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ERC: Kubica stars on day one of Islas Canarias

23 March 2013

Former F1 driver Robert Kubica dominated a thrilling first day on the Rally Islas Canarias El Corte Inglés to lead on his debut in the FIA European Rally Championship.

The Pole, who is making his first appearance on the demanding asphalt roads of Gran Canaria, set the pace aboard his Citroën DS3 RRC on all eight stages as unseasonal weather increased the challenge facing the 15 ERC regulars in action.

Jan Kopecký, chasing a hat-trick of wins on the island event for ŠKODA Motorsport, lies second overnight, already 1min 06.7secs behind Kubica, with Craig Breen a strong third for the Peugeot Rally Academy.

With rain and fog closing in by the time the opening stage got underway, Kubica's inspired choice of four soft-compound tyres proved decisive as he claimed all four opening tests. With the majority of his rivals opting for Michelin's medium-compound rubber, the Pole moved into a lead he was able to extend throughout the day, despite his relative lack of rally experience. His only major cause for concern came on the final stage, when he nudged a brick wall, but otherwise it was a clean run.

“It's been a good day,” the 28-year old acknowledged, “In the last stage, there was a tight junction, I pulled the handbrake and touched a house with the rear of the car. I had to reverse and lost 10-12 seconds, but it's been a nice day, perfect testing in different weather conditions. Now we just need to continue running at our pace and keep calm.”

Kopecký, the winner of the ERC season-opener in Austria, also suffered a moment in the afternoon, sliding for 40 metres after he got out of shape on a fast corner on stage seven.

“Robert is doing a great job and is very talented,” the Czech said, “I don't think I can catch him now so I just need to drive fast to keep my concentration and try my best tomorrow to finish second.”

Irishman Breen, on a high after finishing in second place on the previous round in Latvia, was within touching distance of Kopecký as the sunshine returned in the afternoon, and could have been closer had he not been saddled with a ten-second time penalty for leaving service in Las Palmas behind schedule as he delayed his tyre choice until the last possible moment. A set-up change prior to stage seven also had a detrimental effect on the handling of his 207 Super 2000 and he lost further ground to Kopecký.

“It was a mistake because the car was less precise, with more understeer than before,” Breen reported, “But I'm pleased with my performance and we were able to prove the 207 is still a competitive car.”

Like Breen, team-mate Jérémi Ancian has also impressed. The Frenchman hadn't driven his 207 S2000 until a pre-event test on Monday and had no knowledge of the car in wet conditions. He snatched fourth place from Luis Monzón when the local hero's MINI John Cooper Works RRC was slowed by a front-right puncture four kilometres from the finish of stage five.

In the battle for ERC Production Car Cup honours, Andreas Aigner's Subaru leads ahead of Renault driver Germain Bonnefis. Enrique García Ojeda tops the ERC 2WD Championship section for Citroën with Ekaterina Stratieva the leading ERC Ladies' Trophy contender.

Aigner sits in a strong sixth overall in his Yokohama-shod Impreza R4 STI, with García Ojeda demoting long-term pacesetter Joan Vinyes for the lead of the ERC 2WD category on stage eight after the Suzuki pilot hit trouble with a reported broken alternator belt. Bonnefis is the highest-placed Renault driver in ninth on his first run in the Mégane N4. He had trailed team-mate Robert Consani until Consani slipped back when his decision to run rain tyres for the afternoon's mainly dry stages backfired.

Elsewhere, Jean-Mathieu Leandri is in touching distance of tenth for Saintéloc Racing, as a gearbox failure forced Daniel Oliveira to retire his Brazil World Rally Team Fiesta from the top ten prior to stage seven. János Puskádi completed stage eight with a broken rear differential. Nevertheless the Hungarian is one place ahead of GPD Mit Metal Racing Team's Antonín Tlusák. Eurosol-Honda Civic Type R's Zoltán Bessenyey hit back from an early spin, while Hermann Neubauer has battled the effects of possible food poisoning for much of the day. Emma Falcón crashed out on stage two but hopes to return to the action on Saturday.