Freddy Loix has become the most successful driver in the history of the Intercontinental Rally Challenge by taking a record-breaking sixth win - and his third in as many starts this season - after a dramatic climax to Barum Czech Rally Zlin.
As the lead changed hands three times on the final four stages, Juho Hanninen claimed second to maintain his title advantage, while third place for local hero Pavel Valousek not only ensured a Skoda Fabia one-two-three, but also enabled the Czech firm to clinch the 2010 IRC manufacturers' crown for the first time with three rounds remaining.
Overnight leader Jan Kopecky had looked set to triumph on the demanding all-asphalt rally for a second year in a row, but spun into retirement with three stages left to run when he was 26 seconds out in front.
Kopecky, who was on a charge in his efforts to make up lost time following a spin earlier on stage 14, broke too late for a left-hander and slid off the road. Although his Fabia was largely undamaged, it was beached on a large branch and, unable to regain the stage, Kopecky and co-driver Petr Stary were forced to retire having led the rally from the very first stage through the streets of host city Zlin on Friday evening.
"There was some vibration after the first spin and I was a little afraid I had a puncture," said the 28-year old Czech driver, "My thinking was too much for this and I went off. I'm very disappointed, and sorry for Skoda, because the car was absolutely perfect - and also to the crowd who gave me so much support all weekend."
His misfortune promoted Bryan Bouffier, at the wheel of a Peugeot 207, into first place, but his challenge came unstuck when he damaged his rear suspension sliding wide on the penultimate stage. Although he managed to soldier through the run, the delay dropped him to second, 3.8secs behind Loix heading into the final test.
Any hopes Bouffier had of regaining top spot were then dashed when a broken pipe, the legacy of an earlier compression, dumped water over his Peugeot's front tyres and caused him to go off into a ditch five kilometres from the start of the stage.
Loix and co-driver Frederic Miclotte had settled for second place when Bouffier pulled clear on stage 15. A cautious run through the mud-strewn penultimate stage ensured they moved in front when Bouffier hit trouble and the Belgians kept their composure to claim what had been an unlikely victory leaving midday service.
"It's my second victory in Zlin, but definitely my hardest - and definitely my most exciting," Loix admitted, "The conditions were extremely difficult and it was a big fight with Bryan at the end. I always had a good feeling with my car, but I was missing something in my driving. It was a question to be as quick as possible without making any mistakes."