Kopecky leads after exciting first day in Zlin

A faultless day for the Czech driver

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27 August 2011 - 20:01
Kopecky leads after exciting first (...)

Jan Kopecky heads a thrilling battle for victory on Barum Czech Rally
Zlin following an action-packed opening day of the Intercontinental
Rally Challenge qualifier.

Driving a SKODA Motorsport Fabia Super
2000, the Czech hero heads team-mates Juho Hanninen and Freddy Loix,
who are tied on time in second place, 19.7s behind Kopecky.

Kopecky, the winner in Zlin in 2009, moved into first place on
Saturday’s second stage and gradually stretched his advantage
over second-placed Andreas Mikkelsen, which grew to 10.4s when
Mikkelsen ran wide on a patch of loose gravel on stage six.

Mikkelsen hit back on the next test to narrow Kopecky’s lead to
7.3s only to suffer a rear puncture 15 kilometres into the
28.69-kilometre Trojak test. The delay caused by changing the puncture
and a spin on the day’s last stage means he languishes in sixth
position and more than two minutes off first place starting
Sunday’s final six stages.

"We are very happy with our speed today but it’s very
frustrating to have picked up a puncture"
, said Mikkelsen.
"I haven’t a clue how it happened and it was so
surprising. We didn’t hit anything, the puncture just came from
nowhere, and with so much of the stage still to go we had no choice
but to stop and change it."

After winning Thursday night’s superspecial through the streets
of Zlin, Hanninen was out of sorts in the morning but by stiffening up
the rear suspension of his Fabia at midday service his fortunes
appeared to improve, although a troubled eighth stage when he ran wide
and stalled before picking up a front-left puncture nearing the end of
the run, dropped the Finn into the clutches of Loix.

The Belgian, at the wheel of his BFO-SKODA Rally Team entry, also
struggled in the morning by running soft compound tyres and softer
settings on his Fabia, which weren’t suited to the hot
conditions.

Switching to hard compound tyres for the afternoon
provided more precision and contributed to his pace being transformed
to the extent he was fastest on three of the afternoon’s four
stages after he admitted to going on "maximum attack".

Bryan Bouffier is the leading Peugeot 207 driver in fourth overall
following an impressive showing that included the fastest time on
stage five. Backed by Peugeot France, Bouffier is 23.4s behind the
leading SKODA trio but still confident he can challenge for a podium
finish.

"The car is perfect and I tried to push but it’s not easy
to follow the guys in front"
said Bouffier, who carried two
rain tyres in the boot of his Peugeot for the afternoon loop of stages
in the mistaken belief it would rain. "It’s not over for
sure and I will try my best."

Thierry Neuville, making his second start in Zlin, struggled to make
an impact in the morning due to a combination of a lack of confidence
with his pacenotes and car set-up. His efforts to make up ground
suffered a blow when he left the road in sixth gear on stage seven and
wiped out a line of small trees. Damage to the front of his Team
Peugeot Belgium-Luxembourg resulted in a loss of power and
aerodynamics. He soldiered on to the overnight halt in fifth position,
one place ahead of the luckless Mikkelsen.

Toni Gardemeiser is seventh, despite losing time when the engine in
his TGS Worldwide SKODA dropped on to three cylinders in the
afternoon. Young Irishman Craig Breen is an impressive eighth on his
Zlin debut at the wheel of an M-Sport Ford Fiesta S2000. Local driver
Roman Kresta is ninth but could have been higher up the order had he
not picked up a puncture on stage five.

PG Andersson, making his Zlin debut in his PROTON Motorsports Satria
Neo S2000, enjoyed a trouble-free morning but spun backwards into a
hedge on stage six, which cost the Swede approximately 20 seconds.
Another off-road moment on stage eight caused further delay but he was
able to keep his composure to complete the day in a strong 10th
position.

Team-mate Giandomenico Basso, who reported a bout of oversteer in the
morning, lost time when he spun and stalled on stage five. A
right-rear puncture on stage seven caused more frustration for the
talented Italian, who reported the handling of his car had
significantly improved following adjustments to the suspension in
midday service. He is 18th overnight.

Michal Solowow is 11th in his M-Sport Fiesta with Guy Wilks a
despondent 12th. The Peugeot UK ace was in the fight for a podium
until a rear puncture on stage eight, caused when he ran wide on a
right-hander into some bushes, wrecked his hopes.

"We took hard tyres for the afternoon but with cuts at the rear
as we heard it was going to rain"
, said Wilks. "But the
car was moving around too much and I was pushing too much to make up
for the lost time, slid wide and hit some bushes. We had to drive for
three kilometres before we could change the tyre."

Behind Karl Kruuda in 13th, Patrik Sandell said the set-up of his
SKODA Sweden Fabia was too soft for Saturday
morning’s stages. Changes at midday service helped his cause but
an intermittent power problem and the loss of his powersteering at the
finish of the final stage merely served to compound his
frustrations.

SKODA Auto Deutschland duo Mark Wallenwein and Matthias Kahle are
21st and 22nd on their first visits to Zlin.

Pavel Valousek’s challenge ended barely one and a half
kilometres into stage three when he crashed into a tree at high speed
in his Peugeot Delimax Total 207. The Czech champion suffered a broken
left arm while co-driver Zdenek Hruza was detained in hospital for
precautionary checks after he reported back pains.

IRC Production Cup: Vaclav Pech’s bid for the IRC Production
Cup faltered on stage six when his R4-specification Ralliart
Mitsubishi Lancer suffered two broken suspension arms. With Pech out,
Jaroslav Orsak leads ahead of the Subaru Impreza of Jan Jelinek. Fumio
Nutahara, in a Yokohama-backed Subaru Impreza, had been expected to
challenge but crashed heavily on stage five.

IRC 2WD Cup: Petr Zednik leads the IRC 2WD Cup in his M-Sport Ford
Fiesta Kit Car with Vaclav Dunovsky second and Stefano Albertini
third. Estonian Martin Kangur is the leading Honda Civic driver in
14th.

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