Sun 13 Aug 2023

ERC @ 70: Kopecky’s European title triumph 10 years on

Jan Kopecký’s victory by 0.5sec on the opening round of the 2013 FIA European Rally Championship not only underlined the serious competition in the ERC, it also set the Czech on a run of results that would make him champion with two events to spare.

Co-driven by compatriot Pavel Dresler, Kopecký’s eight-event campaign netted six wins, one second place and one third as he took the championship by storm aboard his Michelin-equipped, factory-prepared Škoda Fabia Super 2000.

Ahead of next week’s Barum Czech Rally Zlín, the 41-year-old’s home round of the ERC from 18 - 20 August, this is a reminder of how Kopecký became king of Europe one decade on.

International Jänner Rallye (Austria, 3 - 5 January)

Kopecký takes victory on the Freistadt-based event by 0.5sec after a dramatic final day with the outcome decided on the very last stage. Kopecký begins the deciding leg’s eight tests with a 20sec advantage over Bryan Bouffier. But heavy rain and ice make for challenging conditions and Kopecký’s fortunes are turned on their head when he picks up a front-left puncture seven kilometres from the finish of stage 15. He drops to third with only three stages left as Bouffier moves in front despite spinning on the same stage. However, Kopecký is determined not to give up and pushes as hard as he can to start the final 25km stage 10.6sec adrift of Bouffier. But he goes quicker by 11.1sec and wins overall by 0.5sec. “I never stopped believing I could win because if you stop believing you cannot achieve anything,” Kopecký says after 120,000 fans watch the action in Upper Austria.

Rally Islas Canarias El Corte Inglés (Gran Canaria, Spain, 21 - 23 March)

Kopecký makes it a hat-trick of wins on Rally Islas Canarias El Corte Inglés and a second on the bounce in 2013 after long-term leader Robert Kubica retires from top spot after he damages his Citroën striking a barrier on Saturday’s second stage. On his ERC debut, Kubica is more than one minute in front after going fastest on all eight stages on the rain and fog-affected leg one. But he hits trouble on a right-hand bend approximately five kilometres from the finish of stage 10. His heroic performance earns him the prestigious Colin McRae ERC Flat Out Trophy but it’s Kopecký who takes the rally victory to reclaim the championship lead. “We didn’t expect rain and that’s why we were losing so much on the first day,” Kopecký says. “But the set-up of this car for the dry conditions was really perfect. And we had no problems. Robert was great but he made a mistake, which can happen in rallying.”

SATA Rallye Açores (Portugal, 25 - 27 April)

Having won twice on Tarmac, Kopecký triumphs on gravel to continue his impressive start to the ERC season with victory in the Azores courtesy of seven stage wins. His achievement lays to rest the painful memories of 2010 when he crashed out of the lead five kilometres from the finish. Kopecký begins the deciding leg in the best possible fashion by going fastest on the first test, Graminhais, to extend his overnight advantage to 15.7sec. Although Craig Breen narrows that margin slightly on Tronqueira 1, Kopecký is quickly in control by winning stage 15 and sharing the fastest time with Robert Kubica through the Grupo Marques super special. While maintaining that he no longer needs to push at the midday service in Ponta Delgada, Kopecký goes quickest the event’s closing three stages for a winning margin of 32.2sec ahead of Breen and local hero Ricardo Moura. “I’m very happy because my last gravel rally was two years ago and this is my first win on gravel so thanks” says Kopecký. “I was not thinking about the corner where I crashed but when I passed that corner I said ‘okay, it’s over’ and then we went wide on the next corner so I thought it was better not to think about these things again.”

Sibiu Rally (Romania, 25 - 27 July)

After finishing second to Bryan Bouffier on Tour de Corse in mid-May, Kopecký is back in action and back winning again, this time on Romania’s Sibiu Rally held in the country’s stunning Transylvania region. The mixed-surface event takes place in bright sunshine with warm temperatures and huge crowds – plus three different leaders. After early powersteering issues, by winning Saturday’s first stage, the all-asphalt Sadu test, Kopecký is able to gradually pull clear over early leader François Delecour, who is subsequently delayed by a broken front-right shock absorber and a puncture. But there are no such problems for Kopecký, who completes a lockout of stage wins on day two to win by more than three minutes. “It was a really tough event,” says Kopecký. “The hot weather was not such a problem but there were a lot of rocks and loose stones on the stages and you had to use your head to decide when and where to push. I was enjoying a big battle with Bryan and François until they had problems but this is motorsport.”

Barum Czech Rally Zlín (Czech Republic, 30 August - 1 September)

Kopecký begins the ERC’s Super September by claiming a fifth win from six 2013 ERC starts. He takes nine stage wins on leg one before he adopts a more cautious approach on the rain-hit stages of leg two as Václav Pech and Jaromír Tarabus make it an all-Czech podium in second and third respectively. While Kopecký enjoys a dominant and trouble-free first day, his factory Škoda team-mate Esapekka Lappi retires when he damages his Fabia’s roll cage striking a tree on the sixth stage of his debut in Zlín. “I’m very happy to win my home round of the ERC,” Kopecký says. “The car was perfect all weekend but the second day was just about getting to the finish in the difficult conditions because we had a big gap and it would have been stupid to have made a mistake.” Barum Czech Rally Zlín is the first of three events in quick succession with LOTOS 70th Rally Poland following from 13 - 15 September and Croatia Rally taking place from 26 - 28 September.

Croatia Rally (Croatia, 26 - 28 September)

Having placed third in Poland, Kopecký becomes European champion for the first time with a dominant victory on Croatia Rally’s all-asphalt stages. After completing the opening leg with a commanding lead of 52.9sec, a near-faultless performance from Kopecký and co-driver Dresler in their Michelin-shod Fabia, means they come out on top by a margin 1min 55.6sec to put the ERC title for 2013 beyond reach. “It was a difficult rally for us because we expected dry weather on the first morning but it was raining and we had the hard compound tyre so this was a big challenge,” Kopecký says. “The challenge was then to stay on the road, we did this and finally things started to come better for us.”

Starts: Thursday, July 18, 2024 at 4:31:00 AM
Starts: Friday, July 26, 2024 at 7:00:00 AM
Starts: Saturday, July 27, 2024 at 6:00:00 AM