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22 SEPTEMBER 2018

ERC JUNIORS TO THE FORE AS GRYAZIN LEADS IN POLAND

FIA European Rally Championship 2018: Round 7 of 8
PZM Rally Poland: Leg one report, 22 September

*Average age of overnight top-five on PZM Rally Poland just 23
*ERC champion-elect Lukyanuk crashes into retirement
*Kristensson capitalises on Sesks error to lead ERC Junior U27
*Emerging talent Marczyk is top local driver on spectacular gravel stages
 
Nikolay Gryazin continued to demonstrate the talent of the FIA ERC Junior Under 28 field by leading the overall European championship order on PZM Rally Poland after leg one, though former ERC Junior Jari Huttunen has begun to close in.
 
Twenty-year-old Gryazin, in a Pirelli-equipped Sports Racing Technologies ŠKODA Fabia R5, has led since stage two this morning but two stage wins at the end of leg one allowed Huttunen (BRC Racing Team Hyundai i20 R5) to recoup 3.1s, the pair now separated by only 11.0s with six stages still remaining on Sunday’s closing leg.
 
“It was difficult and on the last stages we couldn't push because I'm focused on winning ERC Junior U28,” said Gryazin. “Maybe our pace will be enough but I'm not sure. Maybe Jari Huttunen will try to push but for us, we need to have a good position in this rally and Rally Liepāja for the championship.”
 
Huttunen’s speed, despite not taking part in any pre-event testing, is not a great surprise, using his experience as a title contender in ERC Junior Under 27 last year to great effect.
 
His former ERC Junior U27 team-mate Chris Ingram is third overall and locked in a tight battle with ŠKODA AUTO Deutschland’s Fabian Kreim. Though he briefly fell behind mid-afternoon, Ingram swiftly regained second in ERC Junior U28 from Kreim on the rerun of Stare Juchy. The pair are separated by a mere 1.7s.
 
Miko Marczyk continued the ERC Junior U28 dominance on PZM Rally Poland, making it four ERC Juniors in the overall top five – which has an average age of 23 – and also finishing leg one fourth in ERC Junior U28 and leading the Polish championship.
 
Despite having less gravel experience under his belt than the competitive distance of this event alone, Marczyk held his own, ending leg one ahead of past Polish champions Grzegorz Grzyb (Rufa Sport) and Łukasz Habaj (eSky Rally Team) in sixth and seventh respectively.
 
The Polish trio had been swapping places all afternoon, though ŠKODA Polska Motorsport driver Marczyk can take comfort from all of Grzyb’s attentions being on securing his Polish crown.
 
Autoklub of Czech Republic-backed Filip Mareš moved into eighth overall and fifth in ERC Junior U28 late on, taking advantage of a mistake by Tiger Energy Drink Rally Team’s Tomasz Kasperczyk. The Pole glanced a tree on SS8, dropping half a minute and allowing Mareš to swoop in, demoting him to ninth.
 
Despite a quick trip off-road in the opening stage Norbert Herczig completes the top 10, driving his MOL Racing Team ŠKODA Fabia R5. Aside from a wide moment in the opening test which damaged his rear bumper, Marcin Słobodzian had a successful day aboard his Subaru Poland Rally Team-prepared Impreza STi, and leading the ERC2 production category.
With Pirelli-supported ERC Junior Under 27 Championship leader Mārtiņš Sesks crashing out, it's his fellow ADAC Opel Rallye Junior Team driver Tom Kristensson who leads the category, 20.2.s up on Rally Team Spain's Efrén Llarena.
 
Leg one recap: Juniors thrill as Lukyanuk spills
PZM 75th Rally Poland kicked off under the low dusk lighting of Mikołajki on Friday night with plenty of sensational sideways action. Qualifying Stage winner Lukyanuk took the initiative by winning the opening superspecial. That lead didn’t last long, as ERC Junior Under 28 frontrunner Gryazin moved straight into the lead first thing on Saturday morning with victory on stage two. Nobert Herczig meanwhile showed it wasn’t just his car that featured flashes of green but his fingers too, having a venture off-road and losing a few seconds with a trip through someone’s garden.
 
