Day report: Gryazin scores an ERC treble on Rally Liepāja
Nikolay Gryazin completed a perfect FIA European Rally Championship weekend on Rally Liepāja, scoring overall victory, the class win and the ERC Junior U28 title* alongside co-driver Yaroslav Fedorov.
Gryazin extended his lead over nearest rival Chris Ingram with three stage wins on Sunday morning, bringing his Pirelli-shod Sports Racing Technologies ŠKODA Fabia R5 carefully to the finish line on the final three stages of the season.
“It feels good and I’m really satisfied,” said the 21-year-old Russian. “Our target wasn’t to push but to finish and now I can sleep well. I don’t show emotions too much but I’m really happy. We improved a lot this year, we had a good strategy and a good preparation for each event. Now I look to next year when I get two rounds of the ERC [in 2019] as my gift from Eurosport.”
Try as he might, Toksport WRT’s Ingram could not quite match Gryazin’s searing pace but secured a strong second place finish, which also secured him the runner-up spot in the ERC Junior U28 standings.
A titanic scrap over the final podium position went to the wire between Fredrik Åhlin and Fabian Kreim. Trading places multiple times across the weekend, Kreim had pulled in front by a mere 0.1s heading to the final stage but a monumental push by Åhlin won him third place back, also winning the final stage by 8.1s from Gryazin.
Though fourth place finisher Kreim missed out on a podium, the leading quartet still demonstrated the strength of the ERC Junior Under 28 category for young stars in R5 cars by winning every stage combined, the first time in history that ERC Junior U28 drivers have won every stage of an ERC event.
Łukasz Habaj (eSky Rally Team) completed the top five finishers, retaking the position after Eyvind Brynildsen crashed out on stage 10 while chasing Åhlin and Kreim for third.
Filip Mareš (ACCR Czech Rally Team) and Rhys Yates (Kresta Racing) continued the ERC Junior U28 domination on Rally Liepāja, finishing sixth and seventh overall and fifth and sixth in class respectively. Both were aiming to build confidence on the high-speed Latvian stages, outlasting several more experienced R5 rivals to secure strong finishes.
Ingram’s Toksport WRT team-mate Orhan Avcioğlu lost three minutes on the final stage after being forced to stop and change a puncture but still managed to retain eighth overall.
Tom Kristensson secured ERC Junior U27 honours while also finishing ninth overall, beating ADAC Opel Rallye Junior team-mate Mārtiņš Sesks for victory. Local favourite Sesks also wrapped up the ERC3 championship title*while also scoring a point in the overall ERC classification, completing the top 10 finishers.
ERC2 production class honours were secured by Sergei Remennik (Russian Performance Motorsport), recovering from a powersteering failure just before midday service to finish P12 in the ERC classification.
Emma Falcón was crowned this year’s ERC Ladies’ Trophy winner, scoring enough points to secure the title despite her main rival Catie Munnings (Saintéloc Junior Team) winning the event in their class.
Leg two recap: Gryazin on song as Juniors steal the show
Nikolay Gryazin already had one hand on the ERC Junior Under 28 trophy heading into leg two’s six stages, having scored five stage wins out of six the previous day.
Of those who had retired the previous day, Simone Tempestini returned with his Fiat 124 Abarth to secure victory in the RGT class, though PEUGEOT Rally Team’s Laurent Pellier and ERC Junior U27 star Sindre Furuseth would not be back on Sunday.
Stage seven had Gryazin back at his best, taking another 3.7s out of closest rival Chris Ingram with another stage win. He did even better on the next test, this time beating Ingram for fastest time by 5.8s.
Behind the leading duo, the closest battle of all was still in full swing. Fabian Kreim and Fredrik Åhlin had traded places three times on leg one in their duel for third place, with another swap taking place on stage eight as Åhlin nipped ahead. Neither of the young stars in R5 cars were not alone in their podium quest, as Eyvind Brynildsen had already taken fifth place away from Łukasz Habaj in the previous test and was closing in.
Gryazin completed the morning loop with another stage win but this time with Ingram only fifth fastest. He tip-toed around some errant rocks then dipped the right side of his Fabia into a ditch at speed, saving himself from potential disaster by keeping his right foot planted.
There was more drama in the support classes; ERC2 leader Sergei Remennik rocked up at the finish line with steam billowing from under his bonnet, suffering a power steering leak. Local favourite Mārtiņš Sesks was starting to lose fourth gear on his R2 car, forcing a gearbox change at service.
The action was turned up to 11 by Åhlin and Kreim once again on SS10, still inseparable in their battle over the final podium spot. As both Gryazin and Ingram reeled in their pace to ensure they would secure first and second in the ERC Junior U28 championship race, the young pair of drivers behind were pushing to the limit. So too was the last challenger for a podium, Brynildsen, who went off at speed not far into the stage and crashed off into a bank, retiring on the spot. Also caught out was ERC Junior U27 runner Kristóf Klausz, who spun and became stuck in a ditch for 20 minutes before continuing.
Åhlin had won the previous stage to edge another 0.4s ahead of Kreim but the ŠKODA AUTO Deutschland young talent responded in style, winning SS11 outright to retake third by a mere 0.1s. It was a tough stage on all the drivers, with three in all failing to make it through; Paulo Nobre went off the road at around the halfway mark, with non-points registered driver Niki Mayr-Melnhof rolling out on his first appearance in an ERC–run event. Oliver Solberg – son of 2003 world champion Petter – had not registered for ERC3 but was impressing regardless, locked in a tense battle with Sesks. His impressive run came to an end with engine failure.
And so the last stage of the 2018 ERC season was upon the crews. Orhan Avcioğlu had stopped in the stage to change a puncture but wouldn’t let his last minute misfortune dent what had been a successful first campaign for the Toksport WRT driver, bagging his third top 10 finish of the year in eighth place.
Plenty of celebrations were had at the finish line of SS15. Åhlin piloted his CA1 Sport Fabia to the final ERC stage win of 2018, ensuring young stars in R5 cars won every stage in Liepāja, while taking over eight seconds out of the entire field to comprehensively steal third place back from Kreim. The latter had suffered a lairy moment when running wide and momentarily putting Kreim’s car on its side, which led him to back off for the rest of the stage. Tom Kristensson was almost lost for words after wrapping his ERC Junior U27 win and Emma Falcón won a first ERC Ladies’ Trophy title in a GC Motorsport-run PEUGEOT 208 R2, which she had borrowed as a replacement for her usual R3-spec Citroën DS3. But the biggest celebration was for Gryazin, who had sealed not only the ERC Junior U28 title but a €100,000 prize fund for two ERC rounds next year.
*Subject to confirmation of the results by the FIA