Jan Kopecky has secured his first victory of the 2010 Intercontinental Rally Challenge season following a tense finish to Rally Islas Canarias today.
Kopecky moved in front when Kris Meeke suffered a puncture on Friday's penultimate stage, but then had to stave off pressure from Skoda Motorsport team-mate Juho Hanninen, who closed to within 9.1 seconds of the Czech driver at the finish in Las Palmas.
Kopecky, who becomes the fourth different winner in as many rounds, moves to equal second with Guy Wilks in the championship standings, seven points behind Hanninen. Defending IRC champion Meeke fell from first to sixth after his puncture but battled back to fourth at the wheel of his Peugeot 207. He is now clear in fourth in the drivers' table.
Fastest on four stages, Kopecky conceded at the finish that he wouldn't have caught Meeke had it not been for the Northern Irishman's puncture, such was the Peugeot UK driver's pace on the challenging asphalt roads of Gran Canaria. Kopecky had to make it through the opening loop of stages on Saturday with no working handbrake but otherwise reported no major problems on his way to the third victory of his IRC career.
"I was very lucky because of what happed to Kris but it's happened to us before like in Monte Carlo this season. The car was working well and to get three Skodas on the podium is a very good thing,” Kopecky said. “Four winners in four rallies is amazing and shows how close the competition is in the IRC. There are still some things we can improve but this is good for my championship hopes."
Hanninen is more at home on gravel but impressed throughout the all-asphalt island rally to keep within touching distance of Kopecky, who is regarded as a tarmac specialist. Hanninen's fourth podium finish of the season enabled him to extend his title advantage by two points. The Finn said he had been too aggressive on his tyres on Friday so tried to drive more smoothly on day two in order to preserve his car's rubber.
"I'm a little surprised to have come second with some good stage times too because tarmac is not my best surface,” Hanninen reflected. “Eight points is good and already we have scored more points than we did in the whole of last year so I am happy."
Guy Wilks continued his point-scoring sequence at the wheel of his Skoda UK Motorsport-run Fabia. Apart from a loss of brakes and a split airbox on Friday, the Briton's only cause for complaint concerned the handling of his car, which he spent the duration of the rally trying to adapt to his liking. He said he had virtually achieved that objective at the finish.
"It's good to get a podium when ultimately things could have been worse. We were more on the pace today but we need to get stronger. However, it's been a difficult time for us because this is the fourth rally we've done in the same car so to get three podiums in a row is not bad," Wilks said.