Season recap #6: Kopecký fights back for home ERC glory
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.
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.
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 final 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 leg one but lost some of his lead on the final 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.
Words of a winner (Jan Kopecký): “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.”
FIA ERC1: Jan Kopecký (CZE)/Pavel Dresler (CZE) ŠKODA Fabia R5
FIA ERC2: Tibor Érdi Jr (HUN)/György Papp (HUN) Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution X
FIA ERC3: Mārtiņš Sesks (LVA)/Renārs Francis (LVA) Opel ADAM R2
FIA ERC Junior Under 28: Nikolay Gryazin (RUS)/Yaroslav Fedorov (RUS) ŠKODA Fabia R5
FIA ERC Junior Under 27: Mārtiņš Sesks (LVA)/Renārs Francis (LVA) Opel ADAM R2
ERC Ladies’ Trophy: Catie Munnings (GBR) PEUGEOT 208 R2