*SEAJETS-backed Portuguese in front as Lukyanuk hits trouble during dramatic day
*Legendary Greek rally lives up to reputation as tough and demanding event
*Érdi Jr maintains ERC2 advantage, rookie Ghosh moves in front in ERC3
Bruno Magalhães mastered the tough and demanding all-gravel stages in style to hold a strong lead on the EKO Acropolis Rally, the third event of the all-action FIA European Rally Championship season.
Rock-strewn stages and high tyre wear meant balancing speed with safety, a compromise SEAJETS-backed Magalhães achieved perfectly on leg two. He won Saturday morning’s second and third stages to establish a 53.7s lead, which he extended to 1m04.7s by day’s end.
But while the Portuguese got his ARC Sport ŠKODA Fabia R5 to the overnight halt in Lamia out in front, it was a different story for championship leader Alexey Lukyanuk, whose bid for a third consecutive ERC victory – and a first in Greece – unravelled when he retired his Ford Fiesta R5 with suspension damage on Saturday’s second stage. Lukyanuk, from Russia, plans to restart on Sunday’s final leg when collecting maximum stage points will be his main goal.
In the battle for victory on Sunday’s final leg, Magalhães will face opposition from multiple Hungarian champion Norbert Herczig – who is second overnight for the MOL Racing Team – and rising Polish star Hubert Ptaszek, completing the provisional podium in a third Fabia after a late puncture hit Grzegorz Grzyb’s hopes of finishing in the Acropolis top three for the second year running. Tibor Érdi Jr heads ERC2 with India’s Amittrajit Ghosh the driver to beat in ERC3 on his series debut.
How leg two unfolded: title leader Lukyanuk all out of luck
Alexey Lukyanuk headed into day two with a 33.5s lead over nearest challenger Eyvind Brynildsen following a storming drive through Friday’s monster Thiva test. Though he extended his lead by a further 0.2s in SS3, it was the end of the road shortly thereafter.
Despite a cautious approach, Lukyanuk hit a rock inside a corner, breaking his suspension and front-left driveshaft. Though he limped to the finish line of Drossohori following emergency repairs, he lost nearly 20 minutes and elected to go straight to service instead, hoping to fix his car for a return tomorrow.
“In the beginning of the second stage today we were really on a careful pace, saving tyres and driving really carefully,” said Lukyanuk. “Somewhere inside there was a stone and I didn’t see. It was after a crest. We had a hit to the front left and unfortunately the suspension arm was broken and the wheel opened. We had to stop to repair it. Bad luck again. We will try to check the car and continue tomorrow to try and score some [leg] points.”
This should have handed Brynildsen first place, but he also lost several minutes at the same time as Lukyanuk suffered his own dramas after stopping to change a puncture. The Norwegian’s intercom failed immediately afterwards, forcing co-driver Veronica Engan to use hand signals until midday service when their phone backup system failed to work.
Bruno Magalhães inherited the lead thereafter, taking a strategic decision to drive with utmost caution. “This is all about survival. It’s crazy this morning, I’ve never seen in my life stages like this,” he said after SS5. “It’s incredible, the second stage when I start to see the big stones and rocks everywhere on the road, sometimes I stop and pass to the other side. It’s a strategy.”
Drossohori’s first pass was a punishing one, as a multitude of drivers encountered problems. Wevers Sport driver Juuso Nordgren had been in the thick of a podium fight, but when a puncture in SS3 used up one of his two spares, he had to fit used soft-compound tyres to his Fabia. Those covers wore out rapidly in the baking heat, both rears puncturing and leaving him unable to continue beyond SS4.
Yuriy Protasov was next in line for a podium position aboard his Go+Cars Fabia, but he dropped 3m29.7s when stopping to change a puncture in Drossohori. He fell to P13 initially, then retired altogether with a broken radiator after midday service.
Though Drossohori is notorious for its tyre-shredding reputation, it wasn’t the only stage to kick up problems for ERC competitors. EKO New Amfissa’s afternoon re-run was halted by a red flag when Albert von Thurn und Taxis hit a rock, breaking his Fabia’s gearbox and suspension whilst also blocking the stage. Both he and co-driver Frank Christian were unhurt, but they were forced to retire on the spot.
Young Cypriot Alexandros Tsouloftas was locked in a battle over fifth place with fellow Cypriot Simos Galatariotis, but a broken driveshaft in Drossohori’s afternoon re-run put paid to an excellent charge aboard his Eni-backed Citroën DS3 R5.
Grzegorz Grzyb was second for much of Saturday, though was demoted to third place by Norbert Herczig’s stage win in Drossohori’s second pass. A front-left puncture in SS8 cost Grzyb 3m18.5s compared to MOL Racing Team’s Herczig and demoted him to sixth overall. Hubert Ptaszek is a fine third overnight despite a puncture in the Drossohori re-run, ahead of Galatariotis in fourth, who spun in the final stage of the day.
