Event preview: Gryazin and Ingram the Kreim fighters as ERC Junior U28 battle intensifies in Poland
Nikolay Gryazin and Chris Ingram will be among the young stars in R5 cars fighting Kreim when PZM Rally Poland returns to the FIA European Rally Championship schedule next week (21-23 September).
Fabian Kreim, to give him his full name, tops the ERC Junior Under 28 category ahead of the penultimate round having graduated to Europe’s top flight as a double national champion from Germany. But with a 20-point margin over Ingram, who is two points ahead of Gryazin, the title battle is wide open, especially when the four-scores-count rule is taken into consideration.
Kreim, part of the ŠKODA AUTO Deutschland attack, has scored four times in 2018, while it’s three for Gryazin (Sports Racing Technologies) and Ingram (Toksport WRT), which puts the latter pair in the ascendency. All three drive Fabia R5s and head to Poland with recent gravel-driving experience.
Gryazin won the Polish championship-counting Rally Elektrėnai in Lithuania last week following his run to fourth place on the Enset Oy SM-Ralli in Finland earlier in the month. Briton Ingram is contesting Turkey’s gravel-based world championship qualifier this week, while Kreim has added to his limited gravel knowledge with a loose-surface test under the expert guidance of team boss Raimund Baumschlager.
“We will arrive with some good preparation but we need to concentrate as much as possible,” said Russian Gryazin. “We will have a big fight with Fabian Kreim and Chris Ingram for the championship so we need to beat them, but they are very fast so that won’t be easy.”
The ERC Junior U28 line-up in Poland also features local stars Tomasz Kasperczyk (Tiger Energy Drink Rally Team), Miko Marczyk (ŠKODA Polska Motorsport) and Łukasz Pieniążek (Printsport). Kasperczyk was on ERC Junior U28 duty on the Azores Airlines Rallye but has focused on his domestic championship since then where Marczyk became a winner on the last round in Lithuania, his first proper gravel event. Pieniążek, meanwhile, is a former frontrunner in ERC Junior U27 and has since graduated to world level. Filip Mareš is another ERC Junior U27 graduate and is set to make his Rally Poland debut after his Kresta Racing mechanics rebuilt his ACCR Czech Rally Team-entered Fabia R5 following a final-stage crash on the last round in his native Czech Republic. Laurent Pellier is also a Rally Poland rookie, the Frenchman armed with a PEUGEOT Rally Academy 208 T16 and eager to impress.
Gravel appeals for ERC Junior U27 leader Sesks
Mārtiņš Sesks has vowed to be more “calm” when the Pirelli-supported FIA ERC Junior Under 27 Championship resumes in Poland. Sesks has won the last two asphalt-based rounds of the series in his ADAC Opel Rallye Junior Team ADAM R2 to open up a commanding 59-point lead. With gravel the Latvian teen’s favoured surface, Sesks is in a strong position to win the prestigious title ahead of his home event, next month’s Rally Liepāja. “I was born on the kind of roads we’ll have in Poland and Latvia but I need to be calm and not think about the championship situation,” said Sesks. “The main goal for Poland is the same as it was for all other rallies this season: make it to the finish without big mistakes.” While Sesks last rallied on gravel in May, his team-mate Tom Kristensson – currently second in the standings – won his class on the recent East Sweden Rally in his homeland. He’ll also be a contender for victory, as will Rally Team Spain’s RFEDA-backed Efrén Llarena, promising Norwegian Sindre Furuseth and Saintéloc Junior Team’s Miika Hokkanen, last season’s Finnish R2 champion. Like Hokkanen, Dominik Brož will be hoping for better luck after retiring on the last round in Czech Republic, where Italy’s Mattia Vita (TRT Junior Rally Team) equalled his season-best fourth. Catie Munnings has been a regular points-scorer for Saintéloc and will be looking to capitalise on Emma Falcón’s absence by scoring maximum ERC Ladies’ Trophy points. Sebastian Johansson makes his second ERC Junior U27 appearance on his preferred gravel surface. Polish 2WD champion Kacper Wróblewski makes his category debut in a Rallytechnology-run PEUGEOT 208 R2 but will put gaining experience ahead of setting rapid stage times. “This will be only my third gravel rally in my life,” he said. “I’m very happy and glad that we have an opportunity to start in it. I am incredibly excited about this fact and hope to finish and have lots of fun.”
