Jan Kopecky strode to a dominant victory on the 2009 Barum Czech Rally Zlin today, round 8 of the 2009 Intercontinental Rally Challenge. In so doing the 27-year-old became the first Czech driver in a Czech car to win the biggest motor sport event in the Czech Republic for eight years, enveloping the enormous crowds that lined the stages in celebration.
At the wheel of a works Skoda Fabia S2000, Kopecky took the lead from his team mate Juho Hanninen on SS2 and never looked back his winning margin at the finish being almost exactly one minute after 15 fast and gruelling stages over two legs.
This has been the perfect event for me and everyone involved, he enthused amid an emotional reception in host city Zlin. The car never missed a beat and I was able to concentrate the whole time on keeping an advantage. The atmosphere has been fantastic all week, the fans have given such amazing support I am so proud for them and for Skoda to bring home the win.
Second place fell to championship leader Kris Meeke after a remarkable comeback drive from 33rd position on Friday night. The Peugeot UK driver started the rally with a five point advantage over Kopecky and worked hard all weekend in order to keep his seat at the top of the points table. His championship hopes were aided when two of the other main contenders hit trouble Abarth team leader Giandomenico Basso crashing out on SS8 during torrential rain and Benelux Peugeot ace Freddy Loix suffering a puncture that put his car out of commission on SS10.
There is so much to like about this rally, from the atmosphere to the stages themselves, which really ask some big questions of you as a driver, said Meeke. We were unlucky to pick up the puncture on the first stage that dropped us back, but I have to admit to making a few mistakes along the way that fortunately didnt cost us anything except a chance to really pressure Jan for the lead.
The podium was completed by the second Skoda Motorsport Fabia of Juho Hanninen, the Finnish gravel expert finding himself gaining confidence on the bumpy and fast asphalt around Zlin as the rally progressed. I wasnt too optimistic that we could finish this high before the start, he said.
But then we won the first stage! After that things were a bit more normal for me, the pace was incredible over the first day and so I decided not to take risks and build up my pace, which worked well in the end. I had a spin today and dropped to fourth but we were lucky and got it back.
Hanninens result elevates him to fifth in the IRC points table, passing defending champion Nicolas Vouilloz. The Frenchman Loixs team-mate in the Benelux Peugeot team started the rally strongly but was forced out of second place on SS4 when his 207 S2000 caught fire. Another conflagration befell Russian teenager Evgeny Novikovs privately-entered Skoda Fabia at the end of SS12, the Citroen WRC driver being the third member of his team to have taken up the challenge of the IRC this season.
Another visitor from the world championship had a far more successful weekend newly-crowned Junior WRC champion Martin Prokop who finished fifth. As the Czech Republics first World Champion, the award of driving the BF Goodrich Drivers Team Peugeot 207 provided Prokop with a unique opportunity to perform in front of his fans.
Its been a great event one I always enjoy but all the more so meeting everyone here as a world champion, Prokop said. The Peugeot took a lot of getting used to for me, but its a fantastic car and Im glad that we found a way to go quickly in the end and keep the car in one piece! Its been a great drive, and I really enjoyed all the jumps!
Prokop finished behind one of the Czech Republics most established rally drivers, Roman Kresta, in his privately-entered Peugeot. With three victories on the Barum Czech Rally Zlin to his credit, hopes had been high in his camp of taking a record-breaking fourth win but ultimately the pace of the top trio proved too much. I didnt have any big problems all weekend except how fast the other guys were! To be honest I cant help but feel disappointed not to have got closer to the record but we will be back again, he said.
Sixth place fell to another young Czech talent, Pavel Valousek. The former BF Goodrich Drivers Team entry on last years event arrived with a privately-entered Skoda Fabia and after mechanical problems on the opening day battled back into the points. That was disappointing to drop down on the opening leg, and I had to go like crazy to catch up, he said. I made a few mistakes, had a few spins, but we got to the finish and showed that we can do a good rally even under pressure.
Hungarian Janos Toth finished seventh in another Peugeot 207 S2000 with another Czech, Vaclav Pech, eighth after a battle royal for the last of the points positions in which the Ralliart driver overcame considerable hardships. Our car has a turbo but is heavier than the S2000s so it was always going to be tricky, Pech said. But the rain on Saturday afternoon was incredible! We were aquaplaning at 60km/h and had water streaming into the car its been worth it though.
