Not only has the Belgian veteran won seven rounds of the IRC in the past, he is also a seven-time winner in Ypres, an event record. Co-driven by Lara Vanneste and back in a Peugeot 207 Super 2000 following two seasons spent competing in a SKODA Fabia S2000, Loix is set to fight for top spot on the narrow farmland stages he knows so well.
"I am missing the battle with the good drivers although on the other side the fight with Bryan Bouffier in the French championship is very interesting," Loix said. "He is in the same car as me and knows the Peugeot very well so we have some good battles.”
"Everybody is calling me the favourite but the level is very strong in the IRC and this is currently the only rally I am doing in the IRC this year. For sure my experience of the rally is helping me but it will be a big challenge against the SKODAs."
Hanninen, meanwhile, starts his first IRC counter since winning the Donnelly Group Circuit of Ireland Rally in April for SKODA Motorsport. However, the Finn’s focus will be on extending his lead in the European championship, which runs in tandem with the IRC. Defending champion Mikkelsen (SKODA UK Motorsport) will be out for revenge after crashing in Ypres last season.
Former IRC Production Cup frontrunner Florian Gonon joins rising star Mathieu Arzeno in the Sainteloc Racing Peugeot team, his first appearance in the IRC in an S2000 car. European championship regular Michał Sołowow will also rely on Peugeot power for his first start in this year’s IRC.
Other names expected to fight at the front include Ypres regular Pieter Tsjoen and Sweden’s Patrik Flodin, who begins his IRC campaign in a Petter Solberg Engineering M-Sport Ford Fiesta S2000 after a broken collarbone ruled him out in Corsica last month. Dream Team Ukraine duo Oleksandr Saliuk and Oleksiy Tamrazov will also compete in Fiestas.
SKODA Auto Deutschland’s impressive youngster Sepp Wiegand will continue to build his experience of IRC competition in Ypres, while Skydive Dubai’s Rashid Al-Ketbi and Eurosol Racing’s Janós Puskádi will be hoping to gain more knowledge of their Fabias. Robert Barrable, who enjoys support from SKODA Ireland, shone on his Ypres debut last season and will be hoping to impress once again.
The Geko Ypres Rally runs in northwest Belgium from 21-23 June.