Magalhães: Lukyanuk deserves ERC title
Bruno Magalhães says Alexey Lukyanuk will be a deserving champion if the Russian can put the prestigious FIA European Rally Championship title beyond doubt on Rally Poland. Magalhães has pushed Lukyanuk all season but doesn’t have the full funds needed to complete his campaign, leaving Lukyanuk on the brink of becoming the first Russian to land the overall ERC title spoils. “If I cannot be the champion I am very happy Lukyanuk will be the champion,” said SEAJETS-backed Magalhães. “He’s shown during the whole year he’s the fastest driver. He’s also a very nice person. All the time we have a good atmosphere between us. Even last year when, unfortunately, we crashed in the same tree in Latvia he was very sympathetic with me when I was in the hospital.” Lukyunak has taken three wins from a possible six in 2018 in the Russian Performance Motorsport Ford Fiesta R5 he shares with co-driver Alexey Arnautov but has never competed in Mikołajki before. Poland’s Łukasz Habaj (eSky Rally Team) will make his second start in a ŠKODA Fabia R5 after switching from a Ford Fiesta equivalent. Compatriot Grzegorz Grzyb was on the podium on his last ERC appearance in Italy in July for Rufa Sport but is better known for his Tarmac-driving prowess. Four-time Hungarian champion Norbert Herczig will complete his six-event ERC schedule for the MOL Racing Team. He has two podiums to his name and has the possibility to finish in the championship’s top three. Turkey’s Orhan Avcioglu will skip his country’s round of the world championship, which takes place this week, to make his Rally Poland debut and avoid jeopardising his maiden ERC campaign. Istanbul-based Avcioglu is embarking on a full-season European championship programme in 2018 with Toksport WRT as he builds his experience of all events on the calendar ahead of a planned concerted assault on the series in 2019.
ERC Junior U27 graduate Huttunen in Hyundai for Poland
Jari Huttunen, last year’s FIA ERC Junior Under 27 runner-up, will be back on European championship duty in Poland – only this time he’ll be R5-powered. Having won in R2 machinery last season – including in the Pirelli-supported ERC Junior U27 category on Poland’s Rally Rzeszow – Huttunen was chosen for the Hyundai Motorsport Driver development Program (HMDP) for 2018. As well as selected tests and world championship rallies, Huttunen’s schedule includes the ERC-counting PZM Rally Poland in a Hyundai i20 R5 when he will go up against a number of fellow ERC Junior U27 graduates. “Rally Poland is an important event as part of my HMDP campaign,” said the 24-year-old Finn. “Not only does it help to give me more time in the car, but the gravel surface makes it a very good warm-up event for Rally GB a few weeks later. It will be my first event on gravel since Rally Finland, so hopefully we can show the same level of performance as we did there, and come away with a similar result.” Huttunen placed second in class on his home round of the world championship in July and was also on form when he tackled the gravel-based Rally Estonia earlier in the month, finishing fifth in an i20 R5. With both events featuring high-speed gravel stages similar to PZM Rally Poland, Huttunen is expected to be among the frontrunners when action begins in Mikołajki next Friday.
All eyes on Subaru Poland Rally Team’s home talent in ERC2
The battle for this season’s ERC2 title was settled in Tibor Érdi Jr’s favour on the last event, Barum Czech Rally Zlín, after the Hungarian was able to move out of reach of his closest challenger and fellow Mitsubishi Lancer driver, Sergei Remennik from Russia. That will leave the focus on Subaru Poland Rally Team’s Marcin Słobodzian. The ex-hillclimb driver and circuit racer makes his second ERC start for the outfit that guided his compatriot Wojciech Chuchała to the ERC2 crown in 2016. Despite his limited experience on gravel, Słobodzian won his class on the previous Polish championship round, which he hopes will give him an edge on Poland’s ERC qualifier. “I can’t wait to try my best on those iconic and very fast roads,” said Słobodzian, 26. “We have already won our title in the Polish championship so now we can try to push a little more and have good fun.”
And in other news…
*Popular Brazilian Paulo Nobre will make his Rally Poland debut for Motorsport Italia keen to add to the points he scored on gravel in Greece earlier this season.
*Having been an ever-present in the ERC since embarking on his full-time rallying career in 2017, Albert von Thurn und Taxis has elected to skip Rally Poland due to back trouble but plans to return to action on the season-closing Rally Liepāja.
*Jarosław Kołtun makes his first ERC start since he crashed into retirement on the Azores Airlines Rallye in March. His compatriot Dariusz Poloński was a regular in ERC3 last year but now drives a Ford Fiesta R5 in the top-level ERC1 category. Szymon Ruta has 16 ERC starts to his name, while his co-driver Kamil Heller guided Filip Nivette to last season’s Polish crown.
*Romanian Simone Tempestini will try out his Fiat 124 Abarth RGT on gravel for the first time. He was in action on the last Rally Poland to count for ERC points in 2013.
*American co-driver Alex Kihurani will be back in the ERC – albeit not registered for points – having competed regularly in ERC Junior in 2014. He will partner Sean Johnston in an Opel ADAM R2.
*Jakub Brzeziński tops the national rally entry in a ŠKODA Fabia R5 as he bids to win his first outright Polish championship.