Co-driven by Pavel Dresler, Kopecký is on course to win the event for the fourth time and clinch another Czech national title after a dominant performance on a blisteringly hot day in southern Moravia.
“It’s been a great day for us,” said Kopecký. “The Fabia R5 has worked very well. We hit a big hole on the first stage this morning, which shows how strong the car really is. We have made no mistakes, we have a good pace and we have built up a nice gap behind us.”
Last year’s event winner Václav Pech is second, 35.4s behind Kopecký, in his Mini John Cooper Works S2000 – his local knowledge of the fast, bumpy and narrow stages ensuring an exciting battle for victory.
Kajetan Kajetanowicz has a great chance to further extend his lead in the ERC, after a magnificent day in his Pirelli-shod LOTOS Rally Team Ford Fiesta R5. The Polish driver has been pushing hard – so hard, that he arrived at the end of SS5 with his brakes on fire.
Craig Breen arrived in the Czech Republic second in the championship, but lost two and a half minutes and all hopes of victory after picking up a puncture on SS5. The number of punctures had increased to three by the end of the day, and the fight is now on to salvage the best result he can and maintain his strong fight for the ERC title in his Peugeot Rally Academy 208 T16. He is 11th overnight.
Despite it only being his second Tarmac rally, Alexey Lukyanuk is fourth in his Ford Fiesta R5 – the Russian and Estonian champion driving brilliantly in such unfamiliar conditions, saying that the experience he is gaining is “enormous”.
Pavel Valoušek is fifth in his ŠKODA Fabia S2000 after an excellent mistake-free day. He is ahead of promising youngster Miroslav Jakeš (Citroën DS3 R5), while former ERC Junior star Jan Černý is seventh in a Fabia S2000.
After a brief pre-event test in the wet, French 208 Rally Cup champion Charles Martin was unhappy with the set-up of his Peugeot Rally Academy 208 T16 at the start of the event. He lost 35s with a right rear puncture on SS2, but has felt increasing happier with the car and snatched eighth place on today’s final stage.
Hermen Kobus is going well in his ŠKODA Fabia R5, and with a new car on a new event, the Dutch driver was rightly pleased with to be ninth after a good leg one performance. Antonín Tlusťák damaged the front of his Tajmac-ZPS Fabia S2000 on SS2, but a good run sees him complete the top 10.
GPD Orsák Rally Sport Fabia S2000 team-mates Petter Kristiansen and Martin Hudec are enjoying themselves. The Norwegian driver is 17th after a trouble-free day, while the Czech former motocross rider is 18th on only his second rally since the Circuit of Ireland.
Plenty of other drivers hit problems on leg one. SS4 was stopped after Martin Vlček crashed his ŠKODA Fabia S2000 into a gas pipe, and escaping gas forced a re-route of competitors! Sepp Wiegand had a disastrous start when an injector problem slowed his GPD Orsák Rally Sport-run ŠKODA Fabia S2000 on the opening Zlín super special. With no power, he pulled over to let a faster car overtake, but in doing so hit some railings and broke the right rear suspension. The 2014 ERC vice-champion then had to stop and replace a puncture on SS7.
Number six seed Jaromír Tarabus stopped in SS3 with an electrical fault that led to a failure of his ŠKODA Fabia R5’s high-pressure fuel pump. Ford Fiesta R5 driver Roman Odložilik hit a log that stops drivers from cutting corners, and broke the connection to the left-front wheel. Raul Jeets crashed his MM-Motorsport Ford Fiesta R5 into a house on SS4 and Tomáš Kostka retired his stunning green Fabia R5 from fourth place after SS7.
Consani unhurt after huge crash Robert Consani suffered one of the biggest ERC accidents ever captured by the Eurosport helicopter, when he rolled his Citroën DS3 R5 at high speed on SS2. The 33-year old Frenchman changed co-drivers for the event, but his new navigator Jérôme Cornebise fell ill just before the recce. He therefore had Frenchman Benoit Manzo alongside him, despite the fact they only met four days ago. “We are out after having rolled many times,” said Consani. “But we are OK. I’m so disappointed, this rally will never be mine.” Consani’s crash means he’s now retired from the Czech event in each of the past six starts he’s made.
