Kopecky heading for IRC glory in the Zlin rain
Leg one report
Jan Kopecky and co-driver Petr Stary are on course to repeat their Barum Czech Rally Zlin victory of 2009 after completing the opening, rain-hit leg of the Intercontinental Rally Challenge counter with a lead of 28.2 seconds.
Roared through Saturday’s demanding all-asphalt stages by tens of thousands of fans, the Czech driver was fastest on three of the day’s eight tests in his works Skoda Fabia Super 2000 Facelift to add to his convincing victory on Friday evening’s superspecial stage through the streets of host city Zlin in southeast Czech Republic.
However, the 28-year-old had to give best to team-mate Freddy Loix through Saturday’s final run. Loix, who has won on both of his two IRC starts so far this season, was almost seven seconds faster than Kopecky through the day-closing Trojak test, which elevated him from fifth to the runner-up spot in the process. The Belgian credited his upturn in pace to a more attacking driving style and tweaks to his Fabia’s set-up to improve the traction.
Bryan Bouffier, in a factory-blessed Peugeot 207 S2000, is third after losing ground with two off-road moments. However, his performance on a rare outing in the IRC has been impressive from the outset, as was the fastest stage time he achieved on the first run through the daunting 29-kilometre Trojak test, one of several to be held in treacherous weather conditions.
IRC title leader Juho Hanninen and defending champion Kris Meeke round out the top five in fourth and fifth respectively. Hanninen had closed to within one second of team-mate Kopecky with the quickest time on stage four only to slide off on a high-speed left-hander halfway through the next run. Despite striking a tree with the rear of his Fabia, which inflicted considerable cosmetic damage, Hanninen was able to complete the run, albeit 30 seconds slower than stage winner Bouffier, which has dropped him 35.2s off the overall lead.
Meeke was in a relatively comfortable third place after eight stages but ended up going off the road twice and also nudging a bank on stage nine and is almost 50 seconds off the pace as a result. The first off into a field cost 10 seconds, wrecked the Northern Irishman’s confidence and contributed to another moment on a high-speed right-hander later in the stage. Meeke was unable to explain his car’s wayward tendencies through the stage so his Peugeot UK mechanics set about a thorough overhaul of his 207 at the end of day service halt to try to identify any possible mechanical glitch.
Vaclav Pech has belied the age and performance differential of his Ralliart Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution IX throughout the day to hold sixth spot. While the multiple Czech champion has extensive experience of the Zlin stages, he has punched above his weight for much of the day, although he regretted his decision to use hard compound tyres in the heavy rain of Saturday afternoon. Nevertheless Pech was able to gain plenty of satisfaction from the fact he is beating Pavel Valousek, his main rival for the Czech championship.
Valousek, in seventh, impressed with the fastest time on stage six in his works-assisted Fabia but lost ground later in the afternoon as his lower starting order meant he frequently experienced the worst of the weather conditions.
Andreas Mikkelsen is an encouraging eighth in his M-Sport Ford Fiesta S2000 and was still at a loss to explain how he avoided a major crash after suffering a high-speed spin approaching the flying finish of stage three.
Guy Wilks, making his return to the IRC after breaking his back in a crash on Rally d’Italia-Sardegna in June, is ninth after a torrid day, which started when an errant deer wandered into his path on stage three. Damage to the left side of his Skoda UK Motorsport Fabia was mainly superficial but it unnerved Wilks to the extent he spun and stalled later in the stage. A troublesome rear differential slowed his pace in the afternoon but his capture of the third fastest time on stage six was confirmation that he was back to his pre-Sardinia best.
Roman Odlozilik completes the top 10 in his Fabia, faring considerably better than namesake Roman Kresta who was fifth when he slid onto some grass and rolled his Fabia on stage five as he battled unsuccessfully to regain the road.
Keith Cronin impressed in his works PROTON Satria Neo with several top 10 times, including the fifth best time on stage six, only to crash into retirement nearing the end of the penultimate run, a poor return following a promising display by the young Irishman. A mechanical failure for team-mate Niall McShea on stage nine added to the MEM-run squad’s woes after an encouraging return to the IRC.
Austrian Franz Wittmann was in touching distance of the top 10 when a front-right puncture pegged him back on stage eight. He holds 13th overnight in his Interwetten Racing 207. Thierry Neuville crashed his Team Peugeot Belgium-Luxembourg example out of seventh place on stage four.
Kevin Abbring tops the IRC 2WD Cup in his Clio R3 with Czech driver Lubomir Minarik second in a similar car. Pierre Campana is third after losing time in the morning loop by using shock absorbers that were too hard for his R3.
Jan Kopecky (Czech Republic), Skoda Fabia S2000, first overall: "It’s been a really great day but it’s been really hard because the weather has been changing all the time. It was difficult and sometimes dangerous because you did not know when it would rain and what grip you would have. I have concentrated very hard but I must also do the same tomorrow because the conditions are likely to be quite bad again and it won’t be easy."
Freddy Loix (Belgium), Skoda Fabia S2000, third overall: "I was not driving well in the morning and I was not happy with my car. But we made some changes and it was a lot better in the afternoon when I could really attack even though the conditions were tough."
Bryan Bouffier (France), Peugeot 207 S2000, third overall: "I was quite surprised with some of my times. We have made some small mistakes but really it has been good. On the last stage I went off after five kilometres and had a big vibration for the rest of the stage."
Overall positions after Day 1:
|01||Kopecký Jan / Starý Petr||Škoda Fabia S2000||1h22m12.7s|
|02||Loix Freddy / Miclotte Fréderic||Škoda Fabia S2000||+28.2s|
|03||Bouffier Bryan / Panseri Xavier||Peugeot 207 S2000||+28.5s|
|04||Hänninen Juho / Markkula Mikko||Škoda Fabia S2000||+35.2s|
|05||Meeke Kris / Nagle Paul||Peugeot 207 S2000||+49.7s|
|06||Pech Václav / Uhel Petr||Mitsubishi Lancer EVO IX||+1m44.3s|
|07||Valoušek Pavel / Hrůza Zdeněk||Škoda Fabia S2000||+1m55.2s|
|08||Mikkelsen Andreas / Floene Ola||Ford Fiesta S2000||+2m09.6s|
|09||Wilks Guy / Pugh Phil||Škoda Fabia S2000||+2m52.5s|
|10||Odložilík Roman / Tureček Martin||Škoda Fabia S2000||+3m25.0s|
|11||Kostka Tomáš / Houšť Vít||Škoda Fabia S2000||+3m34.4s|
|12||Orsák Jaroslav / Vajík Karel||Mitsubishi Lancer EVO IX||+3m39.5s|
|13||Wittmann Franz / Wicha Klaus||Peugeot 207 S2000||+4m22.5s|
|14||Tarabus Jaromír / Trunkát Daniel||Ford Fiesta S2000||+4m28.2s|
|15||Tlusťák Antonín / Škaloud Jan||Peugeot 207 S2000||+5m13.0s|