Juho Hanninen celebrated his Intercontinental Rally Challenge title in perfect style by winning the Rally of Scotland, his third victory of the season.
Hanninen had ended the preceding round in Sanremo on the cusp of the championship, needing just one more point to beat his Skoda teammate Jan Kopecky to the crown. Skoda then decided not to enter Kopecky for Scotland, ensuring that Hanninen would be champion, and billing this weekend's event as his lap of honor.
But it looked unlikely that Hanninen would be getting too much glory in Scotland at first, as he initially sat back in sixth while local favorites Guy Wilks (Skoda UK) and Kris Meeke (Peugeot UK) battled for the lead. Having joked that he might head home to Helsinki if he could not get on the Britons' pace, Hanninen then found speed from Saturday's second stage, and a series of fastest times for the Finn combined with dramas for Wilks and Meeke saw Hanninen eventually emerge ahead.
Wilks had escaped spinning and striking a rockface on SS4, and led again once Meeke picked up a puncture on the next stage. But just as Wilks started looking comfortable up front, a differential problem forced him to retire on Saturday afternoon. He was re-entered for today and won three out of four stages, though he was not classified in the outright results.
Hanninen picked up the lead and stayed ahead to the end, putting on a final spurt to beat the chasing Andreas Mikkelsen by 25 seconds, as the Hankook Ford driver took his first IRC podium after by far his strongest drive of the year.
A burst brake pipe dropped Meeke even further behind and ended any hope of victory in his final rally with Peugeot UK. He had to settle for third place, which he regained when his Kronos Peugeot team-mate Thierry Neuville sustained a puncture on today's first stage. Neuville then crashed out at the end of the following test, while Meeke made it to the final podium spot despite another puncture on the very last stage.
"Bad stage, bad rally, bad season – this rally sums up our season," said Meeke.
There was more disappointment for Proton, with Keith Cronin and Alister McRae both early retirements, and Tom Cave losing a potentially excellent fifth place to a pair of punctures this morning. He then crashed out of ninth on the final stage of the rally.
The rally saw incredible attrition, with just nine registered IRC competitors completing the distance. David Bogie was top Group N car in fourth after Jonathan Greer broke his suspension on the last stage, two-wheel-drive class-winner Siim Plangi was an incredible fifth overall, and Burcu Cetinkaya took her first points in seventh, only losing sixth to Eamonn Boland when her Peugeot had late gearbox problems.
Pos Driver Car Time/Gap
1. Juho Hanninen Skoda 2h01m07.4s
2. Andreas Mikkelsen Ford + 25.5s
3. Kris Meeke Peugeot + 3m24.2s
4. David Bogie Mitsubishi + 12m01.3s
5. Siim Plangi Honda + 14m39.0s
6. Eamonn Boland Mitsubishi + 16m38.8s
7. Burcu Cetinkaya Peugeot + 16m56.1s
8. Harry Hunt Ford + 21m39.5s
9. Daniel Barry Mitsubishi + 23m46.5s