IRC: Kopecky leads Barum Czech Rally

Fourth place is held by the second works Skoda Fabia of Juho Hanninen, who won last night's city centre stage in Zlin and won again on SS6, but struggled to maintain his pace in between these two victories. He has nevertheless recovered and is now battling to hold off the Peugeot of three-time Barum Czech Rally Zlin winner Roman Kresta.

“It was really difficult this morning because the competition was so fast and I just wasn't comfortable on the asphalt roads, which are so narrow and bumpy in the forests,” Hanninen said. “But as the day went on I got more comfortable with it all and we're in a good position for tomorrow.”

A dramatic exit from the rally meanwhile befell Abarth team leader Giandomenico Basso, the winner of the previous IRC round in Madeira earlier this month. Despite an encouraging start to hold third place, Basso had said that rainfall would work against the handling of his car on the slippery Czech asphalt

When the downpour began on SS7 he came off but continued having dropped only a few seconds. As the rainfall became torrential on SS8, however, Basso and co-driver Mitia Dotta suffered an enormous impact from which they emerged unscathed – but which forced officials to cancel the stage.

Having initially struggled to acclimatise to his new Peugeot 207 S2000, BF Goodrich Drivers Team entry Martin Prokop duly got up to speed, climbing to sixth place at the overnight halt. The newly-crowned Junior World Rally Championship winner's pace grew with his confidence in the guest car for this event, and he holds his position in front of Citroen's teenage World Rally Championship driver, Russian star Evgeny Novikov, who has privately entered a Skoda.

The final points-winning position changed places several times before Luca Rossetti claimed it overnight in the surviving works Abarth, ahead of the leading Ralliart contender, local man Vaclav Pech.

For the all-new Proton cars, however, there was little joy to be found in the Czech Republic as computer software problems in the engine management system eliminated both of the promising Satria Neo S2000 cars of Bryan Bouffier and Guy Wilks on the opening night.

In the IRC 2WD Cup local man Egon Smekal leads the way, after fellow Honda competitors - Dutchman Marcel Piepers and Norwegian Martin Knudsen - both crashed out. Smekal leads fellow Czech driver Jiri Skoupil by the narrowest of margins in his Abarth, with another Honda belonging to Hungary's Laszlo Vizin lying third.

Sunday's final day begins at 08.00 hours and runs through six special stages before the finish in central Zlin at 16.00 hours [all times local].

Related Pictures

Click on relevant pic to enlarge
Scene. Barum Czech Rally Zlin. [Pic credit: IRC]
Jan Kopecky / Petr Stary. Skoda Fabia S2000. Barum Czech Rally Zlin. [Pic credit: IRC]
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