Kevin Abbring became the youngest winner of a round of the Junior World Rally Championship at the weekend when at 20 years and 159 days old he sensationally won the 66th Rally Poland.

Abbring fought a magnificently close and exciting battle with J-WRC leader Michal Kosciuszko and after two and a half days of competition the pair were separated by just 0.1 seconds after 14 of the 18 special stages.

The closest finish in J-WRC history beckoned, but three stages from the finish Kosciuszko hit a tree and retired - which disappointed Abbring, as he wanted to show the world his true talent by fighting all the way to the finish and beating his rival on home ground.

Abbring predicted that day one's stages would suit his Renault Clio R3 - which is 100kgs heavier than Kosciuszko's nimble Suzuki Swift S1600 and has a lower top speed (170kph compared to 181kph) - and in the end he was right. Indeed he set an incredible pace, opening up a 27 second advantage to finish Friday leading the J-WRC for the first time.

On day two, the Dutchman made a few mistakes on the first loop, which, combined with a great performance by his rival, saw Kosciuszko go into a 17 second lead. However Abbring re-took P1 in the final test and went into Sunday's leg with a slender 0.8 second cushion.

That set things up for a dramatic finale and it was nip-and-tuck until Kosciuszko stopped in SS16.

"We tried to push very hard all the way through this rally," Abbring reflected." It was important to be fast, but it was more important to be clever. I was really happy to be leading on Day 1, but nobody would remember this if we crashed on Day 2, so I drove hard but did not take any risks.

"I really felt good and the car was working well, even though we were on the rev-limiter on the long straights and losing time to Kosciuszko.

"I was really sorry to hear that Kosciuszko had stopped, because I would have preferred to have a fight to the end."

Meanwhile retirement was a bitter blow for Kosciuszko, who not only lost a potential home win, but with only one nominated rally remaining his J-WRC title hopes have suffered a huge set-back.

The 24-year old drove brilliantly all weekend, despite being in a lot of pain after injuring his right hand during a pre-rally test, when he jarred it on a sticking gear lever.

With his Swift in a new blue livery - courtesy of new sponsor Verva, one of the largest oil companies in Eastern Europe, Kosciuszko was very much the local star and while he wanted to win, his main aim was to stay ahead of arch rival, Martin Prokop.

Despite saying that second would be enough though he attacked on day three and regained the lead in SS14. But on SS16 he hit a rock in the middle of the road, which forced the car off the track and into a tree. It took him two minutes to get going again, but the radiator had been damaged and with water pouring out he retired 1 kilometre from the end of the stage when the engine stopped.

Prokop thus found himself moved up to second - and whilst he was in the pull-away top three, the 26-year old had already settled for 'bronze', as he was unable to match Kosciuszko and Abbring.

Prokop enjoyed a trouble-free event and looked like he might end the rally 12 points behind Kosciuszko (meaning Kosciuszko could potentially win the title on Rally Finland). Instead, Kosciuszko's demise sees him and Prokop tied on 36 points - although Kosciuszko only has Rally Finland remaining and Prokop can score points in Finland and Spain. Aaron Burkart (who did not nominate Rally Poland in his six from eight events) can also still win the title.

"It was very important for me to finish this rally, far more important than winning it, and we drove with that in mind," said Prokop. "The final two rounds of the J-WRC will be very close now, but for sure after Kosciuszko retired and didn't score any points in Poland, it makes things a lot easier for me.

"Now I don't need to win both rallies to take the title, so I'm looking forward to Finland and Spain."

Yoann Bonato took the final spot on the podium in his Suzuki, albeit more than four minutes further back. He hit a straw bale on SS4, which removed a section of his Swift's front bodywork, and attacked a deep watersplash too hard in SS9. He also overshot a junction in SS15 on the final day when he found the overnight rain had made a braking area very muddy.

"I was really expecting to finish fourth in Poland, but I am very happy to be on the podium," said Bonato. "It is a very good result for the team and our sponsors and it was important for us to put in a good performance and reach the finish.

"This rally has been very fast and difficult, and very good training for the next round - Rally Finland."

Hans Weijs Jnr, who had not driven his C2 since last month's Rally d'Italia Sardegna, was fourth, although he struggled initially with the wrong set-up. He also hit a rock in SS11 and broke a wheel, collecting a puncture and damaging the steering and suspension. He eventually finished 10 minutes off the winner and 5 minutes off Bonato.

Of the rest Simone Bertolotti was fifth, followed by Pirelli Star Driver finalist and Junior WRC 'wild card' Radoslaw Typa, who lost time with an electrical problem on day two and day three.

Luca Griotti was the only other finisher in the J-WRC, although a broken driveshaft on day two meant he missed the afternoon loop and picked up 15 minutes worth of penalties.

There were two retirees, and in addition to Kosciuszko, who crashed out on the final day as mentioned earlier, Marcin Dobrowolski also failed to make it to the end - engine problems stopping him on day two.

Alessandro Bettgea did not start in Poland as the TRT srl team entry was excused by the stewards.



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