Kopecky takes narrow win in Zlin

Kopecky takes narrow win in ZlinFrom ERC Media [ 26/08/2018 ].
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Jan Kopecký scored a record-extending seventh Barum Czech Rally Zlín victory against a strong FIA European Rally Championship field, pushed to the very end by ERC title leader Alexey Lukyanuk. Faced with mixed conditions during the rally’s final loop of stages, ŠKODA Motorsport’s Kopecký made a bold choice, selecting dry-weather tyres as those around him went for a mixture of standard and extreme wets, Lukyanuk on the former from Pirelli. Kopecký’s boldness was rewarded, winning a mostly dry SS13 and SS14 to steal first place away from Lukyanuk before edging out the Russian rocket by 7.5s in a tense finale alongside co-driver and fellow Czech Pavel Dresler.

“This means a lot, especially after the problems we had with the punctures,” said Kopecký, ERC champion in 2013. “It was unbelievable, like a nightmare but after showed some good performance yesterday I was still believing when I woke up today. We really used the support from the fans, it was really important.”

But while Lukyanuk remains winless in Zlín, his championship advantage is up to 36 points over Bruno Magalhães, who placed ninth in the final reckoning in his SEAJETS-backed entry.

“It was really hard and I’m happy to finish,” said Lukyanuk. “I was on the limit all the time, okay mostly in safe mode to be sure we finished, but still the stages were really tricky with the mud and everything. We scored a lot of points for the championship and first place is something we can keep for the future here.”

Third place was decided in an even closer fight, with world championship star Dani Sordo clinging on to a podium finish by a mere 0.3s from local rally ace Miroslav Jakeš. Sordo had taken extreme wets for the final loop but without enough surface water on the stages, his factory-supported Hyundai i20 R5 was sliding around with a lack of grip. Though Jakeš fell short of a shock late podium by the narrowest of margins he did jump from fifth to fourth, passing FIA ERC Junior U28 class winner Nikolay Gyrazin, who eased off to ensure top points in the category for young stars in R5 cars.

Second place in ERC Junior U28 looked set to go to Filip Mareš but a final-stage crash ended the Czech federation-backed driver’s hopes. This handed runner-up honours to category points leader Fabian Kreim, who had been flying through the afternoon loop with a clever tyre strategy from the Baumschlanger Rallye & Racing team that runs his ŠKODA AUTO Deutschland Fabia.

Chris Ingram moved up to third in ERC Junior U28 after Mareš dropped out. Pushing flat out to try and catch Kreim, Ingram had several moments during the final test, coming home 9.6s shy of his German rival. He did successfully pass Rufa Sport driver Jaromír Tarabus for seventh place overall, only for a time penalty to drop him back to eighth. Magalhães struggled with set-up issues, picking up only two points in his championship fight against Lukyanuk in ninth. PEUGEOT Rally Academy talent Laurent Pellier finished fourth in ERC Junior U28 and also picked up the final ERC point, taking P10 ahead of Orhan Avcioglu.

Tibor Érdi Jr secured a second consecutive ERC2 title subject to confirmation of the final results. Mārtiņš Sesks won the Pirelli-supported ERC Under 27 category for the second event running, while Catie Munnings was victorious in the ERC Ladies’ Trophy.

There was late drama in the FIA RGT class. Simone Tempestini had established a strong lead over Raphaël Astier on Saturday afternoon but lost some of his lead on Sunday morning. A hydraulic pump failure on Tempestini's Abarth 124 progressively cost him more time on each stage of the final loop, dropping him behind eventual winner Astier into second. Petr Nešetřil completed the RGT podium in a Porsche 997 GT3.

Leg two recap: Thrilling battles decided final stage

Starting with with deficit of 16.7s to overcome, Kopecký made his intentions for leg two clear by immediately taking 5.0s out of rally leader Lukyanuk on SS10. Neither would star through Halenkovice's first pass though, as local ace Jakeš powered his ŠKODA Fabia R5 to the stage win, taking time out of both Gryazin and Sordo in third and fourth.

If there was any doubt that leg two would be no easier than the wet, slippery, treacherous conditions of the previous day, Racing 21-Klokočka ŠKODA Team's Vojtěch Štajf cleared it up for his fellow ERC crews. He crashed early in SS10, delaying the stage briefly while his stricken car was moved out of the way. Aloísio Monteiro was caught out by the very same corner as Štajf, dropping five minutes but continuing.

There was more drama on Halenkovice when PEUGEOT Rally Academy’s Laurent Pellier ran wide and clattered a bank, costing him around a minute and dropping him temporarily behind Toksport WRT's Orhan Avcioğlu to P12.

Jakeš was stopped from replicating his opening stage form by a puncture on SS11, with yet another Czech winning a stage in his place. This time it was ERC Junior U28 newcomer Filip Mareš, the ACCR-backed driver scoring his first ever outright ERC stage victory. Kopecký was next best though, 0.9s behind Mareš and taking more time out of Lukyanuk.

