Jan Kopecky made it look easy in the end, but the fog-induced limited visibility for much of the three-day event had made the 2013 SATA Rallye Açores hard-going for everyone in the field, and only added to the Czech Republic driver's sense of satisfaction at what proved to be an emphatic win, his first on gravel.
"Of course it feels great, to win the rally is always amazing," said Kopecky. "It's our first win on gravel because in the Czech Republic we don't have any gravel rallies and I grew up on Tarmac and have only done a few rallies so it's a great weekend for us."
It means that Kopecky and navigator Pavel Dresler have a perfect record for the season so far, having won all three of the FIA European Rally Championship events that they have entered this year. It puts Kopecky on top of the drivers' championship on 115 points, 27 ahead of Peugeot's Craig Breen.
"I have to say it's good for Skoda because we have won three rallies in a row and it's a good opportunity for us to win the title," Kopecky said. "We are winning a lot of rallies and it means the car is perfect and the team is strong and everything is working well."
Breen was Kopecky's main and indeed only real challenge in the Açores. Breen did all he could to stay in touch with the leader almost to the bitter end, but finally the Irishman was forced to settle for second place and Kopecky was able to lay to rest the ghost of a lost win here in 2010 when he had crashed out of the lead in the final stage.
"I was not thinking about the corner where I crashed, but when I passed that corner I said 'Okay, it's over' - and then we went wide on the next corner!" he laughed. "So I thought it was better not to think about these things again."
There was to be no repeat of any race-ending calamity this time, though: in fact, Kopecky positively drove a stake through that particular memory by putting in the fastest time of anyone in the final 21.33-kilometre stage of the rally. That was his seventh top stage time of the three days, and pushed his margin of victory over Breen to more than half a minute at the end of the rally.
Breen admitted that after pushing to the very limits of his ability in the morning and winning Tronqueira 1, he'd had to be more sensible in the afternoon and concentrate on safeguarding his second position to the finish in order to collect his third consecutive podium in the championship, in what was his first gravel event in the Peugeot 207.
"I tried to push very hard this morning. Nothing stupid, but for sure we were pushing," he said. clearly getting a little tired of finishing as the rummer-up all the time. "It's all very well racking up these second places, but second is getting monotonous, I want to win like you wouldn't believe."