with the car, it would have seriously restricted the amount of asphalt testing we'd have been able to do with the car before Belgium.
"Having seen the way we've been able to develop the car on the gravel with the extra loose-surface testing over the winter, we felt it made more sense to focus on preparing the cars and drivers for Ypres, which is undoubtedly one of the classic European events."