LUKYANUK CONSISTENT IN CYPRUS
Not many drivers at the age of 35 have a coming of age moment. An instance where something clicks and the mistakes of old become a distant memory.
It’s happened to a lot of the greats, and whether Alexey Lukyanuk will join that club is yet to be seen. But he certainly showed a new air of calm and confidence over the Cyprus Rally weekend.
The Russian driver has had an up and down year; crashes while in good positions in Zlin and Estonia ruined his championship charge. But second in Latvia – back in a Group N Mitsubishi Lancer – showed the pace is there. The only question is whether the Russian can put a clean rally together.
Despite the consistent mistakes, there was always the thought in the back of the minds of those in the Nicosia service park that he would throw it away last weekend. The pressure of a large cheque – and a fight for second in the championship – were looming large.
Bang. His first stage time was lightning. There was no Kajetan Kajetanowicz to compare too, and his closest rival this year, Ralfs Sirmacis, was well off the pace with unsuited tyres and a lack of experience of driving on asphalt. Lukyanuk’s pace was still pretty breathtaking.
He was at warp speed. He claimed he was taking it easy. A moment where he attempted to turn his Ford Fiesta R5 into a digger and drill into the Cyprian ground with the nose of his car at speed was a narrow escape. But it seemed to focus the multiple Latvian champion and after that he was untouchable.
It may well have been in part down to a T-shirt given to him by a fan. It carried the slogan ‘Keep calm and listen to your co-driver’. It’s something he’s admitted to struggling with in the past, but what he credited for his pace in the dark.
He was aided by a super Pirelli tyre. Its XR5 compound and tread worked a dream in the burning hot landscape.
Sirmacis, on the other hand, had chosen his based on the Acropolis. The added heat in Nicosia meant it was not a good one. His tyres were blasted away with a few kilometres and there was no coincidence that he was the only frontrunner really struggling, and also the only one on Michelin tyres.
With this in mind, Sirmacis struggled. He could take only two fastest stage times on Saturday to end the day third.
He was promoted after his impressive SRT team-mate, Nikolay Gryazin, crashed on SS6 after clipping a rock on the inside of a corner. The cut was too tight and the car was too inverted. After coming to rest upside down on a rock, it was rally over and an impressive display ended.
Into second was Maijan Griebel, taking his ERC Junior championship prize of a one-off outing in a Skoda Fabia R5. After just 30 miles of testing the night before the event, his first stages in a four-wheel-drive car came in the dark on gravel in a brand new car. It doesn’t get much more difficult. But only an overshoot and a stall halted progress on Friday, and an aggressive landing on Saturday evening’s superspecial broke a bumper. Apart from that, it was spotless.
Even on Saturday, the next day’s action was troubling the drivers. For the top three drivers on a cumulative time of the last two stages, a prize was on offer. The return of the ERC’S Golden Stage. The first of the two was cancelled after farmers protested at the rally heading past their land, but that only heightened the drama: a one-stage shootout with the winner taking 25,000 euros plus the usual ERC prize money from Eurosport.
The stopline of the stage end was on a beach, a magnificent end to the ERC season. Artur Simins, co-driver of Sirmacis, joined his driver and Griebel, plus his co-driver Permin Winkelhoffer, on the stopline as Lukyanuk came into see his time, he was the last car on the road. 1 Alexey Lukyanuk/alexey Arnautov 2 Marijan Griebel/ Pirmin Winklhofer 3 Ralfs Sirmacis/arturs Simins 4 David Botka/ Peter Szeles 5 Christos Demosthenous/ Pambos Laos 6 Nikolaos Georgiou/antonis Chrysostomou 7 Costas Zenonos/ Phanos Christofi 8 Savvas Savva/andreas Papandreou 9 Michalis Posedias/georgios Alexandrou 10 Stavros Antoniou/ Demetris Pieri Had he done enough? He had. A total of 32,000 euros to take back to Russia.
Second on the Golden Stage was Sirmacis and Simins, but it was good enough for only third overall on the Rally. Griebel took second overall, third on the Golden Stage.
The awards evening after the event was a fitting way to end the season. A switch to six counting rounds rather than seven next year will hopefully bring out a few more R5s. If the Junior graduates return ( see below) along with Lukyanuk and Kajetanowicz, the pace at the front will be rapid.