RZESZOW, Poland - Kajetan Kajetanowicz’s bid to become the first driver to win the FIA European Rally Championship three years running is alive after he moved into the title lead with second place on his home event, Rally Rzeszow, as Bryan Bouffier made it five winners from five ERC rounds with his record-extending fifth victory on the high-speed asphalt counter in southeast Poland.
Marijan Griebel won ERC Junior Under 28 for a second time in a fine third overall, one place ahead of reigning Polish champion Grzegorz Grzyb. With his closest rival Pepe López non-scoring, Griebel increases his advantage in his quest for the coveted title and a prize drive in a World Rally Car on a European round of the world championship in 2018.
Jari Huttunen boosted his chances of winning the 100,000 euros career progression fund on offer to the ERC Junior Under 27 champion with his first category win. Tibor Érdi Jr looked set to win ERC2 after completing the final stage with his lead intact. However, engine failure forced him to retire moments later, leaving Zelindo Melegari to claim top spot. Huttunen also bagged the ERC3 honours, while Tamara Molinaro won the ERC Ladies’ Trophy. Castrol Ford Team Turkey continues to lead the FIA European Rally Championship for Teams.
“It’s great,” said Bouffier. “This rally has always been important to me because if was my first rally in Poland a long, long time ago. When you look at the level of the ERC it’s nice to be on a good pace, especially after Canarias, which was no good for me. Back to winning means I am very happy.”
While there was no repeat Rally Rzeszow victory for Kajetanowicz, second place and the lead of the European championship represented mission accomplished for the LOTOS Rally Team driver. “Maybe I should be angry because this is my country but I am happy. To be leading the European championship was my main target and it was hurting my head that I wasn’t. The fans and my team have been amazing.”
Bruno Magalhães arrived in Poland leading the ERC standings by 14 points but set-up and confidence issues blighted his ultimate pace on his Rally Rzeszow debut. For the first team this season the SEAJETS-backed Portuguese does not head the title chase but he’s determined to hit back when the ERC resumes on Barum Czech Rally Zlín later this month. “We knew it would be a very difficult event for us and all the time you lose you never like it. There are a lot of drivers who are fast in one rally but not in the other.”
Behind Grzyb in fourth, ERC Junior Under 28 contenders Sylvain Michel and José Suárez excelled in fifth and sixth with Łukasz Habaj, Josh Moffett, Magalhães and Tomasz Kasperczyk completing the top 10.
World championship star Mads Østberg started leg two in sixth overall after brake and powersteering issues delayed him on day one. Although he was intent on pushing for victory on his ERC return, a front-left puncture ended those hopes and he withdrew on the road section after stage seven due to concerns over the powersteering on his Ford Fiesta R5 failing. “I want to enjoy and have fun but I’m scared all the time and I’m not confident with the car,” he said.
Lukyanuk heroics earn Colin McRae ERC Flat Out Trophy
Alexey Lukyanuk, who was seriously injured in a testing crash in Russia in early May, wasn’t due to return to ERC action until Barum Czech Rally Zlín at the end of August. But an arduous period of rehabilitation enabled him to come back ahead of schedule, despite the Russian Performance Motorsport driver revealing he was suffering from pain in his legs, hips and left ankle following his Qualifying Stage win on Thursday. He led after winning Friday’s first stage but then suffered a rally-ending crash four kilometres from the finish of stage two. He was handed the Colin McRae ERC Flat Out Trophy for his efforts. “One of the corners was too optimistic,” he said of his crash. “I started to enter the right corner too early, supposing it was a fast corner that corresponded to my notes, but it appeared to be harder and we touched the ditch on the exit. There was a bank in the ditch and it launched us in the air, we rolled several times on the road. We are both okay apart from a couple of bruises. The previous corner was over the crest and I concentrated on it and paid less attention to the next one in the recce. The lesson is expensive but the confidence is still there. And if there was an option to restart with Rally2, I will do it immediately, but the car is damaged badly and we will have the next chance on Barum. I am sorry for our fans but I believe it is better to win a couple of special stages and retire than to drag behind in fifth or 10th positon.”