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Alen hopes for Italy gravel boost

Anton AlenAbarth driver Anton Alen is hoping that a strong performance on the all-gravel Costa Smeralda Rally this weekend, part of the Italian Rally Championship, will boost his chances on the Intercontinental Rally Challenge's finale in Scotland at the end of the year.

Alen is Abarth's gravel specialist in the IRC, so while his team-mates take part in the IRC's Principe de Asturias Rally on asphalt, the Finn is competing in Italy to help get the Grande Punto S2000 up to speed on loose surfaces.

The Costa Smeralda Rally is based in Porto Cervo on the island of Sardinia, and uses many of the same stages as the World Rally Championship event that took place on the island in May.

"This event will be useful practice for Scotland, although I imagine that the weather in Scotland will be a little bit different!" said Alen. "Of course I want to do some more asphalt rallies but the team has decided that I have more experience on gravel so this is what we are concentrating on here.

"On the last IRC gravel event, in Russia, we were quick so hopefully we can do the same in Scotland. There are some small developments on the car for us to try that might help."

While the stages in Sardinia are characterised by soft and sandy gravel, there are some rougher sections that could be similar to the Scottish Rally.

"It surprised me a bit that some of the stages were still in quite bad condition after the World Championship rally, so I think they could become quite rough - especially during the repeated passages," said the 26-year-old Finn.

"Other sections are faster and more flowing, so there is a good mix of stages. The idea behind me doing this rally is to get more experience, but I will definitely be pushing from the start as well. I want to get a good result here to show what we can do."

Alen has competed on the Costa Smeralda Rally previously, at the wheel of a Group N Subaru Impreza, and he is hoping to put that experience to good effect.

Nonetheless, he will be up against Italian Championship regulars who have a comprehensive knowledge of the terrain. The leading drivers in Sardinia include former European champion Renato Travaglia and Italian specialists such as Paolo Andreucci and Andrea Navarra. Another strong contender will be Piero Longhi, at the wheel of Skoda Italia's Fabia Super 2000.

Anton Alen's famous father, Markku, won the Costa Smeralda Rally in 1981 at the wheel of a Fiat 131 Abarth and then again in 1988 with a Lancia Delta Integrale. Other former winners of the Sardinian event include Attilio Bettega, Henri Toivonen, Juha Kankkunen and Didier Auriol.

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