ERC – 2020 Rally Fafe Montelongo : Lukyanuk the driver to beat come rain or shine

ERC – 2020 Rally Fafe Montelongo : Lukyanuk the driver to beat come rain or shine

*Russian Rocket excels in tricky conditions in northern Portugal

*Late drama costs Breen and Solberg as Ares completes leg one in second place

*Munster leads ERC1 Junior in third overall with Llarena 2.6s behind for Rallye Team Spain

*Érdi Jr in front in ERC2, Mabellini heads Abarth Rally Cup order

FIA European Rally Championship leaders Alexey Lukyanuk and Dmitry Eremeev mastered the changeable weather to perfection by topping the Rally Fafe Montelongo ranking at the completion of Saturday’s opening leg.

With stage conditions switching between dry, damp and wet, driver skill and tyre grip made the difference on a challenging day in northern Portugal, although compound choice presented a constant headache for crews and their teams based at the service park in Fafe.

Throughout leg one, drivers frequently selected tyres expecting dry weather to prevail only for localised showers to coat the stages with water and leave them struggling on covers unsuitable for the conditions.

Lukyanuk, driving a Saintéloc Junior Team Citroën C3 R5 on Pirelli tyres, was fastest on six of today’s nine stages to reach the overnight halt with an advantage of 38.3s following a dramatic final loop of stages.

“We built some gap and tried to control it,” said the Russian. “We had no drama, no moments so it looks like, all in all, it was not so bad today, even though we were struggling at times in the loops. It was a crazy experience [with the weather] but a positive feeling.”

Lukyanuk’s fortunes were in complete contrast to his main ERC title rivals running behind him through the all-asphalt stages. Craig Breen was in the podium fight when he got caught out on a coating of oil nearing the end of stage eight. Although he completed the run, he did so with the left-rear wheel missing from his Hyundai i20 R5 and would retire. It was poor reward for a strong performance, which earned Team MRF Tyres, an ERC newcomer for 2020, its first stage best in the championship on SS4 and underlined the progress being made by the Indian company’s tyre development programme.

After his family-run team worked through the night to fix his badly damaged Volkswagen Polo GTI R5 following his shakedown crash, Oliver Solberg was on course to pay back their efforts with third place, only for a power issue to develop on stage eight. It cost the 19-year-old ERC1 Junior Championship leader more than six minutes and another eight minutes were dropped as he limped through stage nine.

“It’s a blocked exhaust or whatever happens after that,” Solberg said at the end of SS9. “We ran out of oil and unfortunately it’s not been our weekend really.”

Unlike his closest rivals, Solberg had opted for wet-weather tyres for the middle loop, which he started in second place but completed in fourth. “It’s difficult to get exactly what you hope for,” said Solberg, whose mechanical issue was later traced to a turbo failure following checks in service. “We went for a risk with the wet tyre, which is exactly what we went for on the first loop. We tried but it didn’t pay off 100 per cent. On the dry sections you lose one second per kilometre but I’m learning and that’s what I’m here for.”

Behind Lukyanuk, Iván Ares emerged as the surprise of the day with a stage victory on his way to the provisional runner-up spot. Although he’s shown strong pace on the ERC-counting Rally Islas Canarias in the past, his performance in the difficult conditions in a Hyundai i20 R5 was exemplary.

Grégoire Munster leads ERC1 Junior in his BMA Autosport-run Hyundai, the Luxembourg driver completing Saturday’s action with his first outright European championship stage win in a fine third overall. However, Rallye Team Spain’s Efrén Llarena is just 2.6s behind with MOL Racing Team’s Norbert Herczig a mere 12.5s further back in fifth.

“It was difficult but really good,” said Munster. “We made the best out of it, we tried to have the best choice but nobody had the perfect choice. It’s been a positive day but I don’t think about the podium. There are still nine stages to go and we only did half of the work. In these tricky conditions anything can happen.”

ORLEN Team’s Polish champion Miko Marczyk is third in ERC1 Junior in sixth overall followed by category rivals Brose Motorsport’s Dominik Dinkel, Yacco ACCR Team’s Erik Cais and Motorsport Ireland Rally Academy’s Callum Devine. Surhayen Pernía completes the top 10 while Yoann Bonato is third overall in the absolute classification.

