Kris Meeke is on course to repeat his Rally Internacional de Curitiba victory of last year after winning six of the seven special stages on the first leg of the Intercontinental Rally Challenge qualifier in Brazil today (Friday 5 March).
The defending IRC champion holds a 32.7-second lead over fellow Briton Guy Wilks heading into Saturday’s second leg after making the most of his knowledge of the high-speed gravel stages: Meeke is the only leading IRC regular who has previous experience of the event.
Meeke, 30, also benefited from choosing a hard compound tyre for the afternoon loop of stages when his rivals all opted for softer rubber in the mistaken belief it would rain. However, he received extensive praise from his co-driver Paul Nagle and his team boss Marc van Dalen following a faultless performance behind the wheel of his Peugeot UK-backed 207 Super 2000.
Further evidence of Meeke’s dominance was provided by the fact he was the only leading driver to carry two spare tyres in his car all day, which meant he was saddled with an extra 40 kilograms of weight.
Wilks said his countryman’s superior knowledge of the stages had been the difference between the pair although he admitted dropping approximately five seconds on the third stage of the morning when his car’s spare intercom lead became detached and momentarily blocked his vision. He said his Skoda UK Motorsport-run Fabia S2000 had performed well all day, however.
Jan Kopecky reached the second service halt at Curitiba’s race circuit this evening in third overall in the first of two Skoda Motorsport-run Fabias. The Czech reported the rear of his car was sliding too much on the morning stages, which were slightly damp in places following overnight rain. He also bemoaned his lack of recent running on gravel for not being closer to Meeke and Wilks in the overall standings. Otherwise he said he was satisfied to be in contention for a podium finish tomorrow.
Team-mate Juho Hanninen holds fourth overnight after spending much of the day recovering from the left-rear puncture he picked up two kilometres into the first stage of the day. Because he was only carrying one spare tyre, the Finn had to be extra cautious over the next three stages of the morning loop before returning to service. An extra spare tyre for the afternoon’s three stages helped his confidence although the decision to run soft compound rear tyres in the afternoon caused a bout of oversteer and triggered a handling imbalance.
Bruno Magalhaes was fourth at midday service but lost time on stage five when his Peugeot’s front-right tyre became partially detached from the rim. Although it remained inflated, a change at the end of the stage was required and meant he had to tackle the next two tests with no spare and dropped behind Hanninen as a result of his cautious approach.
Daniel Oliveira achieved his aim of completing the leg without incident as he continues to build his experience of his Stohl Racing Peugeot 207. The young Brazilian had never driven the car on gravel before Thursday’s shortened shakedown. While he conceded he still needs to find more speed he said he had learned plenty during the day alongside new co-driver Denis Giraudet.
Eduardo Scheer, the son of Brazilian rallying legend Oswaldo, won the A6 class in Curitiba last year. Now armed with a four-wheel drive Mitsubishi Lancer, Scheer impressed throughout the day to hold a slender advantage over Bolivian driver Eduardo Peredo in seventh overall.
Peugeot 207 driver Marcos Tokarski is in control of the IRC 2WD Cup with veteran Brazilian Ulysses Bertholdo in second in a similar 1600cc 207.
Kris Meeke (United Kingdom), Peugeot 207 S2000, first overall: "Apart from a big hit going over a jump at some crossroads on the third stage everything else has been perfect today. I was a bit too cautious over the jump when the stage was repeated and lost a bit of time. Choosing the hard compound tyre was the right thing to do because it stayed dry and gave me more precision and stability. Now it’s down to me managing my lead tomorrow but I’ve been in this position before so I know what I’ve got to do."
Guy Wilks (United Kingdom), Skoda Fabia S2000, second overall: "Kris got a jump on us this morning and that’s down to his experience of the stages and nothing to do with anything I’ve done wrong or the car. We should have gone for the harder tyre in the afternoon but I don’t think it made a massive difference. Kris has now got to run first on the road tomorrow so we’ll keep the pressure on and see what happens."
Jan Kopecky (Czech Republic), Skoda Fabia S2000, third overall: "It’s been a long time since I’ve done a very fast gravel event like this so I have to be satisfied that I am with a chance of a podium tomorrow. It took time to get used to the stages today because of the speed but the roads are going to be a bit more technical tomorrow and I think it will be easier to adapt to."
TOP TEN OVERALL POSITIONS
1 Kris Meeke/Paul Nagle Peugeot 207 S2000 49m17.2s
2 Guy Wilks/Phil Pugh Skoda Fabia S2000 +32.7s
3 Jan Kopecky/Petr Stary Skoda Fabia S2000 +1m00.1s
4 Juho Hanninen/Mikko Markkula Skoda Fabia S2000 +1m42.7s
5 Bruno Magalhaes/Carlos Magalhaes Peugeot 207 S2000 +2m07.9s
6 Daniel Oliveira/Denis Giraudet Peugeot 207 S2000 +5m58.7s
7 Eduardo Scheer/Geferson Pavinatto Mitsubishi Lancer Evo IX +7m16.1s
8 Eduardo Peredo/Claudio Bustos Mitsubishi Lancer Evo IX +7m19.5s
9 Marcos Tokarski/Laercio Reginatto Peugeot 207 1600 +11m37.1s
10 Juan San Martin/Martin Villete Subaru Impreza WRX +11m55.1s
Leading IRC 2WD Cup contenders: Marcos Tokarski/Laercio Reginatto (Peugeot 207 1600)
LEG TWO ITINERARY
Start: 07:30hrs; Service 3: Autodromo Curitiba, 07:30hrs; SS8: Bocaiuva (28.05kms), 08:30hs; SS9: Rio Pesqueiro 1 (15.06kms), 09:20hrs; SS10: Quatro Barras 1 (12.02kms), 10:10hrs; SS11: Nobre (10.14kms), 11:00hrs; Service 4: Autodromo Curitiba, 11:50hrs; SS12: Rio Pesqueiro 2 (15.06kms), 13:05hrs; SS13: Quatro Barras 2 (12.02kms), 13:45hrs; SS14: Campina (22.78kms), 14:20hrs; SS15: Super Prime Pinhais (3.38kms), 15:15hrs; Finish: Pinhais, 15:30hrs.
Eurosport, Europe’s largest television channel, will show highlights of each day of the rally. Highlights will also be available at www.rally-irc.com
Friday 5 March
24:00-24:30: Day one highlights (Eurosport and Eurosport Asia-Pacific)
Saturday 6 March
05:00-05:30: Day one highlights repeated (Eurosport Asia-Pacific)
24:00-24:30: Day two highlights (Eurosport and Eurosport Asia-Pacific)