Skoda Motorsport's Jan Kopecky took victory with a measured performance on the Rally Principe de Asturias on Saturday, his second consecutive win in the 2009 Intercontinental Rally Challenge.
In a fast and furious two days on the roads around host city Oviedo, Kopecky maintained a consistent pace while other leading contenders endured drama upon drama to claim a hugely popular win and close to within one point of championship leader Kris Meeke.
Peugeot UK ace Meeke suffered a puncture on the first day which, in a hugely competitive field, plunged him down to 16th place overall. Despite fighting back into the points positions, it took similar misfortunes to befall several rivals to get him back into contention.
Finally, Peugeot Benelux driver and defending IRC champion Nicolas Vouilloz incurred a time penalty after the final stage - allowing Meeke through to claim second place and thereby retain his series lead by a single point.
Vouilloz, one of the star performers of the rally, won six of the 15 stages across the two days of the event, but was another driver whose push for victory was blunted by a puncture.
Similarly afflicted was the home town hero Alberto Hevia, returning to top-flight competition after an enforced break through lack of funds, who led the opening stages of the event at the wheel of his privately-entered Skoda Fabia. Hevia eventually finished sixth, behind the Peugeot 207 S2000's of Freddy Loix and Corrado Fontana.
Meanwhile there was disappointment for Abarth on the IRC's Spanish outing. Local man Miguel Fuster, drafted in to the squad for this event, crashed out on SS4 while the first day's action was led by the Grande Punto of team leader Giandomenico Basso.
Basso, who won the event in 2008, held a commanding lead until SS12 when he spun off the road and his reverse gear failed. With no spectators in that section of the stage to help him, the Italian dropped out of contention and surrendered any mathematical chance of a shot at the IRC title.
Thus the championship battle rests between Meeke and Kopecky, who head towards the final two events separated by just one point. On the basis of their performances this weekend it would in fact be Kopecky leading the way towards the Rally Sanremo later this month, as Meeke finished the final stage in Asturias in third place on the road.