FIA European Rally Championship 2017: Round 8 of 8
Rally Liepāja: Leg one report, 7 October
*Gryazin leads Rovanperä following all-action opening leg in Latvia
*Kajetanowicz is record-breaking provisional ERC champion as Magalhães crashes
*Fight for ERC Junior Under 27 glory rages on with Huttunen ahead of Ingram
Nikolay Gryazin and Kalle Rovanperä underlined the vital role the FIA European Rally Championship is performing in showcasing young talent and honing their skills for future progression by completing leg one of Rally Liepāja in first and second overall.
At the end of an action-packed day on the high-speed gravel roads close to Latvia’s Baltic coast, Russian Gryazin – 20 years old today – heads ERC rookie Rovanperä, 17, after the promising pair were evenly matched on stages made more challenging following recent heavy rain in the region.
Riga-based Gryazin, a frontrunner in the FIA ERC Junior Under 28 Championship, heads the victory charge in his Sports Racing Technologies ŠKODA Fabia R5 on the back of a largely trouble-free showing as minor technical issues – plus a time-consuming overshoot on the day’s final gravel test – delayed Rovanperä’s Ford Fiesta R5.
While Gryazin topped the opening stage times, it was the ever-spectacular Alexey Lukyanuk who made the early running in his Fiesta. Providing the ultimate benchmark for his younger rivals to better, the Russian’s initial advantage had been pegged back to 0.3s by Gryazin starting the decisive fifth stage, where Lukyanuk’s hopes of a second 2017 ERC win evaporated. “It was an electrical problem,” Lukyanuk explained. “I pressed the throttle but nothing happened. I lost a lot of minutes.”
It would get worse for Lukyanuk when he crashed on the first run through the Liepāja City Stage after seemingly being caught out by a large build-up of rain water on a right-hand corner.
Stage five would also be pivotal for the young Finn Rovanperä’s impressive challenge. “On the last junction we go straight. It was a stupid mistake but I’m trying to learn the car and not take any stupid risks. I’m changing car set-up all the time. It’s getting better and better.”
There were no such problems for Gryazin who said: “It was really fast and aggressive so I liked it. Today has been quite okay without any problems.”
In the battle to win the 2017 FIA European Rally Championship, Kajetan Kajetanowicz is the provisional ERC champion for a record-breaking third consecutive time after Bruno Magalhães – the only driver in a position to beat the Pole to the crown – crashed into the same tree Lukyanuk struck, albeit with a heavy frontal impact. The SEAJETS-backed Portuguese, competing in Latvia for the first time, has been taken to hospital in Liepāja for checks.
For Kajetanowicz and co-driver Jarek Baran, their decision to trade speed for caution on recent ERC events in pursuit of points has paid dividends with the coveted FIA title subject to confirmation. They are third ahead of Sunday’s closing leg, which will serve as the ultimate lap of honour for the popular duo.
Meanwhile, Poland’s Łukasz Habaj is fourth despite suffering from a heavy cold, with Spanish Peugeot Rally Academy drivers Pepe López and José Suárez separated by one second in fifth and sixth respectively and both reporting their use of a short-ratio gearbox has been masking their outright pace. Latvian Jānis Vorobjovs is leading ERC2 in seventh overall with Germany’s Albert von Thurn und Taxis in eighth followed by FIA World Rallycross Championship star Reinis Nitišs on only his third rally start.
ERC Junior Under 28: Gryazin on course for glory
With Nikolay Gryazin on course for his first ERC Junior Under 28 win, the battle between Pepe López and José Suárez for second is finely balanced with third place in the final championship standings also up for grabs. Last year’s Rally Liepāja Ralfs Sirmacis, who had been expected to challenge for victory, was a non-starter budgetary issues in the build-up to the event.
ERC Junior Under 27: Huttunen heads Opel team-mate Ingram
Jari Huttunen is well-placed to win the FIA ERC Junior Under 27 Championship – and the 100,000 euros career progression fund on offer to the champion – with an advantage of 25.4s over Opel team-mate Chris Ingram. But with six Sunday stages remaining, the outcome is far from settled with Filip Mareš and Aleks Zawada also in the title hunt. Local hero Mārtiņš Sesks was in a close fight with Huttunen for the class win only to roll on stage five, miraculously continuing with minimal delay and cosmetic damage only. Kristóf Klausz, Dominik Brož, Karel Kupec, Buǧra Banaz and Tamara Molinaro complete the category top 10 with Huttunen also heading the ERC3 classification.
ERC2: Vorobjovs in front at home
Jānis Vorobjovs is set for a home win in ERC2 following a dominant display in the Mitsubishi Lancer prepared by his own rally team. He heads compatriot and FIA World Rallycross Championship star Reinis Nitišs with Sergey Remennik a strong third. Title contenders Tibor Érdi Jr and Zelindo Melegari are fourth and fifth respectively with the championship prize currently too close to call. “It was the perfect day for us,” said Vorobjovs. “We hope to continue tomorrow with the same plan.”
What’s next? The final leg of the 2017 FIA European Rally Championship, the fifth running of Rally Liepāja, consists of six stages over 88.03 timed kilometres. The action gets underway with the 21.59-kilometre Castrol Edge Supercar test from 09h00 local time. The finish is scheduled 16h10 at the event’s permanent service park on Pulvera iela on the outskirts of host city Liepāja. Live timing and results: https://www.fiaerc.com/live-timing/
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