Juho Hanninen has claimed his maiden victory on Barum Czech Rally Zlin. The former Intercontinental Rally Challenge champion was leading comfortably after 14 stages when organisers stopped the event ahead of the final test following an accident on stage 13.
Miroslav Regner, the event clerk of the course, confirmed that a Czech male spectator had died and a Hungarian male spectator had suffered non-life threatening injuries and was being treated in hospital. The crew of the car, Vaclav Kopacek and Tomas Singer, were not injured. An investigation has been launched. IRC promoter Eurosport Events and Crash.net
join the rally organisers in extending its condolences to the family of the deceased.
In terms of the outcome of the rally, Hanninen, had been in a close fight with Slpda Motorsport team-mate Jan Kopecky starting the final day but edged 16.2s clear when he beat Kopecky by more than 10s following a flat-out charge on stage 12. But any hopes Kopecky had of fighting back on the next run, Halenkovice, ended when his Fabia Super 2000's engine failed after a handful of kilometres of the 21.40-kilometre test, which was subsequently neutralised following Kopacek's accident.
“I really was pushing that I can promise,” said Hanninen, whose tally of 11 IRC wins alongside navigator Mikko Markkula is more than any other driver has managed in the six-year history of the series. “I don't know what happened to Jan but only a few kilometres from the stage start he was at the side of the road and it looks like it was something technical. It was not easy then to find the rhythm after being in a big fight for the last two days.”
Defending IRC champion Andreas Mikkelsen was in third overall when a double puncture on the day's first stage dropped him to 10th. He was in eighth when the rally was stopped. “At a junction we went a little bit extra wide and hit a kerb,” said the Skoda UK Motorsport driver. “We stopped to change a puncture, but we didn't realise we had two punctures and had to stop again – that's why we lost so much time. After that we had to be really careful and not take any cuts, because if we had another puncture that would be the end of our rally. It's been a difficult weekend.”
Roman Kresta finished second following a close fight with fellow Czech and Skoda privateer Tomas Kostka, who led after the Friday night's opening special. After overcoming powersteering problems on day one Kresta's team-mate Jaromir Tarabus finished fourth after moving clear of Robert Barrable who impressed in fifth place for Skoda Ireland. Estonian teenager Karl Kruuda completed the top six.
Patrik Flodin finished 15th for PS Engineering after a troubled rally. A gearbox change, which handed him a substantial time penalty on Sunday, compounded a frustrating weekend for the rapid Swede in his M-Sport Ford Fiesta S2000. Micha³ So³owow was the leading Peugeot 207 S2000 finisher in ninth, one place ahead of Skoda Auto Deutschland's Sepp Wiegand, who was delayed when he went off the road on the opening day.
Despite failing to finish after crashing on stage seven, Jarkko Nikara was handed the Colin McRae IRC Flat Out Trophy for a sequence of impressive stage times in his near-standard Impreza, including the third-fastest time on stage five.
Meanwhile, Andreas Aigner made it three wins out of four starts in the IRC Production Cup, which he led from stage five. Co-driven by fellow Austrian Ilka Minor, Aigner drove without error to finish an impressive seventh overall in his Stohl Racing Subaru Impreza R4 STI. Toshi Arai, in a Tommi Makinen Racing Impreza, finished second with Czech Jaroslav Orsak fighting back from a puncture on Saturday afternoon to take third. “Ilka has been making the perfect job, the car is perfect so no problems,” said Aigner afterwards.
As for the IRC 2WD Cup, having led for the first 10 stages, Robert Consani was eyeing his second victory of the season when an engine fault halted his Renault Megane on Sunday morning, handing victory to local hero Jan Cerny. Consani's retirement means Harry Hunt's 26-point title advantage remains in tact. The Briton was not competing in Zlín. Honda's Martin Kangur retired from damaged front-left suspension following an accident on stage four.
The 2012 Intercontinental Rally Challenge season now continues later this month with the Prime Yalta Rally, which runs from September 14-16.
Barum Czech Rally Zlin - Top ten IRC positions (after day two):
1. Juho Hanninen /Mikko Markkula
Skoda Fabia S2000 2h11m28.2s
2. Roman Kresta /Petr Gross
Skoda Fabia S2000 +1m43.1s
3. Tomas Kostka /Miroslav Houst
Skoda Fabia S2000 +1m51.8s
4. Jaromir Tarabus /Daniel Trunkat
Skoda Fabia S2000 +4m11.7s
5. Robert Barrable /Stuart Loudon
Skoda Fabia S2000 +4m33.6s
6. Karl Kruuda /Martin Järveoja
Skoda Fabia S2000 +5m03.0s
7. Andreas Aigner /Ilka Minor
Subaru Impreza R4 STI +5m34.6s
8. Andreas Mikkelsen /Ola Floene
Skoda Fabia S2000 +5m35.8s
9. Micha³ So³owow /Maciej Baran
Peugeot 207 S2000 +6m18.7s
10. Sepp Wiegand /Timo Gottschalk
Skoda Fabia S2000 +7m21.8s
IRC Production Cup:
Andreas Aigner /Ilka Minor (Subaru Impreza R4 STI)
IRC 2WD Cup:
Jan Cerny /Pavel Kohout (Citroen DS3 R3T)
IRC Standings (after round 9 of 13) - Top Ten*
1. Andreas Mikkelsen
2. Juho Hanninen
3. Jan Kopecky
4. Sepp Wiegand
5. Giandomenico Basso
6. Patrik Flodin
7. Bryan Bouffier
= Umberto Scandola
9. Dani Sordo
10. Robert Barrable
= Craig Breen
= Roman Kresta
= Freddy Loix
* - best eight rounds to count
IRC Manufacturers standings (after round 9 of 13)