Freddy Loix clinched the sixth Ypres Rally win of his career with a masterful drive on a one-off return to the Intercontinental Rally Challenge
The former series regular was summoned by Skoda for his home event, and after early rival Kris Meeke crashed out, Loix cruised to a commanding victory ahead of his team-mate Jan Kopecky and Kronos Peugeot's rising Belgian star Thierry Neuville.
Juho Hanninen also had an accident, which allowed Kopecky to close to within three points of his team-mate at the head of the standings.
With a massive S2000 entry including guest stars Loix for Skoda and Stephane Sarrazin for Peugeot, plus the arrival of the MEM Protons with ex-Subaru World Rally Championship driver Chris Atkinson and former British champion Alister McRae, Ypres was tipped to be the most competitive IRC round since Monte Carlo.
But early attrition decimated the field - both works Protons and satellite driver Tom Cave all suffering engine failures on the opening evening, and Sarrazin crashing out on SS1.
Hanninen also went off on Friday while holding fourth, but by that time Loix and Meeke had already broken away at the head of the field.
Running five seconds apart and sometimes within a single tenth on stage times, there was nothing to choose between the pair. But their battle came to an early end when Meeke rolled into retirement on today's second stage.
That left Loix half a minute clear of Kopecky, who was happy to settle for second with both his main rivals out, and the two Skodas duly cruised through the rest of today's mammoth 13-stage, four-loop itinerary.
Rookie Neuville gave Peugeot something to smile about with a mature drive to third. Bernd Casier made it three Belgians in the top four - and it would have been four in the top five had Pieter Tsjoen not crashed on SS7.
Andreas Mikkelsen had a cautious run to fifth as he settled into his Ford Fiesta on asphalt, while local hero Patrick Snijers lost sixth when he retired on the final stage. That handed the place to Bruno Mahalhaes, who had mounted a determined comeback drive following early gearbox problems.
Pos Driver Car Time/Gap 1. Freddy Loix Skoda 2h35m36.9s 2. Jan Kopecky Skoda + 21.4s 3. Thierry Neuville Peugeot + 2m05.5s 4. Bernd Casier Skoda + 4m01.6s 5. Andreas Mikkelsen Ford + 5m20.9s 6. Bruno Magalhaes Peugeot + 6m06.2s 7. Michal Solowow Ford + 7m24.5s 8. Luca Betti Peugeot + 9m37.6s 9. Corrado Fontana Peugeot + 9m53.0s 10. Maciej Oleksowicz Ford + 10m39.0s
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