The reigning FIA European Rally Champion Kajetan Kajetanowicz has secured a spectacular first win of the 2016 season on home ground on Rally Rzeszow.
The LOTOS Rally Team driver effectively led the Polish asphalt event – being run as part of the ERC for the first time – from start to finish in his Ford Fiesta R5 on Pirelli tyres, headed only after he was held up by a competitor than had spun ahead of him on Friday morning’s first stage.
That time loss was later adjusted by officials, handing the lead back to Kajetanowicz, and he opened up an advantage of over 30 seconds on French asphalt ace Bryan Bouffier (a record four-time winner on the event) going into the final day. In a stunning drive on Saturday’s first stage on damp roads, Kajetanowicz was 18s faster than his chief rival, and he finished the rally 46s clear.
His win on the ERC’s first trip to Poland for three years is the first maximum points haul achieved by any driver in the series in 2016, and he has stretched his championship lead to 76 points with three rounds remaining. “It’s amazing winning here,” said Kajetanowicz, co-driven by Jarek Baran. “I was pushing very hard. To fight and win against Bryan is a big pleasure, he’s a very fast driver on Tarmac. It was a perfect weekend for us; we won many stages and more importantly we won the rally and scored maximum points.”
Bouffier, driving a Citroën DS3 R5 on MICHELIN tyres under the Gemini Clinic Rally Team banner, was a close rival to Kajetanowicz for much of Friday, but a spin during the afternoon cost him 20 seconds. After a subdued start to the final day, the three-time Polish champion won all three stages in the afternoon despite damaging his radiator in an impact on the first of those. He and co-driver Xavier Panseri used chewing gum as a temporary fix to get the car to the finish.
Grzegorz Grzyb, the current Polish championship leader and a two-time Rally Rzeszow winner, quickly lost touch with the top two when he suffered a puncture on Friday’s second stage on his Rufa Sport Fiesta R5, but he was able to hold third position until the end with a consistent performance.
Jakub Brzeziński held fourth place from Friday’s second stage and was able to match the pace of Grzyb ahead of him, but would fall to fifth on the very last stage when he went off the road under pressure from a charging Łukasz Habaj. The reigning Polish champion lost 2m40s when he slid into a ditch at the start of the rally’s first full stage (the cause of Kajetanowicz’s delay) but his stage times were never outside of the top three thereafter. That allowed the Rallytechnology Fiesta R5 driver – who announced on the eve of the event that he will contest the next two ERC events to further his development – surged from 10th to fourth over the six tests of the final day.
As well as Brzeziński, another driver to succumb to Habaj’s attack was Tomasz Kasperczyk when he spun away fifth, but the young Tiger Energy Drink Rally Team Fiesta R5 driver still produced his best ERC performance of the season on home ground. Kasperczyk, the ERC2 leader Wojciech Chuchała and Jarosław Kołtun were covered by one tenth of a second on the final stage as they secured places six to eight respectively, although Chuchała may well have gained a place had he not suffered a late puncture on his Subaru Poland Rally Team Impreza WRX STI.
After a difficult home event in his C-Rally Fiesta R5, Kołtun was satisfied to take his fifth points finish from six starts this year on his first Rally Rzeszow appearance since a big crash on the 2013 edition. Raul Jeets was pleased with his progress in his second asphalt event in his Sports Racing Technologies ŠKODA Fabia R5 as he took ninth, while Antonín Tlusťák moved up into 10th after Filip Nivette endured a series of problems on the final day, having started it occupying fifth. These included a spin, braking issues and driving two stages with the bonnet up on his Fabia R5.
Text and photo: www.fiaerc.com