Guillaume de Mevius is P11 on his first rally since February, double ERC Junior champion Marijan Griebel is P12 following a puncture on SS6. Former Austrian title winner Niki Mayr-Melnhof is P13, Albert von Thurn und Taxis P14 and ERC3/ERC3 Junior pacesetter Pep Bassas P15 for Rallye Team Spain.

After going fastest in shakedown on Friday, ERC1 Junior Emil Lindholm crashed out on SS3 and won’t restart due to his Team MRF Tyres’ Škoda Fabia Rally2 Evo being beyond immediate repair.

Bassas is best with overnight lead in ERC3/ERC3 Junior
Pep Bassas overcame early power issues to lead ERC3 and ERC3 Junior after Saturday’s action in his Pirelli-equipped Peugeot 208 Rally4. He heads double championship leader Ken Torn, local hero Pedro Almeida and Amaury Molle. Sergio Cuesta crashed his all-new Ford Fiesta Rally4 on SS1.

Érdi Jr excellent in ERC2, Mabellini leads Abarth Rally Cup
Two-time champion Tibor Érdi Jr heads the ERC2 order after going quickest in class on all nine stages. Dmitry Feofanov is second with Andrea Mabellini third and top Abarth Rally Cup contender. Zelindo Melegari, the championship leader prior to Rally Fafe Montelongo, went off the road on SS6 in the all-new Alpine A110 RGT.

PROVISIONAL TOP 15 ERC POSITIONS (after 9 stages, 95.79 kilometres)
1 Alexey Lukyanuk (RUS)/Dmitry Eremeev (RUS) Citroën C3 R5 53m37.4s
2 Iván Ares (ESP)/David Vázquez (ESP) Hyundai i20 R5 +38.3s
(3 Yoann Bonato (FRA)/Benjamin Boulloud (FRA) Citroën C3 R5 +38.7s)*
3 Grégoire Munster (LUX)/Louis Louka (BEL) Hyundai i20 R5 +1m13.3s
4 Efrén Llarena (ESP)/Sara Fernández (ESP) Citroën C3 R5 +1m15.9s
5 Norbert Herczig (HUN)/Ramón Ferencz (HUN) Volkswagen Polo GTI R5 +1m28.4s
6 Miko Marczyk (POL)/Szymon Gospodarczyk (POL) Škoda Fabia Rally2 Evo +1m34.7s
7 Dominik Dinkel (DEU)/Michael Wenzel (DEU) Škoda Fabia Rally2 Evo +1m48.7s
8 Erik Cais (CZE)/Jindřiška Žáková (CZE) Ford Fiesta R5 MkII +1m53.1s
9 Callum Devine (IRL)/James Fulton (IRL) Hyundai i20 R5 +2m09.2s
10 Surhayen Pernía (ESP)/Eduardo Gonzalez (ESP) Hyundai i20 R5 +2m17.3s
11 Guillaume de Mevius (BEL)/Martin Wydaeghe (BEL) Citroën C3 R5 +2m35.8s
12 Marijan Griebel (DEU)/Tobias Braun (DEU) Citroën C3 R5 +2m49.4s
13 Niki Mayr-Melnhof (AUT)/Poldi Welsersheimb (AUT) Ford Fiesta R5 MklI +2m53.0s
14 Albert von Thurn und Taxis (DEU)/Bernhard Ettel (AUT) Škoda Fabia Rally2 Evo +3m04.3s
15 Pep Bassas (ESP)/Axel Coronado (ESP) Peugeot 208 Rally4 +4m05.9s
*Third in absolute classification, not eligible for ERC points

FIA ERC2: Tibor Érdi Jr (HUN)/Szabolcs Kovács (HUN) Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution X
FIA ERC3: Pep Bassas (ESP)/Axel Coronado (ESP) Peugeot 208 Rally4
FIA ERC1 Junior: Grégoire Munster (LUX)/Louis Louka (BEL) Hyundai i20 R5
FIA ERC3 Junior: Pep Bassas (ESP)/Axel Coronado (ESP) Peugeot 208 Rally4
Abarth Rally Cup: Andrea Mabellini (ITA)/Nicola Arena (ITA) Abarth 124 rally

Source : Fia