Peugeot takes third IRC Manufacturers title in Spain

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Peugeot has taken its third Intercontinental Rally Challenge Manufacturers title in succession following Round 9 of this year’s IRC Series, the Rally Principe de Asturias in Spain.

A points total of 109 means no other manufacturer can now catch the Peugeot team.

And Kris Meeke and Paul Nagle, the Peugeot UK crew, retained their lead in the Drivers’ competition, eventually finishing second despite losing time to a puncture on Day One.

Kris and Paul went into the event with a 3-point lead in the drivers’ championship in the IRC Series. Their big rival for the title was Skoda’s Jan Kopecky, who was the eventual winner.

There were six rounds on the final day, beginning with Stage 10, fought out in the very early dawn. Kris set fastest time, closing the gap on Freddy Loix to just 7.4 seconds, but ominously Jan Kopecky went ahead of his fellow Skoda driver Alberto Hevia to pressure overnight leader Giandomenico Basso, 12.1 seconds ahead.

Stage 11 at La Nueva was almost twice the distance of Stage 10: Basso kept the charging Kopecky at bay, marginally increasing his lead to 12.4 seconds. Kris did enough to overhaul Loix, moving to sixth overall, with Nicolas Vouilloz winning the stage.

The pressure told on Giandomenico Basso on Stage 12 – the Italian spun into a ditch and spent a frustrating 7 minutes before he could get his Abarth Fiat back on track. Though he would drive hard for the rest of the event, Basso would eventually finish eighth.

The incident meant his rivals moved up, and Jan Kopecky took the lead, with fellow Skoda driver Alberto Hevia in second, 9.5 seconds behind. Third-placed Nicolas Vouilloz won the stage ahead of Kris, who moved up to fourth.

It was a tense Service halt back after Stage 12, with much talk of possible team tactics, but with Peugeot knowing they were on the brink of retaining their Manufacturers’ title. The final three stages were re-runs of the first three, with thousands of rally fans lining the route. Nicolas Vouilloz won SS13, with Kris 0.4 of a second behind. The top 8 stayed unchanged.

Stage 14 brought near-disaster for Alberto Hevia, the local driver who’d driven so well on the Asturian back roads. He punctured and dropped to sixth, moving everyone else up the field. That meant Nicolas Vouilloz and Kris would finish on the podium, provided they negotiated the final stage. Kris was sure a black cat ran across the road ahead of him on Stage 14, and certainly his luck had changed after the unfortunate puncture on Day One.

Stage 15 saw everyone taking great care: the top eight finished as they started. A well deserved victory for Jan Kopecky, with Nicolas Vouilloz second and Kris and Paul in third. Back in the Service Park, Nicolas Vouilloz elected to check out later, taking a time penalty, and allowing Kris to move up to second overall and retain his lead in the Drivers’ Championship, a gesture that was warmly received.

Peugeot had scored sufficient points to ensure retention of the IRC Manufacturers’ Championship. It’s the third year in a row that the title has been won by Peugeot, despite ever-increasing competition from other marques.