By now ERC Under 28 leader Gryazin had made a conscious decision to back off entirely to preserve maximum points for his own title challenge, allowing Sordo to close in for third overall. By midday service, Sordo was within 3.2s of the Russian youngster, though Jakeš was still closing in on both.

Ahead of their podium sparring, Kopecký was in touching distance of Lukyanuk, heading to midday service in Otrokovice only 2.6s adrift. Behind them, local driver Martin Březík had slowly climbed to P16 but his ERC cameo came to an end on SS12 when he crashed out.

Midday service presented a difficult choice for crews – rain had been persistent for most of the event but had finally started to abate. Crews went in multiple directions on tyre choice, from Sordo's extreme wets to aid his understanding for future world rallies to soft slicks for Kopecký, standard wets for Lukyanuk, Gryazin and Jakeš and even a mixture of slicks and wets for ERC Junior U28 points lead Fabian Kreim.

Those choices had an immediate effect. ŠKODA Motorsport driver Kopecký surged to the lead he had been craving since dropping back with punctures on Saturday, while Sordo edged ahead of Sports Racing Technologies-run Gryazin into third. Both were being closely tracked by Jakeš though, who shared the SS13 spoils with Kopecký. Mareš punctured on SS13, which allowed ERC Junior U28 rival Kreim to close in as they battled over second in class and sixth overall. Kreim’s clever tyre strategy came into play, skipping past Jaromír Tarabus for seventh with a mix of wet and slick tyres on SS13.

Kreim then switched to slicks all-round on SS14, edging closer still to Mareš and going second fastest of anyone, beaten only by a rapidly escaping Kopecký. Sordo gained a few tenths on both Gryazin and Jakeš on the penultimate test too, a calm stage before the storm of the rally finale.

SS13 and SS14 had been mostly dry but the final stage was still damp, making Kopecký’s all-slick tyre selection a challenge. Uncertain he’d done enough, he refused to celebrate at the finish line until Lukyanuk behind pulled in. He had done enough, gaining a further 1.7s to wrap up his fourth consecutive Barum Czech Rally Zlín win and extending his run of Czech championship victories to a staggering 23.

Sordo’s extreme wets were too far in the opposite direction to Kopecký’s slicks, the Spaniard sliding around with little grip. He had predicted after SS13 that a podium would be lost through his tyre choice but he was wrong, though only just. Jakeš won the final stage but came up agonisingly short of a first ERC podium, Sordo instead taking third on his debut by 0.3s. Gryazin had backed off so Jakeš still took fourth with his last-gasp charge, though Gryazin wasn’t disappointed, having wrapped up a vital ERC Junior U28 victory.

An excellent ERC Junior U28 debut for Mareš came to a galling end, crashing out on SS15 while fending off Kreim for second. Chris Ingram completed the ERC Junior U28 podium but was laser-focused on catching Tarabus for what became seventh after Mareš retired. Ingram went second quickest on SS15 and succeeded, only to drop back to eighth when accruing a time penalty for a late time control check-in.

ERC Junior U28: Gryazin wins amid late Zlín drama

Nikolay Gryazin secured a second successive FIA ERC Junior Under 28 victory on Barum Czech Rally Zlín, though the remaining podium spots were shaken up by late drama.

Twenty-year-old Russian hotshot Gryazin got his ERC Junior U28 title aspirations back on track, securing another win with a measured drive on Sunday. Although his winning margin was steadily reduced over the course of Sunday’s six stages, his one-minute lead after leg one was carefully managed. His winning margin was 45.0s.

Behind Gryazin it was all change during the afternoon loop. ACCR-backed Filip Mareš grew his 11.5s advantage over points leader Fabian Kreim to 27.5s by midday service but clever tyre strategy turned the tables. ŠKODA AUTO Deutschland youngster Kreim took four slick and two wet tyres, using two of each for the damp SS13 before switching to slicks all round for SS14.

Mareš still had 17.9s in hand but conditions were especially unpredictable in SS15. Unfortunately for the FIA ERC Junior Under 27 graduate, Mareš was the one caught out by the longest stage of the rally, crashing on the 24.88 kilometre Kašava test. Kreim was all set to inherit second place but was far from safe against Chris Ingram behind. After a confidence-sapping leg one, Ingram had unlocked the key to making his Fabia fast with a stiffer set-up, throwing caution to the wind in the final stage.

Toksport WRT driver Ingram went fastest on SS15 thanks to his late push, taking 5.6s out of Kreim but falling short of overhauling the current championship leader for second place, settling for third instead after Mareš’ late retirement.

Aside from running wide into a bank on SS10, PEUGEOT Rally Academy’s Laurent Pellier had a mostly drama-free day, though confidence was at a premium on roads which had become caked in mud from corner cutting. Pellier wrapped up fourth place comfortably, well clear of the other ACCR-backed entry of Jan Černý. His hopes of a home ERC Junior U28 had been dashed on the rally’s opening stage by a broken wheel, treating Sunday’s stages as practice while picking up fifth. Rhys Yates did not return after his Saturday retirement, the result of breaking his Kresta Racing-run Fabia’s steering striking a steel pole.

