After a brief visit to the World Rally Championship (performance at Rally Sweden in the WRC-2 standings), the crew of Alexey Lukyanuk and Alexey Arnautov returns to the European Championship, where guys plan to spend the third consecutive season and compete for the title. At the moment, the St. Petersburg duo has 13 joint starts in the ERC in 2013-2016, which brought them four wins and two podiums, and also allowed to become the European Championship prize-winners twice: third place in 2015 and vice-champions in 2016.
Journey to Azores Airlines Rallye will open a small Atlantic tour at the ERC-2017 launch – within five weeks the European Championship travels through the Atlantic islands, visiting the Azores (Portugal, 30 March – 1 April) and the Canaries (Spain, 4-6 May). These island races are different as the sky and the earth: the rally in the Azores is a combined race on gravel and tarmac (where unpredictable weather often brings a good portion of “adrenaline”), and at the Canary Islands participants will perform at the classic mountain asphalt rally with twisted roads.
The upcoming Azores Airlines Rallye has the absolutely stunning entry list – there are 56 crews in the international standings, and exactly half of them (that is 28) plan to perform in the R5 class cars! In addition, it is the rare case when the number of “guests” is equal to the route “hosts” – 27 Portuguese crews against 29 visitors. Of course, by the race start someone can “fall off” for some reason (not enough money, current troubles), but the whole picture is unlikely to change – in any case, at least fifty crews are expected, half of them are in R5.
In a qualitative sense, the entry list also makes an impression – in fact all the three last year ERC prize-winners, that is, the Pole Kajetan Kajetanowicz, the Russian Alexey Lukyanuk and the Latvian Ralfs Sirmacis start an the Azores. A huge company of Portuguese grandees (led by Ricardo Moura, an Azores native and the last year race winner) and guests from Europe will compete with them. We can list the well-known names for a long time – Marijan Griebel (Junior ERC Champion), Peugeot Rally Academy drivers Jose Antonio Suarez and Jose Maria Lopez Planelles, Nikolay Gryazin, Jan Cerny, Josh Moffett, Murat Bostanci, Bruno Magalhaes, Pedro Meireles…
Alexey Lukyanuk, “Last year, the rally in the Azores (we then became the second) was held in June. Now the earlier race date can lead to different conditions. We expect unforeseen spring weather typical for the islands at this time of year … We are preparing for the race, working with the notes, reviewing last year onboard videos. Let’s look at the entry list – it is clear the struggle will be very serious this year. But we will fight for victory!”
Azores Airlines Rallye route is also very interesting. First, spectacular and picturesque stages, some of them have long been the race visiting cards – for example, Sete Cidades, Graminhais or Tronqueira, where the battle in the Azores is often decided. The main rally beauty is the 25-kilometer Sete Cidades, laid on the slopes of the same volcano. It is here where photographers and TV crews make the most stunning panoramic shots – especially when the cars jump out to the edge of the crater and seem to be flying down to Lake Lagoa das Sete Cidades…
Traditionally, the Azores rally program promises to be very dense. On Wednesday evening a city show special stage in Ponta Delgada is planned for spectators and all interested participants, it is not included to the Azores Airlines Rallye overall standings. On Thursday morning there will be free training and qualification that will determine the starting order for the evening section (four SS and 26.64 km). On Friday there will be six special stages, including two passes of Sete Cidades (80.2 km), and another six SS (103.36 km of distance) are scheduled on Saturday.