FIA European Rally Championship 2017: Round 1 of 8
Azores Airlines Rallye: Leg one section one report, 30 March
*Pole on top by 1.1s following opening four stages in the mid-Atlantic
*ERC Junior U28 category begins with several impressive performances
*Ingram heads Opel team-mate Huttunen in close ERC Junior U27 fight
*Remennik leads ERC2 as Molinaro tops ERC Ladies’ Trophy
Kajetan Kajetanowicz leads Alexey Lukyanuk on the opening event of the FIA European Rally Championship season – the Azores Airlines Rallye – by a slender 1.1s at the overnight halt in Ponta Delgada following a thrilling start to the spectacular island event.
Lukyanuk had been in front heading to the Grupo Marques superspecial but was 2.0s slower than his rival through the crowd-pleasing stage and slipped to second as a result. Ralfs Sirmacis is fourth behind local hero Ricardo Moura – and last year’s Azores winner – and on top in the ERC Junior Under 28 battle with Chris Ingram heading Opel team-mate Jari Huttunen in a close fight for ERC Junior Under 27 honours.
Sirmacis underlined his potential – and that of the new category for young stars in R5 cars – by going second fastest on SS4, while his Sports Racing Technologies team-mate Nicolay Gryazin also impressed by narrowly missing out on winning stage one as Lukyanuk set the early pace on the new mixed-surface Lagoa Stage, one of two streamed live during the day.
Moura then edged out Kajetanowicz by one tenth of a second to win SS2 to take the lead, repeating a feat he achieved at the same point last year. Lukyanuk took his turn to beat Kajetanowicz on SS3 by 0.1s but the Pole would have the last laugh by winning SS4. With the running order for the remainder of leg one based on the standings after SS3, Kajetanowicz will continue to run behind Lukyanuk having followed the Russian throughout Thursday’s stages after he earned the right to the pick of the starting positions following his Qualifying Stage win this morning.
“This was our plan!” said the Ford Fiesta R5-mounted LOTOS Rally Team driver. “It’s a great stage for spectators. We were sliding a lot but we were trying to push. It’s big fun, this is an important stage for the rally. I’m more happy with winning this stage than with leading. We have a long rally, we will see tomorrow.”
Lukyanuk, also driving a Fiesta, said: “So far, so good. We have enjoyed really good weather today. It’s exciting, so close with Kajto.”
Moura, another Ford driver, was nine seconds slower than the lead duo on SS3 – the longest test of the day – despite being best of the rest. Although admitting that keeping up with Kajetanowicz and Lukyanuk is proving difficult, he is only 13.8s off the lead overnight. Behind Sirmacis, double Azores winner Bruno Magalhães is a strong fifth on his first gravel event for 18 months and his first in a ŠKODA Fabia R5.
Nicolay Gryazin is sixth with fellow ERC Junior U28 contenders Marijan Griebel seventh, Peugeot Rally Academy’s José Suárez eighth, Jan Černý ninth for the ACCR Czech Team and Josh Moffett completing the top 10, hitting back from a spin in Qualifying. Tomasz Kasperczyk and Luís Rego follow. Murat Bostanci is P43 overnight following suspension damage, Dávid Botka is P16, unhappy with his choice of tyre compound, while Sergey Remennik leads ERC2 from Luís Pimentel.
Karel Kupic is third in ERC Junior U27 behind Ingram and Huttunen despite damaging the front of his Peugeot on a heavy landing in the day-closing superspecial. Marcos Gonzalez is fourth with Filip Mareš fifth and Buǧra Banaz sixth after an off. Aleks Zawada also went off the road and is ninth in class behind Tamara Molinaro and Catie Munnings. Dominik Brož is P10 with an engine fault.
Leg one resumes on Friday with the Pico da Pedra Golfe test at 10h43 local time. Click here for live timing and results.