Round two of the Intercontinental Rally Challenge, Rally Islas Canarias El Corte Ingles, is set for a thrilling climax today [Saturday] with the top two drivers, Jan Kopecky and Andreas Mikkelsen, separated by just 1.2s heading into the closing six stages.
Mikkelsen, the defending IRC champion, led throughout the day but purposely dropped precious seconds to his rival on the final test so that he will run behind Kopecky on the road on day two. While he no longer leads, the 22-year-old will now be able to monitor Kopecky's stage times and decide when to attack and when to drive with more caution in his quest for a strong finish.
With Skoda UK Motorsport ace Mikkelsen winning four stages today and Kopecky going fastest on five occasions in his factory Skoda Fabia Super 2000, the battle for victory will be wide open on the demanding asphalt roads around Las Palmas when the action resumes at 10:28hrs local time.
“It's super, super close, a proper fight,” said Mikkelsen. “Jan has been pushing a lot and on stage eight I had a big moment a few kilometres from the end, went off and jumped into the road again. The tyres were very worn at that point but the car was okay - I was extremely lucky.
“I didn't want to run behind Jan on the final day because I prefer to hunt than be hunted,” he added.
In bright sunshine and roared on by thousands of fans, by winning the day's first three stages Mikkelsen appeared to be controlling his advantage over Kopecky until his scare nearing the finish of the seventh 21.29-kilometre Ingenio test gave the Czech driver hope.
“Andreas has been very fast today, taking some big risks,” added Kopecky, the winner in Gran Canaria in 2010. “I believed we could be quicker but the most important thing is to finish the rally. I had one small moment in the morning and I did not have so much confidence with the reading of the pacenotes on one stage this afternoon. But the car has been perfect and now I am leading.”
Spaniard Luis Monzon is the top Peugeot 207 S2000 driver in third overall following a hugely impressive showing on his first rally in the French machine for four years. Rarely outside of the top three stage times, Monzon holds a 20.3s advantage over fourth-placed Hermann Gassner Jr, who lost ground with an intercom fault on stage seven.
“I am very happy with today,” said Monzon. “It has been long and not so easy for me to learn this car again but we try to maintain this position to the end of the rally. We can't do anything but maximum attack like today.”
Sepp Wiegand, who like his fellow German Gassner Jr is competing on the event for the first time, had been embroiled in a close fight with Spaniard Alberto Hevia for fifth overall until the luckless Hevia's Fabia failed on the road section heading to the penultimate stage of the day.