Lukyanuk keeps Al-Attiyah within reach in first day of Cyprus ERC action
Alexey Lukyanuk remains within touching distance of Cyprus Rally leader Nasser Al-Attiyah after the first leg of FIA European Rally Championship action, the Russian gaining time back during the afternoon loop amid punishing ambient temperatures.
Al-Attiyah, from Qatar, had dominated the morning trio of stages to build a lead of nearly half a minute, a scare at the end of stage three before midday service when a gear linkage pin fell out, providing the only major cause for concern for the Autotek Motorsport-run Volkswagen Polo GTI R5 driver.
There was a firm response from Lukyanuk in the afternoon as the Saintéloc Junior Team leader limited his losses in his Citroën C3 R5 on the re-run of Politiko to 0.6s. He then gained 2.8s on Al-Attiyah on the 23.23 kilometre Lefkara test, the longest stage of the rally.
“It was a good day for us,” said Al-Attiyah, a five-time winner of the event. “Stage five was really hard, very tough, so we didn’t take any risk, and we managed it with a good speed. We lost only three seconds to Lukyanuk. I’m quite happy and we have a good lead.”
Lukyanuk’s deficit to the rally leader is down to 25.4s and has a comfortable gap to third-placed Cypriot Simos Galatariotis, last year’s winner. With his European championship defence firmly in mind, Lukyanuk has been loathed to engage in battle with Al-Attiyah, who is competing in the ERC on a one-off basis and is therefore not in the title battle.
A risky strategy was deployed by Galatariotis, who took only one spare tyre to save weight despite the Cyprus Rally’s reputation for rough, rocky stages. It paid off though, as he doubled his advantage over the chasing pack behind him.
ERC championship leader Chris Ingram (Toksport WRT), who turned to crowdfunding to compete in Cyprus after missing out on the ERC1 Junior title and the 100,000 euros prize fund by just 0.3s, is in fourth, retaking the place on stage five after losing it on the previous run with an uncharacteristically slow time.
Third-fastest time on the re-run of Lefkara put him back ahead of fellow title contender Łukasz Habaj (Sports Racing Technologies), who finished the day 9.4s behind the Briton after leg one. Ingram, in particular, admitted his set-up choice was too conservative, and is planning to attack on leg two.
Sixth-placed Mikko Hirvonen’s first day of ERC action in 17 years was mostly trouble-free, his biggest concern being brake fade from overheating mid-way through the longer stages. While Hirvonen (MM-Motorsport) is a highly experienced driver with 15 wins at world championship level, his lack of recent stage rallying experience has made it harder for the Finn to commit fully to his pacenotes.
A much needed boost is on the cards for Albert von Thurn und Taxis. The Baumschlager Rallye & Racing-run German has failed to finish the last three ERC rounds, but was already running in the top 10 before moving into seventh on the afternoon pass of Lefkara.
That gain came at the expense of Tibor Érdi Jr. (Érdi Team Kft.), who had to stop and change a front-right puncture and lost four minutes, falling out of the points places to P14. The double ERC2 champion, who moved up to the top class with a ŠKODA Fabia R5 at the end of last year, was up to P13 by the end of the day.
Norbert Herczig (MOL Racing Team) rose from P33 to ninth by the end of the leg, scoring a string of top five stage times throughout the day. After starting the day with a two minute penalty, the Hungarian driver’s rapid pace has brought his gap to Abdulaziz Al-Kuwari in eighth down to just 6.5s.
ERC rookie Emilio Fernández (Toksport WRT) had a strong afternoon on his first visit to Cyprus, the Chilean picking up his pace on the second passes of Politiko and Lefkara. He moved from P11 to ninth on the latter, though was passed by Herczig on the day-ending Nicosia superspecial and dropped back to P10, 4.2s behind.
Both Herczig and Fernández benefitted from Niki Mayr-Melnhof’s troubles. The Austrian had already been delayed on the morning pass of Lefkara when his car’s dashboard lit up like “a Christmas tree” due to power issues, only for the same thing to happen on the afternoon pass. He remains in the battle for eighth, however, only 16.6s off Al-Kuwari and 6.1s behind Fernández having also lost time with a puncture in the morning.
Petros Panteli (Q8 Oils Rally Team) leads ERC2 production category, while Efrén Llarena (Peugeot Rally Academy) continues to edge ahead of Erik Cais (ACCR Czech Rally Team) out front in ERC3.