FIA European Rally Championship 2017: Round 5 of 8
Rally Rzeszow: Leg one report, 4 August
*Lukyanuk crashes out of the lead on return from injury
*Østberg holds top spot before powersteering failure strikes
*Gryazin excels to lead ERC Junior Under 28 in third overall
*First five covered by 35 seconds following dramatic day in Poland
Bryan Bouffier is on course for a fifth Rally Rzeszow victory following a dramatic start to Poland’s round of the FIA European Rally Championship today. But with 35 seconds covering the top five drivers with six stages remaining, the battle for first place is finely balanced.
Frenchman Bouffier heads home hero and reigning European champion Kajetan Kajetanowicz by 15.6s with ERC Junior Under 28 pacesetter Nikolay Gryazin a mere 3.0s further back followed closely by fellow ERC Junior U28 contenders Marijan Griebel and Sylvain Michel. And in a day of high drama, Alexey Lukyanuk, who is continuing his comeback from serious injury, crashed out of the lead on stage two, while a powersteering failure hit world championship star Mads Østberg’s hopes of success on his return to ERC action and promoted Bouffier into the lead after four stages. The Norwegian is sixth overnight, 2.0s behind French Tarmac champion Michel and 38.0s down on Bouffier but determined to fight back.
ERC Junior Under 27 leader Chris Ingram was also in trouble when his Opel ADAM R2 developed a mechanical fault on stage four, handing team-mate Jari Huttunen a comfortable margin less than a week after he won the WRC2 category on Rally Finland. They had set identical times on stage one.
Tibor Érdi Jr is locked in a close battle with Subaru Poland Rally Team’s Marcin Słobodzian for ERC2 honours. But Luca Rossetti’s ERC3 challenge came unstuck when he crashed his factory Toyota GT86 CS-R3 on stage three.
Running P16 on the road following a pop-off valve fault during Thursday’s Qualifying Stage, Bouffier, who reported a water pressure issue on his Gemini Clinic Rally Team Ford Fiesta R5 during the afternoon, said: “I’m quite confident and happy with my times. It’s not good Mads had a problem because I would prefer to take the lead in a different way. But it’s like this and we cannot complain. For sure tomorrow will be tricky but it will be a nice evening.”
Lukyanuk, who was seriously injured in a testing crash in Russia in early May, wasn’t due to return to ERC action until Barum Czech Rally Zlín at the end of August. But an arduous period of rehabilitation enabled him to come back ahead of schedule, despite the Russian Performance Motorsport driver revealing he was suffering from pain in his legs, hips and left ankle following his Qualifying Stage win on Thursday. He blamed his rally-ending crash on a pacenote error four kilometres from the finish of SS2.
“One of the corners was too optimistic,” he said. “I started to enter the right corner too early, supposing it was a fast corner that corresponded to my notes, but it appeared to be harder and we touched the ditch on the exit. There was a bank in the ditch and it launched us in the air, we rolled several times on the road. We are both okay apart from a couple of bruises. The previous corner was over the crest and I concentrated on it and paid less attention to the next one in the recce. The lesson is expensive but the confidence is still there. And if there was an option to restart with Rally2, I will do it immediately, but the car is damaged badly and we will have the next chance on Barum. I am sorry for our fans but I believe it is better to win a couple of special stages and retire than to drag behind in fifth or 10th positon.”
And Lukyanuk wasn’t the only one of the 23 drivers in R5 cars to hit trouble: Polish brothers Jarek and Marcin Szeja lost four minutes changing a damaged left-rear wheel following an off on the opening stage where László Német rolled out on his second start in R5 machinery. ERC Junior Under 28 title contender Pepe López crashed approximately 15 kilometres from the start of the SS1, hitting a culvert in a ditch and rolling. Josh Moffett and Murat Bostanci suffered off-road moments, while Filip Nivette took to a field when a front-left puncture struck at 170kph. Max Rendina and Albert von Thurn und Taxis both suffered spins.
Elsewhere, set-up and confidence issues hampered European championship leader Bruno Magalhães and leave him languishing in P12 overnight. Polish champions past and present, Łukasz Habaj and Grzegorz Grzyb, are ninth and seventh respectively. Dávid Botka is P14 after five stages in his newly-acquired ŠKODA Fabia R5.
ERC Junior Under 27: Huttunen leads as delays hit rivals
While leader Jari Huttunen got to tackle all five stages in anger, it was a different story for the bulk of his rivals for whom a succession of stage cancellations, due to accidents blocking the road, caused considerable frustration and resulted in a rather unrepresentative leaderboard at one point as Kristóf Klausz’s return to ERC Junior action ended with an accident on stage one.
ERC Junior Under 28: Gryazin holds narrow margin over Griebel
Nikolay Gryazin holds a 12.9s advantage over Marijan Griebel with Sylvain Michel and José Suárez in contention for the final spot on the class podium despite Suárez driving without first gear during the afternoon. Josh Moffett, Tomasz Kasperczyk and Jan Černý complete the provisional rankings. There will be no restart for Pepe López after he damaged his Peugeot Rally Academy entry beyond immediate repair when he rolled on the day’s first stage.
ERC2: Érdi Jr and Słobodzian in close battle
Tibor Érdi Jr heads ERC2 in a close battle with Subaru Poland Rally Team driver and championship newcomer Marcin Słobodzian. Title leader Zelindo Melegari, making a rare start on asphalt, went off on stage three and damaged his Lancer’s steering but is third heading into day two. Sergey Remennik went off on the opening stage but is due to restart on Saturday morning.
ERC3: Huttunen in front but there’s drama behind
With the ERC Junior Under 27 contenders eligible for ERC3 points, Jari Huttunen is the man in the spotlight as most of his rivals were delayed by stage stoppages. Dariusz Poloński crashed heavily on stage two, Luca Rossetti went off on stage three, while ERC Ladies’ Trophy contender Emma Falcón rolled out on stage four but hopes to restart on day two. Artur Muradian is currently ninth on his asphalt debut.
ERC Rally Rzeszow concludes on Saturday 5 August with six stages over a distance of 113.80 kilometres. The 22.55 kilometres of Lubenia gets underway at 08h45 local time while the action concludes with the 18.30-kilometre Wysoka test from 15h25 local time. The finish is scheduled to take place in Rzeszów’s Market Square from 17h30. Click here for live timing and results.
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