Six-time event winner Freddy Loix is edging away from the field in the Intercontinental Rally Challenge's Ypres Rally after the first three stages
Loix (Skoda) was fastest on each test of the opening loop, and though Peugeot UK's Guy Wilks stayed with a few seconds of the Belgian at first, Loix blitzed the field on SS3, Langemark, to extend a 14-second lead over the Briton.
Behind the two leaders, several of the potential podium contenders have already hit trouble. In addition to works Skoda driver Jan Kopecky not starting at all after his co-driver Petr Stary suffered a suspected broken collarbone in a shakedown crash, Andreas Mikkelsen, Thierry Neuville and Bruno Magalhaes are all out already.
Mikkelsen crashed his Skoda UK car in a ditch early on SS1, while Corsica winner Neuville - who took his maiden IRC podium in Ypres last year - picked up a puncture on his Kronos Peugeot and parked with further damage later on the stage.
Magalhaes (Peugeot Portugal) was fourth after SS1, but then an engine problem stopped him on SS2.
With Bryan Bouffier having a small trip off the road on SS2 and then spinning on SS3, local driver Pieter Tsjoen is up to third overall, ahead of series returnee Luca Rossetti's Abarth and Bouffier.
Leading positions after SS3:Pos Driver Team/Car Time/Gap 1. Freddy Loix Skoda 25m39.7s 2. Guy Wilks Peugeot UK (Kronos) + 14.1s 3. Pieter Tsjoen Kronos Peugeot + 25.3s 4. Luca Rossetti National Proklama Abarth + 33.7s 5. Bryan Bouffier PH Peugeot + 34.1s 6. Hans Weijs Wevers Skoda + 37.9s 7. Bernd Casier Duindistel Skoda + 41.8s 8. Toni Gardemeister TGS Skoda + 56.5s 9. Michal Solowow Cersanit Ford + 58.8s 10. Karl Kruuda ME3 Skoda + 59.8s
The fifth Intercontinental Rally Challenge was the best yet, and it was Skoda UK driver Andreas Mikkelsen who emerged as champion from a tense five-way shootout at the season finale. Matt Beer reviews the season