Juho Hanninen has underlined his status as the most successful driver in the six-year history of the Intercontinental Rally Challenge by winning the Geko Ypres Rally in Belgium on Saturday, the first Finn to do so since the late Henri Toivonen in 1984.
Driving a Skoda Motorsport Fabia Super 2000, Hanninen led from Friday's second stage to make it ten IRC wins from 28 starts, three more than Freddy Loix, the next most successful driver who settled for the runner-up place on the asphalt showcase, round six of the 13-event all-action series.
Hanninen's victory means Skoda has won more IRC rounds than any other manufacturer with 24 triumphs to Peugeot's 23.
In the battle for the IRC drivers' crown, Andreas Mikkelsen was unable to add to his points total after skating off the road on Saturday's first stage and retiring when he damaged the suspension on his Skoda UK entry. However, with closest rival Jan Kopecky contesting a clashing Czech championship round Mikkelsen's six-point advantage remains intact.
Elsewhere, Andreas Aigner has moved to the top of the IRC Production Cup standings with his second successive win for Subaru. Martin Kangur, in a Honda Civic Type R, clinched the IRC 2WD Cup laurels to move joint top with Harry Hunt in the race for the two-wheel-drive crown.
“It was one of the most important victories I have ever had,” said Hanninen, whose performance earned him the prestigious Colin McRae IRC Flat Out Trophy presented in honour of the rallying great. “Before the start I didn't think it was possible to beat Freddy on his home rally but in the end we did and that was fantastic. The set-up of the car was perfect, we didn't have to change anything.”
Loix ultimately fell short in his bid to make it eight IRC wins in his 2C Competition-prepared Peugeot 207 S2000, despite claiming five fastest stage times. Although he possesses considerable knowledge of the narrow farmland roads around the historic market town of Ypres, the 41-year-old suggested his car's inferior top speed compared to the Fabia would always hold him back in his pursuit of glory.
Multiple Belgian champion Pieter Tsjoen completed the podium for his country's Skoda importer on a rare start in a Super 2000 car. He is now within touching distance of a record eighth Belgian title. Polish driver Michal Solowow finished fourth in a Peugeot with Patrik Flodin completing the top five for Petter Solberg Engineering, having been delayed on Saturday morning by a broken driveshaft.
Mathias Viaene fought back to sixth place having dropped to 18th when he punctured a front-right tyre going off the road and into a ditch on stage eight. Jonas Langenakens, who won the IRC Production Cup in Ypres last season, stepped up to Super 2000 competition in style by finishing seventh having been slowed in the early stages by a damaged exhaust.
Behind IRC Production Cup winner Aigner in eighth, Czech Antonín Tlust'ak was ninth with Bob Colsoul rounding out the top 10. Laszlo Vizin took the Eurosol Racing Team's Fabia to 13th with Skydive Dubai's Rashid Al-Ketbi finishing a fine 15th on his Ypres debut.
Skoda Ireland's Robert Barrable retired from sixth with a loss of gearbox oil at the completion of stage 14. Dream Team Ukraine's Oleksandr Saliuk dropped out of fifth place when he slid into a ditch on stage 13 and got stuck for several minutes. He retired his Fiesta shortly afterwards.
The 2012 Intercontinental Rally Challenge season now continues next month with Rally San Marino, running from July 5-7.
Geko Ypres Rally - Top ten IRC positions (after day two):
1. Juho Hanninen/Mikko Markkula
Skoda Fabia S2000 2h36m52.7s
2. Freddy Loix/Lara Vanneste
Peugeot 207 S2000 +46.5s
3. Pieter Tsjoen/Eddy Chevaillier
Skoda Fabia S2000 +2m14.6s
4. Michal Solowow/Maciej Baran
Peugeot 207 S2000 +5m25.4s
5. Patrik Flodin/Goran Bergsten
M-Sport Ford Fiesta S2000 +5m55.5s
6. Mathias Viaene/Pieter Vyncke
Peugeot 207 S2000 +9m37.8s
7. Jonas Langenakens/Nico Beernaert
Peugeot 207 S2000 +9m55.6s
8. Andreas Aigner/Daniela Ertl
Subaru Impreza R4 STI +10m27.1s
9. Antonín Tlust'ak/Jan Skaloud
Skoda Fabia S2000 +10m38.9s
10. Bob Colsoul/Tom Colsoul
Ralliart Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution X +12m24.3s
IRC Production Cup:
Andreas Aigner/Daniela Ertl (Subaru Impreza R4 STI)
IRC 2WD Cup:
Martin Kangur/Andres Ots (Honda Civic Type R)
IRC standings (after round 6 of 13) - Top ten*
1. Andreas Mikkelsen
2. Jan Kopecký
3. Juho Hänninen
4. Sepp Wiegand
5. Bryan Bouffier
6. Dani Sordo
7. Craig Breen
= Freddy Loix
9. Giandomencio Basso
= Pierre Campana
= Luis Monzón
= Pieter Tsjoen
* - best eight rounds to count
IRC manufacturers' standings (after round 6 of 13)