Craig Breen leads round two of the FIA European Rally Championship, after an incredibly difficult opening day of Rally Liepāja that saw many of the top drivers retire, an ERC2 driver in second and four ERC Junior drivers finish in the top 10.
Co-driven by Scott Martin, the Peugeot Rally Academy 208 T16 driver made no mistakes on the day’s five ultra-fast stages, despite the Latvia road conditions changing from snow and ice to gravel as the temperature rose above freezing.
In the trickiest of conditions, Breen completed all 114.13 kilometres of stages without a problem to do into the overnight halt with an advantage of 1m23s.
“I’m not doing anything stupid or taking any risks,” said Irishman Breen. “On the first stage we had a bit of a push and I was quite pleased with the time. When we got the news about Alexey on the second stage on the last one I just wanted to get through it without taking any stupid risks.”
The thawing snow and ice and unforgiving Latvia ditches contributed to a number of major retirements – and Kajetan Kajetanowicz, Alexey Lukyanuk, Jonathan Hirschi and Jaroslav Orsák all failed to reach the end of the first day of competition.
Lukyanuk had led after the opening stage, but whilst trying to extend a 0.7s lead the Belarus driver rolled his new Ford Fiesta R5 on SS2, after sliding into a ditch.
European championship leader Kajetanowicz had been a fantastic runner-up spot on his second rally using the long Pirelli studded tyres. Unfortunately, on the final stage of the day his LOTOS Rally Team Ford Fiesta R5 stopped on the apex of a tight left hand hairpin with wheel damage. There was some consolation for the Polish driver, however, as his stage results were enough to crown him ERC Ice Master champion.
Jonathan Hirschi suffered an early exit, when the Swiss driver put his Peugeot 208 T16 off into a ditch on a fast section on road on SS1, while both Jaroslav Orsák (ŠKODA Fabia S2000) and Giacomo Costenaro (Peugeot 207 S2000) stopped on SS5 with reported broken wheels.
Raul Jeets had a good run to an overnight 10th place, despite the digital dashboard display not showing what gear his MM-Motorsport Fiesta R5 was in for half the day. Robert Consani suffered from his running position, a wrong tyre choice in the afternoon and “a very bad day” to end the leg 11th in his Peugeot 207 S2000.
Jarosław Koltun kept out of trouble in his Fiesta R5 to finish the day in 18th, Martin Hudec completed his first ever day’s rallying in a Fabia S2000 in 20th – despite a big 100 metres slide on SS5 – while Antonín Tlusťák had been very pleased with his tyre choice for the morning’s stages, but then lost four minutes on SS4 in his Fabia S2000 and dropped to 27th.
ERC2: Plangi ends day one with a healthy lead
Siim Plangi enjoys a healthy 2m37.1s lead in ERC2, after an excellent performance in his Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution X. Co-driven by Marek Sarapuu, the 22-year old Estonian driver is also second in the overall standings, 1m23s behind Craig Breen. Mārtinš Svilis is second in his Mitsubishi (and third overall), just 3.7 seconds ahead of Dominykas Butvilas in his Subaru Poland Rally Team Impreza WRX STI. Jānis Vorobjovs is fourth, despite rear differential and power steering problems in his Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution X. Dávid Botka suffered an under bonnet fire in his Lancer at the end of yesterday’s Qualifying Stage – but there were no such dramas today, as he lies fifth ahead of Łukasz Kabaciński (Subaru Impreza WRX STI). Krisztián Hideg suffered by running first on the road in his Lancer Evolution IX, but did well to survive the day in seventh, ERC2 series leader Vojtěch Štajf lost time with turbo boost problems in his Subaru Duck Czech National Team Impreza WRX STI to finish eighth and top ERC Ladies’ Trophy driver Inessa Tushkanova posted some excellent stage times in her Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution IX to hold ninth. Alexander Gorelov crashed his Mitsubishi, while Tomasz Kasperczyk failed to reach the end of the day in his Subaru.
