IRC: Late drama hands Loix Czech win
30 August 2010
Freddy Loix has become the most successful driver in the history of the Intercontinental Rally Challenge by taking a record-breaking sixth win - and his third in as many starts this season - after a dramatic climax to Barum Czech Rally Zlin.
As the lead changed hands three times on the final four stages, Juho Hanninen claimed second to maintain his title advantage, while third place for local hero Pavel Valousek not only ensured a Skoda Fabia one-two-three, but also enabled the Czech firm to clinch the 2010 IRC manufacturers' crown for the first time with three rounds remaining.
Overnight leader Jan Kopecky had looked set to triumph on the demanding all-asphalt rally for a second year in a row, but spun into retirement with three stages left to run when he was 26 seconds out in front.
Kopecky, who was on a charge in his efforts to make up lost time following a spin earlier on stage 14, broke too late for a left-hander and slid off the road. Although his Fabia was largely undamaged, it was beached on a large branch and, unable to regain the stage, Kopecky and co-driver Petr Stary were forced to retire having led the rally from the very first stage through the streets of host city Zlin on Friday evening.
"There was some vibration after the first spin and I was a little afraid I had a puncture," said the 28-year old Czech driver, "My thinking was too much for this and I went off. I'm very disappointed, and sorry for Skoda, because the car was absolutely perfect - and also to the crowd who gave me so much support all weekend."
His misfortune promoted Bryan Bouffier, at the wheel of a Peugeot 207, into first place, but his challenge came unstuck when he damaged his rear suspension sliding wide on the penultimate stage. Although he managed to soldier through the run, the delay dropped him to second, 3.8secs behind Loix heading into the final test.
Any hopes Bouffier had of regaining top spot were then dashed when a broken pipe, the legacy of an earlier compression, dumped water over his Peugeot's front tyres and caused him to go off into a ditch five kilometres from the start of the stage.
Loix and co-driver Frederic Miclotte had settled for second place when Bouffier pulled clear on stage 15. A cautious run through the mud-strewn penultimate stage ensured they moved in front when Bouffier hit trouble and the Belgians kept their composure to claim what had been an unlikely victory leaving midday service.
"It's my second victory in Zlin, but definitely my hardest - and definitely my most exciting," Loix admitted, "The conditions were extremely difficult and it was a big fight with Bryan at the end. I always had a good feeling with my car, but I was missing something in my driving. It was a question to be as quick as possible without making any mistakes."
Rain and cool temperatures were a factor throughout the event in south-east Czech Republic. Not only did the unseasonable conditions add to the challenge facing the competitors by making the inconsistent stage surface more slippery than usual, they also made tyre choice a lottery as crews gambled over compound choices to suit the changeable weather.
Hanninen was one of a number of drivers to fall foul of the conditions when he slid off backwards into a tree at high speed on stage four. Although the moment dropped him out of contention, an error-free performance thereafter helped the Finn to land his eighth podium finish of 2010.
"My goal was to be first or second to improve my points, and I was second so I am happy, but it was very interesting because the weather kept changing on almost every stage," the Finn noted, "It started well on my side and I had the speed, but then I had my big moment. I was lucky not to retire."
Valousek trailed IRC champion Kris Meeke by 18.4secs with one stage left to run, but moved ahead of the Northern Irishman when Meeke's Peugeot U K 207 suffered a broken front differential two kilometres into the stage. Meeke started Sunday's final eight stages confident he could fight for second place, but a series of incorrect tyre choices wrecked his chances. A sticking throttle on stage 14 caused more anguish before the differential fault dropped him to fourth behind Valousek.
Valousek, who lives close to Zlin, made the most of his local knowledge and some inspired tyre choices to beat his previous best finish of fourth place in the semi-works Fabia. The pick of these was when he opted for dry weather hard-compound tyres for Sunday's opening loop of stages when most of his rivals believed it would rain.
"This is my best position on this rally and I'm really glad we've achieved it," Valousek claimed, "Today, we chose the right tyres and this was very important. I would like to thank my team for all their help."
Andreas Mikkelsen took a solid fifth in his M-Sport Ford Fiesta S2000, with Vaclav Pech rounding out the top six in his Ralliart Mitsubishi Lancer. Pech had been in a close fight with Czech championship rival Valousek, only for an off to drop him back and leave his car with a punctured front-right tyre and damaged suspension.
Guy Wilks marked his return from injury with seventh place in his Skoda UK Motorsport Fabia, although his true pace was masked by a rear differential fault, which his mechanics were unable to cure due to a component supply issue. The glitch hindered braking stability and traction on the, at times, treacherous stage surfaces. Jaromir Tarabus secured the final IRC drivers' point in his M-Sport Ford Fiesta S2000.
Kevin Abbring took his second IRC 2WD Cup win of the season in his Clio R3 with rising Czech driver Lobomir Minarik second in a similar machine. Abbring, from the Netherlands, moves joint top of the drivers' standings with Rafael Tulio, who wasn't competing in Zlin.
There was some consolation for Jan Kopecky, however, when he was handed the Colin McRae IRC Flat Out Trophy for his efforts. Colin's father Jim McRae, who was in Zlin, was part of the three-person judging team. He said that Kopecky's spectacular performance had best embodied the spirit of the rallying legend, who lost his life in a helicopter accident in 2007.
Barum Czech Rally Zlin - Top ten (after leg two)
1. Freddy Loix/Frederic Miclotte (Skoda Fabia S2000) 2h31m31.0s
2. Juho Hanninen/Mikko Markkula (Skoda Fabia S2000) +25.0s
3. Pavel Valousek/Zdenek Hruza (Skoda Fabia S2000) +1m20.2s
4. Kris Meeke/Paul Nagle (Peugeot 207 S2000) +1m57.6s
5. Andreas Mikkelsen/Ola Floene (M-Sport Ford Fiesta S2000) +2m33.9s
6. Vaclav Pech/Petr Uhel (Ralliart Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution IX) +3m07.4s
7. Guy Wilks/Phil Pugh (Skoda Fabia S2000) +3m41.1s
8. Jaromir Tarabus/Daniel Trunkat (M-Sport Ford Fiesta S2000) +5m18.0s
9. Tomas Kostka/Vit Houst (Skoda Fabia S2000) +6m13.1s
10. Bryan Bouffier/Xavier Panseri (Peugeot 207 S2000) +6m52.2s
Leading IRC 2WD Cup finisher: Kevin Abbring/Erwin Mombaerts (Clio R3)
Drivers' standings (after round 9 of 12)
1. Juho Hanninen 56pts
2. Jan Kopecky 47pts
3. Freddy Loix 30pts
= Bruno Magalhaes 30pts
5. Kris Meeke 28pts
6. Guy Wilks 27pts
7. Andreas Mikkelsen 13pts
8. Thierry Neuville 11pts
9. Mikko Hirvonen 10pts
10. Paolo Andreucci 8pts
Manufacturers' standings (after round 9 of 12)
1. Skoda 128pts
2. Peugeot 79pts
3. M-Sport 31pts
4. Ralliart 22pts
5. Subaru 11pts