Yohan Rossel, Nikolay Gryazin and Pepe López were classified first, second and third respectively in the Rally2-based category on the opening event of the FIA World Rally Championship season.
Gryazin, the winner of the Junior ERC title in 2018, actually reached the finish in Monaco’s Casino Square yesterday afternoon in first position only for a time penalty to drop him to second, albeit by a scant margin of 0.5 seconds.
The Toksport WRT driver’s demotion let in Rossel to celebrate victory for the Citroën-equipped PH Sport squad.
“I pushed to the limit all weekend, but I drove a bit cautiously when the puncture risk was high,” said Rossel, who scored an ERC3 podium on Rally Islas Canarias in 2019.
Driving the all-new Škoda Fabia RS Rally2, Gryazin held an advantage of 46.7 sec after 13 stages but that margin was cut to 15.2 sec due to a front-right deflation on SS14.
Rossel, who lost approximately 5.0 sec when he stalled at the start of SS1 on Thursday, narrowed Gryazin’s ever-shrinking lead to 9.7 sec by winning SS15 and SS16 on Sunday morning. Gryazin hit back by winning SS17 and although Rossel was fastest on the Wolf Power Stage, Gryazin looked to have done enough when he completed the action 4.5 sec ahead.
However, the five-second time penalty handed out by the event stewards following a protest from the PH Sport team switched the top two positions in Rossel’s favour.
Stéphane Lefebvre, the inaugural Junior ERC champion in 2014, was in a close battle with López, a one-time ERC event winner, when he stopped to change a damaged tyre on SS16. That left the Spanish Hyundai driver to complete the podium ahead of Erik Cais, who is planning an ERC title challenge this season, Adrien Fourmax, the winner of Rally Islas Canarias in 2020, and Chris Ingram, the 2019 ERC champion.
Rally Serras de Fafe, Felgueiras, Cabreira e Boticas in northern Portugal is gearing up to host the opening round of the 2023 ERC season from March 10-12.
Meanwhile, the first five places of Rally Elverum in Norway, the opening round of the national championship, went to drivers with ERC experience, including the winners, Frank Tore Larsen and Torstein Eriksen.