Skoupil claims 2WD honours for Abarth
In the IRC 2WD Cup Abarth bucked the odds to take victory courtesy of Czech driver Jiri Skoupil in his little 1600cc Punto. Ranged against him was an armada of 2-litre Honda machinery, from the latest JAS Motorsport-built Civic Type R3s to the tried and tested Civic Vtis, but Skoupil took the advantage early on the final day and held resolutely to take the win.
Its fantastic to see ten points in the IRC against my name, he said. The car was great, we have worked hard on it in the Czech championship and the rally suited both the car and us.
IRC regular Denis Millet ended the event fourth in the 2WD standings at the wheel of his Peugeot 207, currently the only 1.6 turbo rally car in international competition. The five points earned on the Barum Czech Rally Zlin promote him to the series lead over Italys Manuel Villa.
The rest of the points positions were monopolised by Honda drivers, with Hungarys Laszlo Vizin taking second in the Civic Type R3 ahead of the older Type R of Egon Smekal, while Skoda was denied its first points of the 2WD Cup season on the penultimate stage after a brave performance from Vlastimil Hodan at the wheel of a Felicia 1600 Kit Car was not quite enough to fend off the Honda of Jan Brezik.
Barum Czech Rally Zlin – facts and figures
1 Kopecky (CZ) Skoda Fabia S2000 2hrs 24m 21.1s
2 Meeke (GB) Peugeot 207 S2000 +1m 0.4s
3 Hanninen (FIN) Skoda Fabia S2000 +2m 0.8s
3 Kresta (CZ) Peugeot 207 S2000 +2m 10.8s
5 Prokop (CZ) Peugeot 207 S2000 +2m 39.6s
6 Valousek (CZ) Skoda Fabia S2000 +4m 50.5s
7 Toth (HUN) Peugeot 207 S2000 +5m 19.7s
8 Pech (CZ) Ralliart Evo IX +5m 23.2s
1 Skoupil (CZ) Abarth Punto S1600 -2hrs 44m 29.6s
2 Vizin (H) Honda Civic Type R3 +1m 41.0s
3 Smekal (CZ) Honda Civic Type R +2m 32.0s
4 Millet (F) Peugeot 207 RC +2m 42.0s
5 Krizek (CZ) Honda Civic Type R +4m 5.0s
6 Blatak (CZ) Honda Civic Vti +5m 51.5s
7 Jakubec (CZ) Honda Civic Vti +8m 52.9s
8 Brezik (CZ) Honda Civic Vti +10m 2.9s
SS1: Hanninen, SS2-3: Kopecky, SS4: Meeke, SS5-6: Kopecky, SS7: Hanninen, SS8-9: Kopecky, SS10: Meeke, SS11: Kopecky, SS12-13: Meeke, SS14-15: Hanninen
Grzyb (CZ) Peugeot 207 S2000 SS13, accident
Novikov Skoda Fabia S2000 SS12, fire
Loix (B) Peugeot 207 S2000 SS11, puncture/damage
Basso (I) Abarth Grande Punto S2000 SS8, accident
Odlozilik (CZ) Peugeot 207 S2000 SS7, gearbox
Lapdavsky (SK) Peugeot 207 S2000 SS7, accident
Tarabus (CZ) Abarth Grande Punto S2000 SS6, mechanical
Kuzaj (PL) Peugeot 207 S2000 SS5, mechanical
Vouilloz (F) Peugeot 207 S2000 SS4, fire
Fontana (I) Peugeot 207 S2000 SS3, wheel
Wilks (GB) Proton Satria Neo S2000 SS2, engine
Bouffier (F) Proton Satria Neo S2000 DNS, engine
IRC Drivers standings after 8 of 11 rounds
1 Meeke 42 points
2 Kopecky 39
3 Basso 27
= Loix 27
5 Hanninen 20
6 Vouilloz 19
IRC Manufacturers standings after 8 of 11 rounds
1 Peugeot 95 points
2 Skoda 59
3 Ralliart 42
4 Abarth 34
5 Proton 5
6 Honda 1
IRC 2WD Cup Drivers‘ standings after 8 of 11 rounds
1 Millet 31 points
2 Villa 28
3 Tulio 10
= Piepers 10
= Koitla 10
IRC 2WD Cup Manufacturers‘ standings after 8 of 11 rounds
1 Peugeot 69 points
2 Abarth 46
3 Honda 40
4 Volkswagen 16
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RAC MSA Rally of Scotland (UK) November 19-21 www.rally-irc.com