Rivals have no answer to Botka’s ERC2 pace A change to Pirelli tyres, a new fuel supplier and a new co-driver in the form of Peter Szeles has done wonders for Dávid Botka. The Hungarian driver is dominating ERC2 in his Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution IX, and leads the class by 1m07.3s after leg one. With no answer to Botka’s pace, Vojtěch Štajf has decided to keep the battle for the title at the forefront of his mind, and from an early stage, the Subaru Czech National Team Impreza WRX STI driver has settled for second and maintaining his ERC2 lead. Dominykas Butvilas lost three minutes when he stopped to change a puncture on SS2. He then lost more time with fuel problems in his Subaru Poland Rally Team Impreza WRX STI on SS7. Inessa Tushkanova was a non-starter.
Bergkvist leads Opel one-two, as Griebel closes in on ERC Junior runner-up spot Emil Bergkvist is showing why he is such a worthy ERC Junior champion by setting a blistering pace in his ADAC Opel Rallye Junior Adam R2. Two punctures didn’t stop the young Swedish driver open up a 45s lead at the end of leg one. Second is his Opel team-mate Marijan Griebel, who is in pole position to clinch the runner-up spot in the Michelin-backed series. The other four drivers fighting to become vice-champion have all had problems – some a lot bigger than others. Ralfs Sirmacis overshot a junction on SS7 and then had to avoid part of a tree in the middle of the road. The Sport Racing Technologies Peugeot 208 R2 driver is fourth, having lost third on the final stage by just 0.8s. Norway’s Steve Røkland lost two minutes with a front left puncture on SS3. He continued at a slower pace, but his 208 was caught on a narrow section of road by Peugeot Rally Academy driver Diogo Gago. Gago made contact with the back of Røkland’s car as he attempted to overtake, and in doing so went off and retired. Chris Ingram lost five minutes on SS4 when he skidded on a patch of gravel that wasn’t there on the recce, snapping the front left wheel clean in two. With the jacking point squashed, it took the talented Peugeot UK driver five minutes to replace with wheel. Brake problems during the day didn’t help, and he reached the finish characteristically promising to keep on pushing, but he is down in ninth. Outside the vice-champion battle, Aleks Zawada put his Adam R2 off into a ditch on SS2 – which might be a good omen, for the last time he did that he when on to win ERC Juniors in Ypres. More of a concern was that Cathy Derousseaux was losing her voice – until her mother came to the rescue with hot milk and honey! Zawada is a strong third overnight. Sweden’s Mattias Adielsson is enjoying a trouble-free run in his re-shelled 208 and is fifth. Łukasz Pieniążek is regretting having a black roof and black overalls, as the young Pole battles bravely on in oven-like conditions. He is sixth, but worryingly his engine temperature hit 140°C on today’s final stage. On his first rally in the Czech Republic, young Belgian ace Joachim Wagemans is eighth in his Peugeot. Kristóf Klausz has been ill all week, and the high 208 cockpit temperature isn’t making the Hungarian teenager feel any better. He ended the day with intercom problems and is 10th. ADAC Opel Rallye Cup champion Julius Tannert hit a kerb and bent the rear axle on his Adam R2 on SS5, and had to do that and the next two stages with the rear left wheel sticking out at an angle – costing him a lot of time. He is bringing up the ERC Junior rear in 11th, finishing the final stage of the day with no brakes. Romanian driver Florin Tincescu retired his Napoca Rally Academy 208 with a broken clutch pedal.
Home favourite Bisaha holds best non-Junior ERC3 position Home favourite Ondřej Bisaha leads the ERC3 battle for the non-ERC Junior drivers, despite bending the rear axle on his new Citroën DS3 R3T Max on SS5. Double Romanian 2WD champion Alex Filip picked up a front puncture in his Colina Motorsport-run Renault Clio R3 Maxi on SS6, and then was given a 10s penalty for being late – having been delayed at a railway crossing by a train on a road section! He is second overnight.
WHAT’S NEXT? Leg two on Sunday (30 August) starts at 07h20 and contains a further six stages, totalling 87.36kms. The day features two runs over the Semetín, Troják (the longest test at 23.01km) and Žlutava stages. The service area remains in Otrokovice and the finish takes place back in Zlín’s city square at 16h00.
Romain Dumas and Marc Lieb shared the qualifying driving duties to register a best two lap average of 1m36.473s in the No 18 Porsche 919 Hybrid. This eclipsed the second Porsche 919 Hybrid entry, driven by Mark Webber and Timo Bernhard, by just 0.069s.
