Lukyanuk leads flat-out ERC battle on auto24 Rally Estonia

Photo: Ray Põder

Alexey Lukyanuk leads the auto24 Rally Estonia by 2.4 seconds overnight, after an incredible drive in his Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution X – despite receiving a 10s penalty for jumping the start on SS6.

Co-driven by Alexey Arnautov, the Russian rally champion had been leading by 1.3s, but dropped to third once the penalty had been applied. Lukyanuk then set a stunning time over the Ristimäe stage, which at 34.91 kilometres is the longest stage of the event, to retake the lead by 0.1s – which he extended to 2.4s by the end of the day.

The ultra-fast gravel stages around Otepää in southern Estonia are well suited to the ERC2 cars, with four Mitsubishi Lancers in the top six overnight, with Rainer Aus third, Egon Kaur fifth and Siim Plangi sixth.

Kajetan Kajetanowicz is delighted to be holding second position overnight on his first attempt at the auto24 Rally Estonia – and the Polish driver is one of only three non-Estonian drivers in the top eight, and the top-placed newcomer. He has been flying in his LOTOS Rally Team Ford Fiesta R5, and keen to strengthen his ERC title challenge and score big ERC Gravel Master points.
ERC leader Craig Breen had been as low as 9th after SS2, but has dug deep to climb up to fourth by the end of leg one. A flat-out “tank-slapper” on one of the fastest sections of SS7 illustrated his commitment behind the wheel of his Peugeot Rally Academy 208 T16, as he aims for at least third place by the finish tomorrow.

Timmu Kõrge is seventh after a solid day in his Saintéloc Junior Team Peugeot 208 T16, one place ahead of Raul Jeets, who has enjoyed a trouble-free day in his Ford Fiesta R5. Jarosław Koltun overshot a junction on SS5, and completes tonight’s top 10 in his Fiesta R5.
Juha Salo’s hopes of victory disappeared when he had a slight off on SS7 in his 208 T16. Unfortunately, that caused a rear left puncture and the eight-time Finnish champion lost almost nine minutes getting to the end of the stage. Salo is in 34th position tonight, while Radik Shaymiev lost time after stopping to replace a rear left puncture on SS8 in his MM-Motorsport Fiesta R5, and is 31st. Antonín Tlusťák had a better day in his ŠKODA Fabia S2000, but is still down in 18th place.

There were some key retirements during leg one, beginning with Robert Consani, who had engine problems in his Citroën DS3 R5 and stopped on the road section after SS2. Just 0.8s had separated Karl Kruuda (Citroën DS3 R5) from Martin Kangur (Fiesta R5) at the top of the leaderboard after SS2, although neither Estonian driver was to complete leg one. Kruuda, who had been slowed with pop-off problems, stopped on SS8 with a broken radiator, while Kangur, who was contesting his first rally in eight months, crashed on SS6. Tomasz Kasperczyk parked his Fiesta R5 on SS7.

10 out of 10 sees Lukyanuk lead the ERC2 class
Alexey Lukyanuk set the fastest ERC2 time on all 10 stages in his Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution X, to lead the class by 31s overnight. Rainer Aus and Egon Kaur are embroiled in a very close battle behind, with just 4.2s separating the two Estonian Mitsubishi drivers at the end of leg one. Siim Plangi had a problematic day, beginning with fuel pressure problems in his Mitsubishi. After that was fixed in midday service, he suffered a huge double spin in a field on SS7 and reached the overnight halt in fourth. Dominykas Butvilas started third on the road this morning, but by midday he was running first after the cars ahead had stopped. With scoring ERC2 points the main aim, the Subaru Poland Rally Team driver adopted a more cautious approach in the afternoon as he swept away the loose gravel. He finished leg one in fifth, ahead of fellow ERC2 title rival Dávid Botka (Mitsubishi). Roland Murakas suffered high engine temperatures with his Mitsubishi and retired in service after SS5. Inessa Tushkanova celebrated her 28th birthday yesterday, but rolled her Lancer on SS4.

Sirmacis lifts Sport Racing Technologies spirits with stunning ERC Junior drive
With his ERC Junior team-mate Vasily Gryazin in hospital, following a serious road accident, Ralfs Sirmacis is lifting the spirits of the Sport Racing Technologies team with a truly outstanding performance in his Peugeot 208 R2. Having taken the lead on SS2, the 21-year old Latvian driver has gradually increased what was initially a 0.4s lead to reach the overnight halt with a 25.1s advantage. He is also 12th overall. ERC Junior newcomer Miko Niinemäe led after SS1 in his 208, but has been running with a crankshaft sensor that intermittently cuts the power under acceleration. A small mistake on tonight’s final Elva City Stage cost him second place, and the Estonian driver is now third, just 0.8s behind Emil Bergkvist. The ERC Junior leader had enjoyed a good day in his ADAC Opel Rallye Junior Team Adam R2, but was given a 10s penalty for arriving one minute late at the first time control. Steve Røkland is fourth in his 208, after an excellent mistake and problem-free day. Set-up changes have largely worked for Chris Ingram, as early understeer and oversteer was dialled out of his Peugeot UK-supported 208. He is fifth tonight, ahead of Sweden’s Mattias Ledin, who is enjoying a great international rally debut in his Peugeot. Marijan Griebel’s confidence and speed is growing rapidly as he gains experience on gravel, and he is sixth overnight in his Adam, ahead of Diogo Gago in his Peugeot Rally Academy 208. Mattias Adielsson lost less than a minutes on SS5, despite rolling his 208 “four or five times”. His mechanics worked miracles to repair the car, as he continued in typically hard-charging fashion, despite clouds of dust coming into the cockpit via a missing side window. Florin Tincescu retired near the start of SS2 (the first stage this morning) with a broken water pump belt in his Napoca Rally Academy 208. Ypres Rally winner Aleks Zawada hit a stone on SS4, which had been pushed out onto the road by the cars running ahead. Unluckily, the impact broke his Adam’s suspension, a part of which punched the stump and caused a loss of oil pressure.

Veiby proves his pace in ERC3
Ole Christian Veiby was eager to compare his performance against the ERC Junior drivers, and the young Norwegian set fastest ERC3 time on SS3 and SS5 in his Citroën DS3 R3T. Unfortunately, the 19-year old from Kongsvinger suffered a high-speed roll near the end of SS7. Ekaterina Stratieva failed to make the start.

WHAT’S NEXT?
Leg two on Sunday (19 July) starts at 07h30 and sees six stages containing two 31.91km loops of three stages, totalling 63.82kms. The longest stage is Vissi, at 13.32kms. The finish ceremony is in the centre of Tartu, near the Emajõgi (Mother River), at 16h00.