TWO OUT OF THREE FOR SIRMACIS AS LUKYANUK CRASHES R
alfs Sirmacis scored his second European Rally Championship victory from three starts after Alexey Lukyanuk crashed on the penultimate stage of Rally Estonia.
Lukyanuk had led from the beginning of the event, but his bid to repeat his 2015 victory ended in tatters when a steering arm on his Ford Fiesta R5 broke upon landing after a jump, causing him to rip a wheel off against a tree.
Sirmacis had matched Lukyanuk’s four stage wins on Saturday but was 28 seconds behind the Russian prior to his retirement. The 22-year-old Latvian, who won the Acropolis Rally in May on his debut in a four-wheel-drive car, was forced to return to his former co-driver Maris Kulss for the event after regular navigator Arturs Simins went down with a fever.
“It’s great to win but I’m a bit sad about how it happened,” Sirmacis said. “I want to win in battle, not because Lukyanuk crashed.”
Reigning champion Kajetan Kajetanowicz had a muted run to second, unable to match the pace of Lukyanuk and Sirmacis on an event they know well. A power steering failure on the last proper stage on Saturday and a 10s penalty for being late out of service after a gearbox change contributed to him ending up 1m34.5s down on Sirmacis.
Lukyanuk had been poised to cut the gap to Kajetanowicz at the top of the standings to just a single point, but the Fiesta driver now takes a 37-point advantage to Rally Rzeszow in his native Poland next month.
Local driver Rainer Aus made the podium for the second year in a row in his Mitsubishi Lancer E9 and won ERC2 after two years of playing second fiddle to Lukyanuk. Compatriots Egon Kaur and Siim Plangi ran just ahead of him before being halted by engine and clutch issues respectively. Aus began the final day close to Kajetanowicz but ended it only narrowly holding onto third after a rock broke his rear differential.
Raul Jeets, team-mate to Sirmacis in the Sports Racing Technologies Skoda operation, matched his fourth place from the Acropolis on his home event, notching up a win on the Elva street stage for the second year in succession. Polish Fiesta drivers Jaroslaw Koltun and Lukasz Habaj completed the top six.
The attrition among the four-wheel- drive cars – which included Toyota proteges Hiroki Arai and Takamoto Katsuta rolling their Tommi Makinen Racing-entered Fiestas (Katsuta doing so again on his first stage after restarting) – meant that ERC Junior winner Miko Niinemae finished seventh overall on home soil.
Junior points leader Chris Ingram sat third in the category for a while behind the duelling Peugeot drivers Niinemae and Nikolay Gryazin, but by moving up into 10th overall on the Elva stage on Saturday night meant he had to open the road on Sunday – as the top 10 cars are reversed for the final day in ERC rules – and fell behind Opel team-mate Marijan Griebel who ran 11th on the road.
Therefore, when Gryazin rolled out of contention, Ingram was unable to continue his streak of second-place finishes, coming home 4.7s behind Griebel. He will take a reduced margin of 11 points over the German onto the penultimate Junior event, Barum Czech Rally Zlin.
Gryazin’s older brother Vasily survived a roll of his own to finish the rally in 18th overall on his return to the ERC after being seriously injured in a road accident prior to last year’s Rally Estonia.
Ralfs Sirmacis/ Maris Kulss Kajetan Kajetanowicz /Jarosław Baran Rainer Aus/simo Koskinen Raul Jeets/andrus Toom Jarosław Koltun/ Ireneusz Pleskot Lukasz Habaj/piotr Wos Miko-ove Niinemae /Martin Valter Alexander Mikhaylov/normunds Kokins Marijan Griebel/ Pirmin Winklhofer Chris Ingram/elliott Edmondsen