Czech IRC joy for Loix in dramatic climax
Belgian maintains remarkable sequence of victories
Freddy Loix has become the most successful driver in the history of the Intercontinental Rally Challenge by taking a record-breaking sixth win and his third in as many starts this season after a dramatic climax to Barum Czech Rally Zlin today (Sunday) when the lead changed hands three times on the final four stages.
Juho Hanninen claimed second to maintain his title advantage while third place for local hero Pavel Valousek not only ensured a Skoda Fabia one-two-three but also enabled the Czech firm to clinch the 2010 IRC manufacturers’ crown for the first time with three rounds remaining.
Overnight leader Jan Kopecky had looked set to triumph on the demanding all-asphalt rally for a second year in a row but spun into retirement with three stages left to run when he was 26 seconds out in front.
Kopecky, who was on a charge in his efforts to make up lost time following a spin earlier on stage 14, broke too late for a left hander and slid off the road. Although his Fabia was largely undamaged it was beached on a large branch. Unable to regain the stage, Kopecky and co-driver Petr Stary were forced to retire having led the rally from the very first stage through the streets of host city Zlin on Friday evening.
"There was some vibration after the first spin and I was a little afraid I had a puncture," said the 28-year-old Czech driver. "My thinking was too much for this and I went off. I’m very disappointed and sorry for Skoda because the car was absolutely perfect and also to the crowd who gave me so much support all weekend."
His misfortune promoted Bryan Bouffier, at the wheel of a Peugeot 207, into first place. But Bouffier’s challenge came unstuck when he damaged his rear suspension sliding wide on the penultimate stage. Although he managed to soldier through the run, his delay dropped him to second, 3.8s behind Loix heading into the final test.
Any hopes Bouffier had of regaining top spot were dashed when a broken pipe, the legacy of an earlier compression, dumped water over his Peugeot’s front tyres and caused him to go off into a ditch five kilometres from the start of the stage.
Loix and co-driver Frederic Miclotte had settled for second place when Bouffier pulled clear on stage 15. A cautious run through the mud-strewn penultimate stage ensured they moved in front when Bouffier hit trouble and the Belgians kept their composure to claim what had been an unlikely victory leaving midday service.
Rain and cool temperatures were a factor throughout the event in southeast Czech Republic. Not only did the unseasonable conditions add to the challenge facing the competitors by making the inconsistent stage surface more slippery than usual, they also made tyre choice a lottery as crews gambled over compound choices to suit the changeable weather.
Juho Hanninen was one of a number of drivers to fall foul of the conditions when he slid off backwards into a tree at high speed on stage four. Although the moment dropped him out of contention, an error-free performance thereafter helped the Finn to land his eighth podium finish of 2010.
Pavel Valousek trailed IRC champion Kris Meeke by 18.4s with one stage left to run but moved ahead of the Northern Irishman when Meeke’s Peugeot UK 207 suffered a broken front differential two kilometres into the stage. Meeke started Sunday’s final eight stages confident he could fight for second place but a series of incorrect tyre choices wrecked his chances. A sticking throttle on stage 14 caused more anguish before the differential fault dropped him to fourth behind Valousek.
Valousek, who lives close to Zlin, made the most of his local knowledge and some inspired tyre choices to beat his previous best finish of fourth place in his semi-works Fabia. The pick of these was when he opted for dry weather hard-compound tyres for Sunday’s opening loop of stages when most of his rivals believed it would rain.
Andreas Mikkelsen took a solid fifth in his M-Sport Ford Fiesta S2000 with Vaclav Pech rounding out the top six in his Ralliart Mitsubishi Lancer. Pech had been in a close fight with Czech championship rival Valousek only for an off to drop him back and leave his car with a punctured front-right tyre and damaged suspension.
Guy Wilks marked his return from injury with seventh place in his Skoda UK Motorsport Fabia although his true pace was masked by a rear differential fault, which his mechanics were unable to cure due to a component supply issue. The glitch hindered braking stability and traction on the, at times, treacherous stage surfaces. Jaromir Tarabus secured the final IRC drivers’ point in his M-Sport Ford Fiesta S2000.
Kevin Abbring took his second IRC 2WD Cup win of the season in his Clio R3 with rising Czech driver Lobomir Minarik second in a similar machine. Abbring, from the Netherlands, moves joint top of the drivers’ standings with Rafael Tulio, who wasn’t competing in Zlin.
There was some consolation for Jan Kopecky, however, when he was handed the Colin McRae IRC Flat Out Trophy for his efforts. Colin’s father Jim McRae, who was in Zlin, was part of the three-person judging team. He said that Kopecky’s spectacular performance had best embodied the spirit of the rallying legend, who lost his life in a helicopter accident in 2007.
Freddy Loix (Belgium), Skoda Fabia S2000, first overall: "It’s my second victory in Zlin but definitely my hardest and definitely my most exciting. The conditions were extremely difficult and it was a big fight with Bryan at the end. I always had a good feeling with my car but I was missing something in my driving. It was a question to be as quick as possible without making any mistakes."
Juho Hanninen (Finland), Skoda Fabia S2000, second overall: "My goal was to be first or second to improve my points. I was second so I am happy but it was very interesting because the weather kept changing on almost every stage. It started well on my side and I had the speed but then I had my big moment although I was lucky not to retire."
Pavel Valousek (Czech Republic), Skoda Fabia S2000, third overall: "This is my best position on this rally and I’m really glad we’ve achieved it. Today we chose the right tyres and this was very important. I would like to thank my team for all their help."
|01||Loix Freddy / Miclotte Fréderic||Škoda Fabia S2000||2h31m31.0s|
|02||Hänninen Juho / Markkula Mikko||Škoda Fabia S2000||+25.0s|
|03||Valoušek Pavel / Hrůza Zdeněk||Škoda Fabia S2000||+1m20.2s|
|04||Meeke Kris / Nagle Paul||Peugeot 207 S2000||+1m57.6s|
|05||Mikkelsen Andreas / Floene Ola||Ford Fiesta S2000||+2m33.9s|
|06||Pech Václav / Uhel Petr||Mitsubishi Lancer EVO IX||+3m07.4s|
|07||Wilks Guy / Pugh Phil||Škoda Fabia S2000||+3m41.1s|
|08||Tarabus Jaromír / Trunkát Daniel||Ford Fiesta S2000||+5m18.0s|
|09||Kostka Tomáš / Houšť Vít||Škoda Fabia S2000||+6m13.1s|
|10||Bouffier Bryan / Panseri Xavier||Peugeot 207 S2000||+6m52.2s|
|11||Wittmann Franz / Wicha Klaus||Peugeot 207 S2000||+7m52.2s|
|12||Tlusťák Antonín / Škaloud Jan||Peugeot 207 S2000||+7m55.3s|
|13||Peták Josef / Benešová Alena||Peugeot 207 S2000||+8m48.1s|
|14||Jakeš Miroslav / Jakeš Tomáš||Mitsubishi Lancer EVO IX||+10m07.9s|
|15||Arazim Václav / Gál Julius||Mitsubishi Lancer EVO IX||+10m27.8s|