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IRC: Hanninen to the fore in Yalta

4 June 2011

Skoda's Juho Hanninen leads the Prime Yalta Rally following an action-packed second day in Ukraine.

With three different leaders and three different stage winners, the Intercontinental Rally Challenge thrilled the thousands of fans who flocked to the sun-baked stages in the country's Crimea region. And with Friday's demanding asphalt stages being run in reverse on Saturday, the prospects are for another day of drama.

Behind Hanninen, in a Skoda Motorsport Fabia Super 2000, Bryan Bouffier is second for Peugeot France with Jan Kopecky completing the top three in the second factory Fabia.

Crews tackled three repeated all-asphalt stages to the west of the event base in Yalta, split by a midday service in the city. Although there was no rain, overnight precipitation left some roads damp, particularly those under tree cover. However, it was the presence of rocks and other debris being dragged onto the road by drivers taking 'cuts' through corners that triggered a succession of punctures and led to several changes to the leaderboard.

Hanninen began day two in eleventh overall following the imposition of a 10-second time penalty for a jumped start on Thursday's second stage. But the combination of several impressive stage times coupled with the delays encountered by several of his rivals, allowed Hanninen to race into the overnight lead courtesy of two back-to-back stage wins on Friday afternoon.

“It's been a good day with no mistakes,” he said. “After service I was getting more confident with the car because it's been a while since I drove on tarmac and was able to push more this afternoon.”

Bouffier led at the midday service halt in Yalta despite a scare on stage five when he caught and passed the course-opening '0' and '00' cars, which had been delayed completing the stage to ensure spectators were standing in safe locations. The incident cost Bouffier valuable seconds in his pursuit of victory. His 207 S2000 also suffered a clutch failure, which had to be replaced – along with the gearbox – in service.

With Hanninen on a charge, Bouffier was unable to maintain top spot over the afternoon stages. However, event officials agreed after viewing onboard camera footage that 4.7s be removed from his total time following his delay on stage five, meaning the gap between he and Hanninen starting the final day will be a mere 8.2s.

“It would be better if I was leading but the car was working very well today,” Bouffier reflected. “I tried my best to beat Juho but he was very fast. I was pleased to have made no mistakes and got no punctures.”

Kopecky had been in touching distance of the leaders but two off-road moments and a powersteering fault held him back. Although he starts day three in a comfortable third place, he is more than one minute behind leader Hanninen.

“It's been a difficult day for everyone and I made a mistake by driving off the road,” Kopecky conceded. “We also had a powersteering problem so I have not had much luck. To catch the leaders I need to take a shortcut.”

Andreas Mikkelsen holds fourth for Skoda UK Motorsport. The young Norwegian excelled by going fastest on stage five but a front-right puncture seven kilometres into the previous stage had already wrecked his hopes of a podium finish. He could have gone fastest on the final test of the day only to suffer a high-speed spin.

Peugeot UK's Guy Wilks started day two in second overall but dropped back with a rear puncture on stage four. His recovery netted a series top three stage times. However, he would endure more frustration with another puncture on Friday's final stage, just as he was about to challenge Kopecky for third place. Instead, he will start day three in fifth overall and almost three minutes shy of the outright lead.

It was also a day to forget for Thierry Neuville, in a Team Peugeot Belgium-Luxembourg 207. Having started out heading Kronos Racing team-mate Wilks in the overall standings, a fifth-gear spin caused by touching a patch of water, resulted in him leaving the road and getting beached. He hit back by going fastest on the very next stage but a puncture on the following test cancelled out any hopes of an unlikely recovery.

“The start was good but after we made a spin, which was my own fault,” said the 22-year-old Belgian, who ended the day in sixth. “Then we had a puncture and have lost more than five minutes in total. We will continue tomorrow to try and set some good stage times.”

Toni Gardemeister ran as high as fifth in his TGS Worldwide Fabia but suffered a time-consuming puncture on stage seven. He heads Estonian newcomer Karl Kruuda and Italian veteran Marco Tempestini, who was hampered by a brake problem on his Peugeot. For Kruuda, the day represented his first meaningful outing on tarmac in his Skoda, during which he survived a trip into a ditch on stage four after he suffered a brake problem. A gearbox fault also delayed his progress.

Giandomenico Basso impressed in one of three PROTON Motorsports Satria Neos, climbing as high as fifth on Friday morning only to drop back with a powersteering fault 10 kilometres into stage five, which led to him running wide and puncturing a front-left tyre. An engine problem slowed him in the afternoon but he reached final service in tenth overall, one place ahead of new team-mate Oleksandr Saliuk Sr. The Ukrainian is making a one-off appearance in the IRC alongside Yalta Rally promoter Evgeny Chervonenko and was making the most of his extensive local knowledge but unfortunately retired with a mechanical failure after final service.

PG Andersson, in the third Satria, was slowed by a puncture in the morning and was late leaving midday service while his team worked to cure an oil pressure fault. However, the repairs were only temporary and he stopped on the final stage when the problem returned.

Patrik Sandell had begun the second day in Yalta confident that he could maintain his podium position in his Skoda Sweden-backed Fabia. But four punctures destroyed any hopes of a strong result although he was satisfied with his speed on the rare occasion that he enjoyed a clean run.

Ukrainian Mykola Chmykh heads the IRC Production Cup standings in his Subaru Impreza with Frenchman Jean-Michel Raoux topping the IRC 2WD Cup runners in his Clio R3.


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