Day report: Gryazin resists late Huttunen charge for second ERC win
Nikolay Gryazin secured his second career FIA European Rally Championship victory on PZM Rally Poland, fending off Jari Huttunen and strengthening his FIA ERC Junior Under 28 title challenge.
Co-driven by Yaroslav Fedorov in a Sports Racing Technologies ŠKODA Fabia R5, the Pirelli-equipped Gryazin and ERC Junior Under 27 graduate Huttunen were locked in an epic tussle throughout leg two, and with no championship aspirations to worry about, the young Finn went flat out to catch the rally leader.
Huttunen won all three afternoon stages, unleashing the shackles on his Hyundai i20 R5. A 10s time penalty for late check-in to SS14 undid his progress but failed to dampen his determination, driving on the ragged edge and finishing with a rear- left puncture, broken rear bumper and rear spoiler from his final push.
Though he won the rally-closing Baranowo test by 4.6s, Huttunen fell short of victory, Gryazin securing top spot by 8.3s, with Huttunen settling for second.
Young stars in R5 cars dominated the top positions overall, with Chris Ingram scoring his first overall ERC podium in third place. He escaped the clutches of ERC Junior U28 rival Fabian Kreim over the course of leg two for second in class, the Toksport WRT and ŠKODA AUTO Deutschland pilots separated by 17.3s at the finish. Though unable to challenge Ingram, Kreim still secured an ERC Junior U28 podium and fourth overall.
ERC Junior U28 debutant Miko Marczyk held off a late challenge from Polish championship rival Łukasz Habaj to score a sensational top-five finish for ŠKODA Polska Motorsport.
The prodigious young talent has only two years’ rallying experience and had covered less than 200 competitive kilometres on gravel before this weekend, yet resisted pressure from both sixth placed Habaj and Grzegorz Grzyb in seventh with Grzyb taking the Polish title for the second time in his career.
ACCR Czech Team’s Filip Mareš successfully pulled away from and then held fellow ERC Junior U28 competitor Tomasz Kasperczyk at bay for eighth overall and fifth in ERC Junior U28. It was a strong result for Mareš, taking part in his first gravel rally in an R5-specification car.
Despite a trip through a garden on Saturday morning, road sweeping today as first on the road and even rolling his car over this afternoon, Norbert Herczig brought his MOL Racing Team Fabia home P10.
Mārtiņš Sesks took the FIA ERC Junior Under 27 title spoils* despite crashing out of the Pirelli-supported category for a second day. Tom Kristensson gave the ADAC Opel Rallye Junior Team double cause for celebration with the class win ahead of Rally Team Spain’s Efrén Llarena.
Leg two recap: Russian rockets clinch Polish silverware
As dawn broke over Mikołajki and Alexey Lukyanuk celebrated his new status as ERC champion* from the sidelines, ERC crews headed to Pozezdrze, where the ERC Juniors were quickest to wake up and get to work. Tiger Energy Drink Rally Team Tomasz Kasperczyk used his home advantage to great effect straight out of the blocks, taking 4.2s out of Filip Mareš to reclaim fourth in ERC Junior U28 and eighth overall.
Admitting he’d been to cautious, Autoklub of Czech Republic-backed Mareš responded immediately on Gołdap, regaining his place from Kasperczyk, which he held until the finish. Out front, ERC Junior U28 and rally leader Gryazin had dropped nearly three seconds to Huttunen on the first stage, only to take it all back and then some more through Gołdap, making clear he wasn’t surrendering his lead without a fight.
Gołdap had offered a welcome reprieve from the narrow tracks that featured heavily throughout PZM Rally Poland, its wide open roads a much more forgiving setting. Ingram took a mammoth 9.4s out of ERC Junior U28 rival Kreim despite plenty of sideways moments, though the roads didn’t help Ingram’s Toksport WRT team-mate Orhan Avcioğlu, who stalled twice at a junction.
The ERC field passed through Baranowo without much fuss, though Grzyb did run wide only two corners into the test. Habaj capitalised, whittling down his deficit for sixth place to only 0.2s, while Marczyk seized his opportunity to leave his more experienced countrymen behind and build a gap for fifth. Szymon Ruta was not so fortunate, retiring from P13 at midday service with a technical issue.
Attention switched back to the lead battle after service. Huttunen had won SS10, with Gryazin responding in the following two tests, though his resistance began to falter thereafter. With no allocation of fresh tyres remaining, Gryazin struggled to match Huttunen on Pozezdrze, dropping 4.1s and focussing his efforts on securing a vital maximum scored for his ERC Junior U28 title campaign instead.
Huttunen was pushing hard to put Gryazin under pressure, taking a tyre off his Hyundai’s rear-left rim on the very first corner of Pozezdrze. That first corner contact decided the rally in an unexpected manner.
Fixing the damage he’d picked up by the roadside and setting off to the next stage, Huttunen rocked up at the Gołdap time control one minute late, incurring a 10-second penalty.
“Damn it!” exclaimed a frustrated Huttunen at the Gołdap stage end, and for good reason – it had undone all the ERC Junior U27 graduate’s hard work, having gained 10.1s across SS13 and SS14.
As Gryazin focused on bringing his Fabia home in one piece, Huttunen put everything on the line through Baranowo in a last-ditch effort to take victory. Flying through the stage, Huttunen pushed his i20 to its limits, keeping his foot to the floor where others lifted or used their brakes. He arrived at the finish line with a car sporting rear bodywork damage and a rear left puncture, visible evidence of his monumental final push.
It was not enough though, Gryazin arriving moments later only 4.6s slower, wrapping up a successful weekend for the ERC’s Russian contingent with a new ERC champion* crowned in Alexey Lukyanuk and a star of the future scoring his first outright win of 2018.
*Subject to confirmation of the results by the FIA