Last year’s Belgium Ypres Rally winner Freddy Loix (Peugeot 207 S2000) holds a lead of just under five seconds at the overnight halt, from IRC series leader Kris Meeke. "I’m just trying to drive carefully and keep my concentration," said Loix at the finish. "I know this event quite well but it’s still so easy to make a mistake."
However, Meeke the winner of the last two IRC rounds – has kept pace with Loix to hold a strong second place at the overnight halt. Meeke declared himself ’surprised‘ to be trading fastest times with his veteran Belgian rival on home soil.
"I’m just driving my own stages," Meeke said. "I’m very surprised to be going so quickly, and I knew that if I came back into service leading the rally I’d be for the high jump! I don’t want to beat Freddy."
Having passed Loix for the championship lead with victory at the last IRC round in the Azores, Meeke has pledged to go carefully and ensure that he doesn’t throw away his chances on the notorious roads in Flanders. Nevertheless he and the Belgian WRC winner have pulled away from the chasing pack on every stage, with the gap standing at 4.9s at the overnight halt.
Czech asphalt ace Jan Kopecky trails them by 8.4s in his factory Skoda Fabia S2000, with a charging Giandomenico Basso clawing back time for Abarth in the battle for fourth, ahead of Kopecky’s teammate Juho Hanninen by 0.2s.
Both the BF Goodrich Peugeot being guest-driven by Thierry Neuville and Britain’s other leading entry in the event, the new Proton Satria of Guy Wilks, joined the high-profile retirements.
The 21-year-old Belgian talent crashed out of the event on the sixth stage, Lille-Eurometropole 2 after a strong performance through the day. Wilks, who was struggling with an over-eager engine temperature warning and without the ideal gear ratios because of homologation issues, went off the road on SS5. The Skoda Belgium entry of former WRC winner Francois Duval crashed out a few hundred metres from the start of SS1. Peugeot’s Nicolas Vouilloz also hit trouble, damaging the front of his car with an off on the opening stage. "We were going fast, hit a bump and we spun quite fast," he said. The Frenchman dropped to 59th at the end of the stage but recovered to set the fifth fastest time on the second and third stages.
Bernd Casier, making his debut with the Abarth factory team, was delayed by a puncture on the final stage. Meanwhile, Dutch driver Marcel Piepers is in the provisional lead of the IRC 2WD Cup after a faultless performance.
The rally restarts at 12:30 tomorrow with an intense 10-stage run to the finish.
IRC RESULTS AFTER SS6, BELGIUM YPRES RALLY
1 Loix / Smeets Peugeot 207 S2000 1h03m46.4s
2 Meeke / Nagle Peugeot 207 S2000 +4.9s
3 Kopecky / Stary Skoda Fabia S2000 +13.3s
4 Basso/Dotta Abarth Grande Punto S2000 +56.9s
5 Hanninen/Markkula Skoda Fabia S2000 +57.1s
6 Tsjoen/Chevaillier Peugeot 207 S2000 +1m09.2s
7 Van den Heuvel/Kolman Mitsubishi Lancer +1m41.0s
8 Betti/Capolongo Peugeot 207 S2000 +2m40.6s
9 Fontana/Cassina Peugeot 207 S2000 +2m41.4s
10 Wittmann/Ettel Mitsubishi Lancer +3m57.1s
IRC 2WD Cup leader: Piepers/de Wild Honda Civic Type R
Freddy Loix leads the Belgium Ypres Rally after the opening day