Ralfs Sirmacis scored the third win of his sensational first season at the top level of the FIA European Rally Championship on home soil in Latvia as Kajetan Kajetanowicz clinched his second title.
Sirmacis produced a stunning display on Rally Liepāja, which was being run as a pure gravel event for the first time. Finishing over a minute clear of the competition, the 22-year-old and his co-driver Arturs Šimins won every stage with the exception of the two short street stages in Liepāja on Saturday evening.
Still the only driver to have won more than once in the ERC this season, Sirmacis has now scored three victories from five starts this year since stepping up from the ERC Junior Championship to a ŠKODA Baltic Motorsport-backed, MICHELIN-equipped Fabia R5, run by the Sports Racing Technologies squad from Latvia. “It’s a very good feeling, but I almost crashed two corners before the finish! First place is amazing at our home rally,” said Sirmacis, adding that he intends to return for a full campaign in the ERC next season with the aim of succeeding Kajetanowicz as champion.
Fourth place in Latvia was enough for Kajetanowicz to complete the defence of the crown he won last year at the wheel of his LOTOS Rally Team Ford Fiesta R5, fitted with Pirelli tyres. “It’s amazing,” he said. “I think I have the best team in the world and I’m happy we can achieve this success again. I have worked very hard because I wanted to deserve this moment. We have had many problems this year. Thank you to all my family, my sponsors and my fans, they are all great.”
Alexey Lukyanuk held second place throughout the event, driving a Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution X instead of his usual Ford Fiesta R5. The speed of Sirmacis combined with a couple of errors on Saturday prevented him from repeating the victory he took with the car in Estonia in 2015, but he was happy to have a trouble-free finish after late problems on his previous two starts. He holds onto second in the standings ahead of Sirmacis ahead of the final round in Cyprus next month.
Lukyanuk also took the ERC2 victory, but was only one place ahead of fellow Mitsubishi driver Siim Plangi, who extracted similar performance from his showroom-specification model to achieve back-to-back podium finishes on the Latvian round of the ERC. Plangi had lost third to Kajetanowicz on the twisty city stages at the end of Saturday, but soon claimed the place back on the final morning. Kajetanowicz had already been delayed by technical issues on two stages on leg one, and lost around 20s when his engine cut out during SS10.
Latvian driver Raimonds Kisiels claimed fifth place in his Toni Gardemeister-prepared Fabia R5, gaining three places on the final day as those ahead of him hit trouble. Compatriot Jānis Vorobjovs stopped out of fifth with an engine problem on his Evo X on SS11, promoting Łukasz Habaj, but the reigning Polish champion ripped a wheel from his Rallytechnology Fiesta R5 on the final stage. Norwegian Frank Tore Larsen had rolled his similar model on SS9 but still made the finish in 11th place.
Latvian ERC2 drivers Māris Neikšāns and Martin Švilis spurred each other on to sixth and seventh places respectively, split at the finish by just two tenths of a second. Tomasz Kasperczyk gained three places on the final stage to finish eighth in his Tiger Energy Drink Rally Team Fiesta R5, just half a second ahead of Dávid Botka, who earlier picked up 30s in penalties after being delayed by an engine problem on his Citroën DS3 R5. Jarosław Kołtun restarted after brake issues on Saturday and was fifth fastest over the second leg in his C-Rally Fiesta R5.
Text and photo: www.fiaerc.com