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