Jan Kopecky took a second consecutive narrow victory in a Intercontinental Rally Challenge event after holding off Thierry Neuville to win the Mecsek Rally in Hungary by just 0.8 seconds.
Kopecky's victory over Freddy Loix on Rally Zlin in the Czech Republic by 1.2 seconds two weeks ago had been the series' closest ever finish, but his winning margin in the IRC's first visit to Hungary bettered that.
Skoda UK's Andreas Mikkelsen had looked poised for a maiden IRC win. He won three of the first four stages on Saturday to open up a 14.4s lead over Neuville. Kopecky won the three repeat stages in the afternoon (the final stage SS8 was cancelled due to crowd safety issues) to close to 8.7s behind the Norwegian overnight.
Mikkelsen fought back on Sunday morning's three stages, increasing his advantage to 18.8s. He lost 8.4s on SS12 though and then slid wide on a patch of gravel on a fast right-hander on the penultimate stage, hitting a tree with the rear of his car and ending his rally.
Kopecky inherited the lead, but Peugeot Belgium-Luxembourg driver Neuville had closed to within 8.1s of the Czech driver having taken three consecutive stage wins. Neuville added a fourth stage win on the final test, but could only beat Kopecky by 7.3s, meaning he fell short of adding a second win of the season to his Tour de Corse triumph.
Freddy Loix had been fighting over second with Kopecky and Neuville early on but couldn't keep up with the duo and settled for third exactly a minute behind the winner. Monte Carlo winner Bryan Bouffier had a quiet rally after struggling for confidence on the unfamiliar stages on the first day, and finished fourth.
Frigyes Turan was the pre-event favourite amongst the local drivers, having finished in the points on WRC Rally Bulgaria last year and being a regular in the SWRC this year in his M-Sport Fiesta S2000. He ran third after the first couple of stages on Saturday before slipping back to fifth. His rally came to an abrupt end on SS5 when he clipped one of the logs placed on the inside of the corners and rolling off the road.
Turan had been fighting for position with Peugeot UK's Guy Wilks, but the Brit's rally ended on the very same stage when his engine overheated.
Hermann Gassner Jr held ninth place overnight in his Red Bull Skoda but set great times on the final day to come through to fifth at the finish. He passed the top local driver Gygory Aschenbrenner on the penultimate stage. Aschenbrenner impressed in his Mitsubishi, posting top seven stage times on nine of the 13 stages run.
He was half a minute ahead of former WRC star and IRC regular Toni Gardemeister, who struggled to find the pace needed to match his Super 2000 rivals in his privately-run Skoda and suffered brake problems early on. He finished just ahead of local Peugeot driver Robert Butor. Bruno Magalhaes miscalculated his gear ratios at the start and lost time on the flat out stages as he bounced off the rev limiter. Having solved that problem he came through to finish ninth. Austrian Beppo Harrach completed the top ten in his Mitsubishi, beating Karl Kruuda by just 2.1s.
The factory Protons of Giandomenico Basso and Per-Gunnar Andersson both retired early on with engine and technical issues respectively.
IRC 2WD Cup regular Stefano Albertini defeated local driver Menyhert Kroszer by just 1.9s in 20th and 21st overall.
Kopekcy has taken the points lead in the absence of Skoda teammate Juho Hanninen, with Loix second 17 points behind. Three rounds remain, with the first of those being Sanremo in Italy on 22-24 September.
Top ten results after 14 stages:
|1||2||Jan Kopecky||Skoda Motorsport||Skoda Fabia S2000||02:00:06.7|
|2||4||Thierry Neuville||Peugeot Belux||Peugeot 207 S2000||+0.8|
|3||3||Freddy Loix||BFO Skoda||Skoda Fabia S2000||+1:00.0|
|4||1||Bryan Bouffier||Peugeot France||Peugeot 207 S2000||+1:35.6|
|5||21||Hermann Gassner Jr||Red Bull Skoda||Skoda Fabia S2000||+2:32.5|
|6||19||Gygory Aschenbrenner||Martevo||Mitsubishi Lancer Evo IX R4||+2:38.2|
|7||14||Toni Gardemeister||TGS Worldwide||Skoda Fabia S2000||+3:05.6|
|8||23||Robert Butor||M3 Auto||Peugeot 207 S2000||+3:16.8|
|9||15||Bruno Magalhaes||Peugeot Portugal||Peugeot 207 S2000||+3:51.7|
|10||22||Beppo Harrach||DiTech||Mitsubishi Lancer Evo IX R4||+4:14.0|
Drivers' standings after 8 of 11 rounds:
1. Jan Kopecky, 120 pts
2. Freddy Loix, 103
3. Juho Hanninen, 98
4. Thierry Neuville, 78
5. Bryan Bouffier, 73