Skoda clinches one-two in Rally Russia
Juho Hanninen has clinched a commanding victory in the Rally Russia, ahead of his Skoda teammate Jan Kopecky. A faultless performance from the duo saw Skoda Motorsport burst up through the Intercontinental Rally Challenge manufacturers' rankings to slot into second overall behind Peugeot, which did not contest this event, while the impressively consistent Kopecky sits just one point off Kris Meeke in the drivers' championship.
With three days and 13 stages behind them, the Skoda men can reflect on a dominant performance in which Hanninen was only beaten to one fastest stage time through the course of the entire event.
"Of course, it's great for my second time here in Vyborg and my second Rally Russia victory," Hanninen said. "Of course, my goal was winning over here, but we all know how difficult this rally was. I did all I can to avoid the rocks. Luck also helped a bit I think. But anyway, the most important thing is that I didn't have any punctures. And it's a one-two for Skoda, so a great result."
For Kopecky, the title fight has now become a reality, slotting in between the two Peugeot drivers Meeke and Freddy Loix after another measured and mature gravel performance from the asphalt star.
"Last year, I lost second place after a puncture. So this year I told myself not to push 100 percent, because the risk is so high," he said. "On a few stages I tried to push a little bit more and the times were not so bad. But Juho was very fast, like last year, and there was no way to catch him. This is the perfect weekend for us and now we can work towards repeating it on home ground in the Czech Republic next month."
Third place was the most hotly contested position, in which Giandomenico Basso eventually prevailed after a long battle with his Abarth team-mate Anton Alen and the flying Proton of Guy Wilks.
"It's always great to grab some points after such a difficult rally," the Italian said. "Yesterday, we had a water leak and that made us worry about the engine. The balance of the car was not good and we couldn't fix that. Plus I had trouble with punctures and so we need to analyze the data, see what was missing, and use these points to boost our season."
Wilks meanwhile recovered from dropping back from third to seventh on day two and ended the rally in fourth place, despite picking up another puncture on SS13. Next up was Franz Wittmann, celebrating his best-ever finish in the IRC with Ralliart after a time penalty for Alen was awarded following the final stage.
For the local men there were slim pickings to be found on the 2009 Rally Russia. Reigning Russian champion Alesandr Zheludov retired his Peugeot 207, which had run as high as fifth. Meanwhile Kaspar Koitla from Estonia not only gave Honda its second successive 2WD victory but also claimed a point for eighth overall.
The next event in Madeira will feature Meeke and the other front-running Peugeots of Loix and Nicolas Vouilloz, while the Skodas will sit out the second Atlantic trip of the season and aim to repeat their dominance at home on the Barum Rally Zlin in six weeks time.