Jourdan Serderidis is the top Greek driver in seventh. Brazil’s Paulo Nobre kept his car on the road and in one piece to move into eighth, only 12.1s behind Serderidis. Reigning ERC2 category champion Tibor Érdi Jr not only leads his production class, but also holds ninth position overall, his Mitsubishi Lancer coping well on the rough Acropolis roads. Turkey’s Orhan Avcioğlu rounds out the ERC top 10 overall, coping admirably with a broken damper that led to his Toksport WRT entry “bouncing like a ping-pong ball”.
Łukasz Habaj ended Saturday as he ended Friday with a second retirement in as many days. His crew had worked tirelessly until 02h00 to fix his damaged car, but a broken wheel in the final Paleohori-Mendenitsa test left him facing another restart on Sunday.
ERC2: Érdi Jr keeps Alonso at arm’s length in Greece
Tibor Érdi Jr continues to lead the FIA European Rally Championship’s ERC2 category on the EKO Acropolis Rally, increasing his gap over Juan Carlos Alonso thanks to two quick runs through both Drossohori tests. Running his familiar Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution X, Érdi Jr mastered the difficult balance between speed and caution against damage from Drossohori’s rough surface. He gained 36.0s over Alonso with his two stage wins, though Alonso clawed a combined 9.9s back through both passes of Paleohori-Mendenitsa. Alonso is now 51.1s seconds behind Érdi in his near-identical Lancer with four stages remaining. Sergei Remennik holds the final podium position in ERC2 despite hitting a rock and picking up a puncture in Drossohori’s morning pass. His place was under threat immediately afterwards from Q8 Oils Rally Team driver Petros Panteli, who was a mere 0.2s behind Remennik after SS4. His hopes of a podium finish were set back by a fuel pump problem late on Saturday afternoon. He still holds fourth place, but has now fallen back to 16.9s behind Remennik, who also suffered a puncture during SS5. Melegari had not been far behind that podium battle, but he too suffered a fuel pump problem, this time in SS6. He was forced to stop mid-stage, dropping eight minutes in the process and staying fifth. Vassilis Drymoussis had hoped to restart after his retirement late on Friday, but did not make it out on Saturday.
ERC3: Debutant Ghosh holds category lead
Amittrajit Ghosh is four stages away from a shock debut victory in the FIA European Rally Championship’s ERC3 category, leading his class on the EKO Acropolis Rally thanks to a controlled approach. The Indian newcomer started leg two in third place, 20.2s adrift of Artur Muradian. That soon became second when local driver Chrysostomos Karellis was forced to retire his Citroën DS3 R3T. Ghosh then moved to first when sheared wheel bolts caused Muradian to crash out only one corner into SS5. Ghosh felt those incidents for his key rivals validated his steady approach to the day. “The whole plan for the event was not to take any risks but drive at a decent pace, so we were surprised to see that we were only 2 seconds off the fastest [in SS3],” said Ghosh. “For the first 7-8 kilometres [in SS4] we took it almost at recce speed as I knew if you go hot there, you’re not going to finish that stage. When I saw our competitor [Chrysostomos Karellis] unfortunately parked, I knew the call was right.” He continued: “In the next stage at the first corner he [Muradian] was parked. I immediately backed off because it doesn’t make any sense to push, and this car can’t take it. If you drive anything more than 70 per cent, I don’t think any car is going to finish.” Emma Falcón moved into second place in ERC3, a position gain which also increases the potential points haul for her all-important ERC Ladies’ Trophy campaign. Her most impressive moment was winning Paleohori-Mendenitsa’s first pass by 18.9s over Ghosh despite carrying a puncture. Muradian will restart in third position for leg three tomorrow, subject to his car passing re-scrutineering, while Karellis will return in fourth place should his car be fixed and sent out again on Sunday morning.
Q&A: Alexey Lukyanuk
Alexey Lukyanuk’s bid for a third consecutive victory in the FIA European Rally Championship came to an abrupt end this morning. The Russian Performance Motorsport driver explained what went wrong.
What happened? “In the beginning of the second stage today we were really on a careful pace, saving tyres and driving really carefully. Somewhere inside there was a stone and I didn’t see. It was after a crest. We had a hit to the front left and unfortunately suspension arm was broken and the wheel opened. We had to stop to repair it. Bad luck again.”
You managed to get to the end of the stage after making repairs but why did you not carry on? “We don’t have a driveshaft because when we opened the driveshaft, it was disassembled. We lost so much time that there’s no point to do something today. We will try to check the car and continue tomorrow to try and score some [leg] points.”
After such a brilliant start to the season, how disappointing is today? “I have to get used to some things like that. Unfortunately, it happens. There’s no so big fault on my side, [I was carrying] not so much speed. I am happy we have some wins in the pocket and we can look forward to the next events.”
What’s next? Sunday’s final leg features four all-gravel stages over a competitive distance of 81 kilometres. The action begins with the EKO Grameni run, which covers 21.97 kilometres and gets underway at 09h58 local time. Click here for results.