ERC Under 27: Sesks holds off Wagner for ERC Junior U27 double

Mārtiņš Sesks strengthened his grip on the FIA ERC Junior Under 27 Championship crown with victory on Barum Czech Rally Zlín, resisting a late challenge from Simon Wagner in the Pirelli-supported class.

The ADAC Opel Rallye Junior Team driver from Latvia had prioritised a safety-first approach yet held a 41.4s lead heading into leg two’s six stages. Saintéloc Junior Wagner went on a charge during Sunday morning, winning SS11 and SS12 to slash his deficit to 25.2s from Sesks ahead.

Sesks had been fastest of all on Halenkovice’s morning pass though and crucially gained 2.8s back on Wagner in its SS13 afternoon re-run after set-up woes slowed Wagner. Sesks conceded a further 11.3s to Austrian in the final two stages but was far enough ahead not to worry about losing his victory.

Opel got both its Pirelli-shod ADAM R2s on to the podium, as Tom Kristensson scored a confidence-boosting third place. After a heavy crash on ADAC Rallye Deutschland a week earlier, the Swede succeeded in his primary aim of having a clean rally in spite of Zlín’s extremely slippery asphalt roads.

PEUGEOT 208 R2 pilot Mattia Vita equalled his career-best ERC Junior U27 result from the previous round on Rally di Roma Capitale, picking up fourth when Kristóf Klausz slid out of control in a muddy section of SS14 and crashed. Roland Stengg completed the top five despite a puncture and broken intercom on Saturday morning, his car still carrying scars of a high speed roll on Saturday.

Catie Munnings picked up a puncture on the final stage but made it home sixth in class and first in the ERC Ladies’ Trophy. Rally Team Spain’s Efrén Llarena was seventh on his return under Rally2 rules after an electrical issue put him out of third on Saturday. He also scored five leg bonus points.

EBRT’s Grégoire Munster also returned under Rally2, bringing his Opel ADAM R2 home behind Llarena in eighth on his ERC Junior U27 debut. Sindre Furuseth’s comeback was halted as soon as it began, suspension failure ending his rally for a second time in leg two’s opening test.

Matěj Kamenec and Martin László began leg two sixth and seventh in ERC3, slotting in between Vita and Stengg, but neither would finish, Kamenec’s brakes failing and László out with a gearbox problem.

Emma Falcón had been set for P10 in ERC3 and second in the ERC Ladies’ Trophy even with ongoing gearbox troubles and a broken turbo pipe on Sunday morning. She had nursed her car all the way to SS15, only to crash out on the very last stage. That late crash for Falcón handed the final ERC3 points to Credobus LPWM Sport’s Miklós Csomós, who had returned under Rally2 after his own crash on Saturday.

ERC2: Érdi Jr claims back-to-back titles

Hungarian hero Tibor Érdi Jr has won a second FIA European Rally Championship ERC2 title in as many years with victory on Barum Czech Rally Zlín securing his crown. Despite a trip off-road on Saturday afternoon Érdi arrived at the finish line of SS15 without any issues, scoring a fourth ERC2 win this season and with it the championship title. Érdi Jr’s season started in dramatic fashion, his suspension failing on the very first superspecial stage of the season-opening Azores Airlines Rallye. Bouncing back with a victory on Rally Islas Canarias, Érdi won in Greece and Italy before a fourth triumph in Czech Republic. Although there are still two events remaining this season, only the four best results count towards a driver's points total in ERC2. With Érdi the only driver now able to score four wins this year, the title is his, subject to official confirmation. “I am very happy and I really want to thank my team, my family and my sponsors,” said Érdi Jr, who celebrated by announcing he is contemplating a step up to an R5 car for 2019.

PROVISIONAL TOP POSITIONS (after 15 stages, 212.73 kilometres)

FIA ERC2: Tibor Érdi Jr (H)/György Papp (H) Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution X
FIA ERC3: Mārtiņš Sesks (LV)/Renārs Francis (LV) Opel ADAM R2
FIA ERC Junior Under 28: Nikolay Gryazin (RUS)/Yaroslav Fedorov (RUS) ŠKODA Fabia R5
FIA ERC Junior Under 27: Mārtiņš Sesks (LV)/Renārs Francis (LV) Opel ADAM R2
ERC Ladies’ Trophy: Catie Munnings (GB) PEUGEOT 208 R2

SS1-2: Kopecký/Dresler
SS3-12: Lukyanuk/Arnautov
SS13-15: Kopecký/Dresler


PZM 75th Rally Poland, 21-23 September: One of the world’s oldest rallies is back on the ERC calendar in 2018 after a five-year break as Rally Poland replaces Rally Rzeszow as the country’s round of the European championship for its 75th edition. First run in 1921, Rally Poland’s home since 2005 has been Mikołajki in the picturesque Mazurian lake district, a three-hour drive north from the capital Warsaw, where high-speed all-gravel stages are commonplace. And it was in Mikołajki where Kajetan Kajetanowicz first emerged as a major force in the ERC, taking the win in 2013 prior to beginning his record-breaking title treble sequence in 2015.