Jan Kopecky has claimed his first victory in the Intercontinental Rally Challenge for more than a year after triumphing on a thrilling Barum Czech Rally Zlin.
The Skoda Motorsport ace, roared on by approximately 300,000 home fans, beat Freddy Loix by 1.2s, the closest finish in the history of the IRC. Team-mate Juho Hanninen took third to make it a Skoda podium lock-out.
Kopecky started the final stage with a two-second margin over Loix and despite the BFO-Skoda driver going fastest through the closing test, Kopecky was able to hold on to first place and trim Hanninen's title lead to three points with four IRC rounds remaining.
Kopecky, whose last win in the IRC was on Rally Islas Canarias El Corte Ingles in May 2010, thought his hopes of victory were over when his car's powersteering faltered on Sunday's first stage, which resulted in his overnight lead of 19.7s being slashed to 5.6s.
Although he and co-driver Petr Stary were able to fashion makeshift repairs by using a spare pipe to bypass the oil cooler to the powersteering pump, they were unable to prevent the advancing Loix from closing to within one second at the midday service halt in Otrokovice.
In a tense finish, Kopecky held his nerve to win and banish the memories of 2010 when he crashed out of the lead of his home event on the final day. His efforts earned him the prestigious Colin McRae IRC Flat Out Trophy, awarded to the driver whose performance best embodies the spirit of the rallying legend.
“It was a nice fight with Freddy until the last metre of the last stage and we enjoyed it a lot,” Kopecky said. “Many people were much more nervous than me, I was quite relaxed and felt no pressure. I have to say it is my best win and we come back in the championship now but there is still a long way to go.”
“I was hoping I could win but the first four stages I wasn't so quick and didn't have the feeling with the car,” Loix added. “I was also missing a bit the rhythm. But then we changed the car and started to fight back from sixth to a few seconds from Jan. It was a great race for me and Jan was very quick.”
Hanninen meanwhile began the final day equal on time with Loix in second but dropped out of contention when he slid wide on stage 12 and lost a few precious seconds in the mistaken belief that he had a puncture. Anxious to preserve his championship lead, the Finn settled for third rather than pushing for a fourth win of the campaign.