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GP Week : Issue 51
Meeke wins thrilling Y A PUNCTURE four stages from the finish of the Belgium Ypres Westhoek Rally ended an incredibly tight fight between five-time Ypres winner Freddy Loix and Kris Meeke. Loix’s misfortune left the Irish driver able to cruise home to his third outright victory in the first five rounds of the 2009 Intercontinental Rally Challenge championship, giving him a six- point lead ahead of Loix. The joint IRC-European Rally Championship event saw Fiat driver Giandomenico Basso gain maximum ERC points in front of Peugeot drivers Luca Betti, Corrado Fontana, Michal Solowow and Krum Donchev. That it was to be a thrilling contest became evident on the 5km long pre-rally shakedown test, where three drivers registered exactly the same best time – to the tenth of a second. These were the Skoda drivers Francois Duval and Jan Kopecky, along with another Belgian Thierry Neuville, at the wheel of the BF Goodrich celebrity car. A total of six drivers were timed within 0.2s of the best time. The event was based in the Flemish city of Ypres, but for the first time ventured into neighbouring France for a couple of stages. Some night stages were also included in this all-asphalt event. British fans were keen to see the new confrontation between former Super 1600 rivals Guy Wilks and Kris Meeke, this time rivals at Super 2000 level – and both tackling this very specific event for the first time. But the fight never eventuated, as Wilk’s Proton went off the road on SS5. Technical interest was assured. Of the 19 drivers starting the event in Super 2000 cars, there were six different manufacturers, notably single entries from Proton and Opel, both of which retired. Along with Wilks’ off, Alex Bengue Opel broke an oil pipe on the opening stage and retired with engine damage. At the start of the second day, Patrick Snijers’ VW Polo had power steering failure and retired after a consequent fire, leaving the fight between the many Peugeots, the Skodas and Fiats. Duval retired on the first stage, the damage coming when he tried to rejoin the road after going off, while Kopecky finished second despite an accident between stages. Juha Hanninen dropped from third to fifth after a last stage puncture, meaning the top finishing Fiat was Basso, who fell from fifth to eight also after a final stage puncture. As a result, Peugeot cars took six places in the top 10. Among the five Kronos team cars, Meeke, Loix and Pieter Tsjoen finished an impressive first, third and fourth, while the Belux team lost number two driver Nicolas Vouilloz and their BF Goodrich celebrity driver Neuville, both of who went off the road. Dutchman Marcel Piepers (Honda Civic R3) won the two wheel drive ERC category, and Czech driver Antonin Tlustak (Citroen C2 S1600) the same category in the IRC. 40