After two gravel events the FIA European Rally Championship offers the participants to change the driving mode to “asphalt” one. Barum Czech Rally Zlin is another asphalt rally planned in the calendar of the series after the Italian Rally di Roma Capitale. This weekend the fast Italians have actively intervened in the results in the main FIA ERC standings and received points for the first and second places in the rally. Nikolay Gryazin performing under the Latvian license and combining the FIA WRC rounds with European events has become the strong opponent for the favorites Alexey Lukyanuk and Andreas Mikkelsen.
The results of the qualifying stage that took place on Friday were surprising. Local grandees were excitedly making their way to the top ten: the reigning champion of Italy Andrea Crugnola qualified third; the longtime favorite of the Italian tracks Giandomenico Basso was the eighth, Nikolay Gryazin, who set the best time, also felt great. However, the Russian Alexey Lukyanuk together with Alexey Arnautov performing in a Citroën C3 Rally2 from the French team Saintéloc with the support of Citroën Racing, Pirelli and Coolstream did not show his true speed, being outside the top ten – he qualified only in the 14th position.
The short special stage along the streets of Rome saw the high average speed. The crews left for the special stage without really having time to warm up the tires to operating temperatures before its start. The best times were set by the Italians Crugnola and Basso.
On the first competitive leg on Saturday the teams fighting for the European title began a battle for places in the TOP-5, but the events immediately stopped following the expected scenario. Punctures and rollovers knocked out the leaders one after another. Against such a background the jerk of Lukyanuk and Arnautov to the third position in the overall standings looked very positive, although they were trying to find suitable suspension settings for more effective grip with the asphalt surface. The locals Crugnola and Basso continued to set the pace for the entire field. Another local hero Damiano de Tommaso, who competed in a similar Citroën C3 Rally2, did a really good job on the first day. Several times in the course of Saturday he tried to displace Lucas from the third position so that he received an admirable comment from the Petersburger. However, he was caught exceeding the speed limit after the tire marking zone, for which he was punished with a temporary penalty of 20 seconds to the result, thus losing four positions at once.
Sunday began in the same Italian style, but the degree of drama among the leaders grew from special stage to special stage. At the second morning stage Alexey Lukyanuk was able to reduce the gap from the second position in the overall standings to 0.7 seconds – Andrea Crugnola moved there as a result of the punctures along this special stage. However, the Russian duo Lukyanuk and Arnautov left hopes for the podium when their Citroën slipped off the trajectory in one of the corners, where the rear axle met the asphalt covered with sand. The car went in a wide arc, hitting a tree, causing damage to the rear suspension. Then the car warmed up the dry grass under it and tried to catch fire. Apparently the goddess of luck decided that this rally lacks scenes. But the crew quickly extinguished the fire. In the footsteps of Pliny the Elder during all the days of the rally the voices of all drivers “called for Fortune alone, she was accused alone, brought to justice, she was thought of alone, she was praised alone, she was caught alone, the patroness of the worthy and unworthy…”
At this point, the competition for the Russians was over, they were forced to retire and then transported their car to the Parc Ferme in Fiuggi in order to receive bonus points for the third position at the end of the first competition day.
The position in the top five of the drivers’ standings after three FIA ERC rounds is as follows: the leader Alexey Lukyanuk has 67 points, Andreas Mikkelsen is one position behind him (66 points), Efren Llarena moved up to the third line with 61 points, Miko Marchik fell back to the fourth place (60 points), on the fifth – Norbert Herzig (46 points).
The 50th Barum Czech Rally Zlín the fourth round of the FIA European Rally Championship scheduled to take place in August, 27-29 in the Czech Republic.