MOURA TAKES FIRST AZORES WIN
Home favourite takes his chance as others fail
icardo Moura took a shock victory at his 16th attempt on the Azores Rallye after a battle for the lead that nobody seemed to want to win.
The Azorean inherited top spot from Alexey Lukyanuk on stage 14 of 16 when the turbo pipe came off the Russian’s similar Ford Fiesta R5, and held on to become the first islander in 45 years to triumph on this most demanding of gravel rallies on the mid-atlantic archipelago.
European champion Kajetan Kajetanowicz had led early on but completed leg one 9.8s behind Lukyanuk following a sluggish drive through the second pass of Sete Cidades, which runs along the rim of a volcanic crater lake in some of rallying’s most picturesque scenery.
But any hopes the Pole had of hitting back on leg two were dashed when his Fiesta’s front-left driveshaft broke on Saturday’s opening stage.
But what had been a lead of 25.3s for Lukyanuk turned into a 42.7s deficit to Moura come the end of SS14. Moura was seemingly clear with two stages left but his hard tyres for the damp roads of SS15 were far from ideal and a flying Lukyanuk, having made repairs by the roadside, was able to halve Moura’s advantage to 21.5s.
With a final 13.48 miles to run and Moura also struggling with brake issues, the stage was set for a thrilling climax, only for a slow puncture to hobble Lukyanuk’s charge through the closing test and allow Moura to win.
“I was lucky today because sometimes I maybe did not have the speed to match [Lukyanuk and Kajetanowicz],” Moura told “my people” at an emotional finishing ceremony in Ponta Delgada, the capital of host island Sao Miguel. “But I was fighting always, trying always. I got the day of my life so thank you.”
Lukyanuk at least held on to second, but he must be wondering what he has to do for a change of fortune. A turbo pipe failure slowed the under-funded driver on the previous round in Greece, while a pre-event testing crash prevented him from starting the Circuit of Ireland.
Kajetanowicz, without a win in 2016, completed the podium after Acropolis winner, the 21-year-old Latvian promise Ralfs Sirmacis, retired his Skoda Fabia R5 after breaking its steering on Saturday’s opener.
ERC Junior Chris Ingram proved a point on Friday morning. The Opel works driver – in his first event on gravel in the Adam R2 – was 20s faster than his rivals on the first run through Sete Cidades only for a front-left puncture on SS9 to drop him back.
That left his team-mate Marijan Griebel and Portuguese Peugeot driver Diogo Gago battling for position, a fight that ended on Saturday’s second stage when the German crashed into a tree.
A gearbox problem was a further nuisance for Ingram on Saturday afternoon but he made hit home second in class behind Gago and ahead of Steve Rokland in an M-sport-run Fiesta R2T. It was Ingram’s third successive podium in the Azores in three different cars and puts him into the championship lead. “It was all about making it to the finish,” said the Manchester driver.
Wojciech Chuchala is quickly turning into one of the most closely watched prospects in international rallying as he pulled off another majestic ERC2 win in his Subaru Poland Impreza. His fourth win in as many tries in the category came after the Pole recovered from a puncture on Friday to overturn Ruben Rodrigues and win by 1m25s.
Moura drove clean while others falteredPhotos: FIA ERC, Songasport, Rallygallery.com
After 16 attempts, Moura gets win
Ingram took Junior lead