After their successful premiere at the Monte Carlo Rally this year in January, the Czech crew of the Škoda Motorsport factory team made up of Jan Kopecký and Petr Starý came as runners-up on the Acores Islands, in their second appearance in the IRC championship.
Although Kopecký was seen as a tarmac specialist and had not raced on gravel for nearly a year until this weekend's event, he was showing right from the start of the competition till the end that he and his Fabia Super 2000 can be pretty fast also on this surface, regularly notching top-ranking times. On Friday, Kopecký-Starý finished third in the overall ranking, coming 10.4 seconds behind the runners-up and winning the fifth stage. On Saturday, Kopecký started the stage series by chasing Vouilloz, second after Friday, to eventually fight through to second place and keep that position until the end of the entire competition.
The Acores Rally was Škoda Motorsport's first competition test on gravel, a surface dominated by Finland's Juho Hänninen who started the race by winning the very first speed trial on Friday but then damaged his right rear wheel suspension and ended up with a loss of over 11 minutes. After a quick repair in the depot, Juho continued achieving excellent times, but his hopes for a good result seemed to vanish in the haze due to the earlier loss and then died completely after a crash in Stage 10. Fortunately, the crew came off scot-free, but the car that ended up on its roof looked really useless. Yet Juho's mechanics did a great job and Hänninen appeared on the start line on Saturday, and although the crew could not really score any points for the Škoda brand, they won four of Saturday's speed trials at least.
Commenting on the Acores Rally, Head of the Škoda Motorsport team Michal Hrabánek said: “In a way, the whole team considered the Acores Rally on the par with the Monte Carlo premiere in January, because this was our first race on gravel and also the team's first appearance in the Acores Islands. I think we showed already in Monte Carlo that the development of the Fabia Super 2000 is a success story and I believe that Jan Kopecký's runner-up position today confirms that the Fabia is a fast and reliable car. Furthermore, the growing interest in the race car on the customer sales side is certainly good news – I am certain that today's result has clearly showed that we are able to compete with the best ones and that we can set the highest possible ambitions for the future. I wish to thank the Kopecký-Starý crew for putting in an excellent performance and the entire team for smooth coordination and hard work. As far as our further racing agenda is concerned, we are now going to conduct an internal analysis of the Acores Rally and then decide how we will proceed in the nearest future”.
Jan Kopecký: “The Sata Acores Rally was definitely one of the most difficult competitions I have ever taken part in. The stages were a great challenge and the weather was unexpectedly bad right from the morning of the last day. On the other hand, I felt from the beginning that I could rely on my car and fight really hard in all of the speed trials, and I believe that Petr and me showed quite clearly that by fighting through to second place and keeping that position. For our crew and, in particular, for the whole Škoda Motorsport team, this achievement is a great reward for the hard work we've done so far”.
Juho Hänninen: “The Acores Rally was my first gravel race with the Fabia Super 2000, and though things didn't go the way I hope they would, I have the best possible feelings, because I feel that there is basically no problem with the car and that I just have to go on getting used to it in order to avoid mistakes like those I made here in the Acores. However, I wish to thank the entire team for a fantastic job the did in repairing my car and hope that I will soon pay my debt to them with some good results.”
Source text: Škoda Auto a. s.
Photo: Škoda Auto a. s.