Stage three reminded the field how narrow the margins on PZM Rally Poland’s ultra-fast roads can be, with two leading contenders both striking trees and ending their respective days early.
 
Oversteering entering a fast left, ERC champion-elect Alexey Lukyanuk ended up off-line over the following jump, landing wide and whacking the right rear of his Russian Performance Motorsport Ford Fiesta off a tree and retiring. That came only moments after another podium contender fell by the wayside, as ERC Junior U27 graduate Łukasz Pieniążek struck an entirely different tree 400 metres into the Świętajno test. Unfortunately for Pieniążek, his car was so badly damaged by the impact he won’t be returning under Rally2 for leg two.
 
The subsequent shakeup was immediate. Jari Huttunen moved to a second place he would hold for the rest of leg one, while Chris Ingram’s successful overhauling of ŠKODA AUTO Deutschland junior Fabian Kreim took him from sixth straight to third. Fellow ERC Junior U28 Miko Marczyk showed pace beyond his experience, jumping straight from eighth to fifth despite having less than 200 kilometres of gravel running under his belt before this weekend.
 
Stare Juchy’s first pass was the beginning of the end for Dariusz Poloński, a regular in ERC3 last season. A fuel pump failure stopped him for nearly four minutes and, though he would manage to crawl through the next test and reach midday service, he would go no further on Saturday.
 
Ingram was in awe of the breakneck speeds PZM Rally Poland offers its competitors. He needed equally fast reactions on stage five, a deer spectacularly leaping over the bonnet of his Toksport WRT Fabia while pushing to keep ERC Junior U28 championship rival Kreim behind him.
 
After midday service one of Ingram and Kreim’s rivals was eliminated by a foreign object, though thankfully an inanimate one this time. Getting tail-happy on Paprotki’s Tarmac section and striking a hay bale, PEUGEOT Rally Academy’s Laurent Pellier irreparably damaged the radiator on his 208 T16, bowing out of ninth place overall.
 
Świętajno’s afternoon run took no scalps this time around but still gave ERC crews plenty of near misses. Ingram’s Toksport WRT team-mate Orhan Avcioğlu skated wide at a tight right hander, then moments later brushed one of Świętajno’s now infamous trees. Polish ERC Junior U28 contender Tomasz Kasperczyk meanwhile went one step further, going nose first into a tree with his Tiger Energy Drink Rally Team Fiesta and losing half a minute.
 
With Lukyanuk out of the picture, Gryazin had gone on a stage-winning spree, remaining unbeaten all the way until stage eight. Huttunen had tied the ERC Junior U28 star for fastest time on stage five but finally took centre stage himself, eating 1.5s into the younger Russian rocket’s lead with a stage victory of his own.Huttunen repeated the feat again to finish the day, winning the leg-closing Mikolajki MAX test 1.6s up on Gryazin, while behind Grzyb snatched away sixth place from Habaj.
 
ERC Junior U28: Title contenders locked in mega Poland battle
Nikolay Gryazin has streaked into the lead of the FIA ERC Junior Under 28 category on PZM Rally Poland, though all eyes are on a mammoth scrap between fellow title contenders Chris Ingram and Fabian Kreim. While Sports Racing Technologies driver Gryazin showed his senior counterparts the way by leading overall, thus topping ERC Junior U28 in the process, Toksport WRT’s Ingram and ŠKODA AUTO Deutschland talent Kreim spent all day trading a handful of seconds from stage to stage. Ingram spent much of the morning loop fending off Kreim and, despite a mid-afternoon resurgence from the ERC Junior U28 championship leader, Kreim’s brief return to second place wouldn’t last, Ingram retaking the place on Saturday’s penultimate stage and finishing leg one with 1.7s in hand. Like Ingram, Łukasz Pieniążek graduated to R5s from ERC Junior Under 27, so unsurprisingly looked set to mix in with Ingram and Kreim’s podium battle. His rally ended before it had even truly kicked off, however, planting his Fabia into a tree only 400 metres into Świętajno. Not only was Printsport driver Pieniążek forced to retire but the damage sustained was severe enough to rule out a return on Sunday under Rally2 regulations, curtailing his home rally early. Instead, the role of best home runner fell to ŠKODA Polska Motorsport’s Miko Marczyk, whose combined gravel experience before this event amounts to less than the competitive distance of PZM Rally Poland itself. Despite his inexperience – starting his rallying a little over two years ago – Marczyk remains within touching distance of a podium, 24.5s behind Kreim in fourth. Filip Mareš also overcame an experience deficit to end leg one in fifth, despite never competing on gravel in an R5 car before this weekend. He demoted Tomasz Kasperczyk to sixth, the Polet losing over half a minute by hitting a tree on Świętajno. This allowed the Czech federation-backed Mareš to swoop in one stage later, ending Saturday with a 3.3s advantage over Kasperczyk. PEUGEOT Rally Academy's Laurent Pellier had been fighting with Marczyk and Kasperczyk for fourth place during the morning loop, until a collision with a hay bale on stage six broke his radiator and forced him to retire.
 
