Kopecký leads as Meeke hits trouble
Jan Kopecký is on course for his first IRC victory of 2010
Jan Kopecky holds a 14.4-second lead on Rally Islas Canarias heading into the event’s final leg tomorrow. Cheered on by thousands of enthusiastic spectators, Kopecky, from Czech Republic, tops a Skoda Fabia one-two-three following a dramatic day of action on Gran Canaria’s challenging roads, venue of round four of the Intercontinental Rally Challenge.
Kopecky had trailed Peugeot UK’s Kris Meeke with two stages of the day remaining but moved in front when Meeke’s 207 Super 2000 suffered a front-left puncture and slipped to sixth overall, almost 90 seconds off the lead.
Juho Hanninen is second overnight after recovering from a sluggish start, which left him languishing in fifth overall after the first stage when he said he was unsure about the level of grip he had available. He hit back with the fastest time through stage two only to fall behind Kopecky at the start of the second loop of stages.
Guy Wilks holds third in his Skoda UK Motorsport Fabia but conceded he is still not entirely satisfied with the handling of his car, despite efforts to improve the set-up by using stiffer springs for the middle loop of stages. Wilks also dropped time on the second stage when his Fabia’s brakes faded midway through the test, which he completed with the airbox split in two. However, Wilks is on course to maintain his impressive start to the season and second place in the drivers’ standings.
Bruno Magalhaes had been on the cusp of the final podium spot in the morning only for transmission failure to shatter his hopes on stage three. A replacement front-left driveshaft rectified the problem and the Peugeot Sport Portugal driver was soon back on the pace in the afternoon. He holds fourth place overnight, 17.9s behind Wilks after dropping time when his engine lost power on the stage eight.
Alberto Hevia is on course to achieve his aim of beating fellow Spaniard Sergio Vallejo. At the completion of leg one, Hevia is fifth overall in his Fabia, while Vallejo is seventh in his M-Sport Ford Fiesta despite picking up a two-minute penalty for leaving penultimate service late.
Hevia reported slight understeer in the morning and reckoned he was giving away some eight brake horsepower to his IRC rivals as a result of using the control fuel specified by the Spanish championship organisers in order to be eligible for domestic points.
Vallejo, who won Rally Islas Canarias last season when it ran outside of the IRC, lost ground at the start when he struggled to get enough heat into his tyres. He also complained about the handling of his car, which necessitated a switch to stiffer springs at first service. Unfortunately, delays replacing his Fiesta’s transmission at second service meant he incurred a two-minute penalty. However, with Thierry Neuville and Franz Wittmann both suffering punctures on stage eight, Vallejo’s delay went largely unpunished.
Meeke had claimed five fastest stage times and was leading by 17.9 seconds when disaster struck approximately five kilometres into the 29.95-kilometre Ingenio stage, the longest of the two-day asphalt rally. Marc van Dalen, the boss of Meeke’s Kronos Racing team, explained the puncture was caused by a suspension bolt piercing a hole in the wheel, which caused the tyre to deflate. "It’s a risk but we decided together to run quite an aggressive set-up for more speed," said van Dalen. "Unfortunately just one stupid compression in a corner caused the middle of the wheel to break. It’s really a shame for Kris and the team but this is rally and we have to accept it."
Thierry Neuville is starting his six-event IRC campaign in his Team Peugeot Belgium-Luxembourg 207 on Rally Islas Canarias. The 21-year-old Belgian was seventh heading into stage eight where he suffered a puncture in virtually identical circumstances to team-mate Meeke. He fell to eighth as a result, having spent the day avoiding taking any big risks.
Ruben Gracia is ninth in his Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution X, the highest runner in a conventional Group N machine, with Jose Suarez tenth in a similar car. The division has lost Jonathan Perez, whose Lancer was engulfed by fire at the end of stage five. Perez and co-driver Enrique Velasco were uninjured but the delay extinguishing the flames meant the opening leg ran 30 minutes late.
Franz Wittmann, making his first appearance in the IRC since Rallye Automobile Monte-Carlo in January, slipped from eighth to 11th when he suffered a puncture on stage eight. The Austrian lost more time when his Peugeot 207 started rolling down a hill while he and co-driver Klaus Wicha were attempting to replace the damaged tyre.
Daniel Oliveira’s rally got off to a difficult start when he damaged the front of his Stohl Racing Peugeot 207 nudging a gravel bank on the opening stage. He lost more time on stage two when he spun in a narrow section and lost nearly two minutes trying to get his car pointing in the right direction.
Irish privateer Daniel Barry was expected to challenge for Group N honours before the start but a persistent overheating problem has wrecked his chances at the wheel of his family-run Mitsubishi Lancer by forcing him to stop on several stages to allow his car to cool down.
Canary Islander Yeray Lemes heads the IRC 2WD Cup with Enrique Cruz second in a similar Ford Fiesta R2.
Jan Kopecky (Czech Republic), Skoda Fabia S2000, first overall: "It’s unlucky what happened to Kris because without that I don’t think I could have caught him. He has been very fast all day. Now I must try to keep my lead tomorrow. It won’t be easy because there is still a long way to go but I will try."
Juho Hanninen (Finland), Skoda Fabia S2000, second overall: "We have been clean and tidy, nothing good, nothing bad. We lost a lot the tyres on the long stage but it hasn’t been so bad. We will try to improve our position tomorrow."
Guy Wilks (United Kingdom), Skoda Fabia S2000, third overall: "I haven’t been one hundred per cent confident with the balance of the car. We knew the opening day of the event was going to difficult but I’m confident we will be able to finish on the podium."
Overall standings after the first day:
|01.||Kopecký Jan / Starý Petr||Škoda Fabia S2000||1h20m25.0s|
|02.||Hänninen Juho / Markkula Mikko||Škoda Fabia S2000||+13.4s|
|03.||Fuster Miguel / Avińo Ignacio||Porche 911 Gt3||+28.5s|
|04.||Wilks Guy / Pugh Philip||Škoda Fabia S2000||+31.4s|
|05.||Viera Alfonso / Perez Victor||Ford Focus WRC||+37.9s|
|06.||Magalhăes Bruno / Magalhăes Carlos||Peugeot 207 S2000||+49.3s|
|07.||Hevia Alberto / Iglesias Alberto||Škoda Fabia S2000||+1m17.4s|
|08.||Meeke Kris / Nagle Paul||Peugeot 207 S2000||+1m28.0s|
|09.||Vallejo Sergio / Vallejo Diego||Ford Fiesta S2000||+3m35.6s|
|10.||Neuville Thierry / Klinger Nicolas||Peugeot 207 S2000||+3m40.9s|
|11.||Vinyes Joan / Mercader Jordi||Suzuki Swift S1600||+4m00.1s|
|12.||Cima Francisco / Noriega Alejandro||Mitsubishi Lancer Evo X||+4m18.9s|
|13.||Ponce Jose M. / Larrode Carlos||BMW M3||+4m52.9s|
|14.||Gracia Ruben / Sanjuan Diego||Mitsubishi Lancer Evo X||+5m51.5s|
|15.||Suarez Jose A. / Cabrera Candido||Mitsubishi Lancer Evo X||+5m55.8s|