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Juho Hanninen has become the most successful driver in the history of the Intercontinental Rally Challenge in his own right after winning the Prime Yalta Rally in Ukraine today (Saturday). Driving a Skoda Motorsport Fabia Super 2000, the Finn’s triumph moves him ahead of Freddy Loix with seven wins having previously been tied with the Belgian on six.

Hanninen’s maximum score puts him back on top of the IRC drivers’ standings with Skoda edging ahead of Peugeot in the race for the prestigious IRC manufacturers’ award. There was home success in the IRC Production Cup thanks to Ralliart Mitsubishi driver Volodymyr Pechenyk, while Frenchman Jean-Michel Raoux triumphed in the IRC 2WD Cup.

Elsewhere the Colin McRae IRC Flat Out Trophy went to Andreas Mikkelsen who repaired his Skoda UK-run Fabia by the side of the road after he slid into a tree at high speed in his efforts to overtake Jan Kopecky for the final podium spot behind Peugeot’s Bryan Bouffier, thereby embodying the spirit of rallying legend McRae.

Hanninen started Saturday’s final six stages leading Bouffier by 8.2s. He appeared to have gained the edge over his rival by going quicker than the Frenchman through stage nine only for Bouffier to hit back on the next two runs to the extent they were separated by 5.1s at the midmorning service halt beside Yalta’s spectacular waterfront. However, a charging display by Hanninen on stage 12 allowed him to eek out a comfortable margin. Although Bouffier went fastest of all on the final stage, it wasn’t enough to prevent Hanninen from claiming his second win of the season alongside co-driver Mikko Markkula.

Bouffier’s capture of second was the perfect response to his final-stage crash on the previous round in Corsica and fires the Peugeot France 207 driver back into title contention. Jan Kopecky said a lack of confidence through stage 11 had allowed Mikkelsen to threaten his tenure of third place but successive stage wins by Kopecky in the afternoon cancelled out any threat the Norwegian could offer.

Mikkelsen was fastest on two stages on Saturday morning in his efforts to snatch the final podium spot from Kopecky. He closed to within 12.9s of the Czech with three stages left only to spin backwards into a small tree after touching a patch of gravel on stage 12. The impact inflicted damage to the exhaust and right-rear corner of his Skoda UK Motorsport Fabia, which he and co-driver Ola Floene repaired by attaching a ratchet strap to a lamppost to pull some flailing bodywork clear of the exhaust.

The time dropped spinning plus the loss of power caused by the damaged exhaust forced Mikkelsen to settle for fourth, which nevertheless represents his highest finish in the IRC so far this season.

Guy Wilks began the final day in an unenviable position. Too far behind to attack Mikkelsen following his punctures on day two and clear of the chasing pack, the Peugeot UK driver faced the difficult prospect of finding a comfortable balance between pace and caution. He finished fifth but suggested he could have challenged for victory had it not been for the two deflations, having run as high as second. A front-right puncture on the final stage, caused by striking the concrete block holding the flying finish sign in place, completed a frustrating weekend for the Briton.

Thierry Neuville arrived in Ukraine boosted by his maiden IRC victory on the previous round in Corsica. While a high-speed off and a puncture on Friday ultimately wrecked his chances of a repeat win, he showed plenty of pace throughout the event ahead of his home round of the IRC, the Geko Ypres Rally from 23-25 June.

Skoda privateer Toni Gardemeister overcame a down-on-power engine to finish seventh for his TGS Worldwide team. The Finn had dropped a few seconds with an overshoot and stall on stage 11.

Karl Kruuda took a creditable eighth place on his first appearance in the IRC in a four-wheel-drive car. The 18-year-old from Estonia suffered a puncture on Saturday’s opening stage and reported his pacenotes needed to be revised to allow him to go faster on future events.

Patrik Sandell managed to avoid any of the punctures that played havoc on Friday to recover to ninth overall in his Skoda Sweden-backed entry. With IRC 2WD Cup aces Jean-Michel Raoux and Vlad Cosma not eligible for overall IRC drivers’ points, Hungarian Janos Puskadi claimed the final point in his Honda Civic Type R in 12th overall.

Giandomenico Basso, who was fifth after four stages, reached Friday night’s service in 10th overall but didn’t restart on Saturday owing to concerns that damage to his PROTON Motorsports’ Satria Neo S2000’s engine on day two could prove terminal if he continued. Team-mate PG Andersson stopped with oil pressure issues on Friday.

