IRC: Kopecky wins Rally Islas Canarias

Jan Kopecky makes it four different IRC winners in as many events as he heads home a Skoda 1-2-3 on Rally Islas Canarias.
IRC: Kopecky wins Rally Islas Canarias

Jan Kopecky has secured his first victory of the 2010 Intercontinental Rally Challenge season following a tense finish to Rally Islas Canarias today.

Kopecky moved in front when Kris Meeke suffered a puncture on Friday's penultimate stage, but then had to stave off pressure from Skoda Motorsport team-mate Juho Hanninen, who closed to within 9.1 seconds of the Czech driver at the finish in Las Palmas.

Kopecky, who becomes the fourth different winner in as many rounds, moves to equal second with Guy Wilks in the championship standings, seven points behind Hanninen. Defending IRC champion Meeke fell from first to sixth after his puncture but battled back to fourth at the wheel of his Peugeot 207. He is now clear in fourth in the drivers' table.

Fastest on four stages, Kopecky conceded at the finish that he wouldn't have caught Meeke had it not been for the Northern Irishman's puncture, such was the Peugeot UK driver's pace on the challenging asphalt roads of Gran Canaria. Kopecky had to make it through the opening loop of stages on Saturday with no working handbrake but otherwise reported no major problems on his way to the third victory of his IRC career.

"I was very lucky because of what happed to Kris but it's happened to us before like in Monte Carlo this season. The car was working well and to get three Skodas on the podium is a very good thing," Kopecky said. "Four winners in four rallies is amazing and shows how close the competition is in the IRC. There are still some things we can improve but this is good for my championship hopes."

Hanninen is more at home on gravel but impressed throughout the all-asphalt island rally to keep within touching distance of Kopecky, who is regarded as a tarmac specialist. Hanninen's fourth podium finish of the season enabled him to extend his title advantage by two points. The Finn said he had been too aggressive on his tyres on Friday so tried to drive more smoothly on day two in order to preserve his car's rubber.

"I'm a little surprised to have come second with some good stage times too because tarmac is not my best surface," Hanninen reflected. "Eight points is good and already we have scored more points than we did in the whole of last year so I am happy."

Guy Wilks continued his point-scoring sequence at the wheel of his Skoda UK Motorsport-run Fabia. Apart from a loss of brakes and a split airbox on Friday, the Briton's only cause for complaint concerned the handling of his car, which he spent the duration of the rally trying to adapt to his liking. He said he had virtually achieved that objective at the finish.

"It's good to get a podium when ultimately things could have been worse. We were more on the pace today but we need to get stronger. However, it's been a difficult time for us because this is the fourth rally we've done in the same car so to get three podiums in a row is not bad," Wilks said.

Bruno Magalhaes was on course for fourth place in his Peugeot Sport Portugal 207 only to slip behind Meeke on the final stage when he offered to ease off to help Meeke. The three-time Portuguese champion was challenging for a podium place when he was slowed by a front-left driveshaft failure on Friday morning. The 29-year-old also lost time when his car suffered excessive tyre wear on Saturday's two 25.26-kilometre runs.

Meeke's tally of nine stage wins did little to cheer the Northern Irishman, who was seemingly heading for his second victory of the season with a 17.9-second lead when disaster struck on Friday. Meeke's puncture was caused by a suspension bolt piercing a hole in his Peugeot's front-left wheel over a compression, the legacy of running what his team described as an 'aggressive set-up' to keep the rival Skoda Fabias at bay. Meeke reported discovering a crack in the front-right wheel as well following the ill-fated eighth stage.

After picking up a puncture in virtually identical circumstances to Meeke, Thierry Neuville was in seventh overall and heading for his first IRC points in his Team Peugeot Belgium-Luxembourg 207 when he slid into a rock and broke his car's front-left suspension with one stage left to run.

His misfortune elevated Ralliart Mitsubishi Lancer driver Ruben Gracia into seventh place behind countryman Alberto Hevia, who complained of excessive understeer after hardening up his Fabia's shock absorbers. Gracia was the leading runner in a conventional Group N machine.

Sergio Vallejo started leg two in seventh overall but had to drive for much of Saturday's leg with no working powersteering in his M-Sport Ford Fiesta S2000. As a result he slipped to eighth but was sufficiently in front of Jose Barrios, the top Subaru Impreza finisher in ninth.

Franz Wittmann was in 10th overall when he carried too much speed into a left-hand bend approximately two kilometres from the end of stage 11, struck a rock and tore the right-rear wheel off his Interwetten Racing Peugeot 207. The Austrian had been unhappy with his performance, despite not reporting any issues with his car or its set-up.

Daniel Oliveira also failed to go the distance, dropping out of 11th place when his 207 suffered an engine failure on Saturday morning. The Brazilian had been playing catch up after going off on Friday's first stage before spinning and getting momentarily stuck on the second run.

Yeray Lemes won the IRC 2WD Cup by almost two minutes in his Ford Fiesta R2 in an impressive 10th overall. Enrique Cruz finished second in a similar car.

Irish privateer Daniel Barry was the last of 14 finishers eligible for IRC points. Barry's Mitsubishi Lancer Evo IX had been plagued by an overheating problem throughout the event, which caused him to run without anti-lag for much of the rally. He also reported stopping on several stages on Friday to let his faltering car cool down.

The 2010 Intercontinental Rally Challenge season now continues with Rally d'Italia-Sardegna, which runs from 4-6 June.

Rally Islas Canarias - Top 10 positions after leg 2:

1. Jan Kopecky/Petr Stary Skoda Fabia S2000 +2h12m27.4s
2. Juho Hanninen/Mikko Markkula Skoda Fabia S2000 +9.1s
3. Guy Wilks/Phil Pugh Skoda Fabia S2000 +36.4s
4. Kris Meeke/Paul Nagle Peugeot 207 S2000 +1m05.5s
5. Bruno Magalhaes/Carlos Magalhaes Peugeot 207 S2000 +1m17.8s
6. Alberto Hevia/Alberto Iglesias Skoda Fabia S2000 +2m25.1s
7. Ruben Gracia/Diego Sanjuan Mitsubishi Lancer Evo X +10m06.5s
8. Sergio Vallejo/Diego Vallejo Ford Fiesta S2000 +12m49.7s
9. Jose Barrios/Eloy Rivero Subaru Impreza WRX +13m12.8s
10. Yeray Lemes/Rogelio Penate Ford Fiesta R2 +14m12.4s

IRC drivers' positions (after round 4 of 12):

1. Juho Hanninen 32pts
2. Jan Kopecky 25pts
= Guy Wilks 25pts
4. Kris Meeke 15pts
5. Bruno Magalhaes 13pts
6. Mikko Hirvonen 10pts
7. Nicolas Vouilloz 6pts
8. Gabriel Pozzo 5pts
= Stephane Sarrazin 5pts
10. Federico Villagra 4pts etc

IRC Manufacturers positions (after round 4 of 12):

1. Skoda 64pts
2. Peugeot 33pts
3. M-Sport 15pts
4. Ralliart 8pts
5. Subaru 5pts

Read More