Jan Kopecký completed leg one of the Croatia Rally by celebrating winning the FIA European Rally Championship for the first time.
Kopecký's ŠKODA Motorsport team driver added a further seven points to his total score by topping the classification at the overnight halt in host town Poreč on the banks of the Adriatic Sea.
Driving a Fabia Super 2000 on Michelin tyres, Kopecký was fastest on the day's final four stages to hold a winning margin of 52.9s starting Saturday's final leg. However, the Czech driver spent much of the day playing catch up after ERC Production Car Cup contender Andreas Aigner shot into the overall lead by winning Friday's opening stage in wet conditions in his near-standard-specification Subaru Impreza R4 STI.
With the stages continuing to dry out in the afternoon, Kopecký made the performance advantage of his Fabia count to catch and pass Aigner for first place.
“It has not been easy for me today but winning the title is a dream come true for me,” said Kopecký. “I would like to thank ŠKODA Motorsport and our fantastic team for the amazing work they have done this season.”
Aleks Humar heads the ERC 2WD Championship contenders with Asja Zupanc on top in the ERC Ladies' Trophy battle. Molly Taylor is second in the ERC Ladies' Trophy classification but lost time when her United Business Rally Team's Citroën DS3 R3T was struck by powersteering failure prior to the final stage. The Australian had earlier fallen ill after being overcome by petrol fumes on stage four.
Taylor Tweeted : “Just when you think you know what a tough day's rallying is… But so happy to have made it through everything that's been thrown at us. Epic.”
Taylor sits seventh in her class, while fellow Australian Adrian Coppin is 10th.
Leg two features seven stages over a competitive distance of 120.44 kilometres.