First time visitor to New Zealand, 32-year-old Jan Kopecky from the Czech Republic, has surged to the lead of the two-day VINZ International Rally of Whangarei – the opening round of the 2014 FIA Asia Pacific Rally Championship (APRC).
Of the eight special stages contested today Kopecky and co-driver Pavel Dresler topped the time sheets on six of them, amassing a lead of 23 seconds in their MRF Tyres Skoda Fabia S2000 car.
Today’s leg of the competition used 135km of fast flowing rural roads in the Far North district – baked by continuing fine and sub-tropical weather. Bucking weather predictions for rain this weekend, dust and heavy gravel were the two varying factors facing the nine car international field – that headed a contingent of 38 New Zealand teams.
Starting second car on the road, behind team mate and defending APRC champion Gaurav Gill, Kopecky said the emphasis was on not making mistakes.
“We are happy but we are not pushing too hard as we do not know the stages and tyres – as to how they go. So I have to find a rhythm and the speed to know how much I can push to be safe and finish. The dust was in a few places – maybe four/five places in each stage, so not a big issue,” said Kopecky.
“I have a lead but tomorrow everything could be different.”
For Gill, also in a MRF Tyres Skoda Fabia S2000, he reported a clean run of the roads – however struggled in the final long test of the day: “There was just way too much gravel and I may have been a little too conservative thinking not to overdrive it – and that’s how we lost a lot of time,” said the 32-year-old champion – who’d been previously near level pegging with his team mate and rival.
Third for the day and marking a return to four-wheel-drive competition, Australia’s Mark Pedder struggled with his Mitsubishi Lancer Evo X, finishing over four minutes behind the leaders.
Fourth was China’s Jun Xu, in a Skoda Fabia S2000 while Australia’s Tom Wilde headed the two-wheel-drive field, driving a Renault Clio.
Of the nine that started today all returned to the finish, however Japan’s Rina Ito had a minor off-road incident in the third test – rejoining to complete the day.
Sunday’s six remaining special stages take teams south of their Whangarei city base and to roads familiar to many. Departing Whangarei from 7:55am the competition is split with the morning loop of three stages repeated early in the afternoon.
Results after Leg One: