Yagiz Avci claims IRC Prime Yalta Rally win

Yağiz Avci has entered the record books as the first Turkish driver to win a round of the Intercontinental Rally Challenge since the all-action series begun six years ago following his success on the Prime Yalta Rally in Ukraine yesterday.

Piloting an M-Sport Ford Fiesta S2000, the three-time Turkish champion reached the finish on the banks of the Black Sea more than three minutes ahead of his closest rival. A sterling performance from start to finish enabled Robert Consani to clinch the runner-up spot, as well as the first IRC podium for French manufacturer Renault. His maiden top-three plus an IRC Production Cup and IRC 2WD Cup double earned Consani the prestigious Colin McRae IRC Flat Out Trophy.

“This was a tough rally but I am very happy to win,” said Avci who was co-driven by countryman Bahadir Gücenmez. “We were driving carefully this afternoon because we wanted to keep our position after Yuriy [Protasov] retired. On today’s second stage, we caught Yuriy during the last five kilometres and it was very difficult to pass him so we lost quite a bit of time. We tried to improve our pacenotes this afternoon as we hope to be back next year but right now I can’t believe I have won, it feels fantastic.”

Ukraine’s Yuriy Protasov was leading his home event until a puncture followed by an off-road excursion on the day’s second stage dropped him out of winning contention. The Fiesta RRC driver then encountered further bad luck when he broke a steering arm and damaged his suspension, forcing the 28-year-old to finally call it a day.

“For sure, I am disappointed to retire but I am still feeling positive,” explained an upbeat Protasov. “It was our first time in the Fiesta and I have been happy with our times. Yesterday we had a good day but today we were unlucky on three stages in a row. That is life but I learned a lot – I never expected to come here and win so I cannot allow myself to feel disappointed.”

A solid performance by László Vizin earned the ŠKODA Fabia Super 2000 driver the final podium spot in the Crimea. The Hungarian reported a gear sensor problem during the opening loop in addition to a small handling issue, but Vizin was nevertheless delighted with his first IRC podium.

Peugeot 207 S2000 driver Yukhym Vazheyevskyy dropped out of the podium fight yesterday after engine problems forced an early retirement. The Ukrainian restarted today but was not eligible to score points. Vazheyevskyy made it to the end of the rally after replacing a windscreen when the original was smashed when the bonnet flew open on stage 11.

After vying for the top spot alongside Protasov and displaying an impressive show of speed, Finn Mikko Pajunen retired after he crashed his Fiesta on the second day of competition.

IRC Production Cup:
Renault Mégane RS driver Robert Consani took a resounding victory alongside co-driver Nicolas Klinger in the IRC Production Cup. The Frenchman is now only three points adrift of title leader Andreas Aigner, who was not competing in Yalta. Consani set a string of fastest stage times and finished more than four minutes ahead of second-placed Mykola Chmykh in a Subaru Impreza STI. After a series of setbacks, Marco Tempestini battled on in another Impreza to claim the third step of the podium. The Romanian reported numerous problems over the course of the three-day rally including three punctures on the closing day and a broken gear lever. Fourth place in the IRC Production Cup went to Marco Cavigioli in a Ralliart Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution IX R4. Simone Tempestini was unable to start the final day of competition today because he was feeling unwell. Elsewhere, Valeriy Gorban was forced to retire after the Ukrainian broke his Lancer’s front-left driveshaft on day two. Fellow countryman Vitaliy Pushkar retired when his Lancer was damaged following an off-road excursion on stage five. Yurii Kochmar stopped after incurring three punctures and damaging a wheel on his Lancer.

IRC 2WD Cup:
Having led the IRC 2WD Cup from start to finish, Robert Consani clinched his second victory of the year in his Renault Mégane RS. Consani’s victory means Briton Harry Hunt’s lead in the standings has been slashed to one point. Hunt hadn’t nominated Yalta on his schedule of events. After a solid drive, Vlad Cosma was second in a Citroën C2 R2, with Murat Bosatanci overcoming a puncture to claim the third podium spot in a M-Sport Ford Fiesta R2. The all-female crew of Ekaterina Stratieva and Carmen Poenaru finished fourth, with the Bulgarian driver reporting a better set-up on her Citroën during the closing leg. “This has been the hardest rally of my career, the roads were incredibly slippery,” said a relieved Stratieva at the finish in Yalta. Honda Civic Type R driver Oleksiy Panov rounded off the top five, finishing more than five minutes ahead of the Fiesta of Stanislav Basedin. Seventh place was awarded to Eytan Halfron in another Fiesta R2, with Yuriy Kasim claiming the eighth spot at the wheel of a VAZ 2112. Ukraine’s Olexandr Yushkov took ninth in a Citroën Saxo VTS.

Final Overall Classification:
01) Yağiz Avci/Bahadir Gücenmez
M-Sport Ford Fiesta S2000 – 03h 09m 58.7s
02) Robert Consani/Nicolas Klinger
Renault Mégane RS + 03m 13.4s
03) László Vizin/Gabor Zsiros
SKODA Fabia S2000 + 03m 38.4s
04) Mykola Chmykh/Olexandr Vilchynskyi
Subaru Impreza STI + 09m 31.5s
05) Marco Tempestini/Dorin Pupea
Subaru Impreza R4 STI + 12m 47.9s
06) Murat Bostanci/Onur Vatansever
M-Sport Ford Fiesta R2 + 15m 14.3s
07) Marco Cavigioli/Monica Fortunato
Mitsubishi Evolution Lancer IX + 19m 35.1s
08) Oleksiy Panov/Olexandr Yukushev
Honda Civic Type R + 20m 54.1s
09) Stanislav Besedin/Olexandr Donskiy
M-Sport Ford Fiesta R2 + 26m 41.2s
10) Eytan Halfon/Sedat Bostanci
M-Sport Ford Fiesta R2 + 33m 25.1s

IRC Production Cup: Robert Consani/Nicolas Klinger – Renault Mégane RS
IRC 2WD Cup: Robert Consani/Nicolas Klinger – Renault Mégane RS