Day one review: Home hero Loix on top
A lead of almost 40 seconds over Guy Wilks
Freddy Loix has gained a huge boost in his efforts to win the GEKO Ypres Rally for a seventh time after he completed the opening day of the Intercontinental Rally Challenge event with a lead of almost 40 seconds over Guy Wilks, while his key rival Thierry Neuville retired on the first special stage.
Loix, at the wheel of a SKODA Motorsport Fabia Super 2000, was fastest on all of Friday’s six special stages to open up an advantage of 36.7s over Wilks in a Peugeot UK 207 S2000. Six-time Belgian title winner Pieter Tsjoen is locked in a close battle with Bryan Bouffier for third with Dutch driver Hans Weijs impressing on his first appearance in the IRC in a Super 2000 car in fifth place.
Neuville was one of the favourites for victory in his Team Peugeot Belgium-Luxembourg 207 but failed to complete the first test. His Kronos Racing boss Marc van Dalen explained: “The front-right wheel broke through a left corner and he had to drive for more than one kilometre on this broken wheel while he tried to find a safe place to stop. When he stopped a bolt in the suspension was broken and he had to retire. It is a big disappointment for him.”
There were no such problems for leader Loix who has dominated the event from the outset alongside co-driver and fellow Belgian Frederic Miclotte. But while Loix impressed, his team-mate Jan Kopecky was forced to withdraw after his co-driver Petr Stary suffered a broken collarbone when they crashed during Thursday evening’s shakedown. Stary is expected to make a rapid recovery but their failure to start will be keenly felt by Kopecky, who is second in the IRC drivers’ standings and had been tipped as a possible winner.
Guy Wilks capitalised on the confidence he’d built up during a pre-event test to complete Friday’s stages 18.9s clear of third-placed Tsjoen. The Briton only once failed to set a top-three stage time in his 207 and felt he could have gone fastest of all had he not lost precious seconds slowing for Andreas Mikkelsen’s SKODA UK Motorsport Fabia.
The Norwegian had understeered into a ditch barely a handful of kilometres from the stage start. In his attempts to regain the road he was unable to avoid striking a submerged concrete block, which broke his front-right suspension and forced his retirement.
Bouffier was third after the first stage but lost time – and part of his Peugeot France 207’s front bumper – when he went off the road and through a field on stage two. A spin on stage three caused further delay but the Rallye Monte-Carlo winner battled back to 4.8s of third-placed Tsjoen by the completion of day one.
Tsjoen, the reigning Belgian champion, is making his annual IRC appearance but his first alongside new co-driver Lara Vanneste, a late replacement for his intended navigator Eddy Chevaillier, who suffered back injuries in a crash on a rally in Greece seven days ago. He expressed his surprise to be third overnight in his Kronos Racing 207 and plans to make the most of a higher road position through Saturday’s stages.
Hans Weijs has proved a revelation in his Fabia, which he is driving in competition for the first time this week. The 24-year-old from Netherlands is fifth overnight following an error-free performance. Belgian Bernd Casier is sixth on his first outing of 2011 with Toni Gardemeister showing well on his Ypres debut aboard his TGS Worldwide Fabia in seventh.
Luca Rossetti left mid-evening service in Ypres in fourth overall but slipped back when the engine in his Abarth Grande Punto dropped onto three cylinders through stage four and he fell to 13th. Running repairs enabled him to fight back to eighth after six stages, 5.5s ahead of Polish M-Sport Stobart Fiesta driver Michal Solowow, who overcame early brake woes.
Estonian Karl Kruuda completes the top 10 with Giandomencio Basso 11th in his PROTON Satria Neo Super 2000, further proof of the car’s continued progress. Team-mate PG Andersson reached the end of day service in 18th overall and with his car experiencing a high water temperature, which he hoped his mechanics would be able to rectify for day two.
Bruno Magalhaes shone with the fourth fastest time on stage one before engine failure stopped his Peugeot Sport Portugal 207 on the very next test.
Irishman Robert Barrable was an impressive seventh overall before a trip through a ditch on stage three cost him more than one minute. Jasper van den Heuvel also showed well early on before brake problems hampered his R4-specification Ralliart Mitsubishi Lancer.
Jonas Langenakens leads the IRC Production Cup in his Ralliart Lancer from Anthony Martin and the Subaru Impreza of two-time category winner Florian Gonon. Rising Dutch star Kevin Abbring is almost one minute clear in the IRC 2WD Cup. Belgians Cedric Cherain and Kris Princen are in a close battle for second. Martin Kangur is the top Honda Civic driver in fifth position.
Freddy Loix (Belgium), Skoda Fabia S2000, first overall: “I’m happy with my first day but on the other side I’m not really proud of myself because I’ve lost a few of the big boys to fight with. But that’s part of the game and the most important thing is I did a good job.”
Guy Wilks (United Kingdom), Peugeot 207 S2000, second overall: “It’s a bit frustrating that Freddy has been able to build a lead but he got a jump on me early on and I lost a bit of time on the last stage running without a light pod when it began to get dark.”
Pieter Tsjoen (Belgium), Peugeot 207 S2000, third overall: “It’s been a fantastic day and I really never expected this against the professional drivers. I have not driven this car for a long time and I am working with a new co-driver so for an amateur I have to be pleased.”