IRC: Kopecky wins Rally Principe de Asturias
13 September 2009
Skoda Motorsport's Jan Kopecky took victory with a measured performance on the Rally Principe de Asturias on Saturday, his second consecutive win in the 2009 Intercontinental Rally Challenge.
In a fast and furious two days on the roads around host city Oviedo, Kopecky maintained a consistent pace while other leading contenders endured drama upon drama to claim a hugely popular win and close to within one point of championship leader Kris Meeke.
Peugeot UK ace Meeke suffered a puncture on the first day which, in a hugely competitive field, plunged him down to 16th place overall. Despite fighting back into the points positions, it took similar misfortunes to befall several rivals to get him back into contention.
Finally, Peugeot Benelux driver and defending IRC champion Nicolas Vouilloz incurred a time penalty after the final stage - allowing Meeke through to claim second place and thereby retain his series lead by a single point.
Vouilloz, one of the star performers of the rally, won six of the 15 stages across the two days of the event, but was another driver whose push for victory was blunted by a puncture.
Similarly afflicted was the home town hero Alberto Hevia, returning to top-flight competition after an enforced break through lack of funds, who led the opening stages of the event at the wheel of his privately-entered Skoda Fabia. Hevia eventually finished sixth, behind the Peugeot 207 S2000's of Freddy Loix and Corrado Fontana.
Meanwhile there was disappointment for Abarth on the IRC's Spanish outing. Local man Miguel Fuster, drafted in to the squad for this event, crashed out on SS4 while the first day's action was led by the Grande Punto of team leader Giandomenico Basso.
Basso, who won the event in 2008, held a commanding lead until SS12 when he spun off the road and his reverse gear failed. With no spectators in that section of the stage to help him, the Italian dropped out of contention and surrendered any mathematical chance of a shot at the IRC title.
Thus the championship battle rests between Meeke and Kopecky, who head towards the final two events separated by just one point. On the basis of their performances this weekend it would in fact be Kopecky leading the way towards the Rally Sanremo later this month, as Meeke finished the final stage in Asturias in third place on the road.
Nevertheless when second-place driver Vouilloz was hit with a time penalty for leaving the final service after his allotted time, Meeke was elevated to the runner-up position, claiming two extra points with the result that he keeps his place at the top of the points table.
“At the start of Day 2 we were in seventh and, with everyone running at the same pace, it looked like that would be the maximum we could score,” Meeke said. “But today's been incredible – so many of the guys have had the same sort of problem that we had and in the end we've come through.”
Rally winner Kopecky clearly took all the goings-on in his stride, and counted his blessings not to have suffered any of the incidents that befell so many of his rivals.
“Winning last time on the Barum Czech Rally Zlin was important because it was my home event, but winning here on my first visit is just as special,” he said. “I always planned to take it steady on this event, to get to the finish without a problem, because it's really hard to make the time back if you get a puncture or anything. We didn't make any mistakes and that's got a lot to do with the quality of the pacenotes.”
While the drivers' title is anything but decided, one crown has already been secured, as Peugeot sowed up the manufacturers'. Its total of 109 points after the Rally Principe Asturias puts the French giant out of reach of its rivals.
Peugeot has claimed both the drivers' and the manufacturers' titles every year since 2007, despite increased competition from new cars such as the Skoda Fabia S2000 and Proton Satria Neo S2000 - as well as the pace of longtime rivals Abarth and Ralliart.
“It's fantastic for Peugeot Sport to be rewarded again for its commitment,” Meeke added. “It's doubly important from my perspective because with the manufacturers' championship in the bag we can focus everything on winning the drivers' title.”
Overall times - Top 8:
1. Jan Kopecky Skoda Fabia S2000 2hrs 41m 51.3s
2. Kris Meeke Peugeot 207 S2000 +2m 46.9s
3. Nicolas Vouilloz Peugeot 207 S2000 +2m 49.5s *
4. Freddy Loix Peugeot 207 S2000 +2m 58.9s
5. Corrado Fontana Peugeot 207 S2000 +3m 45.0s
6. Alberto Hevia Skoda Fabia S2000 +4m 27.2s
7. Michal Solowow Peugeot 207 S2000 +5m 58.0s
8. Giandomenico Basso Abarth Grande Punto S2000 +7m 03.8s
* denotes 40 seconds penalty.
SS4. Miguel Fuster Abarth Grande Punto S2000 Accident
IRC Drivers' positions (after round 9 of 11) – Top 6:
1. Kris Meeke 50 points
2. Jan Kopecky 49 points
3. Freddy Loix 32 points
4. Giandomenico Basso 28 points
5. Nicolas Vouilloz 25 points
6. Juho Hanninen 20 points
IRC Manufacturers' positions (after round 9 of 11):
1. Peugeot 109 points #
2. Skoda 72 points
3. Ralliart 42 points
4. Abarth 34 points
5. Proton 5 points
6. Honda 1 point
# Peugeot is the 2009 manufacturers' champion.