Bryan Bouffier leads the LOTOS 70 Rally Poland, the ninth round in the 2013 FIA European Rally Championship, at the close of day one.
After challenging for victory on the Sibiu Rally in July, Bouffier is again fighting at the front in his Peugeot 207 Super 2000 and with fastest times on three of Saturday's seven stages, the three-time Polish champion leads at the overnight halt in Mikolajki by 16.8s.
“It has been really difficult today, very tricky with the weather conditions and I must say I am a bit fortunate to be here because for the final one and a half kilometres of the last stage I had a driveshaft broken I think,” said the Frenchman, whose Peugeot uses Michelin tyres. “For sure the grip has not been good but I am having to push because the gap is not so big.”
Meanwhile, there was real drama behind when national hero Robert Kubica, who started the day-closing Mragowo stage in second overall following an impressive display on his event debut, retired after tearing the front-right wheel from his Citroen DS3 RRC when he struck a rock hidden in a cut on a fifth-gear right-hander. Despite heroically battling to the finish of the stage, albeit with a significant time loss, the damage was too great for Kubica to attempt the road section back to final service.
“I thought we had less damage than we have,” said the former F1 star at the completion of the 25.16-kilometre run. “I tried to make it to the finish as I thought we had some spare parts but we don't and it's a shame. It was in a quick part and I hit a stone on the braking and all the effort went on the front right. I thought at the beginning it was a puncture but in the end it was the wheel. I was doing my own rally to be honest, not risking anything but it's kind of part of the rally. I am not sure if we come back tomorrow.”
Kubica, fastest on two stages, had been embroiled in a close battle with fellow LOTOS-backed driver Kajetan Kajetanowicz for much of the day and it's Kajetanowicz who holds second place heading into day two on his first start in a Ford Fiesta R5. The Polish champion elect belied his lack of experience behind the wheel of the new-generation car to win the second Mragowo test. Subject to confirmation, Kajetanowicz's performance today is enough to hand him his fourth national crown.
Jan Kopecky, the European championship leader, selected first position on the road in his Skoda Fabia Super 2000 and admitted it hadn't been the best choice in the slippery conditions. He is fourth overnight after losing the final spot on the provisional podium to Michal Solowow on the final stage when he went off the road on two occasions. “Under the mud there is sand, which has a lot more grip for the drivers behind,” said Kopecky. “But that last stage was a real nightmare. Twice I was out of the road. I was very lucky because once I thought we were hitting a tree.”
Polish legend and former European champion Krzysztof Holowczyc is fifth overnight in his Fiesta RRC with M-Sport team-mates Michal Kosciuszko and Zbigniew Staniszewski close behind in sixth and seventh places respectively.
Kosciuszko, who is competing with a fractured vertebra, was second after the first stage only to drop time on the next test when his Fiesta R5's powersteering momentarily faltered.