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GP Week : Issue 65
Meeke takes crown Ulster driver Kris Meeke unexpectedly clinched the 2009 IRC title on the penultimate round of the series after fighting his way to victory on the Sanremo Rally, helped by the second stage retirement of his closest rival Jan Kopecky. Meeke is the first British rally driver to win a top honour in rallying since fellow Northern Irelander Niall McShea became the world Production Car champion in 2003, and came the same day as the Irish Republic driver Keith Cronin won the British national title. The all-asphalt Sanremo Rally was a short 24-hour event that included night stages. The narrow lanes provided a remarkable demonstration of the nimble Super 2000 cars, which won every stage and took the top 16 places in the final results Kopecky did his best by leading on the first stage before breaking a wheel and the suspension on Stage 2, which let Paolo Andreucci take over the lead. He kept the lead through the short night break, but he did not find the stages on the second day as suitable for his tyres. Fiat driver Luca Rossetti momentarily led, but Meeke then went ahead, only to make a potentially disastrous mistake. His driving style over the mountainous stages made the brakes on his Peugeot suffer badly, and he had to bleed the brakes on the road sections between each stage. Before stage seven he duly did this, but then forgot to top up the fluid reservoir. Happily the consequence was not severe -- this was an all-uphill stage and quite the shortest stage of the event, but his lead dropped sharply to only 3.1 seconds two stages from the end. Only 4.1 seconds separated second from fifth-placed Freddy Loix at the end of the event. Actually that was not the end of the story -- there was still unfinished business. Privateer driver Travaglia, who happened this time to be driving a Peugeot and whose pace on the final stage lifted him from fifth to third, was never meant to beat the faithful official Italian team Peugeot driver Andreucci. He was told to leave final service late and eventually finished sixth, while Vouilloz (who had been obliged to incur lateness penalties on the previous rally) was elevated to third in front of Loix and Andreucci. This action strengthened Andreucci's national championship hopes. Rossetti finished second, 15 seconds behind Meeke, a result which kept alive his and Fiat's chances of winning the Italian championship title, with Andreucci now their only rival. With Giandomenico Basso chasing European title hopes in Greece, Fiat's number two driver on this event was Francois Duval who had a poor event on roads he did not know well, finally retiring with engine failure. Top-placed two-wheel-drive car was the Honda R3 car of Sandro Sottile but the IRC two-wheel- drive title has gone to Denis Millet's Peugeot 207 RC Rallye R3T car, while rival Manuel Villa had engine failure with his Punto S1600. Aaron Burkart won the 1600c class in his Suzuki Swift S1600, good practice for this week's Catalunya Rally, while Guy Wilks gained more vital experience in the Proton Satria Neo S2000, finishing 13th. The final round takes place in eight week's time when the Peugeot UK team looks forward to giving Meeke the chance of a fifth victory in the series, but with all the top awards already won, it is unlikely the quality of the entry in Scotland will match the remarkably high standard of Rally Sanremo. 44