IRC: Kopecky leads after Meeke woe

Hevia reported slight understeer in the morning and reckoned he was giving away some eight brake horsepower to his IRC rivals as a result of using the control fuel specified by the Spanish championship organisers in order to be eligible for domestic points.

Vallejo, who won Rally Islas Canarias last season when it ran outside of the IRC, lost ground at the start when he struggled to get enough heat into his tyres. He also complained about the handling of his car, which necessitated a switch to stiffer springs at first service. Unfortunately, delays replacing his Fiesta's transmission at second service meant he incurred a two-minute penalty. However, with Thierry Neuville and Franz Wittmann both suffering punctures on stage eight, Vallejo's delay went largely unpunished.

Meeke had claimed five fastest stage times and was leading by 17.9 seconds when disaster struck approximately five kilometres into the 29.95-kilometre Ingenio stage, the longest of the two-day asphalt rally. Marc van Dalen, the boss of Meeke's Kronos Racing team, explained the puncture was caused by a suspension bolt piercing a hole in the wheel, which caused the tyre to deflate.

"It's a risk but we decided together to run quite an aggressive set-up for more speed," said van Dalen. "Unfortunately just one stupid compression in a corner caused the middle of the wheel to break. It's really a shame for Kris and the team but this is rally and we have to accept it."

Thierry Neuville is starting his six-event IRC campaign in his Team Peugeot Belgium-Luxembourg 207 on Rally Islas Canarias. The 21-year-old Belgian was seventh heading into stage eight where he suffered a puncture in virtually identical circumstances to team-mate Meeke. He fell to eighth as a result, having spent the day avoiding taking any big risks.

Ruben Gracia is ninth in his Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution X, the highest runner in a conventional Group N machine, with Jose Suarez tenth in a similar car. The division has lost Jonathan Perez, whose Lancer was engulfed by fire at the end of stage five. Perez and co-driver Enrique Velasco were uninjured but the delay extinguishing the flames meant the opening leg ran 30 minutes late.

Franz Wittmann, making his first appearance in the IRC since Rallye Automobile Monte-Carlo in January, slipped from eighth to 11th when he suffered a puncture on stage eight. The Austrian lost more time when his Peugeot 207 started rolling down a hill while he and co-driver Klaus Wicha were attempting to replace the damaged tyre.

Daniel Oliveira's rally got off to a difficult start when he damaged the front of his Stohl Racing Peugeot 207 nudging a gravel bank on the opening stage. He lost more time on stage two when he spun in a narrow section and lost nearly two minutes trying to get his car pointing in the right direction.

Irish privateer Daniel Barry was expected to challenge for Group N honours before the start but a persistent overheating problem has wrecked his chances at the wheel of his family-run Mitsubishi Lancer by forcing him to stop on several stages to allow his car to cool down.

Canary Islander Yeray Lemes heads the IRC 2WD Cup with Enrique Cruz second in a similar Ford Fiesta R2.

Rally Islas Canarias - Top 10 IRC positions after leg 1:

1. Jan Kopecky/Petr Stary Skoda Fabia S2000 1h20m25.0s
2. Juho Hanninen/Mikko Markkula Skoda Fabia S2000 +14.4s
3. Guy Wilks/Phil Pugh Skoda Fabia S2000 +31.4s
4. Bruno Magalhaes/Carlos Magalhaes Peugeot 207 S2000 +49.3s
5. Alberto Hevia/Alberto Iglesias Skoda Fabia S2000 +1m17.4s
6. Kris Meeke/Paul Nagle Peugeot 207 S2000 +1m28.0s
7. Sergio Vallejo/Diego Vallejo Ford Fiesta S2000 +3m35.6s
8. Thierry Neuville/Nicolas Klinger Peugeot 207 S2000 +3m40.9s
9. Ruben Gracia/Diego Sanjuan Mitsubishi Lancer Evo X +5m51.5s
10. Jose Suarez/Candido Carrera Mitsubishi Lancer Evo X +5m55.8s

Related Pictures

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Jan Kopecky/Petr Stary. Skoda Fabia S2000. Rally Islas Canarias. [Pic credit: IRC]

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