Kris Meeke has become the most successful driver in the short history of the Intercontinental Rally Challenge by winning Rally Internacional de Curitiba for a second successive time.
Co-driven by Irishman Paul Nagle, the defending IRC champion beat fellow Briton Guy Wilks to victory in Brazil by 46.7 seconds following a faultless performance in his Peugeot 207 Super 2000. It was Meeke's fifth win from 12 IRC starts.
Behind Skoda UK driver Wilks, Juho Hanninen claimed six fastest stage times on his way to the final podium spot in third. The result means the Finn now tops the drivers' standings with 14 points to the 11 Wilks has accumulated during the opening two rounds of the 12-event IRC season.
Meeke's only cause for concern on day two occurred when he came across a flooded river just under three kilometres into stage ten. He said the section was almost one metre deep and 50 metres in length. At one point he feared he might aquaplane off the road. However, he completed the test unscathed and marked his victory by completing a celebratory lap of the Curitiba race circuit, which is hosting the opening two rounds of the World Touring Car Championship.
"It's a near-perfect result for us and it's great to have put all the experience of last year to such good use,” Meeke said. “Paul has been brilliant alongside me and made no mistakes. It's not been easy this weekend but we've learned to control the lead and that's really pleasing. We've been relaxed, driven in the middle of the road, but also showed plenty of commitment when we needed to. I know what it takes to win again."
Wilks meanwhile also suffered at the hands of the watersplash when his Skoda Fabia's engine momentarily cut onto three cylinders after taking in too much liquid. To prevent a repeat of the problem on the second pass of the stage in the afternoon, Wilks attacked the watery section at full speed. He avoided any time loss but damaged his car's bumper.
“I'd not done a gravel rally this fast since Finland in 2007 so to have adapted to the stages and got second is a great result for me, Phil and Skoda UK,” Wilks noted. “We've shown a lot of pace here but I think the difference has come down to the experience Kris has got from doing the rally last year. He drove very well but experience is very important here."
Jan Kopecky started the second leg in third place but a right-rear puncture five kilometres before the finish of the Saturday's first 28.32-kilometre Bocaiuva stage dropped him into Hanninen's clutches. And his Skoda team-mate duly moved in front on the next stage to run.
"I am quite satisfied because we are now leading the championship when yesterday we thought it would be a really bad result after the puncture. I kept pushing today to keep the rhythm and it is lucky for me Jan got his puncture because it might have been hard to have got ahead of him," stated Hanninen.