16 April 2011
Kopecky leads four-way IRC battle
Jan Kopecky seizes control of the Rally Islas Canarias after a tense opening day.
Jan Kopecky's bid to make it two wins out of two on Rally Islas Canarias El Corte Ingles remains on course after the Skoda Motorsport driver completed the opening day of the all-asphalt competition with a lead of 5.7secs over rising star Thierry Neuville.
Kopecky moved in front on Friday's second stage and remained in the lead despite the close attentions of the chasing pack. The Czech, in a Fabia Super 2000, is one of four drivers covered by a margin of nine seconds heading into Saturday's final quartet of stages such is the intensity of the competition in the Intercontinental Rally Challenge.
"Its been a very good day and the car was perfect, no reason to change any details," Kopecky reported, "Of course, it's nice when we have this battle and with four cars in the fight it's really interesting for us the drivers and of course for the spectators."
Second-placed Neuville has impressed throughout day one in his Team Peugeot Belgium-Luxembourg 207. The 22-year-old hasn't put a wheel wrong on his first IRC event with new co-driver Nicolas Gilsoul. His only cause for concern came on the first loop of stages when he reported a bout of oversteer, which he put down to his decision to
carry two spare tyres rather than one as part of a set-up experiment.
"I'm really, really happy with how today has been," Neuville admitted, "The car is working very well and Nicolas and me also did a very good job for our first time together in this car. It's also really nice to be on the pace with the fastest guys even if we are near to the limit for now."
Juho Hanninen, the defending IRC champion, admitted to spending much of the day trying to avoid making mistakes in order to remain in the thick of the battle for top spot. He was fastest overall on stage six to underline his continued emergence on asphalt and moved ahead of Freddy Loix into third overall on stage seven.
"It was important not to make any mistakes today because, when that happens, you lose so much time," the Finn noted, "Because it is so close, it is very difficult to
make that time up. The car has been good all day."
Loix made his customary hesitant start to a rally and was down in eighth overall after the first stage on the Gran Karting Club circuit in the south of the island. But changes to his pacenotes for the second loop of stages helped the BFO Skoda driver increase his pace. He started the first night stage in second spot, but slipped to fourth after the run. With the second night test cancelled on safety grounds, he remains fourth overnight.
Guy Wilks was fastest on stages one and three, but his lethargy through the two passes of the Santa Lucia test has dented his hopes of victory.
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