Alexey Lukyanuk has won the auto24 Rally Estonia, round six of the FIA European Rally Championship, in his Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution X, after a truly stunning drive over the ultra-fast gravel roads around Otepää in southern Estonia.
Co-driven by Alexey Arnautov, the reigning Russian and Estonia rally champion quickly regained the lead after losing it briefly because of a 10 second jump start penalty on SS6, and in the closing stages was able to control the pace and win by 12.7s.
“It was a very hard moment when I realised that I had that penalty,” said Lukyanuk. “Ten seconds is a lot on this rally, and after the penalty I thought that winning was almost impossible. But things changed and we found some extra speed somewhere and we did a good job. I have a lot of confidence on these stages, and they suit my driving style well.”
Kajetan Kajetanowicz finished second in his LOTOS Rally Team Ford Fiesta R5, searching for more top-end speed sometimes, even in the corners. The result sees the Polish driver extend his ERC Gravel Masters lead, but more importantly it sees him take the overall lead in the ERC standings, after rival Craig Breen retired.
Breen was driving as fast as he could, but felt his Peugeot Rally Academy 208 T16 was struggling a little on the soft road surface and was bogging down a little. He was fourth, and closing in on third position, when his car’s engine began to lose oil pressure on SS14 – and he retired at the end of the stage.
The fastest stages were well suited to the ERC2 cars, with the production-based cars able to carry colossal speed around the grippy high-speed corners. Five ERC2 cars finished in the top nine – and in addition to Lukyanuk, Rainer Aus (Mitsubishi) finished third overall, Siim Plangi (Mitsubishi) fourth, Dominykas Butvilas (Subaru) seventh, and Dávid Botka (Mitsubishi) ninth.
On the fastest sections, the ERC2 cars hit a higher top-speed than the R5 cars, although it was a new turbo, fitted to his Saintéloc Junior Team Peugeot 208 T16 at today’s midday service, that helped Timmu Kõrge get back to his flying best. The Estonian driver looked set to finish fourth, before a puncture on the final stage dropped him to fifth.
Raul Jeets hadn’t done a gravel rally since October, and running third on the road on leg two didn’t make his return any easier either, but once leg one’s gear selection problems were fixed in service this morning, the Estonian driver flew today, finishing sixth in his MM-Motorsport run Ford Fiesta R5.
Jarosław Koltun scored a solid eighth in his Fiesta R5, Antonín Tlusťák came home 14th in his ŠKODA Fabia S2000 and Radik Shaymiev rounded off the top 20 in his MM-Motorsport Fiesta R5.
This year’s auto24 Rally Estonia was one of the most exciting and open rounds of the ERC, with seven changes of lead and five different drivers setting fastest stage times.
Lukyanuk leads Mitsubishi 1-2-3 in ERC2
Alexey Lukyanuk dominated the ERC2 category, setting fastest stage time on all but one of the 16 stages to win by 1m07.0s in his Pirelli-shod Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution X. Rainer Aus put his knowledge of the stages around Otepää to good use to finish second in his Evo IX. He was also the top-placed Estonian driver. Siim Plangi pushed too hard on SS15, ran wide and collected a front right puncture, which put paid to his hopes of an overall podium result. He also picked up a slow rear puncture on the final stage, but still finished third in class – making it an all Mitsubishi ERC2 podium. Dominykas Butvilas did what he’d set out to do and score ERC2 points in his Subaru Poland Rally Team Impreza by finishing fourth. Dávid Botka maintained his championship challenge with a solid run to fifth in his Mitsubishi. The Hungarian driver returned to the ERC after missing the Ypres Rally – but that was for good reason, as his co-driver, Péter Mihalik, was busy becoming a father for a second time; this time with a son! Egon Kaur had just moved up to second in ERC2 (and third overall) on SS12, before crashing his Mitsubishi on one of the high-speed sections of SS13. Vojtěch Štajf didn’t contest Rally Estonia, but continues to lead ERC2 in his Subaru Impreza.
