Round two of the Intercontinental Rally Challenge (IRC), Rally Islas Canarias El Corte Inglés, is set for a thrilling climax on Saturday with the top two drivers, Jan Kopecký and Andreas Mikkelsen, separated by just 1.2s heading into the closing six stages.
Mikkelsen, the defending IRC champion, led throughout the day but dropped precious seconds to his rival on the final test, which will see him run behind Kopecký on the road on day two. While he no longer leads the rally, the 22-year-old Mikkelsen will be able to monitor Kopecký’s stage times and decide when to attack and when to drive with more caution in his quest for a strong finish.
With ŠKODA UK Motorsport ace Mikkelsen winning four stages today and Kopecký going fastest on five occasions in his factory ŠKODA Fabia Super 2000, the battle for victory will be wide open on the demanding asphalt roads around Las Palmas when the action resumes at 10:28hrs local time.
“It’s super, super close, a proper fight,” said Mikkelsen, from Norway. “Jan has been pushing a lot and on stage eight I had a big moment a few kilometres from the end, went off and jumped into the road again. The tyres were very worn at that point but the car was okay – I was extremely lucky. I didn’t want to run behind Jan on the final day because I prefer to hunt than be hunted.”
In bright sunshine and roared on by thousands of fans, by winning the day’s first three stages Mikkelsen appeared to be controlling his advantage over Kopecký until his scare nearing the finish of the seventh 21.29-kilometre Ingenio test gave the Czech driver hope.
“Andreas has been very fast today, taking some big risks,” said Kopecký, the winner in Gran Canaria in 2010. “I believed we could be quicker but the most important thing is to finish the rally. I had one small moment in the morning and I did not have so much confidence with the reading of the pacenotes on one stage this afternoon. But the car has been perfect and now I am leading.”
Spaniard Luis Monzón is the top Peugeot 207 S2000 driver in third overall following a hugely impressive showing on his first rally in the French machine for four years. Rarely outside of the top three stage times, Monzón holds a 20.3s advantage over fourth-placed Hermann Gassner Jr, who lost ground with an intercom fault on stage seven.
“I am very happy with today,” said Monzón. “It has been long and not so easy for me to learn this car again but we try to maintain this position to the end of the rally. We can’t do anything but maximum attack like today.”
Sepp Wiegand, who like his fellow German Gassner Jr is competing on the event for the first time, had been embroiled in a close fight with Spaniard Alberto Hevia for fifth overall until the luckless Hevia’s Fabia failed on the road section heading to the penultimate stage of the day.
Wiegand’s only major cause for concern was a faulty crank sensor causing a momentary power loss on stage six. However, the problem was quickly rectified by his ŠKODA Auto Deutschland mechanics and no further time was dropped.
Spaniard Jonathan Perez is sixth overnight in a Peugeot 207 with IRC 2WD Cup leader Joan Vinyes a strong seventh, one place ahead of Dream Team Ukraine’s Oleksiy Tamrazov, who has improved his pace – and experience of the demanding island roads – throughout the day.
Gorka Antxustegi is ninth with local driver Angel Marrero the top Honda Civic pilot in 10th position. Hungarian Janós Puskádi and Briton Harry Hunt are in hot pursuit. Puskádi is making his competitive debut in a ŠKODA Fabia and spending the event adapting to four-wheel drive. Meanwhile, a brake issue has troubled Hunt for much of the day. Rashid Al-Ketbi is 13th for the Skydive Dubai Rally Team following a faultless display on only his second event on asphalt.
Robert Consani is the leading Renault driver in 15th overall on his first event alongside IRC title-winning co-driver Nicolas Klinger. Consani, who reported a power loss issue on uphill sections, is eligible for IRC Production Cup points and IRC 2WD Cup points on this event and heads the Production Cup standings over Subaru Impreza driver Marco Tempestini, who suffered brake problems in the afternoon.
Bulgarian Ekaterina Stratieva began her season-long IRC 2WD Cup campaign by completing day one in 10th position in the highly competitive category.
Ricardo Moura retired from the lead of the IRC Production Cup early on stage two with a turbocharger failure. Transmission problems stopped Oleksandr Saliuk’s Dream Team Ukraine M-Sport Ford Fiesta, while brake issues led to José Luís Barrios’ exit.
Saturday’s action consists of six special stages over a competitive distance of 101.52 kilometres. All the highlights will be shown on Eurosport, Eurosport Player and www.ircseries.com.