Kopecký leads Rally Zlín as Paddon closes in on ERC title

The home favorite has delivered so far on the famous Czech rally, while the ERC points leader has taken it cool

Jan Kopecky

Jan Kopecký leads Barum Czech Rally Zlin by 14.9 seconds after the second day of stages, as Hayden Paddon edges closer to sealing the European Rally Championship title.

Simon Wagner started the day as leader, having won Friday night’s rally-opening superspecial by 0.4 seconds over Kopecký with Paddon 5.9s off the pace in ninth place.

The 7.91 miles of Slušovice kicked off Saturday’s action, with drivers facing air temperatures of 77°F already at half past eight in the morning and very narrow roads and underpasses before the rally headed to more rural pastures.

There was drama straight away as Chris Ingram’s gearbox issues from SS1 prompted a full change before SS2 began. He had 15 minutes in service to get it done, but took 17 and his late arrival to time control meant he was penalized 20s.

Erik Cais was first in and set a 7m42s benchmark, which was beaten by Miklós Csomós – who had a big crash in Zlín last year – to the tune of 0.6s.

erik cais zlin

Wagner had a “safe run” and dropped two seconds, while Kopecký got within 0.1s of Csomós. Alexey Lukyanuk was the only Rally2 driver capable of bettering Csomós’s pace, doing so by 1.7s.

It put him in the rally lead by 0.7s over Kopecký, with Wagner dropping to fourth and Paddon down in 10th as he was “backing off a bit” and “taking the safety approach” with the title firmly on his mind.

His main title rival Mārtiņš Sesks rolled out of the last round, either side of “disastrous” rallies he contented in Italy and Poland, and wanted “to get back the confidence” in the Czech Republic. But he was lacking it, going 7.9s slower than Paddon, 14.3s slower than Lukyanuk to sit in 16th place.

The asphalt roads took the drivers into the forests for the first time on SS3, and the slippiness of the stage was shown by Cais almost crashing by overestimating how late he could brake and have grip – even though he technically had the best conditions as first in.

csomos zlin

He admitted to the mistake, which only left him 2.6s behind stage winner Csomós who had two spare tires due to the abrasiveness of the roads. Csomós jumped from sixth into the lead by 0.2s over Kopecký, who had an early moment then “was a bit more cautious”, and Paddon gained a spot despite “driving as slowly as we are”.

Impressing on the stage were Mads Østberg and Chris Ingram, the former making his Czech rally debut and the latter contesting Zlín for the first time since 2019, were second and third fastest. Ingram had drama again as he ended SS3 with a cloud coming out of his hood caused by burning powersteering fluid.

It had risen to 82.4°F by the time the monster 15.93-mile Troják stage began at 10:39, and Cais’ first reaction was that the heat was not easy to handle. But at least he was not sitting in a queue of cars waiting to start the stage like his rivals, and they suffered more.

Two-time Zlín winner Filip Mareš dropped 23.4s to Cais, Martin László’s stopped with transmission issues, Wagner’s brakes expired with 4.3 miles to go and he dropped 13.3s, Dominik Stříteský lamented it was “absolutely crazy” as he lost 14s, and Lukyanuk was penalized 10s for being late to time control then was 15.4s off Cais’ pace.


“I had no pacenotes, no pacenotes!” he fumed in his steering wheel-slamming stage-end interview. “I’m driving with my eyes, 50%!”

He fell to eighth place overall, one position ahead of Paddon who was possibly one of the only drivers to be smiling despite a frank admission that he misread the stage conditions from recce and thought it would be high-grip, so set up his car in a way that ended up making it bounce around all stage long. How much that hampered him was shown by ERC3 leader Jon Armstrong going faster than him to the stage’s first split.

Cais could smile too as he took the lead by 1.8s, and Østberg rose to fifth after navigating what he thought was “1.5 million corners”.

The afternoon loop repeated the morning’s three stages, and featured slightly less drama while temperatures continued to rise. Ingram withdrew from the rally during the lunch break, wanting to save his budget for the next ERC round, and rain before SS5 began left the first drivers in having to tackle a wet surface in the first miles.


The rained-on part of the stage was actually repeated, and Cais called it “completely wet” on the first run thorough but “half dry” when he encountered the same roads a few minutes later. He was disadvantaged the most and knew the drivers behind would be faster.

Pech set the pace by 2.8s over Kopecký, who became the fifth different leader of the rally in five stages, and Lukyanuk was a further 0.8s slower.

An elated Mareš was sixth fastest, ahead of Csomós, Paddon and Cais, and credited his improved pace on spending time with his wife and daughter during the lunch break. Paddon softened his car up to be more forgiving and moved up another spot as a furious Østberg plummeted to 13th after losing front-wheel drive mid-stage and spinning because of it.

Cais dropped out of victory contention on SS6, going “too fast into a corner where there was a lot of gravel”, damaging a tire and losing 1m21.1s to stage winner Kopecký who actually briefly went into a ditch.

Csomós inherited second place overall, but had not kept it entirely clean either, while Lukyanuk matched Paddon as third fastest through but was fuming again. “Terrible”, he said of his continued issue in the cockpit. “I’m speaking more than him!”

He did at least move up three spots to fourth, with Paddon climbing two to sixth place. The stage was stopped after 19 cars had been through due to an accident for Armstrong.

Cais and Kopecký were joint fastest through the long SS7, with Csomós 2.8s slower and Paddon a sizeable 8.9s back but still fourth fastest. That lifted him to fifth overall in the rally, behind the quietly impressive Adam Březík and enough to earn him the title one round while Sesks is down in 13th, as Lukyanuk stopped and had lost two-and-a-half minutes by the time he made it to the stage finish.