Skoda Motorsports Czech star Jan Kopecky took victory with a measured performance on the Rally Principe de Asturias, his second consecutive win on the 2009 Intercontinental Rally Challenge trail. In a fast and furious two days on the roads around host city Oviedo, Kopecky maintained a consistent pace while other leading contenders endured drama upon drama to claim a hugely popular win and close to within one point of championship leader Kris Meeke.
Peugeot UK ace Meeke suffered a puncture on the first day which, in a hugely competitive field, plunged him down to 16th place overall. Despite fighting back into the points positions, it took similar misfortunes to befall several rivals to get him back into contention. Finally, Peugeot Benelux driver and defending IRC champion Nicolas Vouilloz incurred a time penalty after the final stage allowing Meeke through to claim second place and thereby retain his series lead by a single point.
Vouilloz, one of the star performers of the rally, won six of the 15 stages across the two days of the event, but was another driver whose push for victory was blunted by a puncture. Similarly afflicted was the home town hero Alberto Hevia, returning to top-flight competition after an enforced break through lack of funds, who led the opening stages of the event at the wheel of his privately-entered Skoda Fabia.
There was disappointment for Abarth on the IRC’s Spanish outing. Local man Miguel Fuster, drafted in to the squad for this event, crashed out on SS4 while the first days action the field was led by the Grande Punto of team leader Giandomenico Basso.
Basso, who won the event in 2008, held a commanding lead until SS12 when he spun off the road and his reverse gear failed. With no spectators in that section of the stage to help him, the Italian dropped out of contention and surrendered any mathematical chance of a shot at the IRC title.
Thus the championship battle rests between Meeke and Kopecky, who head towards the final two events separated by just one point. On the basis of their performances this weekend it would in fact be Kopecky leading the way towards the Rally Sanremo later this month, as Meeke finished the final stage in Asturias in third place on the road.
Nevertheless when second-place driver Vouilloz was hit with a time penalty for leaving the final service after his allotted time, Meeke was elevated to the runner-up position, claiming two extra points with the result that he keeps his place at the top of the points table.
At the start of Day 2 we were in seventh and, with everyone running at the same pace, it looked like that would be the maximum we could score, Meeke said. But todays been incredible so many of the guys have had the same sort of problem that we had and in the end weve come through.
Rally winner Kopecky clearly took all the goings-on in his stride, and counted his blessings not to have suffered any of the incidents that befell so many of his rivals. Winning last time on the Barum Czech Rally Zlin was important because it was my home event, but winning here on my first visit is just as special, he said.
I always planned to take it steady on this event, to get to the finish without a problem, because its really hard to make the time back if you get a puncture or anything. We didnt make any mistakes and thats got a lot to do with the quality of the pacenotes.
Peugeot claims third sucessive IRC manufacturers‘ title
Peugeot has completed its 100 per cent record of manufacturers´ championship wins on the Intercontinental Rally Challenge. Its total of 109 points after the Rally Principe Asturias puts the French giant out of reach of its rivals with two rounds remaining.
Peugeot has claimed both the drivers‘ and the manufacturers‘ titles every year since 2007. Despite increased competition from new cars such as the Skoda Fabia S2000 and Proton Satria Neo S2000 – as well as the pace of longtime rivals Abarth and Ralliart – the 207 S2000 cars have triumphed once again.
Its fantastic for Peugeot Sport to be rewarded again for its commitment, said IRC drivers‘ championship leader, Peugeot UK driver Kris Meeke. Its doubly important from my perspective because with the manufacturers championship in the bag we can focus everything on winning the drivers title.
Millet wins round 9 of IRC 2WD Cup
While there were no challengers from Honda, Skoda or Volkswagen in Asturias, the battle for honours in the 2WD Cup proved tense and extremely competitive between the two men at the top of the points table.
Ultimately Frenchman Denis Millet prevailed at the helm of his unique turbocharged Peugeot 207 RC, increasing his lead over Abarth-mounted Italian Manuel Villa. Villa, with two victories to his credit this season, pushed hard to regain ground lost to Millet in recent rounds. In the opening stages the lead passed between the pair like a pendulum but Millet built a 30-second cushion to end the opening day.
At the start of Day 2, Villa pressed hard to eat into that advantage, but then lost time with an incident with two stages left to run, allowing Millet to take his second win of the season.
Rally Principe de Asturias – facts and figures
1 Jan Kopecky (CZ) Skoda Fabia S2000 2hrs 41m 51.3s
2 Kris Meeke (UK) Peugeot 207 S2000 – +2m 46.9s
3 Nicolas Vouilloz (F) Peugeot 207 S2000 – +2m 49.5s*
4 Freddy Loix (B) Peugeot 207 S2000 – +2m 58.9s
5 Corrado Fontana (I) Peugeot 207 S2000 – +3m 45.0s
6 Alberto Hevia (E) Skoda Fabia S2000 +4m 27.2s
7 Michal Solowow (PL) Peugeot 207 S2000 – +5m 58.0s
8 Giandomenico Basso (I) Abarth Grande Punto S2000 +7m 3.8s
*40s penalty incurred
1 Millet (F) Peugeot 207 RC +2m 42.0s
2 Villa (I) Abarth Punto S1600
SS1: Hevia, SS2: Vouilloz, SS3: Kopecky, SS4: Vouilloz, SS5: Hevia, SS6-7: Basso, SS8: Cancelled, SS9: Kopecky, SS10: Meeke, SS11: Vouilloz, SS12-14: Vouilloz, SS15: Basso
Fuster (E) Abarth Grande Punto S2000 SS4, accident
IRC Drivers standings after 9 of 11 rounds
1 Meeke 50 points
2 Kopecky 49
3 Loix 32
4 Basso 28
5 Vouilloz 25
6 Hanninen 20
IRC Manufacturers standings after 9 of 11 rounds
1 Peugeot 109 points *
2 Skoda 72
3 Ralliart 42
4 Abarth 34
5 Proton 5
6 Honda 1
*Peugeot is the 2009 manufacturers champion
IRC 2WD Cup Drivers‘ standings after 9 of 11 rounds
1 Millet 41 points
2 Villa 36
3 Tulio 10
= Piepers 10
= Koitla 10
IRC 2WD Cup Manufacturers‘ standings after 9 of 11 rounds
1 Peugeot 79 points
2 Abarth 54
3 Honda 40
4 Volkswagen 16
Rally Sanremo (Italy) September 24-26
RAC MSA Rally of Scotland (UK) November 19-21
For further information please visit: www.rally-irc.com