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.
"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.