DRIVER QUOTES
    
Juho Hanninen (Finland), Skoda Fabia S2000, first overall: “It’s been a good weekend with no punctures and no mistakes. The car was working thanks to the team, really there were no dramas. I was trying to stay on the Tarmac and avoid the punctures. I might not have always given maximum on the stages because of this but I knew it would be a long rally. I used my brains this weekend.”

Bryan Bouffier (France), Peugeot 207 S2000, second overall: “It feels very good to score big points and I really need a lot of points if I am to hope to get the title at the end of the year. It was not a perfect weekend for tyre compound choice but the car was perfect.”

Jan Kopecky (Czech Republic), Skoda Fabia S2000, third overall: “Of course Andreas [Mikkelsen] made a really nice fight and was pushing a lot because he wanted to finish third. Yesterday I went off the road and had problems with the car, losing many seconds. But finally I am on the podium so I am happy today. The car was completely perfect.”

TOP 10 IRC POSITIONS AFTER DAY THREE
    
1 Juho Hänninen (FIN)/Mikko Markkula (FIN) Škoda Fabia S2000 2h27m06.6s
2 Bryan Bouffier (FRA)/Xavier Panseri (FRA) Peugeot 207 S2000 +11.7s
3 Jan Kopecký (CZE)/Petr Starý (CZE) Škoda Fabia S2000 +38.7s
4 Andreas Mikkelsen (NOR)/Ola Fløene (NOR) Škoda Fabia S2000 +57.3s
5 Guy Wilks (GBR)/Phil Pugh (GBR) Peugeot 207 S2000 +4m00.4s
6 Thierry Neuville (BEL)/Nicolas Gilsoul (BEL) Peugeot 207 S2000 +5m01.5s
7 Toni Gardemeister (FIN)/Tapio Suominen (FIN) Škoda Fabia S2000 +7m59.3s
8 Karl Kruuda (EST)/Martin Järveoja (EST) Škoda Fabia S2000 +10m01.3s
9 Patrik Sandell (SWE)/Staffan Parmander (SWE) Škoda Fabia S2000 +18m08.9s
10 Janos Puskadi (HUN)/Barna Godor (HUN) Honda Civic Type R +29m58.0s

IRC Production Cup: Volodymyr Pechenyk (UKR)/Andriy Yankovskiy (UKR) Ralliart Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution X
IRC 2WD Cup: Jean-Michel Raoux (FRA)/Laurent Magat (FRA) Renault Clio R3

IRC STANDINGS
 
Drivers after round four of 12
1 Juho Hanninen (Finland) 58pts
2 Jan Kopecky (Czech Republic) 55pts
3 Bryan Bouffier (France) 49pts
4 Thierry Neuville (Belgium) 48pts
5 Freddy Loix (Belgium) 45pts
6 Guy Wilks (United Kingdom) 35pts
7 Andreas Mikkelsen (Norway) 28pts
8 Bruno Magalhaes (Portugal) 14pts
9 Pierre Campana (France) 12pts
= Toni Gardemeister (Finland) 12pts
= Stephane Sarrazin (France) 12pts etc

Manufacturers after round four of 12
1 Skoda 146pts
2 Peugeot 134pts
3 Subaru 33pts
4 Honda 28pts
5 M-Sport 27pts
6 PROTON 16pts
= Ralliart 16pts
8 Abarth 4pts

IRC Production Cup after round four of 121 Florian Gonon (Switzerland) 50pts
2 Jose Barrios (Spain) 25pts
= Volodymyr Pechenyk (Ukraine) 25pts
4 Vojtech Stajf (Czech Republic) 18pts
= Yuriy Shapovalov (Ukraine) 18pts etc

IRC 2WD Cup drivers after round four of 12
1 Jean-Michel Raoux (France) 31pts
2 Pierre Campana (France) 25pts
= Pierre-Antoine Guglielmi (France) 25pts
= Joan Vinyes (Spain) 25pts
5 Gorka Antxustegi (Spain) 18pts
= Michael Burri (Switzerland) 18pts
= Vlad Cosma (Romania) 18pts
= Guy Fiori (France) 18pts etc

IRC 2WD Cup manufacturers after round four of 12
1 Honda 110pts
2 Peugeot 105pts
3 Abarth 48pts
4 M-Sport 45pts

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