Jan Kopecky claimed his second consecutive victory in the Intercontinental Rally Challenge following a dramatic second leg of the Rally Principe de Asturias in Spain today
Kopecky started the final day of the asphalt event in third position, 10.4 seconds behind overnight leader Giandomenico Basso. Having moved ahead of fellow Skoda Fabia driver Alberto Hevia on today's first stage, Kopecky inherited the lead after Basso spun on stage 12 and lost several minutes when his Abarth Grande Punto's reverse gear broke and he could not regain the road.
With Kopecky's title rival Kris Meeke starting the day in sixth place following a puncture on Friday's fourth stage, Kopecky looked set to move into the IRC championship lead with two rounds left to run.
But a determined recovery by Meeke and a puncture for Hevia on the penultimate stage brought the Briton back into third place, which became second when Meeke's Kronos Racing team-mate Nicolas Vouilloz incurred a 40s time penalty by leaving final service late in order to boost Meeke's title hopes.
The reshuffle means Meeke still leads the drivers' standings but his three-point margin has now been trimmed to one.
At the finish, an ecstatic Meeke said: "This result looked impossible on Friday night but I'm delighted because it's been a very tough rally. Kopecky was incredibly fast and consistent but we could just as easily have won without the puncture. As things stand we're still leading the championship and that's the most important thing."
Behind third-placed Vouilloz, Freddy Loix took fourth in the third Kronos 207 but the five points he secured were not enough to keep the Belgian in the title hunt. Any hopes that Basso had of winning the championship have also all but ended after he fell from first to eighth.
Corrado Fontana took fifth with Hevia a disconsolate sixth after his early heroics went unrewarded.
Guy Wilks dropped out of contention when his car got wedged between a barrier and the road on Saturday's second stage following an overshoot. But he demonstrated the progress the factory Proton has made by setting the fifth fastest time on the final stage, a mere 3.8s slower than Basso's best.
There is a two-week gap now before the IRC resumes with the asphalt-based Rallye Sanremo from September 24-26.
Pos Driver Car Time/Gap 1. Jan Kopecky Skoda 2h41m51.3s 2. Kris Meeke Peugeot + 2m46.9s 3. Nicolas Vouilloz Peugeot + 2m49.5s 4. Freddy Loix Peugeot + 2m58.9s 5. Corrado Fontana Peugeot + 3m45.0s 6. Alberto Hevia Skoda + 4m27.2s 7. Michal Solowow Peugeot + 5m58.0s 8. Giandomenico Basso Abarth + 7m03.8s 9. Franz Wittmann Mitsubishi + 9m26.3s 10. Joan Vinyes Renault + 10m04.0s
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