Peugeot Belgium drivers Freddy Loix and Nicolas Vouilloz finished first and second on the opening day of the Barum Rally Zlin, separated by just four seconds after 152 competitive kilometres of round six of the IRC.
“It's been very close between us all day,” said Loix, who won the Ypres Rally in June, “I think we're both pushing as hard as we can and that is how it's going to be tomorrow as well. The car is working as I like it and I have a very good feeling with these roads. In many ways, they are quite similar to what we have back home in Belgium.”
The only person to claim a fastest stage time other than Loix and Vouilloz today was Bryan Bouffier, driving for Peugeot Poland. The Frenchman ends the opening day third, despite being hit with a minute's penalty for early arrival at SS9 – which he disputes.
As the results stand, he is now only 6.8secs ahead of reigning IRC champion Enrique Garcia Ojeda, who is returning to the series for the first time this year at the wheel of a privately-entered Peugeot 207 S2000.
“It's been a lot of fun coming back,” Ojeda admitted, “However, it's definitely taken me some time to find the right rhythm and I hope to be a bit quicker tomorrow.”
Luca Rossetti, current leader of the European Championship, held third place for much of the day, but dropped nearly three minutes with a puncture on the final stage, which has put him back to eighth and the final point-scoring place.
However, he was far from the only person to encounter setbacks on the demanding Czech asphalt stages. It was a disastrous event for the Abarth team, which was forced to retire both official Grande Puntos in the morning as a result of gearbox issues. Giandomenico Basso and Anton Alen are expected to re-start tomorrow under the SupeRally system.
One of the pre-event favourites, Roman Kresta, only managed to complete six kilometres of the morning's opening stage before arriving at a tricky corner too fast and rolling his Peugeot 207 S2000 comprehensively. The damage was too great for him to continue.
Bernd Casier, in the Volkswagen Polo S2000, picked up a puncture and slid into a ditch on SS5. It took him more than a minute to recover, but he ends the day within the top ten after setting some encouraging stage times.
The top driver in the IRC 2WD Cup is local man Jan Slehofer, at the wheel of a Fiat Punto S1600. The Peugeot 206 S1600 of Milan Kneifel is less than six seconds behind, while Alessandro Bettega's Honda Civic Type R R3 is third. Sunday sees the crews will tackle six final stages, making up 110 competitive kilometres.
Barum Rally Zlin leaders (after SS9)
Peugeot 207 S2000 1h 25m 16.2s
Peugeot 207 S2000 +4.0s
Peugeot 207 S2000 +1m39.8s
Peugeot 207 S2000 +1m46.6s
Peugeot 207 S2000 +2m07.4s
Peugeot 207 S2000 +2m20.1s
Abarth Grande Punto +2m29.8s
Peugeot 207 S2000 +3m31.7s
Peugeot 207 S2000 +3m34.1s
Volkswagen Polo S2000 +3m54.1s
Two-wheel drive leader:
Jan Slehofer (Fiat Punto S1600)