ERC - Lukyanuk on top in ERC as battle for Azores second intensifies | Federation Internationale de l'Automobile

ERC - Lukyanuk on top in ERC as battle for Azores second intensifies

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Round 1 of 8 - ERC3 Azores Rallye leg 1 day 2 report: 22 March

  • *Reigning European champion out in front following dominant day
  • *Moura, Habaj, Loubet in fight for runner-up spot
  • *Alonso heads ERC2 division after Remennik hits trouble
  • *Llarena first in ERC3 Junior but Antunes on a charge after early delay

Alexey Lukyanuk’s Azores Rallye lead grew with six stage wins on Friday, the Russian increasing his lead on the FIA European Rally Championship opener to 40.1s over Ricardo Moura.

Having gotten to grips with his new-for-2019 Saintéloc Racing Citroën C3 R5, the SEAJETS-backed Russian pulled away from his pursuers, leaving multiple Portuguese and Azorean champion Moura to fight off those behind. Łukasz Habaj is only six seconds adrift of Moura in the final podium place. “Everything is just perfect, I'm really happy,” said Lukyanuk. "Now we have a good rest, a good dinner, we will keep our pace for tomorrow to be focused. This rally is never easy but it's enjoyable and fun to drive.”

Third-placed Sports Racing Technologies driver Habaj, who described today was his “best day in the ERC ever”, is fending off a recovery drive from FIA ERC1 Junior leader Pierre-Louis Loubet in fourth after the Corsican dropped time this morning with a cautious opening stage followed by a spin. But a stage best on the morning pass of Vista do Rei / Feteiras helped the Team OSCARO driver close to within 4.9s of Habaj.

Toksport WRT’s Chris Ingram spun and stalled on the morning pass of Sete Cidades and dropped back, but still ended Friday's leg in fifth overall and second in ERC1 Junior, 21.4s behind Loubet. The Briton overtook double ERC Junior champion Marijan Griebel, who was struggling with brake issues on the rear of his Volkswagen Polo and dropped to sixth on Sete Cidades, having been slowed this morning by a gear-change issue.

Luís Rego is seventh and tops the Portuguese championship runners, 19.8s ahead of Bruno Magalhães, who has joined Team Hyundai Portugal for this year. The ERC event winner said his Hyundai i20 R5 being set up too low, along with using a set of used tyres, slowed him down on the morning loop, though he expects to be faster tomorrow with fresh covers available for all the remaining stages tomorrow.

Cypriot Alexandros Tsouloftas is third in ERC1 Junior and charged from P15 to ninth overall, only 9.8s behind Magalhães, having been forced to road sweep on Thursday as first car in the order. Running much further down the order today, Tsouloftas’ speed picked up, moving ahead of Miguel Correia in ERC1 Junior before demoting Ricardo Teodósio to P10 overall.

Running first on the road, Norbert Michelisz was battling the slippery conditions when a powersteering issue forced his retirement. The MOL Racing Team driver will be a non-starter on Saturday. Rally Team Spain’s Efrén Llarena leads the Pirelli-supported ERC3 Junior category but overnight pacesetter Pedro Antunes is plotting to change that on Saturday after early delays for FPAK Portugal Team ERC. A full report on ERC3 will be issued separately.

ERC2: Alonso first amid day of high drama
Argentine Juan Carlos Alonso tops the FIA European Rally Championship's ERC2 category after a day of high drama on the Azores Rallye. Alonso and chief rival Sergei Remennik had been trading fastest times on leg one's first three stages on Thursday afternoon and swapping the lead, often separated by only a few tenths of a second. Friday was a stark departure from those close margins. Despite being seven minutes behind Remennik at one point, Alonso reclaimed the lead of ERC2 on the day's final stage. Problems began for Alonso when he suffered a puncture and hit a wall on SS4, the first stage of the day, and dropped half a minute to Remennik. That gap then expanded to seven minutes when he had to stop to change another puncture on Sete Cidades, while also sustaining both a broken driveshaft and clutch. But the tables turned dramatically on the afternoon loop, when it was Russian Performance Motorsport driver Remennik's turn to lose time hand over fist. Broken powersteering on SS7 cost Remennik over a minute and was only a sign of more troubles to come, picking up a puncture only a few hundred metres into the Sete Cidades afternoon rerun. Although he fixed his powersteering for SS9, he suffered a second puncture on Vista do Rei / Feteiras, reducing what had been a gap of over seven minutes at midday service down to just 43.0s. But while he still led there was one last moment of heartbreak for Remennik, as his Mitsubishi Lancer refused to fire up at the start of the Marques superspecial. Unable to take the start, he was forced to retire, handing the lead to Alonso. "It’s been a horrible morning for me and horrible afternoon for him," said Alonso afterwards. "I’m sorry for him, it’s not the way you want things to go but anything is possible now. It’s unbelievable, but that’s rally!" Luís Pimentel had also been due to participate in ERC2 this weekend but was a non-starter due to an issue with his Subaru Impreza's fuel tank.

ERC1 Junior: Team OSCARO's Loubet edges clear of Ingram
Pierre-Louis Loubet scored an outright stage win on his way to building a 21.4s lead over Chris Ingram on the Azores Rallye in their battle for FIA ERC1 Junior Championship honours. Toksport WRT-run Ingram closed to only one second behind fellow ŠKODA Fabia R5 runner Loubet on SS4 but both drivers then hit trouble on the first pass of Sete Cidades, with Ingram coming off worse. Set around the perimeter of a volcanic crater, Sete Cidades’ fearsome reputation came to pass once again, with both Loubet and Ingram suffering spins. In the Brit’s case, he stalled and lost over 20s, which knocked his confidence back and allowed Team OSCARO-backed driver Loubet to gradually increase his lead for the rest of the day. That gain included the fastest time of all for Loubet as the only driver to go faster than overall rally leader Alexey Lukyanuk all day with the benchmark time on SS6. Ingram’s team-mate Alexandros Tsouloftas immediately moved from fifth to third on the first stage of the morning, passing ARC Sport duo Pedro Almeida and Miguel Correia. Tsouloftas had been road-sweeping for the entire ERC field on Thursday but started down the road order today, affording him more grip and the ability to set faster times. He finished the day 57.3s adrift of class leader Loubet. Correia completed the day fourth after his ARC Sport team-mate Almeida crashed out on the morning pass of Sete Cidades, while Sweden National Team’s Mattias Adielsson rounded out the top five. Adielsson was scuppered by electrical failure on Thursday that forced him to retire after the Marques superspecial and take a 10-minute penalty, then felt unhappy with his set-up on Friday morning. But a suspension tweak to make Citroën C3 R5's ride more firm transformed both his pace and his mood, even going fastest of the ERC1 Juniors on the day-ending superspecial.