ERC Ju­nior grad­u­ates show R2 is the right prov­ing ground as Griebel im­presses

Motor Sport News - - Erc: Cyprus Rally -

The Cyprus Rally may have been lack­ing in en­trants from an Euro­pean Rally Cham­pi­onship per­spec­tive, but years of hard work were on show as a crop of ERC Ju­niors bat­tled to­gether in R5 for the first time on the event.

The Ju­nior cat­e­gory was one of the first ma­jor Ju­nior cham­pi­onships to switch to an R2 for­mula, and since then it has pro­duced fan­tas­tic tal­ent.

Never has that been on show more than on the Cyprus Rally.

De­spite his flam­boy­ant and of­ten crash-laden style, Alexey Lukyanuk is con­sid­ered in the top band of R5 driv­ers in Europe. And a hand­ful of ERC Ju­niors who have stepped up to R5 ma­chin­ery proved they can get close to the Rus­sian, de­spite a lack of ex­pe­ri­ence.

On Fri­day in the dark, Lat­vian Niko­lay Gryazin – in only his sec­ond rally in an R5, a year on from his last out­ing – was Lukyanuk’s clos­est chal­lenger. The young­ster later crashed out with the small­est of mis­takes hav­ing the big­gest of con­se­quences. He clipped a rock on the in­side of a quick left-han­der and his rally was over.

Be­fore that, they got to bat­tle with two other for­mer ERC Ju­niors. Mar­i­jan Griebel – in his prize drive Skoda Fabia R5 hav­ing wrapped up the Ju­nior ti­tle in Latvia in Septem­ber – was a close third at the end of the first day and con­tin­ued to im­prove.

His Mo­tor­sport Italia team boss Bruno de Pianto com­mented: “What is re­ally clever in my opin­ion is that he’s adapted his driv­ing style to the car in­stead of keep chang­ing the set-up of the car. This is pay­ing out.”

And pay out it did. Third on the golden stage and sec­ond in the rally net­ted the Ger­man a princely sum. But he will un­likely be back in the ERC in an R5 with­out some ma­jor in­vest­ment. How­ever, af­ter his as­sured per­for­mance in his first rally in a four-wheel-drive car, he’s sure to have few suit­ors.

One man who will likely re­turn next year is Ralfs Sir­ma­cis, who fin­ished sec­ond in last year’s ERC Ju­nior and made the step up to a Fabia R5 for se­lected ral­lies this year.

With three wins, it couldn’t have gone much bet­ter. This event may not have been his best, but there were fac­tors in that such as tyres and ex­pe­ri­ence on the stages which did play out of his favour.

On Miche­lin rub­ber, Sir­ma­cis strug­gled on the mixed sur­face stages in com­par­i­son to the Pirelli shod Lukyanuk, Gryazin and Griebel. In real­ity, it was a mea­sured drive from the Lat­vian with a bright fu­ture, along­side one of the most like­able char­ac­ters in the cham­pi­onship, Ar­turs Simins.

The qual­ity of the fron­trun­ners hail­ing from ERC Ju­nior proves that R2 at this level is a bril­liant place to cut your teeth. And the prize of an chance to im­press, like Griebel, makes an en­try even more ap­peal­ing.

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