Robert Kubica and Maciej Szczepaniak began their 2014 campaign in style last week as they secured a dramatic final-stage victory at the Internationale Jänner Rallye. Piloting a Ford Fiesta RRC, the pairing got their partnership with M-Sport off to a flying start.
As the first round of the European Rally Championship, the Austrian event provided some difficult conditions with fog, rain and icy mud a regular occurrence. Yet Kubica reigned supreme to claim what has been called the biggest win of his rallying career.
Lining up for the final 25 kilometre stage, the Pole had something of a mountain to climb with an 11.8 second deficit to the top-spot. But an inspired tyre choice and fearless performance saw him power to victory.
Whereas his rival ran with slick tyres, Kubica opted for a diagonal configuration of Michelin's studded and winter tyres which proved to be the optimum combination for the rain-soaked stage. Fastest by 23 seconds, the 29-year-old stormed to a convincing win – 19.9 seconds clear of second place. Claiming eight fastest stage times along the way, his winning margin could have been all the more sweet were it not for a puncture on the first day followed by a 10 second time penalty for a jump start on the second.
The Pole was also awarded the Colin McRae ERC Flat Out Trophy for his achievements, which was presented by two-time world rally champion Marcus Grönholm.
Having contested the Austrian event in preparation for his return to the FIA World Rally Championship's premier league, the Pole could not be better placed for the season's traditional opener at Rallye Monte-Carlo. Having mastered the Austrian Tarmac, Kubica has earned a wealth of experience and is well prepared ahead of next week's event where he will take to his RK M-Sport World Rally Team Ford Fiesta RS WRC for the first time in competition.
Robert Kubica said:
"It's very nice to have won this event, but our priority was to get as much experience and information as possible as we prepare for Monte-Carlo. I did participate on four ERC events last year, but I was often unlucky and made a few mistakes as I was using the rallies for training. I was a bit luckier this time, but the conditions were very difficult and this was definitely one of the toughest weekends of my motorsport career.
"I came here with a new car, a new co-driver into a new rally with completely new conditions. You can imagine that when you get just one new thing it's already difficult, so when you put them together, I think it is fair to say that it has been a very tough two days."