The first full day at the Azores Rallye has come to an end – Aleksey Lukyanuk and Aleksey Arnautov are keeping the lead in the overall race standings. Driving a new car, Lukyanuk combines the process of studying it with the ability to score points in the new season. The Citroen C3 R5, prepared by the French team SainteLoc Racing, is passing its first kilometers in the racing mode; before the car that has only recently appeared in this sports category had been examined only during the tests.
Aleksey Lukyanuk, driver, “The day started with a big mess – the organizers set a very small amount of time to get to the first special stage, and they’ve also made a refueling zone and weight control in it – we lost a lot of time for it. I had to rush to the first special stage, we barely had time. Aleksey (co-driver) set pressure in the wheels in a hurry, then he jumped into the car and left his Balaclava outside. After that he started to fasten nervously – one of the shoulder straps fell back through the hole in the back of the seat. We managed to do everything somehow, but as soon as we started, we calmed down and drove off.
The car works well, today there are fewer comments to it; there are some nuances, but these are working moments. The special stages are beautiful, interesting, and complex today. Fortunately, the weather was sunny and clear for the first time in four years that we come here. There has never been a time when we drove through the legendary special stage “Sete Cidades” twice without fog. I think it was interesting for the spectators too. I overestimated the torque characteristics of the engine at one of the stages – the car stalled in second gear. We lost 6-7 seconds to start it. Basically, it’s not a big deal. I was hoping to get a gap of half a minute today, but it turned out even more – forty seconds; and we won all the special stages except one. The second section was driven with two spare wheels, just in case, because in places it is very narrow and there are a lot of stones near the road. If someone touches even a little, they can pour out on the road, and there will be a big problem with two punctures.
The car is controlled very well; I’m very pleased with the past day. Now we need to rest, eat, check tomorrow’s special stages and sleep: another half of the race is ahead!”
Ricardo Moura, a local driver, who repeatedly became the Azores Championship winner, became a real rival for Lukyanuk/Arnautov crew. He won the island rally many times, however, in the current season his speed is significantly lower than the speed of the leader. Yesterday’s rival Pierre-Louis Loubet didn’t show his recent confidence – his car was turned over several times at special stages, and the Frenchman complained about difficult tracks. At the finish of the day ended, Lukyanuk and Moura are 40 seconds apart and the decisive battle will take place tomorrow.
On Saturday the crews will be offered five special stages, but the length of each is impressive: two dozen kilometers along the winding roads of a tropical island will force each driver to summon his concentration and attention to the maximum.