Azores Rallye: return to gravel tracks

The 55th Azores Rallye postponed from 2020 to this year starts on Friday on the island of São Miguel in the Atlantic Ocean. Alexey Lukyanuk and Alexey Arnautov will tackle the gravel roads of the fifth round of the FIA European Rally Championship in the Citroën C3 Rally2 (starting number 4) prepared by the French team Saintéloc.

A lot of things happened at the previous FIA ERC round in the Czech Republic that significantly changed the situation in the intermediate overall classification for the drivers. Two failures in the course of the season – retirement in Italy and the inability to start in the Czech Republic – shifted Lucas from the first to the fourth position in the standings (67 points). Andreas Mikkelsen became the new leader with 97 points, followed by Miko Marczyk (78 points) and Efren Llarena (76 points). We cannot argue with statistics – it is not only the speed at the rally special stages that decides, but also the stability of effective performances. Lukyanuk, who is supported by Citroën Racing, Pirelli and Coolstream, has a difficult task – to win back 30 points of an unplanned handicap from Mikkelsen.

Alexey Lukyanuk, driver, “Of course, I want to win this rally and I want to be fast. The championship would be nice for everyone in the team and the sponsors, but I already have two titles and it’s not the target number one to make it three. I just want to enjoy the rally; I want to enjoy the fight and try to be as fast as we can. It’s the way I think, and I hope it will help us to achieve a better result”.

Unfortunately, due to some uncertainty and multiple postponements of the rally dates, the entry list cannot boast of a large number of participants – there are 45 crews in all standings. However the list of contenders for the podium is not limited to the names of Lukyanuk and Mikkelsen. Dani Sordo, the FIA WRC driver, drops in on the European series; the FIA ERC regulars – Miko Marczyk, Efren Llarena, Nil Solans and Norbert Herczig will also fight for the podium. And we should not discount Ricardo Moura – the holder of several championship titles of the Azores.

On the eve of the start of the Azores Rallye it became known about changes in the regulations: the choice of starting positions now extends not only to the fifteen best drivers according to the results of qualifying stage, but to all drivers performing in RC2 cars. This move should put an end to the practice of drivers to set bad times at the qualification in order to then take a potentially advantageous position and start at the gravel stages outside the top ten, when the first crews have already cleared the trajectories.

On Thursday afternoon there was a slight confusion at the free practice caused by the overly optimistic passage of the Lagoa qualy stage: one of the participants damaged a suspension of his Škoda, which briefly blocked movement because of evacuation from the track. The other driver hit the front part on his own built kit car and left the track of the second free practice passage so slowly that Alexey Lukyanuk caught up with him and thus lost another quick result – at the first pass the Russian scored the best time. According to the qualification results Lukyanuk set the best time, more than 1.79 seconds ahead of Mikkelsen.

After the selecting starting positions procedure stewards of the meeting made changes to the starting order for the 1st section, moving two drivers who had not completed qualification deeper into the field; thus on the first leg the crew of Lukyanuk and Arnautov will start from the 19th position, not 21 as previously selected.

Alexey Lukyanuk, driver, “Judging by the qualification results, we got into the settings – we were quite confident, the car was very stable at high speed. I didn’t choose a starting position too far, the road will, of course, be cleaned by passers-by, but not so much, as rain is forecasted. We are ready to fight and would like to drive for pleasure!”

The rally across the Portuguese islands will take place on Friday and Saturday; the two legs are divided into four sections and include 13 special stages with a competitive distance of 201.74 km. The total rally distance is 645.14 km.

This morning the participants of the FIA ERC fifth round will overcome the legendary Graminhais and Tronqueira special stages one after another, then visit the Lagoa de São Brás on the way to the midday service break. After that they will drive through Graminhais and Tronqueira again, and finish the day with the Grupo Marques super-special stage. This run will cover 111.9 competitive kilometers.

The events of the decisive Saturday will take place at seven special stages – the crews will proceed first to the north and then to the west of Ponta Delgada. The field will return to the Grupo Marques super-special stage through the track laid along the ridge of the Sete Cidades volcano, with stunning views of the caldera and the lake inside. After the service break the loop of Coroa da Mata, Feteiras and Sete Cidades special stages will be passed once again. The winners of the Azores Rallye will be awarded at the finish podium on Saturday at 17h30 local time.