The first race of the FIA ERC season was tense for the Russian fans – the crew of Alexey Lukyanuk and AlexeyArnautov from St. Petersburg in the Citroen C3 R5 was leading during 13 of the 15 special stages. But the story is better to be told in order…
All drivers unanimously recognize the Azores Rallye as the most beautiful of all races, where they have taken part; however, everyone notes that the weather conditions are truly unpredictable. In retrospect, over the past four seasons the islands have been trying to reveal the weather conditionsdiversity and the Atlantic subtropical climate variability: in one day there may be sun, fog and wind, rain and haze, changingeach other. On Saturday this entire climate mix “spilled” onto rally participants in a couple of hours. For the first section of the day the racers were able to evaluate all the “weather menu” and some “dishes” were “served” at the same time.
Such conditions, when water is everywhere (even inside some cars), affected the results and pace of the special stages passing– some drivers released gas, trying to reinsure; others made mistakes in unusual conditions. “Tronqueira” turned out to be the slowest special stage of the rally – the average field speed was from 50 to 70 km/h. Friday favorite Frenchman Pierre-Louis Loubet retired for technical reasons immediately after the first special stage of the day. Aleksey Lukyanuk overcame the first special stage carefully, drove the second one quite good,but at the third stage he missed the turn while braking – the road was so slippery. This incident did not change the position of the crews in the final classification. The drivers unanimously noted how terrible was the visibility, how slippery was the road and how much effort it cost them to bring the car to the special stage finish undamaged.
Alexey Arnautov, co-driver, “It’s a good day in general, I like the special stages – they are difficult, interesting, but the weather has let us down. I believe that the “Tronqueira” stage is not worse than the legendary “Sete-Cidades”. Of course, there is no visual appeal and such beauty as on a volcano. But if to speak about the driving technique and, in my case – readingthe notes, we had to work hard: there was turn after turn andpractically no straight sections. Today it has been generouslypoured with some water, so the speed has dropped — we have been sliding everywhere. Lukas said that he didn’t like this special stage at all: he would like to drive it in dry conditions. My impressions are somewhere “50×50” – I still like the track, although, of course, it was scary in some places. And the third special stage was just a nightmare.
We were there last year; something was changed, but insignificantly. Turns that we missed were so slippery… We know the special stage, we know these places, but it was so slippery that the car couldn’t turn. We were lucky there was a place where we could go and turn around. But it was a real nightmare: the water was on the windshield, we saw nothing. There was no fog, but there was so much water in the air that it was not blown away while driving from the windshield, it wasn’t even taken away by the wipers. So it was such a fun day”.
The second section of the day spoilt the game. At the penultimate special stage of the rally Lukyanuk “caught” a slow puncture and had to drive almost twenty kilometers with three wheels that, of course, affected the speed – this ride threw the leaders deep into the peloton to the third position of the overall standings. The time loss was one minute and 38 seconds; it was impossible to play so much back in the final section. However, the situation has turned upside down in the proper sense of the word.
At the liaison to the final stage of the rally the wheel was replaced, but there was an imperceptible problem that had fatal consequences. Scraps of tyre rubbed the brake line that in turn could not withstand intense braking at the asphalt section. Literally a hundred meters after the final special stage start the Citroen turned over and the Russians had to complete their performance ahead of schedule.
Alexey Lukyanuk, driver, “Everything was clear with the tyre– it was punctured, and we lost time. It was a long special stage, we drove 15-20 kilometers without a wheel, but it was still faster than stopping to replace it. Nothing extraordinary would have happened for me if we have finished third to score points. But we couldn’t reach finish without brakes…”
A month later there will be a new FIA European Championship round – Rally Islas Canarias is scheduled in the rally calendarfrom 2 to 4 May, so let us meet there!