Jan Kopecky marked his first FIA European Rally Championship title triumph by making it six wins from eight starts in the 2013 ERC with a dominant victory on the Croatia Rally on Saturday.
Kopecky, whose Skoda Motorsport team celebrated his and co-driver Pavel Dresler's standout title success at the completion of Friday's opening leg, started day two with a commanding lead of 52.9 seconds. Following a near-faultless drive in his Michelin-shod Fabia Super 2000 on Saturday's seven stages, Kopecky came out on top by a margin 1m55.6s.
“It was a difficult rally for us because we expected dry weather on the first morning but it was raining and we had the hard compound tyre so this was a big challenge,” said Kopecky. “The challenge was then to stay on the road, we did this and finally things started to come better for us. But I must say this result is not just for me but also for Pavel and the whole team.”
Andreas Aigner got the better of Hermann Gassner Jr in a thrilling battle for second place and the ERC Production Car Cup spoils. Aigner's result puts him back on top of the title standings with two rounds remaining and earns him the prestigious Colin McRae ERC Flat Out Trophy. Aleks Humar was the top ERC 2WD Championship finisher in a Renault Clio R3 with Zoltan Bessenyey increasing his grip on the crown in second place for Eurosol-Honda Civic Type R.
Molly Taylor wrapped up the inaugural FIA ERC Ladies' Trophy by finishing second to category winner Asja Zupanc in her United Business Rally Team Citroen DS3 R3T. Napoca Rally Academy clinched the FIA ERC Production Car Cup for Teams thanks to the combined efforts of Romanian father-and-son Marco and Simone Tempestini.
“We're very, very happy,” said Taylor. “Our goal coming into the season was to win the ERC Ladies' Trophy so it's a case of mission accomplished. We've had some difficult events but to sew up the championship with more rallies to go is very satisfying.”
Changeable weather once again formed the backdrop to the ERC qualifier with a mixture of damp and dry conditions greeting the crews on the morning loop of three stages. And there was more rain for the afternoon runs with tyre compound selection in penultimate service proving decisive in the battle for second. Believing the stages would be dry Gassner Jr bolted hard-compound rubber on his Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution X. However, with stages 11 and 12 both featuring damp and muddy sections, the soft-compound Yokohama tyres selected by Aigner gave the Austrian the grip he craved and he was able to pull clear of his German rival having started the loop 0.7s ahead.
“It's been a very good rally for us,” said Aigner, who led outright in his Subaru Impreza R4 STI after Friday morning's stages. “We had a good battle with Hermann who did a good job and made some fantastic times. Even when it was dry he was really fast but on the damp surface we were faster.”
For Gassner Sr, third place overall still represented a strong result for the underfunded youngster. “We did the wrong tyre choice today but a podium is still a good result for us and a lot more than I expected,” he said.
Having co-driven Bernd Casier on day one, Pieter Tsjoen was behind the wheel of the Belgians' Fabia S2000 for Saturday and impressed by clocking two fastest stage times. South African teenager Henk Lategan underlined his potential by taking fifth on his second start on asphalt. Andras Hadik outgunned Aleks Humar for sixth in the closing stages with local driver Daniel Saskin finishing eighth overall on his debut in a Ford Fiesta RRC. Jani Trcek and Zoltan Bessenyey rounded out the top 10.
Robert Consani dedicated his 12th-place finish to Team Renault Sport Technologies' team-mate Germain Bonnefis, who suffered a fractured vertebra when he crashed on Friday morning. The young French driver will return home soon to begin his recuperation. For Consani, meanwhile, the result marked a return to form following three rallies without a finish. Janos Puskadi overcome myriad issues to finish 14th for Eurosol Racing Team Hungary. But there was frustration for the GPD Mit Metal Racing Team with both Robert Koristka and Antonin Tlustak retiring with mechanical issues.
The 2013 FIA European Rally Championship now continues next month with Rally Sanremo, which runs from October 10-12.
Croatia Rally - Top ten positions:
1. Jan Kopecky /Pavel Dresler
Skoda Fabia S2000 2hrs23m11.s
2. Andreas Aigner /Barbara Watzl
Subaru Impreza R4 STI +1m55.6s
3. Hermann Gassner Jr /Ursula Mayrhofer
Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution X R4 +2m09.8s
4. Pieter Tsjoen /Bernd Casier
Skoda Fabia S2000 +2m54.3s
5. Henk Lategan /Barry White
Skoda Fabia S2000 +4m04.6s
6. Andras Hadik /Krisztian Kertesz
Subaru Impreza R4 STI +6m49.0s
7. Aleks Humar /Florjan Rus
Renault Clio R3 +6m59.5s
8. Daniel Saskin /Damir Bruner
Ford Fiesta RRC +7m58.8s
9. Jan Trcek /Vili Oslaj
Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution IX +9m52.3s
10. Zoltan Bessenyey /Yulianna Nyirfas
Honda Civic Type R +10m06.5s
ERC Production Car Cup:
Andreas Aigner /Barbara Watzl (Subaru Impreza R4 STI)
ERC 2WD Championship:
Aleks Humar /Florjan Rus (Renault Clio R3)
ERC Ladies' Trophy:
Asja Zupanc (Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution IX)
Colin McRae ERC Flat Out Trophy: