Jan Kopecky's bid to make it two wins out of two on Rally Islas Canarias El Corte Ingles remains on course after the Skoda Motorsport driver completed the opening day of the all-asphalt competition with a lead of 5.7secs over rising star Thierry Neuville.

Kopecky moved in front on Friday's second stage and remained in the lead despite the close attentions of the chasing pack. The Czech, in a Fabia Super 2000, is one of four drivers covered by a margin of nine seconds heading into Saturday's final quartet of stages such is the intensity of the competition in the Intercontinental Rally Challenge.

"Its been a very good day and the car was perfect, no reason to change any details," Kopecky reported, "Of course, it's nice when we have this battle and with four cars in the fight it's really interesting for us the drivers and of course for the spectators."

Second-placed Neuville has impressed throughout day one in his Team Peugeot Belgium-Luxembourg 207. The 22-year-old hasn't put a wheel wrong on his first IRC event with new co-driver Nicolas Gilsoul. His only cause for concern came on the first loop of stages when he reported a bout of oversteer, which he put down to his decision to
carry two spare tyres rather than one as part of a set-up experiment.

"I'm really, really happy with how today has been," Neuville admitted, "The car is working very well and Nicolas and me also did a very good job for our first time together in this car. It's also really nice to be on the pace with the fastest guys even if we are near to the limit for now."

Juho Hanninen, the defending IRC champion, admitted to spending much of the day trying to avoid making mistakes in order to remain in the thick of the battle for top spot. He was fastest overall on stage six to underline his continued emergence on asphalt and moved ahead of Freddy Loix into third overall on stage seven.

"It was important not to make any mistakes today because, when that happens, you lose so much time," the Finn noted, "Because it is so close, it is very difficult to
make that time up. The car has been good all day."

Loix made his customary hesitant start to a rally and was down in eighth overall after the first stage on the Gran Karting Club circuit in the south of the island. But changes to his pacenotes for the second loop of stages helped the BFO Skoda driver increase his pace. He started the first night stage in second spot, but slipped to fourth after the run. With the second night test cancelled on safety grounds, he remains fourth overnight.

Guy Wilks was fastest on stages one and three, but his lethargy through the two passes of the Santa Lucia test has dented his hopes of victory.

"I lost confidence because the car was sliding at the rear and I couldn't commit in the fast corners," said the Peugeot UK driver, who slipped from fifth to seventh on stage seven, "We've been a bit too up and down and that has been the frustrating part."

Andreas Mikkelsen began Friday by winning a charity fun run in aid of the people of Japan, and started the rally intent on landing his first finish of the IRC season following his early exit on Rallye Monte-Carlo in January. As a result, the Norwegian adopted a low risk strategy in his Skoda UK Motorsport Fabia and holds fifth overnight, one place ahead of Monte-Carlo winner Bryan Bouffier.

The Frenchman made several changes to the settings of his Peugeot France 207 S2000 at first service in a bid to close the gap to the leaders. He said the changes had helped his cause but he faces the prospect of starting the final day almost 40secs adrift of leader Kopecky.

While Thursday's pre-event shakedown took place in bright sunshine and high ambient temperatures, Friday was largely overcast with fog and even a small sprinkling of rain adding to the challenge facing the crews. Bruno Magalhaes, who was actually fastest in shakedown in his Peugeot Sport Portugal 207, was one of several drivers to drop time in the heavy fog that coated parts of stages three and six. He also suffered from understeer at one point and is eighth overnight.

Giandomenico Basso, making his debut for PROTON Motorsports, is ninth at the completion of day one. The Anglo-Malaysian outfit is using Basso's extensive experience to hone its fleet of Satria Neo S2000s, which it is continuing to develop. Team-mate PG Andersson was just outside the top ten when he was forced to stop to change a punctured front-right tyre on stage five. He also picked up a slow rear-right puncture on the same test but, with only one spare available, he had to crawl through stage six on the damaged rubber. The Swede also lost ground with a half spin on the first Gran Canaria stage.

Toni Gardemeister completes the top ten on his first outing for his new TGS Worldwide operation and his first event behind the wheel of a Fabia S2000. Spaniard Jonathan Perez is eleventh, with Joan Vinyes the leading IRC 2WD Cup runner in twelfth overall. Vinyes holds a margin of almost one minute over his nearest 2WD Cup rival, his fellow Spaniard Gorka Antxustegi. Angel Marrero is third in class and 15th overall in a Honda Civic Type R, one place ahead of IRC Production Cup leader, Subaru Impreza driver Jose Barrios.



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