Having set the fastest time on the pre-event shakedown stage, Andreas’ good start on ŠKODA’s home round of the Intercontinental Rally Challenge (IRC) continued when he set the second fastest time on the opening Zlín super-special, which took place late on Friday night in front of tens of thousands of cheering spectators.
Andreas took the lead away from Juho Hänninen (ŠKODAMotorsport) after the opening stage on Saturday, as the 22-year oldFIA Institute Young Driver Excellence Academy driver mastered both the fast and bumpy dry asphalt roads and the extremely high air temperatures, which were set to reach 38°C at midday.
Jan Kopecký took the lead after SS3, but only by 2.1 seconds as Andreas also registered a trouble-free run. This meant that three different ŠKODA drivers had led the event in the first three stages!
By the time Andreas reached mid-day service in Otrokoviceafter SS5, he was still 2nd, just 5.8 seconds behind Kopecký. TheŠKODA UK Motorsport team swapped the long ratio gearbox for a short ratio one in just 12 minutes, as Andreas planned to maintain his pace on the repeat loop of four stages in the afternoon.
Everything was going to plan until SS8, the repeat of the Troják test which, at 17.82 miles (28.69kms), was the longest stage of the rally. Mid-way through, he collected a rear left puncture and was forced to stop to change it, reaching the finish line 1min 42.6secs slower than he’d done in the morning. The loss of time dropped him from 2nd to 6th, and he lost a further 20 seconds on the final stage of the day (SS9) when he spun on some loose gravel.
Hänninen led the Barum Czech Rally Zlín at the end of Leg 1, 19.7 seconds ahead of Kopecký and Freddy Loix who were tied for 2nd in an impressive ŠKODA 1-2-3.
Andreas: “We are very happy with our speed today. This is Jan’s [Kopecký’s] home rally, he knows the roads very well and he’s definitely not slow here, so to be able to battle with him is very pleasing and I was really enjoying the fight for the rally lead. It’s very frustrating to have picked up a puncture. I haven’t a clue how it happened and it was so surprising. We didn’t hit anything, the puncture just came from nowhere, and with so much of the stage still to go we had no choice but to stop and change it.”