FIA European Rally Championship 2017: Round 1 of 8
Azores Airlines Rallye: Leg one report, 31 March
*ERC champion Kajetanowicz crashes but will restart
*Gryazin and Griebel in tight ERC Junior U28 contest
*Ingram edges ERC Junior U27 rival and team-mae Huttunen
*Drivers relish two visits to iconic Sete Cidades volcano stage
The FIA ERC Junior Under 27 and Under 28 categories remain wide open, while Alexey Lukyanuk is on course to win the European Rally Championship season opener following a day of high drama and spectacular action in the Azores.
Kajetan Kajetanowicz, the back-to-back ERC champion, was leading by 1.1s at the restart in Ponta Delgada this morning but crashed two kilometres into the Pico da Pedra Golfe run when he lost control through a left corner over a crest and struck a wall. He will restart on Saturday when he’ll be hoping to land leg bonus points and avoid flying home to his native Poland empty handed.
Despite returning to service in Ponta Delgada this evening leading by 27.8s, Lukyanuk isn’t getting carried away after a puncture on stage eight cost him approximately 20 seconds, while a moment on the day-closing Sete Cidades stage left his Fiesta with a missing rear window after he bashed an earth bank.
“Of course we are now a bit more relaxed but the feeling is not happiness because we want to win in a fight but not just by doing kilometres so we’re really sorry we lost Kajto,” said the Russian, who was denied victory in the Azores last season when his car lost power on the final day. “Yesterday I was a bit upset that we lost one second but I believe he is upset even more now that he lost the rally. We still have a lot of kilometres to go. This rally is really challenging so we must stay focused and keep concentration. In Russia we say ‘if you want to make God laugh tell him about your plans’ and he always has another plan.”
Bruno Magalhães heads Ricardo Moura by six seconds in the battle to be top Portuguese finisher in second overall with Nicolay Gryazin on top in ERC Junior U28 in fourth place after surviving a few knocks. Magalhães is a double winner in the Azores and a multiple Portuguese champion but hasn’t rallied on gravel for 18 months and is competing in his ŠKODA Fabia R5 for the first time. Moura, meanwhile, was delayed by a puncture on stage eight.
Elsewhere, Łukasz Habaj is sandwiched between Portuguese drivers Carlos Vieira and Pedro Meireles in eighth, Albert von Thurn und Taxis holds P20 overnight on his ERC debut, while Sergey Remennik heads the ERC2 contingent although there was no such luck for his category rival Zelindo Melegari, who retired with a broken turbo. Murat Bostanci has spent the day battling through the order following his Thursday off, while Dávid Botka lost time driving through the entire 26.62 kilometres of Sete Cidades in two-wheel-drive mode only due to a differential failure on his Citroën. Jarosław Kołtun was P14 only to stop with damage in Sete Cidades and drop back to P24.
ERC Junior U28: Gryazin leads Griebel in close battle
Nicolay Gryazin holds a slender advantage of 2.8s over class rival Marijan Griebel but insists he’s not thinking about becoming the inaugural ERC Junior U28 event winner. “I am always looking to my driving, not to my results because my target is to get faster and faster,” he said. “If I can work on my speed then I am happy.” Josh Moffett is third, despite an intermittent handbrake issue, with Jan Černý fourth and bemoaning his lack of pace following a frustrating day, which included two overshoots on Sete Cidades. Tomasz Kasperczyk and Luís Rego follow with Ralfs Sirmacis next up. Sirmacis led the category for young stars in R5 cars after Thursday’s action but three punctures during the course of Friday have ruined his hopes of a strong result in his Sports Racing Technologies ŠKODA. José Suárez was fifth overall when he hit trouble halfway through the second Sete Cidades stage: “I was too fast in one corner and I crashed,” said the Peugeot Rally Academy driver, who completed the stage with damage to the rear of his 208 T16. Team-mate Pepe López was late starting this morning while his car was restored to full working order following a troubled Thursday. He’s eighth in class overnight, one place ahead of Suárez.
ERC Junior U27: Ingram edges Opel team-mate Huttunen
Chris Ingram will take a lead of 4.7s over Opel team-mate Jari Huttunen into Saturday’s final leg after he survived a “massive moment” in Sete Cidades this afternoon. The Briton said he hit trouble on the run along the rim of the volcanic crater lake but made it through with this ADAM R2 intact. “It was the best stage of our lives but I had a massive moment in the famous section with the big drop. I don’t know how I held it,” said Ingram, who lost time on stage six this morning when he bent his car’s steering. Huttunen, who has been suffering with a head cold on his Azores debut, is second. The Finn reported making a number of “small mistakes” during the afternoon. Aleks Zawada’s fightback from his Thursday off has brought him up third in class ahead of ACCR Czech Team’s Filip Mareš, who lost four minutes stopping to a change a broken front-right wheel, the result of hitting a rock submerged in a rut on Sete Cidades. Tamara Molinaro had been running fifth in class but hit a rock 10 kilometres into SS10, breaking her Opel’s steering and a driveshaft. Despite frantic efforts to repair the damage the Italian was forced to stop for the day although she will return on Saturday. Karel Kupec crashed on SS10 but Buǧra Banaz is fifth. Czech federation-backed Dominik Brož rolled on stage eight, carried on through SS9 but was prevented from starting the final stage after officials deemed that the lack of front windscreen in his Peugeot meant it was unsafe for him to continue. Catie Munnings overturned her Peugeot on Friday’s opening run and retired. Marcos González crashed heavily on the first run through Sete Cidades. Following the incident, the Canary Islander’s co-driver Rogelio Peñate was taken to hospital in Ponta Delgada for checks where a lumbar vertebral fracture was diagnosed. Although the injury won’t require surgery, he will remain in hospital under observation for a few days.
Leg two covers a competitive distance of 103.36 kilometres and gets underway with the 21.01-kilometre Graminhais test at 10h08hrs local time. The finish is schedule for 18h56 in Ponta Delgada. Click here for living timing and results.