ERC3: Domžala impresses on category debut
Aron Domžala completed day one of Rally Liepāja as the leading ERC3 contender not eligible for ERC Junior points. Driving a Citroën DS3 R3T, the Pole enjoyed three trouble-free stages before an off and puncture on stage four dropped him down the order. An opening-stage puncture delayed round-one winner Sławomir Ogryzek, who lost more time stuck behind Diogo Gago’s damaged Peugeot on stage two. The Pole is 13th in class at the overnight halt, two places behind Hungarian teenager Kristóf Klausz, who belied his lack of experience to reach the end of stage five in 11th. Grzegorz Sikorski is in 14th position in his Honda Civic Type R. World Rallycross Championship star and Latvian hero Reinis Nitišs overcame a puncture to hold 31st overall.
ERC Junior: Bergkvist heads close battle
Sweden’s Emil Bergkvist leads ERC Juniors 15.7s in his ADAC Opel Rallye Junior Team Adam R2. Mattias Adielsson is second, just 3.7s ahead of Steve Røkland, as the two Peugeot 208 R2 drivers enjoy a close battle for position. Ralfs Sirmacis set the 13th fastest time overall on the Qualifying Stage in his Sports Racing Technologies 208 R2, but his joy yesterday turned to despair today when he had to run third on the road. However, a fantastic run over the repeated stages saw him finish the day in fourth.
Rainer Rohtmets has been struggling to find a rhythm in his Printsport-run Citroën C2R2, yet the Estonian youngster is fifth, one place ahead of Peugeot UK’s Chris Ingram, who, unlike the drivers ahead, has much less experience on snow. Wojciech Chuchala (208 R2) moved up places in the afternoon to finish seventh, while and inspired Jon Armstrong, on his first snow rally, had been fifth for most of the day, but lost his studs and dropped to eighth.
Aleks Zawada lost his confidence after the “hottest moment of my life” in his MSZ Racing Opel Adam R2 on SS2, but enjoyed a great day to finish ninth, while Łukasz Pieniążek’s first day of rallying on a loose surface was rewarded with a top 10 finish. Diogo Gago crashed his 208 R2 on SS2, and despite smashing the windscreen, destroying the bonnet and denting most of the panels, he got the car back to service where the heroic efforts by the Peugeot Rally Academy team kept him in the rally.
There were five ERC Juniors who didn’t complete day one. Gino Bux stopped his Peugeot Belgium Luxembourg 208 R2 with radiator problems on SS1, fellow Belgian driver Guillaume de Mevius parked his Santéloc Junior Team-run 208 R2 on SS2, while the same stage saw Julius Tannert stopped with a broken wheel on his Opel Adam R2. Vasily Gryazin hit power steering problems on SS3 and went off the road, losing 16 minutes. He eventually withdrew at the end of SS4, while Marijan Griebel crashed his ADAC Opel Rallye Junior Team Adam R2 on SS4.
Sunday’s route features three stages run twice east of host city Liepāja and over a competitive distance of 91.60 kilometres. The action begins with the 11.33-kilometre Sporta Bārs Optibet test at 08h30 local time. With the Liepāja City Special no longer running due to the warmer than expected weather conditions, the finish has been brought forward to 15h30 local time.
MEDIA EVENTS AND INFORMATION (all timings local for Sunday 8 February)
Media centre: Liepāja Olympic Centre, Brīvības iela 39, LV-3401 Liepāja
Opening times: 07h00-22h00
Post-event press conference: 18h00*, Olympic Centre Liepāja. Top three drivers and co-drivers plus the leading ERC Junior crew in attendance. *Timing subject to change
Colin McRae ERC Flat Out Trophy presentation: Immediately following the post-event press conference, Olympic Centre Liepāja
Event media contact: Jānis Unbedahts, +371 26557801, firstname.lastname@example.org
Television coverage: A preview show, daily highlights and the post-event Inside ERC magazine programme will be broadcast on Eurosport
ERC Rally Radio: Live throughout the event at Fiaerc.com or through the ERC app
Results, standings, live timing and text commentary: Fiaerc.com
Rights-free images: Register at the media lounge section of Fiaerc.com
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