Lukyanuk holds ERC Azores lead as Habaj takes second
Alexey Lukyanuk weathered stormy conditions to hold his FIA European Rally Championship lead on the Azores Rallye, while Łukasz Habaj stormed into second place.
Reigning ERC champion Lukyanuk had won nine out of ten stages on Leg One but a dramatic shift in conditions from Friday’s sunshine to Saturday’s deluge of rain and blustery gales meant he didn’t win any this morning.
Such was the difficulty of Saturday’s three morning stages that even Lukyanuk was caught out by the conditions on the last of the three tests, Vila Franca Sao Bras.
“Incredible, absolutely incredible,” said Lukyanuk at stage end. “We made a stupid mistake, going straight on at one junction and stalling the engine. The grip is changing so much, you can’t believe it. I have never, ever, ever seen conditions like these. [It was] probably the worst stage in my life.”
His 43 second lead is now over Sports Racing Technologies’ Łukasz Habaj, who won the Graminhais stage to pass ten-time Azorean champion Ricardo Moura for second place.
Despite being one of the most experienced drivers of all time on this event, even third-placed Moura was struggling to cope with the challenging stage conditions.
“I have never run stages like this before,” he said. “We have fog which is coming and going. I want to survive, and nothing more. I need to get to the finish line. Nothing else matters.”
ERC1 Junior leader Chris Ingram moved up to fourth overall with the demise of Team OSCARO’s Pierre-Louis Loubet, who suffered a water pump failure on his ŠKODA Fabia R5 at the end of Graminhais and was forced to retire. He is within striking distance of a podium, only 6.6s behind Moura.
Portuguese championship pairing Bruno Magalhães and Ricardo Teodósio were flying as first cars on the road, the stages turned to mud and avoiding them from having to sweep loose gravel aside.
Teodósio won both the Tronqueira and Vila Franca Sao Bras stages to rocket up the order from P10 to sixth, with Team Hyundai Portugal’s Magalhães also moving up from eighth to fifth place. However, Teodósio is catching Magalhães quickly, with only 5.1s separating the pair.
Marijan Griebel dropped to seventh place, losing nearly a minute on Graminhais with a puncture and losing a further minute on Tronqueira through a lack of confidence.
Ingram’s Toksport WRT team-mate Alexandros Tsouloftas moved up to second in ERC1 Junior and eighth overall with Loubet’s retirement.
Miguel Corriea remains third in ERC1 Junior but his ARC Sport team-mate Pedro Almeida, who had returned under Rally2 this morning after crashing out on Friday, retired again on Tronqueira. He hit a wall and broke his ŠKODA Fabia R5’s rear suspension.
Bernardo Sousa is a miraculous ninth overall despite a myriad of troubles all weekend, which included three punctures in two days and a dramatic barrel-roll on the Sete Cidades volcano stage yesterday.
He was aided by the withdrawal of Luís Rego this morning due to illness, who had been in seventh place overnight.
ACCR Czech Rally Team’s Vojtěch Štajf has now moved into the top 10 thanks to others hitting trouble, his safety-first approach paying off.