Sun 07 Jul 2024

Linnamäe denies Virves in dramatic Estonia ERC finish

Home hero Georg Linnamäe reversed a 9.3sec deficit starting the event-deciding Power Stage to win Delfi Rally Estonia for his maiden FIA European Rally Championship victory this afternoon (Sunday).

Linnamäe looked to have lost out on first place to friend and compatriot Robert Virves following a flat-out battle between the pair on Estonia’s high-speed gravel stages.

But the Toyota GR Yaris Rally2 driver’s choice of soft-compound Michelin tyres for the Power Stage, which was held in treacherous conditions following heavy rain and strong winds during the build-up, proved inspired.

He went 11.5sec quicker than Pirelli-shod Virves (Škoda Fabia RS Rally2) to take the win by 2.2sec in a thrilling finale as Nikolay Gryazin completed the top three aboard his Pirelli-equipped Citroën C3 Rally2.

“I can’t believe it,” said Linnamäe, who was co-driven by Briton James Morgan. “I gave it everything I had. It was just crazy [on the Power Stage], I think I had a moment in about every corner. It was the most ballsy stage I’ve ever done in my life, I just left nothing out there. After the last stage we knew we had a big job ahead of us, but we knew our tyre choice would pay-off for this one, it’s just great. It’s been a great battle, the most fun I’ve had in a rally car ever, it’s just been mega.”

Virves started leg two 1.0sec ahead of Linnamäe but was able to extend that margin after winning two of Sunday’s first three stages.

“That’s how it should be,” Virves said at the finish of SS13. “Some places we were really committed, some places could have been better but it’s not easy for anyone, some surprising holes and stuff so not easy to drive but we did a quite okay run.”

Linnamäe was able to cut Virves’ lead to 2.9sec by winning SS12 but the Michelin-equipped Toyota driver had no answer to his compatriot on SS13, who was 6.4sec faster.

While Virves appeared to have done enough in his pursuit of a maiden ERC win, he ultimately couldn’t hold on through the Power Stage. However, the result marked his first ERC podium and came on the back of a top-three finish on Poland’s round of the FIA World Rally Championship the previous weekend.

Regardless of the result, Linnamäe and Virves can now look forward to celebrating their birthdays – they turn 26 and 24 respectively tomorrow (8 July).

Behind Gryazin, Mads Østberg benefited from Mikko Heikkilä’s retirement after SS12 due to a reported engine issue to claim fourth in another Citroën.

Hyundai i20 N Rally2-driving Hayden Paddon and Jon Armstrong (Ford Fiesta Rally2) fought back from earlier delays to finish fifth and sixth respectively. And having started the event equal on points with Mathieu Franceschi, BRC Racing Team-run Paddon now leads the provisional standings by 10 points after four rounds.

Miko Marczyk started the Power Stage in fifth but fell to seventh in the slippery conditions. Andrea Mabellini finished eighth for Team MRF Tyres.

Franceschi completed the Power Stage in ninth position, 2.9sec ahead of Gregor Jeets, but the Frenchman was handed a 10-second penalty for hitting a chicane on the deciding test, which reversed their positions.

Teemu Asunmaa, Yuki Yamamoto and Frank Tore Larsen filled positions 11-13 with Mārtiṇš Sesks 14th having been hampered by a pop-off valve issue and a damaged tyre on SS9.

Kaspar Kasari beat FIA ERC3 winner and fellow Estonian Romet Jürgenson to the final overall ERC point in 15th, while Jaspar Vehar claimed the FIA ERC4 and FIA Junior ERC win to make it an impressive victory clean sweep by Estonian drivers.

Rally di Roma Capitale, complete with a super special stage in front of the world-famous Colosseum, is next on the ERC schedule from 26 - 28 July.

Starts: Thursday, July 18, 2024 at 4:31:00 AM
Starts: Friday, July 26, 2024 at 7:00:00 AM
Starts: Saturday, July 27, 2024 at 6:00:00 AM