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IRC: Loix lands sixth Ypres victory
27 June 2010
Local hero Freddy Loix clinched his sixth Geko Ypres Rally victory to become the fifth different winner of an Intercontinental Rally Challenge round this season.
Driving for Skoda Motorsport for the first time, the Belgian was roared on by tens of thousands of adoring fans who lined the demanding all-asphalt route throughout Saturday's 13 sun-coated special stages.
Co-driven by fellow Belgian Frederic Miclotte, Loix started day two with a slender 5.8secs lead over Peugeot UK's Kris Meeke, last year's Ypres winner and the defending IRC champion, but what was shaping up to be a repeat of the pair's epic battle in Belgium twelve months ago ended when Meeke suffered a spectacular high-speed roll on Saturday's second stage.
With runaway IRC title leader Juho Hanninen crashing into retirement on Friday evening, the Briton was desperate to make the most of the opportunity by taking his second win of 2010, but it all went awry when he lost control on the exit of a fast right-hander two kilometres into the stage, clipped a bank and rolled. Fortunately, both Meeke and co-driver Paul Nagle were uninjured, but the crash marked their fourth retirement of the season.
"It was a mistake with the pacenote," said Meeke, who began day two of the rally by claiming his third fastest stage time, "We turned in a little too early and ran out of room on the exit of the corner. When you're pushing like we were, that kind of thing can happen."
Although Meeke's crash took the pressure off Loix, the 39-year old rued his rival's retirement as it meant he had to adopt a less attacking style while also maintaining his concentration by driving at a similar pace for the remainder of the leg, which covered more than 190 competitive kilometres. Apart from a minor brake glitch, little troubled the driver affectionately known as 'Fast Freddy', whose win was Skoda's fourth in the IRC in 2010 and its first with the facelifted Fabia.
"I'm very happy, very happy," Loix admitted, "It was a nice comeback for me to the IRC. I really have to thank my sponsor BFO and Skoda Motorsport, who gave me the possibility to prepare myself properly and provided me with a car to win. It was difficult when Kris retired, because it was hard to know how much to attack, so I am very happy."
Meeke's departure also handed second place to Jan Kopecky, who has closed to within three points of team-mate Hanninen at the top of the title standings with six rounds remaining. Kopecky got to within 25 seconds of Loix with a succession of fastest stage times on Saturday afternoon, but a mistake on stage 15, when he went wide into a field, ended any outside hopes he might have had of snatching an unlikely victory.
Indeed, Kopecky admitted to a lack of confidence with the handling of his Fabia Super 2000, but was able to dial-out the contributing understeer by making a handful of set-up changes.
"We again have a one-two for Skoda and showed what a good car we have," the Czech commented, "Freddy did a very good job, so congratulations to him, but the championship is closer now and Azores is coming next where we will do our best."
Thierry Neuville took a career-best third in his Kronos Racing-run Team Peugeot Belgium-Luxembourg 207. The young Belgian showed a level of maturity that belied his 22 years, and rarely made a mistake as he adhered to team orders by reducing his pace to ensure a podium finish. His performance, which elevates him to sixth in the standings, provided some cheer for the Kronos squad, which lost the cars of Meeke and Belgian championship leader Pieter Tsjoen in separate accidents.
Belgian Bernd Casier was a solid fourth overall in his Skoda Fabia, with Andreas Mikkelsen fifth in his M-Sport Ford Fiesta S2000. The Norwegian was delayed by a puncture on Friday's second stage, but gradually climbed the leaderboard throughout Saturday to bag his first IRC points and finish as the highest-placed Ypres Rally rookie.
Veteran Patrick Snijers was keeping the charging Bruno Magalhaes at bay, and seemingly certain of sixth place in his 207, only to retire on the final stage with a technical fault. Magalhaes was pushing hard in his efforts to lessen the impact of a 1min 10secs time penalty imposed for twice leaving service late due to a gearbox problem, and was rewarded with sixth place when Snijers retired.
Poland's Michal Solowow overcame a puncture on the final stage to claim seventh in his M-Sport Ford Fiesta S2000, with Luca Betti eighth and rounding out the point scorers after also falling victim to a deflated tyre on the last run.
Dutch youngster Kevin Abbring won the IRC 2WD Cup in his Clio R3, one place ahead of Corsican Pierre Campana, who now leads the two-wheel drive standings in his similar car, despite a slow puncture on the penultimate stage. Kris Princen had led the class only to drop out of Friday's first leg with alternator failure. Geko Ypres Rally - Top 10 after Leg Two:
1. Freddy Loix/Frederic Miclotte
Skoda Fabia S2000 2h35m36.9s
2. Jan Kopecky/Petr Stary
Skoda Fabia S2000 +22.1s
3. Thierry Neuville/Nicolas Klinger
Peugeot 207 S2000 +2m05.5s
4. Bernd Casier/Francis Caesemaeker
Skoda Fabia S2000 +4m06.1s
5. Andreas Mikkelsen/Ola Floene
M-Sport Ford Fiesta S2000 +5m20.9s
6. Bruno Magalhaes/Carlos Magalhaes
Peugeot 207 S2000 +6m06.2s
7. Michal Solowow/Maciej Baran
M-Sport Ford Fiesta S2000 +7m24.5s
8. Luca Betti/Pierangelo Scalvini
Peugeot 207 S2000 +9m37.6s
9. Corrado Fontana/Nicola Arena
Peugeot 207 S2000 +9m53.0s
10. Maciej Oleksowicz/Andrzej Obrebowski
M-Sport Ford Fiesta S2000 +10m39.0s IRC standings (after round six of 12)
1. Juho Hanninen
2. Jan Kopecky
3. Guy Wilks
4. Bruno Magalhaes
5. Kris Meeke
6. Thierry Neuville
7. Mikko Hirvonen
= Freddy Loix
9. Paolo Andreucci
10. Nicolas Vouilloz
6ptsIRC Manufacturers standings (after round six of 12)