Magalhaes holds slender lead in Acores

Magalhaes holds slender lead in AcoresFrom IRC media [ 16/07/2010 ].
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Bruno Magalhaes will start the final day of Sata Rallye Acores tomorrow (Saturday) with a slender margin of 2.2 seconds over Intercontinental Rally Challenge leader Juho Hanninen. The Peugeot Sport Portugal driver seized the initiative from overnight pacesetter Hanninen on Friday's first stage when the Skoda Motorsport pilot picked up a front-left puncture and has remained in front ever since.

Hanninen's delay dropped him to fourth overall but his recovery took him ahead of team-mate Jan Kopecky on the day's final stage. Kopecky ensured it would be a three-way fight for victory on the gravel event, which still has seven more stages left to run, by completing the second leg 8.2s adrift of Magalhaes, who remains on course for his first IRC victory.

Magalhaes has scored points on every IRC event held so far this season but has yet to climb onto the top step of the podium. However, buoyed by a successful pre-event test and good stage knowledge, the 30-year-old from Lisbon claimed a trio of impressive stage wins today. He should have been further in front of Hanninen tonight but for a rear-left puncture on the day's penultimate test. With one spare tyre on board his 207 S2000, he was forced to fit a right-sided replacement, which made his car veer sideways on several corners.

Hanninen was 13.6s adrift of the lead following his front-left deflation, which occurred four kilometres from the end of the 7.90-kilometre Batalha Golfe stage. After initially struggling for confidence and facing a robust defence from Kopecky in his efforts to climb the leaderboard, it looked as though Hanninen would have to settle for second. However, a blistering run through the day-closing Lomba da Maia stage, which he likened, in parts, to his native Finland due to the wider nature of the road, enabled him to leapfrog Czech Kopecky and close to within touching distance of Magalhaes.

Kopecky started day two with a new clutch and steering system fitted in his Fabia S2000. Despite taking two stage wins during the day, he couldn't fend off Hanninen although his chances weren't helped when he encountered a spectator standing close to the road on the last stage, which resulted in a small time loss.

In a day of differing fortunes, Kris Meeke, the IRC champion and last year's Azores winner, suffered three punctures and a sixth-gear spin. His first puncture, caused by striking a submerged rock, deranged his Peugeot's front suspension and dramatically affected its handling, which triggered his spin on the Sete Cidades stage, which runs around the rim of an inactive volcano.

Having started the day 12.3s off the lead and seemingly set to benefit from a superior road position, Meeke's challenge imploded and he reached the final service halt in Ponta Delgada this evening physically drained due to the onset of a fever. He also bemoaned the fact he will have to start the final day cleaning the road by virtue of running at the head of the field due to the reversed starting order rule.

Andreas Mikkelsen began Friday's first stage 0.2s off the lead but a combination of poor pacenotes made during the fog-hit reconnaissance and grip issues resulted in the young Norwegian falling behind Meeke into fifth place. But Meeke's third puncture left the Briton without a spare tyre for the final two stages of the day and he had to be extra cautious as a result. Coupled with the fact Mikkelsen took a succession of risks in his M-Sport Ford Fiesta to make up the lost time, Meeke slipped to fifth.

Portuguese championship leader Bernardo Sousa started the day first on the road and lost considerable ground in his Fiesta. He's sixth overnight, one place ahead of Ricardo Moura, the leading conventional Group N runner in his Ralliart Mitsubishi Lancer.

Brazilian Rafael Tulio continues to lead the IRC 2WD Cup in his Peugeot 206 after a trouble-free day. Carlos Oliveira is next up in a similar car.

Saturday's final leg gets underway at 09:05hrs local time. Featuring seven stages over 102.60 competitive kilometres it's the longest of the rally so far. The first crew is due to reach the finish at 19:10hrs.

 

DRIVER QUOTES 

Bruno Magalhaes (Portugal), Peugeot 207 S2000, first overall: "I pushed to the maximum all day because that was the only way I could keep these guys behind me. We had a short [ratio] gearbox for the final loop and the car was very sideways after the puncture so it was really hard to push. It's fantastic to be leading but tomorrow is going to be a very difficult day because the Skodas are very strong."

Juho Hanninen (Finland), Skoda Fabia S2000, second overall: "We made just some very small changes to the car for the last loop and everything was good. I really liked the last stage, it felt like the roads you have in Finland in some places, so I set a good time. I know I can win tomorrow, I want to win but it's a long way to go."

Jan Kopecky (Czech Republic), Skoda Fabia S2000, third overall: "There is no tactic tomorrow, I just need to keep pushing. The road [position] will be better for me tomorrow but there are some long stages and anything can happen. We all want to win so I will be going as fast as possible but it's important to finish."   

TOP TEN IRC POSITIONS AFTER LEG TWO 

1 Bruno Magalhaes/Carlos Magalhaes (Peugeot 207 S2000) 1h28m35.8s
2 Juho Hanninen/Mikko Markkula (Skoda Fabia S2000) +2.2s
3 Jan Kopecky/Petr Stary (Skoda Fabia S2000) +8.2s
4 Andreas Mikkelsen/Ola Floene (M-Sport Ford Fiesta S2000) +48.9s
5 Kris Meeke/Paul Nagle (Peugeot 207 S2000) +51.7s
6 Bernardo Sousa/Nuno Silva (M-Sport Ford Fiesta S2000) +2m23.6s
7 Ricardo Moura/Sancho Eiro (Ralliart Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution IX) +3m38.6s
8 Pedro Vale/Rui Madeiros (Ralliart Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution IX) +6m55.9s
9 Sergio Silva/Paulo Leal (Subaru Impreza WRX) +7m08.8s
10 Pedro Peres/Tiago Ferreira (Ralliart Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution IX) +7m38.6s  

LEG THREE ITINERARY (SATURDAY 17 JULY) 

Service G: Ponta Delgada, 09:09hrs; SS13: Achada das Furnas 2 (8.42kms), 10:17hrs; SS14: Graminhais 1 (20.68kms), 10:45hrs; SS15: Tronqueira 1 (21.94kms), 11:33hrs; SS16: Grupo Marques 2 (2.00kms), 13:20hrs; Service H: Ponta Delgada, 13:59hrs; SS17: Lomba da Maia 2 (7.80kms), 15:22hrs; SS18: Graminhais 2 (20.68kms), 15:53hrs; SS19: Tronqueira 2 (21.94kms), 16:41hrs; Service I: Ponta Delgada, 18:46hrs; Finish: Ponta Delgada, 19:10hrs.  

TV TIMES 
   
Friday 16 July
23:00hrs-23:30hrs Day two highlights (Eurosport and Eurosport Asia-Pacific)
Saturday 17 July
09:00hrs-09:30hrs Day two highlights repeated (Eurosport)
10:45hrs-11:15hrs Day two highlights repeated (Eurosport Asia-Pacific)
All times are CET