Seventh heaven for Loix
Belgian Skoda driver takes dominant victory on home soil
Freddy Loix has maintained his comfortable overnight lead to win the GEKO Ypres Rally for a seventh time today (Saturday). Loix led the Intercontinental Rally Challenge qualifier from start to finish and moves back to the top of the IRC standings as a result. His victory, at the wheel of a SKODA Motorsport Fabia Super 2000, also puts him joint top with Juho Hanninen in the list of all-time IRC event winners, with seven triumphs to his name.
Loix, who was co-driven by fellow Belgian Frederic Miclotte, was in control throughout the event. Not even rainfall prior to Saturday’s opening test knocked him off his stride as he sped to a commanding victory by 1m41.6s over Peugeot France driver Bryan Bouffier. Hans Weijs claimed an impressive third on his debut behind the wheel of a Fabia and on his first start in this year’s IRC.
Guy Wilks began day two in second overall and on a high aboard his Peugeot UK 207 after he set the fastest time on the day’s first stage. But a double puncture on stage 10 wrecked his hopes and dropped him to 11th overall. Despite a slow puncture causing a spin on stage 15 and a further deflation on stage 16 holding him back, Wilks snatched fifth on the final stage with the fastest time.
“We’re at the finish but we didn’t get the result that mattered and that’s a real shame,” said Wilks. “The car was great although we didn’t get the luck we needed. But there’s no point thinking about it. We have to put it behind us and move on to the next rally.”
Bouffier was the chief beneficiary of Wilks’ downfall when he moved up to second overall, having overtaken Pieter Tsjoen for the final podium place on stage eight. While Bouffier enjoyed a trouble-free run to the finish, Tsjoen was not so fortunate following a bizarre incident on the road section heading to stage 11.
The six-time Belgian champion had stopped by the side of the road for a short break but inadvertently struck a small metal post as he pulled away, which damaged his Peugeot 207’s radiator. Although he made it through the stage, he and co-driver Lara Vanneste were unable to stem a water leak despite frantic repairs and the advice of several rival crews.
With Tsjoen out, Dutchman Weijs was now third and embroiled in a close fight with Bernd Casier, which raged until stage 14 when the Belgian stopped with power steering failure. Weijs had only managed a two-hour test in his Fabia before the start and his determined performance earned him the prestigious Colin McRae IRC Flat Out Trophy, which is presented on all rounds of the IRC to the driver best embodying the spirit of the rally legend.
Casier’s unfortunate exit promoted Michal Solowow into a fine fourth with his M-Sport Ford Fiesta S2000. But the Pole needed all his ingenuity to rectify a sticking throttle and reach the finish in Ypres’s historic Grote Markt.
Like Wilks, Kruuda was also slowed by a spate of punctures, while a minor intercom glitch on stage 10 didn’t help his progress. However, he belied his lack of experience of asphalt driving to finish sixth and score points for his second event in a row.
Toni Gardemeister took a strong seventh on his Ypres debut but the Finn could have finished higher up the order in his TGS Worldwide Fabia had it not been for a time-consuming puncture on stage 10.
Luca Rossetti, the Ypres winner in 2007, overcame a spin on stage seven and two punctures in the afternoon to claim eighth overall in his Abarth Grande Punto. Bernard Ten Brinke landed his maiden IRC points in ninth with Robert Barrable also bagging his first IRC point in tenth overall following an impressive showing on his Ypres debut.
Barrable thought he’d lost the place with an overshoot on the final stage but when the pursuing Swede PG Andersson, in a PROTON Motorsports Satria Neo S2000, damaged the left-rear corner of his car early in the test, Irishman Barrable kept hold of the position.
Frenchman Julien Maurin overcame early setbacks to clinch 11th in his M-Sport Fiesta, but there would be no finish for Andersson’s PROTON team-mate Giandomenico Basso, who crashed into a ditch after striking a rock on Saturday’s first stage. The Italian was firmly in contention for a top 10 finish at the time.
Andreas Mikkelsen recorded four stage wins for SKODA UK Motorsport after he restarted under SupeRally regulations following his stage one exit. Thierry Neuville, one of the pre-event favourites for victory in his Team Peugeot Belgium-Luxembourg 207, also returned for Saturday’s action but withdrew after stage eight with suspension damage caused by striking a rock.
Belgian Jonas Langenakens won the IRC Production Cup with countryman Anthony Martin second in another Ralliart Mitsubishi Lancer. But the standout performance came from Jasper van den Heuvel in his R4-specification Ralliart Mitsubishi Lancer, who finished third in class despite being delayed through repairing damaged brakes and suspension during the course of the rally.
It was the first appearance on an international event for van den Heuvel and co-driver Martine Kolman since they suffered burns in a crash on a rally in Germany last August. At the finish, Kolman announced her retirement from competition. Philip Barbier was the leading Subaru Impreza finisher in fifth.
Local hero Kris Princen took the IRC 2WD Cup laurels after long-term leader Kevin Abbring lost precious minutes stuck in a ditch on stage 14. Irish driver Tommy Doyle was a fine second with Abbring recovering to fourth. Martin Kangur was the top Honda Civic finisher in 11th with Matthias Boon 12th in his Skoda Fabia R2. Gearbox problems forced IRC 2WD Cup champion Harry Hunt’s retirement on Saturday morning.
Freddy Loix (Belgium), Skoda Fabia S2000, first overall: “It was a strange rally because although we had a big lead we had to control that for two days, which was not so easy. But at the end I am very happy with this victory although it would have been better with a bigger fight.”
Bryan Bouffier (France), Peugeot 207 S2000, second overall: “I needed a good result here and maybe second was more than my expectation coming to this rally because I knew it was a tricky race. My target was to finish so a podium is really fantastic.”
Hans Weijs (Netherlands), Skoda Fabia S2000, third overall: “With not so much experience I wanted to reach the finish to increase my experience and that’s what I did. It was a shame Bernd [Casier] had his problem because I had a good fight with him.”