Juho Hanninen scored his second win of the Intercontinental Rally Challenge season with victory on the Prime Yalta Rally in Ukraine, a new event to the calendar.
A ten second penalty for a jump start on the second of two opening stages on Thursday left the reigning champion 11th at the start of Friday’s action. Corsica winner Thierry Neuville (Peugeot Belgium Luxembourg) was the early pacesetter, winning the opening stage and remaining in the lead until a spin on SS5 left him beached for three minutes, dropping him to ninth.
Bryan Bouffier (Peugeot France) inherited the lead, but by this point Hanninen had already recovered to second place, just 5.7 seconds behind. Hanninen moved into the lead after winning SS7, and finished Friday with a lead of 8.2s over Bouffier.
Bouffier reduced the gap to 5.1s on Saturday morning, but Hanninen was quicker than his rival through the final loop of stages on Saturday afternoon to win by 11.7s.
Jan Kopecky moved into third place when Neuville spun and remained there to give the Skoda factory team a double podium finish. After suffering a puncture on Friday morning, Skoda UK driver Andreas Mikkelsen showed strong pace but was unable to overhaul Kopecky.
Mikkelsen’s counterpart Guy Wilks of Peugeot UK also suffered a puncture on Friday, restricting him to fifth place having run second to Neuville early on. Neuville himself recovered to finish sixth, despite being another to suffer a puncture. Toni Gardemeister finished seventh in his TGS Skoda, with Estonian youngster Karl Kruuda eighth on his IRC debut and Patrik Sandell ninth in two more Fabias. The top ten was rounded out by top 2WD Cup runner Jean-Michel Raoux in his Renault Clio.
Hanninen’s victory moves him back to the top of the standings, three points ahead of Kopecky. Bouffier and Neuville are nine and ten points off Hanninen in third and fourth respectively. Freddy Loix has dropped from the championship lead to fifth after not attending the rally. The next round is the Ypres Rally in Belgium on 23-25 June.
Top ten finishers after 14 stages:
1. Juho Hanninen Skoda Motorsport 2h54m14.0s
2. Bryan Bouffier Peugeot France + 11.7s
3. Jan Kopecky Skoda Motorsport + 38.7s
4. Andreas Mikkelsen Skoda UK + 57.3s
5. Guy Wilks Peugeot UK + 4m00.4s
6. Thierry Neuville Peugeot Belux + 5m01.5s
7. Toni Gardemeister TGS Skoda + 7m59.3s
8. Karl Kruuda ME3 Skoda + 10m01.3s
9. Patrik Sandell Skoda Sweden + 18m08.9s
10. Jean-Michel Raoux 100% Renault + 21m42.9s