Jan Kopecky scored his first win for over a year in the Intercontinental Rally Challenge with a narrow victory over Freddy Loix on his home event Rally Zlin. The Czech driver beat fellow Skoda driver Loix by just 1.2 seconds in the closest finish in the history of the IRC.
The rally began with a superspecial stage in Zlin on Friday evening, won by reigning champion Juho Hanninen. Skoda UK's Andreas Mikkelsen moved into the lead on the first stage on Saturday morning, just 0.1s ahead of stage winner Guy Wilks of Peugeot UK.
Kopecky then won the next stage to move into the lead, extending his advantage over Mikkelsen to 10.4s by stage six. The Norwegian cut the lead down to 7.3s on the next, but then suffered a puncture on SS8 that lost him over a minute and a half. After SS9 the final stage of the day, Hanninen and Loix were tied for second place, 19.7s behind Kopecky.
Kopecky had his lead slashed to just 5.6s over Loix after his powersteering failed on Sunday's first stage. Loix closed to just one second behind over the next two stages before midday service, as Kopecky continued having made makeshift repairs to his Fabia.
Kopecky was marginally quicker than Loix on the next two tests, meaning he went into the final stage with a lead of two seconds. Loix was 0.8s quicker through the final test, but Kopecky was able to hang to win.
Hanninen had to settle for third place, ending up 37.4s behind Kopecky as he completed a 1-2-3 for Skoda on home soil. Thierry Neuville was the top Peugeot in fourth, taking the place when Bryan Bouffier crashed out on Sunday's opening stage. Mikkelsen took four stage wins to close within 6.1s of Neuville after recovering from his puncture.
Toni Gardemesiter was sixth in his Skoda Fabia, just 4.2s ahead of Craig Breen. The young Irishman made an impressive debut in the IRC in his Ford Fiesta. Local favourite Roman Kresta was eighth, ahead of Proton's Per-Gunnar Andersson and Estonian youngster Karl Kruuda in his Skoda.
Wilks fell from fifth to 13th on SS8 when he slid wide into bushes and picked up a puncture. He had worked his way up to 8th by midday on Sunday before his alternator failed prior to SS13, giving him his second consecutive IRC retirement.
Jaroslav Orsak took the Production Cup honours in 16th overall in his Mitsubishi Lancer Evo IX, while Stefano Albertini was top 2WD Cup driver in his Renault Clio R3 in 27th overall.
Kopecky's win moves him to just three points behind points leader Hanninen, with Loix ten points behind the Finn. Four rallies remain, with the first trip to Hungary for the Mecsek Rallye being on 9-11 September.
Top ten results after 15 stages:
|1||5||Jan Kopecky||Skoda Motorsport||Skoda Fabia S2000||02:15:51.7|
|2||3||Freddy Loix||BFO-Skoda||Skoda Fabia S2000||+1.2|
|3||2||Juho Hanninen||Skoda Motorsport||Skoda Fabia S2000||+37.4|
|4||4||Thierry Neuville||Peugeot Belux||Peugeot 207 S2000||+1:59.6|
|5||8||Andreas Mikkelsen||Skoda UK||Skoda Fabia S2000||+2:05.7|
|6||16||Toni Gardemeister||TGS||Skoda Fabia S2000||+3:43.2|
|7||20||Craig Breen||Keltech||Ford Fiesta S2000||+3:47.4|
|8||14||Roman Kresta||Adell Mogul||Skoda Fabia S2000||+4:21.5|
|9||11||Per-Gunnar Andersson||Proton Motorsport||Proton Satria Neo S2000||+4:41.1|
|10||23||Karl Kruuda||ME3||Skoda Fabia S2000||+4:54.4|
Drivers' standings after 7 out of 11 rallies:
1. Juho Hanninen, 98pts
2. Jan Kopecky, 95
3. Freddy Loix, 88
4. Bryan Bouffier, 61
5. Thierry Neuville, 60
6. Andreas Mikkelsen, 56