Kajetan Kajetanowicz made it a clean sweep of stage wins on the opening day of the 2015 FIA European Rally Championship, recording 10 out of 10 fastest stage times in his LOTOS Rally Team Ford Fiesta R5.
Heavy snowfall in the Mühlviertel region of Upper Austria on the eve of the Internationale Jännerrallye powered by GaGa Energy had blanketed the Tarmac stages in a thick layer of white. It may have looked picture-postcard beautiful, but it made tyre choice particularly difficult.
Many drivers were caught out in the unexpectedly snowy conditions, yet Kajetanowicz was one of those who excelled in his Pirelli-shod car. Co-driven by Jarek Baran, the 35-year old Pole led by 6.4 seconds after the opening stage – and extended his advantage in the night stages to 3m52.5s by the end of the leg.
By leading at the overnight halt, Kajetanowicz is also halfway to securing the top share of the lucrative ERC round-by-round 20,000 Euros prize fund, which is awarded to the seven highest-placed privately-entered drivers. His performance during the day has also earned him 100 ERC Ice Master points.
“It’s a big lead but we have a long rally and we must keep pushing,” said Kajetanowicz. “There has been a lot of loose snow on the stages and in the dark sometimes you could not see and it’s a completely new experience for me. It’s working well but you need good tyres, a good car and a good team. I have those and I am happy.”
Robert Consani also enjoyed an excellent day in his Peugeot 207 S2000. Despite a spin on SS8 and a front left puncture on SS9, the Frenchman finished the day in second position. The top two drivers pulled out a 2m36.9s gap ahead of third placed Jaromír Tarabus (ŠKODA Fabia S2000), who had struggled for grip on wider winter tyres.
An overheating engine forced Alexey Lukyanuk to stop on the opening stage, but the Belarus driver recovered well to get his Ford Fiesta R5 into fourth place by the end of the day.
It had been an equally time-consuming start to the event for the ERC Junior champion Stéphane Lefebvre. He spun his Citroën DS3 R5 into a snowbank on SS1, and had to stop soon after to scoop the snow out of the radiator grille – losing over three minutes in the process. He later lost more time after a brush with a snowbank on SS8.
Jean-Michel Raoux spun his 100% Sport Ford Fiesta R5 on SS4, yet was delighted to successfully complete the opening leg in seventh – as was ERC stalwart Antonín Tlusták in his ŠKODA Fabia S2000 in tenth.
Jonathan Hirschi illustrated how slippery the conditions were better than most. The Swiss driver spun his Peugeot 208 T16 three times on the opening stage and overshot a junction by such an extent on SS2, that he had to drive around a house to get back onto the road! Two more spins on SS8 competed an eventful day, as he returned to Freistadt between Raoux and Tlusták in ninth.
Home favourite Hermann Neubauer was an excellent fourth after four stages, but the 26-year old Austrian was forced to retire when his Ford Fiesta S2000 sprang an incurable oil leak on the next test.
The biggest retirement of the opening day of the Internationale Jännerrallye was Craig Breen.
The Irish ace was two kilometres from the finish of SS1, Pierbach, when his Peugeot Rally Academy 208 T16 slid off the road on a slow downhill left-hand corner and became stranded. He will restart under Rally 2 rules tomorrow, eager to score leg bonus points.
“It was a 10kph accident,” said Breen. “I got it slowed down and was halfway round the corner but as I got back on the power I lost grip and the front of the car spun round. There was no damage but it was stuck on the sumpguard and we couldn’t move. The stage was going really well and we were doing the best job we could with the grip we had. I was really enjoying the conditions, they were consistent and I felt under control. I’m gutted to go out on the first stage of the year but I’ve got to put it to the back of my mind and get on with it. The world won’t stop, the car’s not damaged and we’ll come back tomorrow.”
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