Moura claims sensational home win after ERC drama in Azores
Ricardo Moura has taken a special victory on home soil at the end of a dramatic Azores Airlines Rallye, round four of the FIA European Rally Championship.
Hailing from the rally base Ponta Delgada on São Miguel island in the mid-Atlantic archipelago, Moura took the lead on the final afternoon when Alexey Lukyanuk lost power due to a loose turbo pipe.
Having claimed the lead on the last stage of leg one, Russian driver Lukyanuk was gifted a 43-second margin when Kajetan Kajetanowicz sustained a broken driveshaft on the first test of the final day. A spin on the following stage cost Lukyanuk 22.5s, but he remained 25.3s clear of Moura going into the final loop of three stages and on course for victory on his first time in the Azores.
However, the loose turbo pipe – a problem he also suffered on the last round of the ERC, the SEAJETS Acropolis Rally – on SS14 put Lukyanuk 42.7s behind Moura with two stages remaining. After roadside repairs, he cut that deficit almost in half on the penultimate test, setting up a finely-poised finale. In response, Moura pushed hard and won the final Tronqueira test, with Lukyanuk 5.3s slower and reaching the end with a rear-left puncture.
Driving a Ford Fiesta R5 on MICHELIN tyres, Moura’s win came on his 16th start on the rally and follows third-place finishes on the ERC qualifier in 2013 and 2015. He is the first Azorean driver to win the event since 1971. “My name will be on the history of this rally and I am very, very happy,” he said.
ERC title rivals Lukyanuk and Kajetanowicz completed the first 1-2-3 finish for the Ford Fiesta R5 in the series. Kajetanowicz led much of the first leg before a mistake on the famous Sete Cidades stage on Friday, and the broken driveshaft then left him with only rear-wheel drive for most of Saturday morning before his LOTOS Rally Team could make repairs. He finished up over three minutes down on Moura and is still searching for the first win of his ERC title defence, but does continue to lead the standings.
Kajetanowicz regained a place on the podium when Ralfs Sirmacis retired with a broken steering arm on his Sports Racing Technologies-run ŠKODA Fabia R5 on Saturday’s second stage. Following his incredible win in Greece last month, the young Latvian had been part of a close four-way fight for the win early in the rally.
Dávid Botka climbed from sixth to fourth on the very last stage to complete by far his best performance since stepping up to a Citroën DS3 R5 for 2016 after winning the ERC2 title last season. He finished just 5.6s ahead of Jaroslav Orsák, and that gap was more than accounted for by a 10s penalty handed to the Czech driver for being late into the final stage following a puncture on the penultimate test. Nonetheless, fifth represents a superb result for Orsák on his first start on any rally in almost a year, in a brand new Ford Fiesta R5 that he hadn’t even driven before he arrived on São Miguel.
Pedro Meireles took sixth, just 2.1s ahead of another Azorean driver, Luís Rego, and the Portuguese champion José Pedro Fontes, whose final day speed would have been enough to finish fourth had he not had to change the clutch on his Citroën Vodafone Team DS3 on Saturday morning, costing him a 1m50s time penalty for being late out of service. Ricardo Teodósio took ninth while Antonín Tlusťák just held onto a first top-10 finish of the season, with a penultimate-stage puncture leaving him just 0.6s ahead of Miguel Barbosa in the final standings.
Great pace at the end of day two had lifted Raul Jeets into the top 10, but he retired with two stages to go after damaging the front end of his ŠKODA. Jarosłav Kołtun’s run of top-10 finishes to start the season came to an end after a torrid rally that finished with him off the road on SS12, while Giacomo Costenaro and seven-time event winner Fernando Peres suffered mechanical failures within sight of the finish.
Gago gets maiden ERC Junior triumph on his comeback
Diogo Gago claimed a fine first victory in the ERC Junior Championship, exclusively supplied by Pirelli, after returning to the category for his home round. Following an entertaining first leg, the Portuguese Peugeot driver took the lead for a fourth time on Saturday’s opening stage and held it until the end, opening up a winning margin of 1m12.4s over Chris Ingram. Marijan Griebel briefly led over the first and second nights, but crashed out on SS12 in his attempts to respond to Gago’s pace. Ingram, who beat Gago to take his own first ERC Junior win in the Azores 12 months ago, had led on Friday before a puncture, but a second runner-up position in two events moves the Opel Rallye Junior Team driver into the points lead. Joining Griebel in retirement was Circuit of Ireland winner Łukasz Pieniążek after a mechanical failure while fourth on the final afternoon. As in 2015, Steve Røkland completed the podium, also counting for ERC3, this time in his first drive in a Ford Fiesta R2T run for him by M-Sport. Finn Joonas Tokee took fourth on his debut, and was ahead of Røkland before suffering issues on his Peugeot throughout the final day.
Chuchała recovers a fourth straight ERC2 win
Wojciech Chuchała took a fourth ERC2 win from as many events, and in many ways his most impressive yet. A puncture on Friday’s final stage had turned his lead of over 40s into a deficit of 1m12s to Ruben Rodrigues, who had already outpaced the Subaru Poland Rally Team driver on most of day two. Chuchała was able to find another gear however and regained the lead within four stages on the final day, and finished up 1m20s clear of Azorean driver Rodrigues. Juan Carlos Alonso overcame a couple of incidents to take third place and a trophy back to Argentina. After an off on Friday, Rui Moniz restarted on Sunday to take fourth, while Pedro Vale never left service at the start of the final day after holding third overnight.
TOP 10 POSITIONS (after 16 stages, 215.53 kilometres)
1. Ricardo Moura (PRT)/António Costa (PRT) Ford Fiesta R5….2h42m23.5s
2. Alexey Lukyanuk (RUS)/Alexey Arnautov (RUS) Ford Fiesta R5….+26.8s
3. Kajetan Kajetanowicz (POL)/Jarosław Baran (POL) Ford Fiesta R5….+3m23.0s
4. Dávid Botka (HUN)/Péter Szeles (HUN) Citroën DS3 R5….+5m28.5s
5. Jaroslav Orsák (CZE)/David Šmeidler (GBR) Ford Fiesta R5….+5m34.1s
6. Pedro Meireles (PRT)/Mário Castro (PRT) ŠKODA Fabia R5 ….+5m44.1s
7. Luís Rego (PRT)/Carlos Magalhães (PRT) Ford Fiesta R5….+5m46.2s
8. José Pedro Fontes (PRT)/Inês Ponte (PRT) Citroën DS3 R5….+6m17.9s
9. Ricardo Teodósio (PRT)/José Teixeira (PRT) Ford Fiesta R5….+7m01.2s
10. Antonín Tlusťák (CZE)/Ladislav Kučera (CZE) ŠKODA Fabia R5….+7m30.7s
FIA ERC2: Wojciech Chuchała (POL)/Daniel Dymurski (POL) Subaru Impreza STi
FIA ERC3: Diogo Gago (PRT)/Hugo Magalhães (PRT) Peugeot 208 R2
FIA ERC Junior: Diogo Gago (PRT)/Hugo Magalhães (PRT) Peugeot 208 R2