Kubica holds top spot in Austrian ERC battleThe 2014 FIA European Rally Championship has got off to a thrilling start with Robert Kubica on top on the 31 Int. Jännerrallye, Oberösterreich following Saturday’s 10 action-packed stages.
Kajetan Kajetanowicz had led after the first three ice-coated tests but the Polish champion’s challenge came unstuck when a throttle pedal fault caused him to crash his Ford Fiesta R5 two kilometres from the start of stage six, which took place in largely dry conditions.
His misfortune propelled Raimund Baumschlager into first place but the multiple Austrian title-winner’s set-up issues on stage eight aboard his ŠKODA Fabia S2000 meant he was no match to Václav Pech who moved in front in his MINI John Cooper Works S2000. However, the Czech champion was unable to contain the flying Kubica, who completed his recovery from an earlier puncture to snatch the lead on the day’s final night stage in the Ford Fiesta RRC he’s sharing with new co-driver Maciej Szczepaniak for the first time. The Poles’ lead starting Sunday’s closing eight stages is 6.4 seconds.
“When it’s tricky and you don’t know the stages or the car and you are with the co-driver for the first time it’s not easy, especially in the slippery conditions,” said the Formula One race winner. “We lost quite a lot of time this morning with the puncture but we are here for testing. I need to finish and it’s not easy.”
Kubica’s fellow LOTOS-backed M-Sport driver and compatriot Kajetanowicz was less fortunate when a jammed throttle pedal put him out. “In this sport it sometimes happens that a small failure eliminates us from competition,” he said. “I am already thinking about the next round when I will again give my best.”
Behind third-placed Baumschlager, Jaromír Tarabus is fourth in a similar Fabia S2000 with Beppo Harrach fifth and Andreas Aigner sixth. Aigner is making his competition debut in a Peugeot 207 S2000 having won the ERC Production Car Cup title in 2013. “It’s not been easy but we are learning all the time,” said Aigner. “It’s about experience and we don’t have much experience of this kind of car.”
Young Latvian Vasily Gryazin is seventh overnight after another promising display in his Fiesta S2000. Roman Odložilík, making his debut in a Fiesta R5, is eighth with Hermann Neubauer and Robert Consani completing the top 10. Consani is stepping up to a 207 S2000 for the first time in Austria and has spent much of the day adapting to his new car and the tricky stage conditions.
FIA ERC Production Car Cup
Local hero Beppo Harrach is on course to repeat his FIA ERC Production Car Cup victory of 2013. The Austrian, who overcame a couple of off-road moments this morning in his Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution IX R4, is more than three minutes in front of countryman Hermann Neubauer, who lost time on the final stage when his Subaru Impreza dropped onto rear-wheel-drive mode following front differential failure. Jan Černý was second in class when engine failure grounded his similar Impreza. ERC 2WD graduate Kornél Lukács lost time with an off and a turbo fault, while a crash on stage one put paid to Vitaliy Pushkar’s challenge. Transmission problems hampered Martin Hudec’s early progress. A broken gearbox ended András Hadik’s charge after stage four, while accident damage led to Simone Tempestini’s exit in his Napoca Rally Academy Subaru.
FIA ERC 2WD Championship
Austrian two-wheel-drive champion Michael Böhm tops the ERC 2WD Championship class at the wheel of a Suzuki Austria-supported Swift S1600 on the back of an impressive showing. Czech Josef Peták (Renault Clio R3) is second with Julius Tannert from Germany in third. Defending champion Zoltán Bessenyey had been leading only to stop with gearbox failure on stage four. He will restart on Sunday after his Eurosol Racing Team Hungary mechanics replaced the faulty unit on his Honda Civic Type R. Raffael Sulzinger retired with a broken clutch on stage two having lost almost 20 minutes going off the road and getting stuck on the first test. Engine failure put Rok Turk out on stage one.
ERC Ladies’ Trophy
Ekaterina Stratieva blamed a disastrous tyre choice during the afternoon loop of stages for her fall from grace in the ERC Ladies’ Trophy battle. The cash-strapped Bulgarian fitted a mixture of intermediate and winter tyres, which dramatically compromised the handling of her Citroën C2R2. Martina Daňhelova heads the class despite her limited experience.
Expert view: Marcus Grönholm, two-time world rally champion and three-time ERC event winner
“The stages are fast, quite easy but the weather conditions make it difficult. It’s mainly been dry but then you have some parts that have been icy. It’s difficult to know where to brake when it’s icy and it’s hard with the tyre choice. For me it’s much easier not to be driving when it is like this, having to fight for the final seconds. Robert Kubica has been very fast and watching him on stage six you immediately saw he was trying, there was a real attack to it compared to some of the other drivers.” Marcus Grönholm is in Austria to provide expert commentary on Eurosport’s coverage of the Jännerrallye.