Coming into the Giru di Corsica-Tour de Corse, Jan Kopecky had every hope that he would be able to extend his run of success in the FIA European Rally Championship even further into 2013, and after going into the overnight break in the lead from Peugeot's Bryan Bouffier albeit only by 3.6s it was looking as through he was on course to do just that.
But instead, Kopecky struggled in the slippery conditions on Saturday's opening test and the Skoda slipped behind while Bouffier took the event lead, which the Frenchman then widened still further on the second stage of the day. Not that Kopecky was done: he set the fastest time on stage nine and cut Bouffier's lead to 10.7s heading into service in Ajaccio with two stages remaining, leaving everything to play for.
Unfortunately it was in the service area that the wheels quite literally came off Kopecky's campaign. Believing it was going to rain, the Czech Republic driver opted for soft-compound Michelin tyres for the final part of the rally; but when the rain failed to materialise, Kopecky was left struggling in damage limitation mode as Bouffier receded into the distance ahead of him with the help of the Peugeot's hard-compound selection to claim the victory.
“To join the illustrious list of French drivers who have won Monte Carlo and Corsica makes me very happy,” said Bouffier after coming home almost 40 seconds ahead of Kopecky at the end of the rally, which makes him a three-time ERC winner. "I am also happy to win this event on French territory. Against some very strong opposition this is a significant achievement."
Kopecky lost further time after the engine in his Skoda dropped to three cylinders in the final kilometers, and all-in-all he was left ruing a catalogue of misfortune on Saturday.
“I had no confidence on the first stage this morning so I reduced my speed," he explained of how he came to lose the lead in the first place. "We took some time out of Bryan on stage nine but we took soft tyres for the final stages thinking it would rain. Finally we had some problems with the engine and finished second, which is still not bad for the championship."
And indeed it's not: he's now 37 points ahead of Ireland's Craig Breen, who ended up in fourth place in Corsica after sliding into a bridge parapet on stage seven. Despite his car suffering significant damage, it didn't seem to do that much to impair his actual speed on the subsequent stages and he ended up losing out on the battle for third place to MINI John Cooper Works' Stéphane Sarrazin by only just over three seconds.
"I was very happy to have the drive on this event given the quality of the field," said Sarrazin. "Finishing on the podium was a very big ask because of the strength of the drivers here but I did a good rally with no mistakes and was able to be at the finish."
While the Le Mans 24 Hours racer and former F1 driver celebrated finishing on the podium in his first rally since last September, Breen had to be content with taking away the prestigious Colin McRae ERC Flat Out Trophy instead, which he said he was "thrilled" to receive.