Sat 17 Jun 2023

McRae holds 10sec lead in Liepaja Junior ERC battle

Max McRae will take a narrow lead of 1.0sec into the final day of battle for FIA Junior ERC Championship glory on Tet Rally Liepāja.

After five stages in changeable weather conditions, the 18-year-old belied his limited experience to edge out title leader Ola Nore with Victor Hansen completing the provisional podium in the Hankook-equipped category for Rally4 and Rally5 cars.

Sixteen-year-old newcomer Jaspar Vaher was the form driver on the opening two stages to build an impressive lead of 16.9sec over McRae.

After he fixed a technical issue following a down-on-power  run through SS3, Nore was back into his stride on SS4, outgunning Vaher to close to within 2.8sec of McRae, despite a steering issue.

Third became second for Nore – who is being co-driven by WRC2 title-winning co-driver Torstein Eriksen for the first time – on SS5 after which confirmation of Vaher’s exclusion was confirmed.

The Estonian’s Ford Fiesta Rally4 was found to be under the permitted weight limit following technical checks and he would go no further than today’s penultimate service halt in Liepāja.

But as Simon Andersson completed leg one with the fastest time on the Liepāja City Stage, McRae got back ahead of Nore, albeit by a slender 1.0sec with Sunday’s four stages remaining.

“The start of the day was tricky with the heavy walls of dust but the rain actually made the conditions nicer to drive in,” said McRae, the nephew of the late Colin McRae. “We’ve definitely had a big improvement compared to Poland and it’s good to be fighting with these guys. To be in a podium position means it’s been a really good day. I’ve not done too much wet weather driving but the rain hasn’t been too bad, more the thing is I’ve never driven on these high-speed roads, this is completely new for me. My head is definitely a lot higher than it was in Poland.”

Miko Jalava is fourth behind Hansen, who said SS1 was “the baddest stage I have ever done.”

Norbert Maior is fifth but should have been higher up in the order, had a mystery fault not hit on SS3. “It’s been a good day in terms of speed and I’m so proud of our speed but the result is not there,” he said. “We had a small problem on stage three, the car just stopped on the stage, maybe it was some electrical issue, we don’t know exactly for the moment but we lost around 40 seconds. I will try my best to catch some time back tomorrow.”

Roberto Daprà and newcomer Mark-Egert Tiits are sixth and seventh having enjoyed days free of issue. It was a different story for Timo Schulz, however, who went off twice on SS1 and briefly got stuck in a ditch, losing time and confidence as a result.

Mattia Zanin and Rene Nöller are ninth and 10th respectively with Aoife Raftery steering clear of trouble and building her experience aboard her Motorsport Ireland Rally Academy entry in 11th. Karl-Markus Sei’s hopes were wrecked when he lost three minutes stuck in a ditch on SS1. The Estonian currently holds 12th spot.

Simon Andersson also went off on SS1 but hit back to reach the overnight halt in P13 having dropped further time in the afternoon rain when a windscreen wiper broke off. He’s one place ahead of Alfred Kramer, who is competing on only his third gravel rally.

Mille Johansson was delayed by a succession of damaged tyres, while Fabian Zeiringer rolled into retirement on SS1 and will not restart on Sunday.

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