Sirmacis wins ERC Juniors in Estonia, as Bergkvist becomes ERC Junior champion
Ralfs Sirmacis won the ERC Junior category for the first time on the auto24 Rally Estonia, giving the Sport Racing Technologies team cause for celebration after a difficult week. It was the third time the 21-year old Latvian driver had done the event, and he used his experience to secure a magnificent victory in his Peugeot 208 R2 – and 10th overall. A heavy landing after a jump on SS8 had given him a small engine problem to worry about, but nothing was going to stop him claiming victory – for himself, the team and for his team-mate, Vasily Gryazin, who is recovering in hospital following a serious road accident. The result sees Sirmacis move up to second in the championship. Emil Bergkvist finished second, which following the retirement of Chris Ingram, was sufficient to give him an unassailable lead in the ERC Junior championship. The ADAC Opel Rallye Junior Team drove brilliantly and never put a foot wrong in his Adam R2, to secure the ERC Junior title. Ingram had been his closest title challenger, but his good run came to an end with fuel pump failure on his Peugeot UK-supported on SS12. The retirement also sees him drop from second to fourth in the points table. Miko Niinemäe looked set to finish second in Estonia, until the annoying crankshaft sensor problem, which had seen his 208 lose power intermittently throughout the entire event, cut the engine out completely on the final stage, costing him 10 seconds and dropping him behind Bergkvist. The young Estonian driver had certainly proven his pace at ERC level, even with his co-driver, Martin Valter, suffering with a heavy cold. Steve Røkland was delighted to finish fourth after a mistake-free run in his 208. The stages were significantly faster than anything he had experienced in Norway, yet he set a super fast and consistent pace to move up to third in the series. Sweden’s Mattias Ledin enjoyed an excellent international rally debut in his Peugeot, saying that the ERC crowds were much bigger and the atmosphere much better than he’d even imagined they would be. Marijan Griebel was pleased to be the first non-Scandinavia/Baltic driver home in his ADAC Opel Rallye Junior Team Adam. His speed and confidence on gravel has increased rapidly in just a few events, and he finished an excellent fifth. Much the same can be said of Diogo Gago in his Peugeot Rally Academy, who grew in speed as the event progressed. Mattias Adielsson did well to finish, after rolling his 208 at high speed on SS5.
TOP 10 POSITIONS (after 16 stages, 202.86 kilometres)
1. Alexey Lukyanuk (BLR)/Alexey Arnautov (BLR) Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution X 1h32.25.4s
2. Kajetan Kajetanowicz (POL)/Jarek Baran (POL) Ford Fiesta R5 +12.7s
3. Rainer Aus (EST)/Simo Koskinen (EST) Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution IX +1m07.0s
4. Siim Plangi (EST)/Marek Sarapuu (EST) Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution X +2m06.9s
5. Timmu Kõrge (EST)/Erki Pints (EST) Peugeot 208 T16 +2m23.7s
6. Raul Jeets (EST)/Andrus Toom (EST) Ford Fiesta R5 +3m36.2s
7. Dominykas Butvilas (LIT)/Przemysław Mazur (POL) Subaru Impreza WRX STI +4m50.8s
8. Jarosław Koltun (POL)/Ireneusz Pleskot (POL) Ford Fiesta R5 +5m20.8s
9. Dávid Botka (HUN)/Péter Mihalik (HUN) Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution IX +7m36.1s
10. Ralfs Sirmacis (LVA)/Artūrs Šimins (LVA) Peugeot 208 R2 +8m01.6s
FIA ERC2: Alexey Lukyanuk (BLR)/Alexey Arnautov (BLR) Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution X
FIA ERC3: Ralfs Sirmacis (LVA)/Artūrs Šimins (LVA) Peugeot 208 R2
FIA ERC Junior: Ralfs Sirmacis (LVA)/Artūrs Šimins (LVA) Peugeot 208 R2
Colin McRae ERC Flat Out Trophy: Alexey Lukyanuk (BLR)