Dimitar Iliev, in a Skoda Fabia Super 2000, has made it seven different winners in this season's Intercontinental Rally Challenge with victory on the Mabanol Sliven Rally in Bulgaria today, his sixth on the high-speed asphalt event.
The multiple national champion took the lead on Saturday morning's opening stage and held off a spirited charge from Peugeot 207 S2000 pilot Petar Gyoshev to take first place by a margin 11.2s following 13 asphalt stages. He becomes the first driver from Bulgaria to win a round of the IRC.
“I'm very happy because I never did so good result on an IRC round and it sounds good to be the first Bulgarian winner in the IRC,” said Vivacom Rally Team pilot Iliev. “I drove very carefully today and even though I was not always the fastest this was the right decision because it was more important to finish. This is one of my favourite rallies.”
Behind Gyoshev, who was fastest on two stages today for the ASC Prestige team, Krum Donchev snatched the final podium spot from Todor Slavov on Sunday's second test and held on despite a spin on the final stage leaving his Peugeot with slight front-end damage. Slavov, meanwhile, secured a resounding victory in the IRC 2WD Cup in his Renault Clio R3, a performance that earned him the coveted Colin McRae IRC Flat Out Trophy.
“Today's stages were a little bit too difficult for a two-wheel-drive car, they were quite slippery and uphill and it was not possible to fight against the more powerful cars,” said Slavov. “Fourth place was the best possible result for this car so we are happy with that. To win the Colin McRae award is very special. He was my idol and I have no words to describe my feelings right now.”
Yagiz Avci, the winner of the previous IRC round in Yalta, finished fifth in his M-Sport Ford Fiesta S2000 after reporting a minor fuel pump issue. The reigning Turkish champion could have been fourth but for a 20-second penalty incurred following a timing miscalculation on day one.
Martin Kangur rounded out his IRC 2WD Cup campaign in his Catwees Honda Racing Civic Type R in a strong sixth place after Menya Krózser stopped his Clio R3 with a reported technical fault on stage 12. The Hungarian had been more than one minute clear of the Estonian teenager starting the final day.
Murat Bostanci, from Turkey, impressed in seventh place in his R2-specification Fiesta with Robert Consani eighth at the wheel of a Renault Mégane and top IRC Production Cup finisher after a puncture delayed Georgi Vasilev on stage 11. Despite moving to the top of the standings in both the IRC Production Cup and IRC 2WD Cup, Frenchman Consani said afterwards that a persistent power problem meant he couldn't gain any satisfaction from his otherwise successful Sliven debut due to the fact his ultimate speed was masked throughout.
Citroen drivers Anton Titov and Ekaterina Stratieva were ninth and tenth, but as they are not eligible for overall IRC points, Stoyan Apostolov took ninth-placed points in his Subaru Impreza with Turk Buðra Banaz next up.
Other notable finishers included Taiwanese Yuan-Hu Lin, who took his Clio R3 to 18th place, and Turkish female driver Simin Biçakçioglu who completed the event one place ahead of 16-year-old Bulgarian Mihail Simeonov, who is believed to be the youngest IRC competitor in the six-year history of the series.
Rallye Sanremo, the penultimate round of the 2012 Intercontinental Rally Challenge season now takes place next month, running from October 12-13.
Mabanol Sliven Rally - Top ten IRC positions:
1. Dimitar Iliev /Yanaki Yanakiev
ŠKODA Fabia S2000 1h48m58.7s
2. Petar Gyoshev /Dimitar Spasov
Peugeot 207 S2000 +11.2s
3. Krum Donchev /Petar Yordanov
Peugeot 207 S2000 +3m25.3s
4. Todor Slavov /Dobromir Filipov
Renault Clio R3 +3m49.9s
5. Yağiz Avci /Bahadir Gücenmez
M-Sport Ford Fiesta S2000 +4m09.5s
6. Martin Kangur /Ken Järveoja
Honda Civic Type R +8m04.5s
7. Murat Bostanci /Onur Vatansever
M-Sport Ford Fiesta R2 +10m30.4s
8. Robert Consani /Nicolas Klinger
Renault Mégane RS +12m24.4s
9. Stoyan Apostolov /Pavlina Apostolova
Subaru Impreza WRX +16m05.2s
10. Bugra Banaz /Burak Erdener
M-Sport Ford Fiesta R2 +16m50.8s
IRC Production Cup:
Robert Consani /Nicolas Klinger (Renault Mégane RS)
IRC 2WD Cup:
Todor Slavov /Dobromir Filipov (Renault Clio R3)
IRC Standings (after round 11 of 13) - Top Ten*
1. Andreas Mikkelsen
2. Juho Hanninen
3. Jan Kopecky
4. Sepp Wiegand
5. Giandomenico Basso
6. Yagiz Avci
7. Robert Consani
8. Patrik Flodin
9. Bryan Bouffier
= Umberto Scandola
* - best eight rounds to count
IRC Manufacturers standings (after round 11 of 13)