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GP Week : Issue 63
Second IRC win for Kopecky BARUM Rally winner Jan Kopecky from the Czech Republic won his second IRC event in his Skoda Fabia S2000, when he eventually cruised to victory on a puncture-strewn Asturias Rally, held in northern Spain, climbing to just one point behind the series leader Kris Meeke, with two events still to run. Peugeot meanwhile clinched the manufacturers' title in the series for the third year running. The ninth round of the eleven-event IRC series was an all-asphalt event and doubled- up as a round of both the FIA European series and the Spanish national series in which big turbo Group N cars a well as GT cars could take part in a separate category. Frantic financial efforts at Skoda finally succeeded and Kopecky, lying three points behind the series leader Kris Meek, was eventually able to enter and take the start line. After a debacle at Barum, Proton meanwhile had worked hard on damper development which transformed the Satria Neo car. The event emerged as a three-way battle between the Skodas of official driver Kopecky and the local Skoda importers' driver Alberto Hevia and last year's winner, Fiat driver Giandomenico Basso. Surprisingly the Peugeots were outclassed, not helped when the three Kronos drivers Loix, Vouilloz and Meeke all punctured.. Punctures and off-road excursions were the story of Day 1, with Skoda driver Julien Maurin and Fiat's guest number two driver Miguel Fuster each retiring on the first two stages, off the road. Hevia held a close lead for the first six stages before Basso went ahead. At the end of Day 1 Basso led Hevia by 8.8 seconds with Kopecky 2.2 behind. Guy Wilks had been lying fifth overall but then on the start line of the final stage of the day a driveshaft broke on the Proton and then the car hit a rock, wrecking a wheel and forcing the wheel change in mid-stage, falling to tenth. Going well in eight place was Toni Gardemeister, guest driver in the Hankook tyres development Corsa Super 2000, but brake problems developed. On the final stage of the day he went off the road and fell into a deep hole beside the road, requiring too long a recovery with high duty cranes to qualify for running under SupeRally rules. Punctures and incidents continued to plague drivers on the second leg. With three stages to go, leader Basso spun his Fiat, losing seven minutes, and dropped to eighth, hampered by a broken reverse gear. Kopecky went into the lead ahead of Hevia, then on the penultimate stage Hevia punctured and dropped to sixth. On Stage 11 Wilks, who had recovered to eighth, slid off on unexpected gravel, where spectators were absent, and lost a quarter hour before being able to continue. The scene was set with Kronos Peugeot cars having recovered on the second day lined up 2nd (Vouilloz, Belux team car), 3rd (Meeke, UK team car) and 4th (Loix, Belux car) and at the final service Vouilloz voluntarily clocked out four minutes late (40 seconds penalty), enough to let Meeke move up to second, keeping the IRC lead by one point with two events still to go. Kopecky duly won the rally by a large margin, being the only top driver not to suffer punctures or incidents. Fontana was the top Euro series finisher. In the two-wheel-drive categories Spanish drivers in a host of Renault Clio R3s were challenged by JWRC driver Aaron Burkart who recovered after a puncture to come second. Top IRC two wheel finisher was Denis Millet's Peugeot 1600 207 turbo and top ERC 2wd car was Antonin Tlustak's Citroen C2 2000, while the best Spanish championship driver was Sergio Vallejo in a Porsche 911 GT3 whose speed was such to have enabled him to finish second if he had run in the overall event. Rally winner Jan Kopecky Chris Meeke came in second 42