Alexey Lukyanuk and Alexey Arnautov completed the sixth round of the FIA European Rally Championship, the Serras de Fafe e Felgueiras Rally, that took place in Portugal this weekend in the second position overall. The Russians are supported by Citroën Racing, Pirelli and Coolstream, they perform in the Citroën C3 Rally2 car, whose technical condition is the responsibility of the Saintéloc Junior Team. Andreas Mikkelsen became the triumphant of the rally, and Armindo Araujo rounded out the top three.
It is worth noting that at the start of this FIA ERC round the international standings were replenished with drivers from the Portuguese Championship – 38 crews were allowed to start, and 29 of them crossed the finish line.
The free practice runs and a qualification took place on Friday at the same special stage. Not everyone managed to complete both free practices – several crews had accidents. Alexey Lukyanuk, the only one of the three favorites of this rally, managed to show the result in the TOP-5 – the fourth time in free practice. He repeated the same result during the qualification, and Dani Sordo and Andreas Mikkelsen outlined their claims to win this rally, qualifying with the first and second times, respectively.
In the evening, during the ceremony of choosing the starting positions (for the top 25 crews according to the qualification results), Lukyanuk chose the 15th place in the starting order, right behind Sordo and Mikkelsen.
The first leg of competition on Saturday significantly added the challenge – rain and fog turned some special stages into slippery roads with a fair amount of mud. This provided a considerable number of tire punctures and suspension breakdowns in several cars. Dani Sordo was the morning section leader – Mikkelsen, who punched the wheel at the fourth special stage, “helped” him a little bit. Aleksey Lukyanuk made an unsuitable choice of tires for this type of weather conditions and was able to reach the third position in the overall standings only by the end of the section.
Saturday evening was like a race for survival. It was raining, the special stages turned into mud streams, where the drivers slipped in different directions. Six crews played this elimination game, one of the key players was Dani Sordo – first he punctured a wheel, and two special stages later he was carried to the side of the stage, where the car was left with a broken front suspension. Only Lukyanuk and Mikkelsen made it to the finish of the day, taking the first two places, and the first lagged behind the second by 4.4 seconds!
On Sunday the thriller with rains, fog and punctured tires did not continue, only some places at the special stages were damaged by the rain that had passed the day before. Dani Sordo, who returned to the rally using the supeRally system with a 10-minute penalty for the retirement, was the fastest in terms of absolute speed. The main confrontation between Mikkelsen and Lukyanuk was reduced from 4 to 0.7 seconds. However, the tires not quite suitable for the road surface of the SS Lameirinha provided the Norwegian with a 7-second comeback, thus at the finish of the third section of the rally the opponents were separated by 9.3 seconds.
All fans were looking forward to the continuation of the duel, but the outcome of the fight was decided by a breakdown that was not tracked and prevented during the midday service. Citroën has ceased to be a four-wheel drive car – the torque has ceased to flow to one of the wheels. The Russians did not give up and continued the rally, but they had to slow down as driving a “three-wheel-drive” car led to full and half turns at the special stages. The crew managed to finish, retaining their advantage over Armindo Araujo, but leaving Andreas Mikkelsen ahead.
Alexey Lukyanuk, driver, “It was intricate. We failed to set a high speed at the qualification – the surface is very soft and loose here, so you feel that the car is… heavy I would say – we finished with the fourth result. We chose a good starting position, started right after the fastest guys, but became hostages to the fact that we chose too hard tires for such wet, slippery conditions. During the second section of the rally it started raining, confirmed by all forecasts – it was expected, but the road got so wet that in some places there was solid liquid mud. As soon as you left the rut you slipped like on ice. We survived. The second half of the first leg was ok.
Sunday started well; the tires were weather-friendly; we had a good pace at three special stages as it was expected. For the fourth special stage the tires did not fit, and it was also clear from the beginning. Before the final section, Mikkelsen and I had a difference of 9 seconds. But it didn’t work out a bit in technical terms – we usually do weird things, but here the team didn’t manage to do what they needed during the service. Everyone can be wrong, we had to go and overcome some issues – it happens.
The feeling from the rally as a whole is that we just reached the finish line, although we had good results at the special stages (we won one of them). I can’t say that we can be very proud of the speed, but so far everything was good with the car and the tires, we were driving quite close to the top drivers. In general, we were incredibly lucky that we finished the second, but the impression is twofold. There is no feeling that we earned this place, there are no bright emotions, but, of course, it’s nice to be on the podium!”