SIRMACIS WINS, KAJETANOWICZ TAKES TITLE
Skoda crew wins at home
alfs Sirmacis scored a dominant European Rally Championship win on home soil in the penultimate round in Latvia as Kajetan Kajetanowicz sealed his second straight ERC title.
With Rally Liepaja being run minus snow for the first time, the new-found home hero capitalised fully on his local knowledge. At first it looked as if it could be another tight battle between the young Skoda driver and Alexey Lukyanuk, but the Russian never really got a look in on this occasion.
It may have been different had Lukyanuk not brought his Mitsubishi Lancer E10 instead of his usual Ford Fiesta R5. He did win the last time he rallied the Lancer in Estonia last year, but the Latvian stages were more technical in sections than those north of the border.
It was actually on the twistiest stages of all – two runs over a street stage in Liepaja on Saturday evening – where Lukyanuk was able to lead the way, but the crowd favourite had already opened up an advantage of half a minute. Sirmacis then doubled that margin to over a minute on the final day as he completed a clean sweep of the gravel tests and claimed his third win from five starts this season.
Lukyanuk’s second place came after three straight retirements, and gives him a two-point buffer over Sirmacis to the final round in Cyprus in their fight to be runnerup to Kajetanowicz.
The Pole needed just nine points in Latvia to complete his title defence, but his run to fourth wasn’t without stress. On Saturday a deep cut on one stage blocked his Fiesta’s cooling and overheated the engine, while on Sunday his engine cut out in the middle of another. Even without those issues, he was struggling to beat Siim Plangi to third, the Estonian making it two Mitsubishis on the podium.
Marijan Griebel snatched the ERC Junior title from Opel team-mate Chris Ingram in a closely fought deciding round. Ingram built an early lead on Saturday morning, with Griebel 8.8 seconds back in fourth, but the German led by 0.7s come the end of the day.
Ingram levelled that on Sunday’s opener but an off dropped him to fourth before electrical issues eliminated his Adam R2 with two stages left. Griebel still had to take the win to take the title though and had Miko Niinemae and Alex Forsstrom within six seconds, but he held on to claim a prize drive in an R5 Fabia in Cyprus. As well as Forsstrom taking second in only his second ERC appearance, another standout performer was debutant Martins Sesks, who celebrated his 17th birthday with fourth place and three fastest times – including one around the streets of the city where his father is the mayor.
A broken gearbox for Giacomo Scattolon guaranteed Wojciech Chuchala the ERC2 title before he crashed in the final stage, although the Subaru Poland driver’s unbeaten record in the class was already coming to an end. He was joined in making a last-gasp exit by compatriot Lukasz Habaj, who handed fifth overall to local Skoda driver Raimonds Kisiels.
Alongside Kisiels under Toni Gardemeister’s awning was Kalle Rovanpera. The 15-year-old couldn’t compete in the ERC section of the event because he’s too young but contested the same stages in the Latvian series and beat Sirmacis to the fastest time on four of them.
‘Griebel takes Juniors and prize drive’ ERC Latvia, below