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Skoda driver Jan Kopecký has taken his second consecutive victory on the Jännerrallye in Austria, round one of the new-look European Rally Championship by just half a second after a dramatic final day – with the winner only decided on the very last stage.
Kopecký started Saturday’s eight stages with a 20-second advantage over the Peugeot of Bryan Bouffier. But heavy rain and some ice made today’s route around Freistadt extremely tricky, and the Czech driver concentrated on just getting to the finish in front of 120,000 spectators.
His fortunes were turned on their head when he picked up a front-left puncture around seven kilometres from the finish of stage 15, which dropped him to third with only three stages to go. Bouffier, competing on his first Jännerrallye, took the lead despite spinning on the same stage.
However, Kopecký was determined not to give up, and pushed as hard as he could to start the final 25-kilometre stage 10.6 seconds adrift of Bouffier. He emerged from it with a winning margin of 11.1 seconds, ensuring that he scraped to victory by just half a second in heavy rain and fog in his Michelin-shod Fabia Super 2000.
“I never stopped believing I could win because if you stop believing you cannot achieve anything,” said Kopecký at the finish after the epic day-long battle. “I was still believing and still hoping. Thanks to Bryan for an incredible battle and to the team for a great car. Pavel [Dresler], my co-driver, also did a great job so thanks to him.”
Bouffier settled for second, a result he hadn’t anticipated heading into the Austrian event, given his lack of experience of the undulating stages. “The conditions on this event were really tricky, some of the most demanding that I have ever seen,” said Bouffier, who scored seven bonus points for topping leg two.
For much of the rally Bouffier battled with local hero Raimund Baumschlager, a 10-time Austrian champion. After a big moment in his self-run Fabia on the opening stage of the day that nearly put him out, the 53-year-old decided that discretion was the better part of valour in the treacherous conditions. He then concentrated on scoring points for his domestic championship.
Czech driver Václav Pech – a former winner of the Jännerrallye – was fourth in a turbocharged MINI John Cooper Works S2000, having consistently fought at the front and even won a stage on the opening day.
Austria’s Beppo Harrach was another stage winner and finished fifth in his Mitsubishi Lancer, clinching the ERC Production Car Cup and the Colin McRae Flat Out Trophy for his battling performance following extensive delays with a misting windscreen on Friday night’s stages. He beat former Polish champion Kajetan Kajetanowicz in a Subaru by 1.1s. Kajetanowicz was making his Jännerrallye debut and starred with an outright stage victory. 
Former world championship star François Delecour was seventh in a Kronos-run Peugeot. The Frenchman had a spin on Saturday’s second stage and then lost more ground with a puncture.
Czech driver Jaroslav Orsák (Mitsubishi) took eighth despite a scare prior to the final stage when his car refused to fire after he stopped to rectify a throttle glitch. Jaromír Tarabus overcame electrical and intercom gremlins to finish ninth with Pavel Valoušek completing the top 10 after Jan Černý dropped out with a broken differential on the final stage. Rallying legend Stig Blomqvist finished 12th.
Promising Austrian Hannes Danzinger recovered from a penultimate stage puncture to win the ERC 2WD Championship classification in a Renault Clio R3. Hermann Neubauer had been in contention until he retired with a damaged wheel.
The ERC promised ‘Serious Competition Ahead’ – and with three different leaders and seven stage winners on the opening round, the series certainly delivered on its pledge ahead of the second round, Rally Liepāja-Ventspils in Latvia from 1-3 February.

TOP 10 POSITIONS (after 18 stages, 248.34 kilometres)
1 Jan Kopecký (CZE)/Pavel Dresler (CZE) ŠKODA Fabia S2000 2h35m45.3s
2 Bryan Bouffier (FRA)/Olivier Fournier (FRA) Peugeot 207 S2000 +0.5s
3 Raimund Baumschlager (AUT)/Klaus Wicha (DEU) ŠKODA Fabia S2000 +1m18.1s
4 Václav Pech (CZE)/Peter Uhel (CZE) MINI John Cooper Works S2000 +2m47.0s
5 Beppo Harrach (AUT)/Leopold Welsersheimb (AUT) Mitsubishi Lancer Evo IX R4 +3m31.8s
6 Kajetan Kajetanowicz (POL)/Jarosław Baran (POL) Subaru Impreza STI R4 +3m32.9s
7 François Delecour (FRA)/Dominique Savignoni (FRA) Peugeot 207 S2000 +5m21.2s
8 Jaroslav Orsák (CZE)/David Šmeidler (CZE) Mitsubishi Lancer Evo IX +6m33.7s
9 Jaromír Tarabus (CZE)/Daniel Trunkát (CZE) ŠKODA Fabia S2000 +7m56.0s
10 Pavel Valoušek (CZE)/Lukáš Kostka (CZE) Peugeot 207 S2000 +8m11.8s
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