Kevin Abbring became the youngest winner of a round of the Junior World Rally Championship at the weekend when at 20 years and 159 days old he sensationally won the 66th Rally Poland.
Abbring fought a magnificently close and exciting battle with J-WRC leader Michal Kosciuszko and after two and a half days of competition the pair were separated by just 0.1 seconds after 14 of the 18 special stages.
The closest finish in J-WRC history beckoned, but three stages from the finish Kosciuszko hit a tree and retired - which disappointed Abbring, as he wanted to show the world his true talent by fighting all the way to the finish and beating his rival on home ground.
Abbring predicted that day one's stages would suit his Renault Clio R3 - which is 100kgs heavier than Kosciuszko's nimble Suzuki Swift S1600 and has a lower top speed (170kph compared to 181kph) – and in the end he was right. Indeed he set an incredible pace, opening up a 27 second advantage to finish Friday leading the J-WRC for the first time.
On day two, the Dutchman made a few mistakes on the first loop, which, combined with a great performance by his rival, saw Kosciuszko go into a 17 second lead. However Abbring re-took P1 in the final test and went into Sunday's leg with a slender 0.8 second cushion.
That set things up for a dramatic finale and it was nip-and-tuck until Kosciuszko stopped in SS16.
“We tried to push very hard all the way through this rally,” Abbring reflected.” It was important to be fast, but it was more important to be clever. I was really happy to be leading on Day 1, but nobody would remember this if we crashed on Day 2, so I drove hard but did not take any risks.
“I really felt good and the car was working well, even though we were on the rev-limiter on the long straights and losing time to Kosciuszko.
“I was really sorry to hear that Kosciuszko had stopped, because I would have preferred to have a fight to the end.”
Meanwhile retirement was a bitter blow for Kosciuszko, who not only lost a potential home win, but with only one nominated rally remaining his J-WRC title hopes have suffered a huge set-back.
The 24-year old drove brilliantly all weekend, despite being in a lot of pain after injuring his right hand during a pre-rally test, when he jarred it on a sticking gear lever.