ERC Junior U27: Lead pair fight for maiden victory
Tom Kristensson and Efrén Llarena are locked in a close battle for the FIA ERC Junior Under 27 and ERC3 victory on PZM Rally Poland as both drivers strive for a potential maiden win in the Pirelli-supported category. While Llarena led for Rally Team Spain after Friday’s superspecial in the Mikołajki Arena, Kristensson’s ADAC Opel Rallye Junior team-mate and championship leader Mārtiņš Sesks moved straight in front on stage two. That lead was a brief one, as Sesks dug his Opel ADAM R2 into a rut and rolled over, initially costing him 17 minutes before deciding to drive back to service and retire. His decision allowed Opel’s mechanics more time to fix his car, which is now ready for a return under Rally2 regulations tomorrow. Kristensson then went on a stage-winning streak, notching up fastest times on stages three to seven to expand a 1.1s gap to 25.0s. Llarena responded late on as Kristensson’s front tyres began to wear out, winning the final two stages to trim his disadvantage down to 20.2s. Miika Hokkanen had a quiet but productive day, bringing his Saintéloc Junior Team PEUGEOT 208 R2 to the end of leg one in a strong third place. Behind, Mattia Vita’s day was less calm, hitting a tree side-on midway through the same Świętajno. Though looking somewhat crumpled, his 208 soldiered on to end leg one in fourth. Catie Munnings completes the top five, securing her ERC Ladies’ Trophy lead in the process. Unlike many of her peers, her Saintéloc-prepared 208 arrived back at Mikołajki intact. The Briton's only major drama came on the final stage where she dropped a minute, pulling over to check whether her car was carrying a puncture. Czech federation-backed Dominik Brož returned from his retirement on Friday’s opening superspecial to finish leg one in sixth. Though his electrical gremlins did not return, his front left damper was broken for much of the afternoon loop. But with only the Rally2-returning Sesks behind, his position is not under threat. Fifth place had originally been fought between Sebastian Johansson and Rallytechnology’s Kacper Wróblewski in the opening stages. Johansson crashed out earlier on the same stage as Sesks, while ERC debutant Wróblewski suffered an accident of his own on SS5, forcing his exit.

What’s next? The PZM 75th Rally Poland concludes on Sunday with six stages over a competitive distance of 97.90 kilometres. The action begins with the 13.45-kilometre Pozezdrze stage from 08h05 local time. The finish in Mikołajki’s town square is scheduled for 18h20. Click here for results and live text updates.

ENDS
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Photos

01 Nikolay Gryazin-jpg
01 Nikolay Gryazin-jpg

03 Miko Marczyk-jpg
03 Miko Marczyk-jpg

04 Alexey Lukyanuk-jpg
04 Alexey Lukyanuk-jpg

05 Tom Kristensson-jpg
05 Tom Kristensson-jpg

06 Marcin Slobodzian-jpg
06 Marcin Slobodzian-jpg

02 Jari Huttunen-jpg
02 Jari Huttunen-jpg

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