Ypres - Finish
Peugeot UK driver Kris Meeke has won his third consecutive IRC event by claiming victory on his first participation in the Belgium Ypres Rally, round five of the Intercontinental Rally Challenge series.
The momentous win has promoted Meeke to a six-point
lead in the standings over Peugeot Belgium-Luxemburg driver Freddy Loix, who won the Ypres Rally last year.
Meeke and Loix were involved in a battle for the lead from the very beginning of the rally, trading fastest stage times. Over the course of the 16-stage event, Meeke won eight stages while Loix won seven.
Meeke edged ahead after SS12, but Loix - a record five-time winner of the Belgium Ypres Rally - claimed to have more speed in reserve. His challenge evaporated on the following stage though, when the Belgian picked up a puncture that dropped him to fourth place.
Loix refused to give up and eventually finished third, maintaining his second place in the championship.
The only other person to challenge the two leaders was Skoda driver Jan Kopecky, who was in the top three from the very first day. The only problem that the Czech encountered was a motorcyclist who rode into him on a road section before SS10, but fortunately there were no serious consequences.
Following Loix's puncture Kopecky moved up into second place, where he remained to the finish in order to graduate to third place overall in the championship standings.
Kopecky's teammate Juho Hanninen was third up until the final stage, where he too punctured a tyre and dropped down to fifth. Nonetheless, the popular Finn scores his first points of the year.
Hanninen's misfortune benefitted local driver Pieter Tsjoen, who claimed fourth at the finish in a privately-run Peugeot 207 S2000.
The battle for sixth resulted in one of the closest finishes in the history of the IRC. Luxembourg driver Gilles Schammel, driving a Peugeot 207 S2000, finished just 0.1 seconds ahead of Dutchman Jasper van den Heuvel, at the wheel of a Mitsubishi Lancer.
The final point was claimed by Abarth's Giandomenico Basso, who lost fourth place on the very final stage after picking up a puncture on the same rock that caused a problem for Hanninen.
Basso's Abarth teammate for this occasion, Bernd Casier, eventually finished 13th after being delayed by a gearbox problem and punctures: a constant risk on the challenging Belgian asphalt.
This notoriously tricky event, which is renowned in the world of international rallying, claimed some high-profile victims: most notably Francois Duval, making a guest appearance in a privateer Skoda Fabia S2000. The Belgian's rally lasted just a few hundred metres before he skated off the road on SS1.
Nicolas Vouilloz, the reigning IRC champion, also endured a difficult opening stage on Thursday: he went wide on a corner and heavily damaged the front of his Peugeot 207 S2000. The Frenchman was attempting to make his way back up the leaderboard on the second day when he got stuck behind the similar car of Michal Solowow, which had been slowed by a puncture, and went off whilst trying to get past it.
The IRC 2WD Cup was won by Dutchman Marcel Piepers, driving a Honda Civic Type R. Piepers stamped his authority over the event, but second place for Frenchman Denis Millet was enough to give the Frenchman the joint lead of the IRC 2WD Cup standings.
Another Honda, driven by Martijn Braat, was third - usefully boosting the Japanese manufacturer's haul in the IRC 2WD Cup constructors' standings.
The next event:
By contrast to the flat-out asphalt roads of Belgium, the IRC moves next to the gravel stages of Rally Russia. The Russian event, now in its third year of participation in the Intercontinental Rally Challenge, is based as always in the city of Vyborg, not far from the Finnish border.
Unsurprisingly, the roads have quite a lot in common with those that feature on the legendary Rally Finland, rewarding bravery and commitment above all else.
Rally Russia takes place from July 9th to 11th, with a ceremonial start in the beautiful city of St Petersburg.
IRC RESULTS, BELGIUM YPRES RALLY:
1. Meeke/Nagle Peugeot 207 S2000 2hrs 32m 16.3s
2. Kopecky/Stary Skoda Fabia S2000 +20.4s
3. Loix/Smeets Peugeot 207 S2000 +1m40.5s
4. Tsjoen/Chevaillier Peugeot 207 S2000 +2m35.3s
5. Hanninen/Markkula Skoda Fabia S2000 +3m35.1s
6. Schammel/Jamoul Peugeot 207 S2000 +4m06.4s
7. Van den Heuvel/Kolman Mitsubishi Lancer Evo X +4m06.5s
8. Basso/Dotta Abarth Grande Punto S2000 +4m 24.9s
9. Betti/Capolongo Peugeot 207 S2000 +5m48.3s
10. Fontana/Cassina Peugeot 207 S2000 +6m24.5s
IRC 2WD Cup Winner: Piepers/de Wild - Honda Civic Type R R3
1. Kris Meeke - UK 30
2. Freddy Loix - B 24
3. Jan Kopecky - CZ 21
4. Nicolas Vouilloz - F 14
5. Giandomenico Basso - I 11
6. Sebastien Ogier - F 10
7. Carl Tundo - EAK 10
8. Alistair Cavenagh - GB 8
9. Lee Rose - EAK 6
10. Stephane Sarrazin - F 6 Manufacturers
3. Ralliart 35
4. Abarth 15