As Peugeot continues to bemoan Skoda’s recent domination of the IRC, Freddy Loix further compounded their misery by leading a Skoda podium lockout at the Rali Vinho Madeira – while the other frontrunners were nowhere to be seen.
Loix had been at the head of the field for the entire event, but at first his closest challenge was coming from Fiat driver Luca Rossetti. The pair traded fastest stage times causing the lead to change hands between the two throughout the opening day – until the Italian crashed out of the penultimate stage.
Split tyre choice between the two caused the toing and froing nature of the lead battle, with Rossetti’s choice of the hard compound tyre helping him in the morning stages. However in the afternoon Loix moved back into the lead, and while pushing to retake it from the Belgian, Rossetti crashed within a kilometre of the SS12 finish line. His co-driver Matteo Chiarcossi was taken to hospital afterwards for checks, fearing he could have picked up an injury to his arm.
Speaking of arm injuries, Loix was still nursing his throughout the entire day, soldiering on with the aid of several painkilling injections. He seemed relieved just to make the end of the day in one piece.
Kris Meeke gave chase, albeit slipping further back, in second place – and was fending off the works Skodas of Jan Kopecky and Juho Hanninen, the former only 1.1 seconds behind the Brit.
The other half of the Peugeot camp had a disasterous day – Bruno Magalhaes picked up a puncture on the opening stage which dropped him over two minutes, only to have a brake failure two stages later, causing the Portuguese native to crash out of the rally.
“I was trying, trying everything after the puncture,” he said. “I tried to pull the handbrake to stop but there was nothing I could do and I think the chassis is destroyed. Since 2003 I have had no accident so this is very disappointing because we had the speed.”
The rally only got worse for Peugeot after that – Meeke was fighting tooth and nail to hang on to second place durning the last day, but an alternator failure on Stage 15 dropped him behind Kopecky. He got the place back in the following stage, only for his engine to expire in the middle of Stage 17.
It was a double edged sword for the pursuing Skodas however – it meant moving up to second and third respectively would be a walk in the park should they finish the stage – but that was half of the problem. Meeke’s 207 had left oil all over the road and it was making life difficult for both Kopecky and Hanninen – the duo having several nervous moments before finally passing the stricken Peugeot.
Kopecky got away scot free, though Hanninen did not. He smacked into a concrete wall, causing a puncture further down the stage, which dropped him down to fourth behind local driver Miguel Nunes.
With little challenge from behind, Loix cruised to an easy victory, while Hanninen faced little competition from Nunes for the final podium place.
“It’s been a good, clean drive from the start. I had a two-hour test on Wednesday evening and straightaway I had a perfect feeling with the car and there was never a problem,” said Loix. “Okay, I hurt my shoulder but it was fine in the stages because this car is so good and easy to drive. I’m very happy.”
Durate Ramos became the latest driver to win the 2WD class of an IRC event this year – the seventh different driver in eight rallies to be exact. Luis Serrado had set the pace early on, but crashed out of Friday’s final stage, handing the lead to his fellow Peugeot driver. Filipe Carvalho came in second, in another Peugeot, albeit the smaller 106 model.
This has given Peugeot the upper hand in the 2WD manufacturers cup, passing M-Sport Ford for the championship lead, and now hold a four point advantage over them.
|1.||Freddy Loix||Skoda Fabia||03:08:14.3|
|2.||Jan KopeckÃ½||Skoda Fabia||+37.8|
|3.||Juho Hanninen||Skoda Fabia||+2:25.8|
|4.||Miguel Nunes||Peugeot 207||+2:42.7|
|5.||Vitor SÃ¡||Peugeot 207||+3:13.7|
|6.||Filipe Freitas||Mitsubishi Lancer Evo X||+9:03.2|
|7.||JoÃ£o MagalhÃ£es||Mitsubishi Lancer Evo X||+9:29.0|
|8.||JoÃ£o Silva||Renault Clio R3||+10:37.8|