Kris Meeke’s nightmare season continued with a disappointing fourth place on the Barum Rally Zlin to end his reign as Intercontinental Challenge champion.
Struggling to match his Goodrich tyres to the constantly changing conditions, Meeke was way off his usual pace and even the drama of the two leaders, Jan Kopecky and Bryan Bouffier, retiring in the closing moments wasn’t enough to get the Dungannon driver on the podium.
In the end Meeke was almost two minutes adrift of Belgian Freddy Loix who won his third IRC round in a row and headed a Skoda 1-2-3 on their home event.
Meeke wasn’t even the leading Peugeot driver for 99 per cent of the rally. That role had gone to Bouffier, the Frenchman who had starred on the Ulster Rally a week ago in the debut appearance of the new Citroen DS3.
He was consistently faster than Meeke and battling with Loix for second when Kopecky, the long time leader and last year’s winner, crashed out on the first of the final loop of four stages yesterday.
It was Bouffier who took over in front, only to bounce his Peugeot off a bank and damage the rear suspension, dropping to second before a water hose came loose on the final stage, costing him over five minutes and nine places.
His exit should have seen Meeke inherit third, but having survived a scare when his throttle jammed open, he could only limp through the last stage when the rear differential failed, allowing Czech driver Pavel Valousek to move ahead.
Behind Loix, his Skoda team-mate Juho Hanninen finished second to all but secure the 2010 IRC title with three rounds remaining.
The late attrition promoted Andreas Mikkelsen (Ford) to fifth and Guy Wilks (Skoda) to seventh on his comeback after injury.
The earlier casualties included the two Protons of Keith Cronin and Niall McShea.
Cronin was the focus of attention as he climbed from 32nd to 12th, but he then crashed on stage eight. McShea was up 18th only to retire with a mechanical problem on stage nine.