Peugeot UK driver Kris Meeke won his third consecutive IRC event by claiming victory on debut in the Belgium Ypres Rally, upsetting the locals by beating Ypres favourite - and Kronos team-mate - Freddy Loix into the bargain.

The win, his third in five rounds since joining the IRC full-time this season, has promoted Meeke to a six-point lead in the standings over Peugeot Belgium-backed Loix, who headed into the event as the reigning Ypres 'champion'.

The Peugeot pair were involved in a battle for the lead from the very beginning, trading fastest stage times that, over the course of the 16-stage event, saw Meeke win eight stages and Loix seven. The Briton edged ahead after SS12, but Loix - a five-time winner of the event - claimed to have more speed in reserve.

Related Articles

"I never thought for a minute that I could be in a position to win here, so to be on the top step of the podium on such a prestigious event is a dream come true for me," Meeke enthused, "I think this is certainly the biggest moment of my career to date. Everyone knows the reputation of this rally, and victory here feels very special. But it takes more than one person to make a race, and it's been fantastic to have such a fight, with just tenths of a second separating us all. I think this weekend is the most fun I've ever had behind the wheel."

Loix's challenge evaporated on the following stage, when he picked up a puncture that dropped him to fourth place. He refused to give up, however, and eventually finished third, maintaining second place in the championship, but was naturally disappointed not to have given his fans the result they wanted.

"Of course it's a shame for everyone that we had the puncture, as before it was a really great fight with Kris," Loix lamented, "I tried not to push my hardest all the time, because this is not the sort of rally where you can take big risks, but, in the end, it was a really close battle between the two of us. The most important thing in any sport is to have good competition, and we certainly had that all weekend."

The only other person to challenge the two leaders was Skoda driver Jan Kopecky, who was in the top three from the very first day. The only problem that the Czech encountered was a motorcyclist who rode into him on a road section before SS10, although fortunately there were no serious consequences. Following Loix's puncture, Kopecky moved up into second place, where he remained to the finish in order to rise to third place overall in the championship standings.

"Second place is a very good result for us, particularly as we had the accident with the motorcyclist today, which was not a nice feeling as it distracted us," Kopecky commented, "Luckily everyone is okay, but it is not a nice thing to happen on a rally. I tried as best as I could, but I think this result is a real testimony to just how good our car is. I'd like to thank our entire team - we have had two second places now and we are third in the championship, which is a good sign that we are making progress."

Skoda team-mate Juho Hanninen was lying third until the final stage, where he too punctured and dropped to fifth. Nonetheless, the popular Finn scores his first points of the year.

Hanninen's misfortune benefitted local driver Pieter Tsjoen, who claimed fourth at the finish in a privately-run Peugeot 207 S2000, while the battle for sixth resulted in one of the closest finishes in the history of the IRC as Luxembourg driver Gilles Schammel, driving another 207 S2000, finished just 0.1secs ahead of Dutchman Jasper van den Heuvel, at the wheel of a Mitsubishi Lancer.

The final point was claimed by Abarth's Giandomenico Basso, who lost fourth place on the final stage after picking up a puncture on the same rock that caused a problem for Hanninen. Basso's Abarth team-mate Bernd Casier eventually finished 13th after being delayed by a gearbox problem and punctures, which proved to be a constant risk on the challenging Belgian asphalt.

This notoriously tricky event, which is renowned in the world of international rallying, claimed some high-profile victims, most notably Francois Duval, making a guest appearance in a privateer Skoda Fabia S2000. The Belgian's rally lasted just a few hundred metres before he skated off the road on SS1. Nicolas Vouilloz, the reigning IRC champion, also endured a difficult opening stage on Thursday, running wide on a corner and heavily damaging the front of his Peugeot 207 S2000. The Frenchman was attempting to make his way back up the leaderboard on the second day when he got stuck behind the similar car of Michal Solowow, which had been slowed by a puncture, and went off whilst trying to get past it.

The IRC 2WD Cup was won by Dutchman Marcel Piepers, driving a Honda Civic Type R. Piepers stamped his authority over the event, but second place for Frenchman Denis Millet was enough to give the Frenchman the joint lead of the standings. Another Honda, driven by Martijn Braat, was third, boosting the Japanese manufacturer's haul in the IRC 2WD Cup constructors' standings.

Battle will be rejoined in an arena markedly different to the flat-out asphalt roads of Belgium, as the IRC moves to the gravel stages of Rally Russia, now in its third year of participation in the series. Based as always in the city of Vyborg, not far from the Finnish border, the roads have a lot in common with those that feature on the legendary Rally Finland, and will reward bravery and commitment above all else. Rally Russia takes place over 9-11 July.