The second round of the 2020 FIA European Rally Championship ended in Latvia with the victory of 18-year-old Oliver Solberg, who won this rally for the second year in a row. Mads Ostberg with Torsten Eriksen took the second position, and Alexey Lukyanuk with Dmitry Eremeev rounded out the top three in the rally. As in the previous season, the Russians are driving the Saintéloc Citroen C3 R5 with the support of Citroen Racing and Total.
Despite the second place in the final classification, Ostberg and Eriksen did not apply to compete in the FIA European Championship standings. Thus, Lukyanuk and Eremeev take the second places in the personal standings of drivers and co-drivers, keeping the lead in the intermediate championship classification.
Under the conditions of antiviral restrictions, the rally took place without the Ceremonial start and finish that fans and the press like so much; spectacular spectator special stages were also canceled. Despite the postponements and cancellations of the calendar rallies, a strong lineup of drivers gathered at Rally Liepaja 2020, including members of the factory teams taking part in the FIA World Rally Championship. The list of announced participants was full of big names: Mads Ostberg, Emil Lindholm, Nikolay Gryazin, Oliver Solberg, as well as young and talented Efren Llarena, Erik Pietarinen and other equally capable racers.
By the end of the first day (after four special stages and 88 km of the competitive distance), the Russians Alexey Lukyanuk and Dmitry Eremeev reached the third position in the overall standings. One of Lukyanuk’s main competitors, Nikolay Gryazin, left the battlefield ahead of schedule – he went off the track, and the car was severely damaged. And despite the well-coordinated work of the Hyundai team mechanics to restore the sports equipment, Gryazin lost the opportunity to get points at the home race in Latvia, although he showed excellent speed.
On Sunday, the second rally day, the crews were offered six more special stages at the competitive distance of 87.6 km. Solberg, Ostberg and Lukyanuk changed positions at the finish, sometimes ahead of, then yielding to each other, but this leapfrog did not affect the final classification. Each of the three drivers was able to maintain the position occupied by him at the end of the previous racing day.
Alexey Lukyanuk, driver, “In general, I’m very pleased with the race, despite the fact that we’re only the third. Objectively speaking, we couldn’t fight for the first position with Solberg, and we were close with Ostberg, but this fight became possible only by the end of the first day. I realized that we were capable of attacking and keeping pace, although in qualifying we were not so fast and we had a bad starting position on the first day. But thanks to the stable fast driving we got out, although several times during these days there were racing moments on the edge. The pleasure from this struggle, pressure and attack is much greater than, for example, the emotions that were last year at the same rally when we finished the second. Then I tried to drive more carefully, many people advised me to slow down and go more reliably. And here it turned out to be a very competitive rally, an excellent lineup of participants – there were many fast guys. Think about it, we had only the ninth time in qualification (probably the worst in my entire life), and during the rally everything fell into place. I’m very pleased with our driving with Dmitry; I’m satisfied a little less with the settings of the car – but for objective reasons we don’t have enough test time and financial opportunities to experiment with setups. Throughout the race, as well as last year, we changed the settings and, it seems, something began to work out closer to the finish line, but still it’s far from the optimum. So far, the car, which is both heavy to manage and clumsy a little bit, doesn’t work as efficiently as we would like; and we see that we need to look for, change something, but, unfortunately, there are not enough resources for this. This is such a fly in the ointment.
Third place is great! We were enjoying, swaggering and catching those emotions and sensations that don’t come so often in life – we drove for our pleasure, getting a lot of good emotions”.
The crews of Oliver Solberg and Alexey Lukyanuk exchanged victories at two past rallies – the son of Petter Solberg, the world rally champion and two-time world rally-cross champion, came to the finish line third at the Rally di Roma Capitale and secured the victory in Latvia; whereas the European champion Alexey Lukyanuk won the Italian rally and received points for the second place in Latvia, thanks to the fact that the World Championship driver Mads Ostberg did not participate in the European series standings. Thus, Alexey Lukyanuk retains the lead in the championship (70 points) with a 4 point advantage over Oliver Solberg (66 points).
Unfortunately, the financial prospects for participation in further rallies of the European series and the expansion of training sessions for the Russians are not so rosy and the crew is open to cooperation. The next FIA ERC round – Azores Rallye, where Alexey Lukyanuk and Dmitry Eremeev are planning to participate – is to take place on 17-19 September on the island of São Miguel, Portuguese dominion in the Atlantic Ocean.