Freddy Loix looks certain of Ypres Rally victory as Jan Kopecky's brief bid to catch him on the penultimate loop fizzled out
The two Skodas left service just under half a minute apart with six stages to go this evening, and Kopecky picked up his pace following a set-up change and immediately trimmed Loix's lead to 25.1 seconds on the Proven-Vleteren stage.
But on the following Watou stage Kopecky had a quick excursion off the road and lost a few seconds, effectively ending his realistic chance of catching Loix on pure pace.
The leader had a scare of his own on Watou when he encountered a motorbike, but he regained his composure and got his lead back up to 29.9s by the end of the loop.
"We still have a few tricky stages to go," said Loix. "But what more can I do? I am controlling it, not pushing too hard."
Thierry Neuville and Bernd Casier continue to run third and fourth, despite Neuville damaging a wheel on the last corner of SS16, giving Belgium three drivers in the top four.
Fifth-placed Andreas Mikkelsen felt he made a set-up breakthrough with his Ford at service, but admitted it was too late for him to have a shot at catching Casier.
But Bruno Magalhaes, who lost a lot of time to gearbox problems in the first half of the rally, is mounting a final loop charge to try and claim sixth from four-time rally winner Patrick Snijers, having now passed Michal Solowow for seventh.
Pos Driver Car Time/Gap 1. Freddy Loix Skoda 2h04m42.0s 2. Jan Kopecky Skoda + 29.9s 3. Thierry Neuville Peugeot + 1m55.0s 4. Bernd Casier Skoda + 3m29.0s 5. Andreas Mikkelsen Ford + 4m21.3s 6. Patrick Snijers Peugeot + 4m55.6s 7. Bruno Magalhaes Peugeot + 5m17.7s 8. Michal Solowow Ford + 5m29.1s 9. Luca Betti Peugeot + 6m27.2s 10. Alexandre Romain Mitsubishi + 8m30.5s
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