Sirmacis wins after Lukyanuk late drama

Ralfs Sirmacis has become the first two-time winner in the FIA European Rally Championship in 2016 after Alexey Lukyanuk lost an event-long lead on the penultimate stage of auto24 Rally Estonia.

Four wins from the first four stages on the final day had extended Lukyanuk’s lead to 28.2 seconds with two tests remaining, but it all went wrong over a jump on the second run over the Vissi stage. The Russian landed heavily and broke a steering arm on his Ford Fiesta R5, causing him to clip a tree.

Although Lukyanuk had led from the start of the rally, 22-year-old Latvian Sirmacis had also impressed with his speed, matching his rival for fastest times on Saturday by winning the second runs over each of the four fast gravel tests. After Lukyanuk’s exit he won the final two stages and finished up 1m34.5s clear to take a second win from three starts in his Sports Racing Technologies-entered ŠKODA Fabia R5 on MICHELIN tyres. The French tyre company has now claimed its fifth successive win in six events.

Sirmacis was guided to victory by a different co-driver, Māris Kulšs, after his regular navigator Arturs Šimins went down with a fever prior to the rally. His overall win on Rally Estonia comes 12 months after he triumphed in the ERC Junior category on the same event. “Two wins is an amazing feeling,” he said. “I wanted to win after a battle but this is rallying. To win here is still an amazing feeling.”

Defending ERC champion Kajetan Kajetanowicz finished second after a challenging event in his LOTOS Rally Team Fiesta R5, with a number of problems including losing power steering at the end of leg one. Before Lukyanuk’s retirement, the Pole’s championship lead was set to be reduced to just one point, but he now has an advantage of 37 points moving on to his home round, Rally Rzeszow on 4-6 August.

For the second year in a row, Rainer Aus finished on the podium on his home event in an ERC2-specification Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution IX. He had a scare on the final loop of stages when he hit a rock, causing damage to the rear differential, but he was able to hold onto his position. In the end he was only 18.6s ahead of fellow Estonian Raul Jeets, who matched his best ever ERC result of fourth place in his SRT ŠKODA, repeating his 2015 stage win on the streets of Elva in the process.

Jarosław Kołtun scored his best ERC result to-date in fifth place, his third top-six finish of the season, one position ahead of fellow Polish Fiesta R5 driver Łukasz Habaj. The reigning champion of Poland was making his first ERC appearance in the top category after dominating ERC3 on Rally Islas Canarias in March, and although he dropped over three minutes changing a punctured tyre on Saturday, he showed strong pace on the final day, taking fourth in the leg two classification.

Another Pole in a Fiesta, Tomasz Kasperczyk, finished 12th overall. Only a road penalty picked up on Friday evening as the result of damage sustained on the very first corner of the Tartu city stage ultimately denied him a top-seven result.

Takamoto Katsuta returned for leg two after his SS3 crash but rolled again on the first stage of the day, joining fellow Toyota Gazoo Racing Challenge and Tommi Mäkinen Racing driver Hiroki Arai in retirement on the pair’s ERC debuts.

Aus secures ERC2 win, Plangi shows his speed
Rainer Aus took victory in ERC2 in Estonia, having had to settle for second in the category behind Alexey Lukyanuk on the event for the past two years. Despite a scare on the final loop of stages when he hit a rock and damaged the rear differential, he finished third overall and won the class by over 16 minutes. After spending five minutes off the road on SS3, Mait Maarend stayed out of trouble to take second in ERC2. Siim Plangi was ahead of Aus when a clutch problem stopped him at the start of SS4 but he restarted on the final day and was third fastest overall over the second leg. Egon Kaur didn’t return after the fuel supply issue that eliminated him from the category lead.

Estonian ace Niinemäe wins ERC Junior
Estonia’s Miko-Ove Niinemäe claimed a fine ERC Junior win on home ground, leading the Pirelli-supplied category from start to finish and climbing to a superb seventh overall. He began the final day with a 10s lead over Nikolay Gryazin and had almost doubled that before young Latvian Gryazin rolled out on SS12. Niinemäe’s final winning margin was 39.8s over ADAC Opel Rallye Junior Team driver Marijan Griebel. The German got ahead of his team-mate Chris Ingram with fastest times on the day’s first two stages, benefitting from a lower running order than the overnight top three, who headed the start list as a result of being inside the overall top 10. His advantage over points leader Ingram was just 1.4s at midday service, and the road sweeping affect was not going to be as great in the afternoon, but Griebel pushed hard to win SS14 and increase his margin by another five seconds. Local man Gustav Kruuda was the quickest ERC Junior driver on Sunday as he took fourth. Łukasz Pieniążek rolled on the very last stage, dropping him from fifth to ninth and promoting a close battle between Julius Tannert and Joonas Tookee, separated by just 2.6s at the finish. Kristóf Klausz and Marco Cid completed the top eight while Alex Forsström restarted to take 10th on his debut. Dominik Brož also returned to action for a fourth finish out of four, in 11th place among the ERC3 runners.

TOP 10 POSITIONS (after 16 stages, 212,73 kilometres)
1. Ralfs Sirmacis (LVA)/Māris Kulšs (LVA) ŠKODA Fabia R5….1h44m16.2s
2. Kajetan Kajetanowicz (POL)/Jarosław Baran (POL) Ford Fiesta R5….+1:34.5s
3. Rainer Aus (EST)/Simo Koskinen (EST) Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution IX….+3m44.8s
4. Raul Jeets (EST)/Andrus Toom (EST) ŠKODA Fabia R5….+4m03.4s
5. Jarosław Kołtun (POL)/Ireneusz Pleskot (POL) Ford Fiesta R5….+5m02.3s
6. Łukasz Habaj (POL)/Piotr Woś (POL) Ford Fiesta R5….+8m07.6s
7. Miko-Ove Niinemäe (EST)/Martin Valter (EST) Peugeot 208 R2….+10m36.0s
8. Alexander Mikhaylov (RUS)/Normunds Kokinš (LVA) Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution X….+11m00.3s
9. Marijan Griebel (DEU)/Pirmin Winklhofer (DEU) Opel Adam R2….+11m15.8s
10. Chris Ingram (GBR)/Elliott Edmondsen (GBR) Opel Adam R2….+11m20.5s

FIA ERC2: Rainer Aus (EST)/Simo Koskinen (EST) Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution IX
FIA ERC3: Miko-Ove Niinemäe (EST)/Martin Valter (EST) Peugeot 208 R2
FIA ERC Junior: Miko-Ove Niinemäe (EST)/Martin Valter (EST) Peugeot 208 R2