Day report: Gryazin continues to hold off Ingram for ERC Liepāja lead
Nikolay Gryazin continued his strong FIA European Rally Championship form to lead Rally Liepāja ahead of ERC Junior Under 28 rival Chris Ingram, despite late drama on the final stage of leg one.
Sports Racing Technologies-run Gryazin won the first five stages, gradually increasing his lead over Ingram in their battle for ERC Junior U28 title honours. His lead nearly came unstuck on stage six, picking up a rear-left puncture around halfway through the ŠKODA (Vilgāle) test. Despite his puncture, Gryazin lost only 0.6s to stage winner Ingram, finishing the day with 19s in hand.
ERC Junior U28 title outsider Fabian Kreim completed the top three places, the ŠKODA AUTO Deutschland driver taking a podium position away from CA1 Sport’s Fredrik Åhlin on the day’s penultimate stage. Łukasz Habaj holds fifth, within striking distance of the podium battle. The eSky Rally Team pilot is 6.8s behind Åhlin and a further 2s off Kreim.
A lack of top-end speed hampered Eyvind Brynildsen through Rally Liepāja’s faster stages, much of which is high speed, fifth gear sections. With a 10kph top speed deficit compared to the dominant ŠKODA Fabia R5 in his Ford Fiesta, he ended leg one in sixth, a mere 0.3s behind Habaj.
ACCR Czech Rally Team’s Filip Mareš gradually improved his pace throughout the day, moving from ninth to seventh overall and assuming control of fifth in ERC Junior U28. That position initially came at the expense of PEUGEOT Rally Academy’s Laurent Pellier, who fell behind Mareš before midday service.
Though Pellier finished eighth overall after leg one’s six special stages were completed, he arrived at the SS6 finish line with his engine switched off and with his car’s water temperature rising. He must reach the service park and check in to service to ensure he retains his overall position – and sixth in ERC Junior U28 – otherwise he faces retirement.
Rhys Yates continued the ERC Junior domination of Rally Liepāja, finishing the day ninth overall and the seventh ERC Junior U28 runner in the overall top 10, with only 13.5s in arrears to Pellier ahead. Orhan Avcioğlu completes the ERC top 10 aboard his Toksport WRT Fabia.
Sergei Remennik remains on course for maximum ERC2 points, while Tom Kristensson has been on rapid form in the Pirelli-supported ERC Junior Under 27 category, leading champion* and home hero Mārtiņš Sesks by nearly 20s after going fastest in his class on all six stages.
Leg one recap: Late drama fails to halt Gryazin’s progress
Gryazin set the pace from stage one, taking his first of five stage wins on leg one immediately. Ingram was surprised to slot straight into second, unhappy with his driving but still clear of his remaining rivals. Neste (Pērbone)’s first pass was the last stage for Simone Tempestini however, his RGT-spec car suffering a technical failure after the finish line after stopping mid-stage earlier. Unable to remedy the issue, he drove straight back to service and retired.
Another stage win beckoned for Gryazin on SS2 but Ingram was only 0.5s behind, even though both suffered high-speed spins. Ingram’s spin put him into a bank but the Brit escaped without incurring any damage to his Fabia. Kreim meanwhile made his first push to put himself in the podium fight, temporarily dispossessing Åhlin for third place before losing it again one stage later.
Autoklub of Czech Republic-backed Filip Mareš shook off a slow start on stage one to march up the leaderboard on stages two and three. Moving past Rhys Yates on SS2, he immediately picked off PEUGEOT Rally Academy prodigy Laurent Pellier on Ramirent (Upītes), moving up from ninth to seventh overall.
A similar theme continued into the afternoon for the leading contenders. Gryazin was fastest again on stage four with Ingram in tow, though losing nearly five seconds this time around. Both had big sideways moments but continued on unhindered once more. Spare a thought for Paulo Nobre down in P15, though – he had been sweeping away all the loose gravel as first car on the road, yet was going slower instead of faster on the afternoon loop despite the roads being cleaner. His tyre choice contributed to his time loss, picking a hard set of Pirellis while most elected for mediums.
Stage five brought the battle for third back to the fore, as Åhlin clocked a time 13.7s slower than Gryazin, who continued his stage-winning streak. He slipped behind Kreim once more, albeit with only 0.2s separating the pair.
The best action was saved for last, as drama befell many of the top 10 drivers on leg one’s final stage. One by one, drivers arrived with stories of trials and tribulations. ERC2 production class leader Sergei Remennik picked up a puncture. Rhys Yates was wayward in the final kilometres, convinced something had broken on the rear left corner of his car after hitting a rock around two kilometres from the finish. Laurent Pellier arrived with a skyrocketing water temperature, coasting into the finishing time control with the engine switched off. Habaj arrived with a punctured front left tyre, like Yates pointing the blame at a rock on the road around two kilometres from the finish. Not even Gryazin, who had won every stage up to the final test, was impervious. He had nursed a punctured rear left from around the halfway mark to the finish, the tyre completely off the rim. And yet his time lost was almost zero, dropping only 0.6s to Ingram to go second fastest.
Amazingly, despite that plethora of issues befalling the top ERC drivers, none lost position. They finished as they started but with tighter time gaps, with 19s separating first and second and a mere 9.1s between Kreim in third and Brynildsen in sixth.