Kris Meeke took his third consecutive IRC event win by claiming victory in round five of the Intercontinental Rally Challenge.
"I never thought for a minute that I could be in a position to win here, so to be on the top step of the podium on such a prestigious event is a dream come true for me," said Meeke. "I think this is certainly the biggest moment of my career to date.”
The win at the IRC’s Belgium Ypres Rally has lifted the Peugeot UK driver to a six-point lead in the standings over five-time winner of the Belgium Ypres Rally, Freddy Loix, who was the winner of the Belgium Ypres Rally last year.
From the very beginning of the rally, Meeke and Loix were involved in a battle for the lead, swapping fastest stage times. Meeke won eight stages while Loix won seven over the course of the 16-stage event. Meeke edged ahead after SS12, but Loix hinted to have more speed in reserve. His chance for a win vanished on the following stage, when Loix suffered a flat tire which dropped him to fourth.
"Of course it's a shame for everyone that we had the puncture, as before it was a really great fight with Kris," Loix said. "I tried not to push my hardest all the time, because this is not the sort of rally where you can take big risks, but in the end it was a really close battle between the two of us.”
Loix battled back and eventually finished third, maintaining second place in the championship.
Skoda driver Jan Kopecky was the only other driver to challenge the two leaders and 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. Luckily there were no serious consequences.
After Loix's flat, Kopecky moved up into second. He maintained this position to the finish to move up to third place overall in the championship standings.
"Second place is a very good result for us, particularly as we had the accident with the motorcyclist today, which was not a nice feeling as it distracted us," Kopecky said. "Luckily everyone is OK, but it is not a nice thing to happen on a rally. I tried as best as I could, but I think this result is a real testimony to just how good our car is.”
Juho Hanninen, Kopecky's teammate, was third up until the final stage, where he also punctured a tire and dropped down to fifth. Nevertheless, the popular Finn scores his first points of the year. Hanninen's misfortune benefited 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.
Fiat-Abarth's Giandomenico Basso lost fourth place on the very final stage after picking up a puncture on the same rock that caused a problem for Hanninen. He claimed the final points in eighth place.
The IRC 2WD Cup was won by Dutchman Marcel Piepers, who was driving a Honda Civic Type R. This gave the Frenchman the joint lead of the IRC 2WD Cup standings.
IRC RESULTS AFTER SS16, 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 10 +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
1 Peugeot 68
3 Ralliart 35
3 Skoda 25
4 Abarth 15
Quotes & Photo: IRC