Dumas started and finished the qualifying session, setting the fastest outright lap of qualifying with a scorching 1m36.192s. It sealed the second consecutive pole position for the No.18 Porsche 919 Hybrid and ensured that Team Porsche keep its 100% pole record so far in 2015.
Audi Sport Team Joest start the race from the second row as the No.8 Audi R18 etron quattro driven by Oliver Jarvis and Lucas Di Grassi lapped at a best average of 1m37.476s. This was just over 0.3s faster than the No.7 Audi R18 etron quattro driven by Marcel Fassler and Andre Lotterer.
The pair of Toyota TS040 LMP1 cars will start the race from fifth and sixth, with the No.1 TS040 ahead of the No.2 sister car. Toyota Racing, which is based less than an hour away in Cologne at the Toyota Motorsport GmbH headquarters, will be aiming for its first podium position of the season tomorrow afternoon.
Rebellion Racing led the way as LMP1 privateers with the No 12 Rebellion R-One AER beating the No 13 example by just under half a second.
LMP2 saw a familiar frenetic battle, between the No.26 G-Drive Racing Ligier-Nissan driven by Julien Canal and Sam Bird and the Nick Tandy and Matt Howson crewed No.47 KCMG ORECA 05-Nissan.
Bird and Tandy fought furiously, trading quick laps in the final portion of the session. Ultimately, the spectacular Tandy set the quicker laps and combined with Howson’s earlier effort the average of 1m46.132s was enough for the team’s second consecutive pole position in the WEC.
Rounding out the top three in LMP2 was the Signatech entered Alpine A450B-Nissan, with Vincent Capillaire and Neslon Panciatici combining to provide their best qualifying performance of the year so far.
In cool but dry and sunny conditions, Marc Lieb set a best lap of 1m36.036 in the No.18 Porsche 919 Hybrid. The local ace headed the sister No.17 Porsche 919, which in the hands of Mark Webber stopped the clocks at 1m36.647s.
It wasn’t a trouble free session for Porsche though, as the No.18 Porsche, driven by Romain Dumas at the time, was in collision with the No.63 AF Corse Ferrari of Francois Perrodo at turn two. Both cars suffered minor damage and were forced to pit after the incident, which was reported to the stewards.
Audi Sport Team Joest finished the session third and fourth although their quickest car, the No.8 Audi R18 etron-quattro, driven by Lucas Di Grassi, was 0.999s away from the ultimate pace set by Lieb’s Porsche 919 Hybrid.
Marcel Fassler placed the No.7 Audi R18 fourth on a 1m37.109s lap. The Swiss driver’s stint at the wheel included a harmless spin at turn two halfway through the session.
Toyota Racing continued to annex the fifth and sixth positions with the No1 reigning champion car heading the No.2 Toyota TS 040 machine by just over a second. Sebastien Buemi and Alex Wurz respectively set the times for Toyota this morning.
Rebellion Racing headed LMP2 with the No.13 heading the similar No.12 Rebellion R-One-AER. It was a troubled session though for the Anglo-Swiss squad as both Daniel Abt and Alexander Imperatori briefly stopped on the track with technical issues. The ByKolles CLM P1/01 saw a major improvement from yesterday, with Pierre Kaffer setting a time just a few tenths away from the Rebellion pair.
LMP2 saw a change at the head of the field with the No.42 Strakka Gibson finishing the session in P1 with Jonny Kane claiming a 1m45.720s lap. This was just under a tenth of a second faster than Nick Tandy’s late lap in the No.47 KCMG ORECA 05-Nissan. WEC rookie Pipo Derani’s early session time of was good enough for third quickest.
Ferrari headed the LMGTE Pro class with reigning champion Gianmaria Bruni completing a 1m54.331s lap in the dying moments of the session in the No.51 AF Corse Ferrari 458 Italia.
James Calado driving the No.71 AF Corse Ferrari 458 Italia placed second in the LMGTE Pro class. The British racer bettered the No.99 Aston Martin time set by Alex MacDowell in the last five minutes of the 60-minute session
The LMGTE Am category was headed by the Abu-Dhabi Proton Racing Porsche 911 RSR driven by Le Mans winner Earl Bamber. He set a time one second ahead of the competition on a 1m55.288s.
LMGTE Am title leaders – the No.98 Aston Martin crew of Paul Dalla Lana, Mathias Lauda and Pedro Lamy suffered a spectacular puncture in the latter stages of the session.
Qualifying will get underway at 14.00 local time with two 20-minute sessions split between LMGTE Pro/Am and the LMP1/2 classes.