The first full racing day of the FIA European Rally Championship fifth round ended in Italy. There were only six special stages, but no analyst would predict the results of each of them!
After the night rain not all drivers took a right decision on tyre composition and began to regret about it from the very first high-speed kilometers. One of the contenders for the victory – the FIA World Rally Championship participant Nikolay Gryazin – won the stage and then went off the track at the next one. A very slippery road surface played a sick joke and almost all the participants in the field complained about it.
Italian rally traditional special stages are located in the mountainous part of the country and have a lot of corners. The combination of abrasive surface with high air temperature and the dominating “route hosts” – all crews, who came to Fiuggi for points in the European series have to get nervous. The drivers, who repeatedly become champions of the Italian rally series, took the lead from the very first kilometers; they occupied the first three lines of the overall standings, thus, showed who was boss in the race to everyone who came to the event.
Aleksey Lukyanuk and Aleksey Arnautov, performing this season in the Citroen C3 R5, were unhappy with the car settings and the situation during the entire first section – last year Lucas was faster by five seconds at the first special stage and by seven seconds at the second one on the same roads.
After the day service the components were adjusted a bit, but then the situation began to unfold rapidly. At the fourth special stage of the day the race leader Luca Rossetti made a mistake with the trajectory and the rally immediately lost one of its favorites. Andrea Crugnola stopped at the special stage to replace the wheel, losing precious minutes; Albert Von Taxis simply lost the chance to participate in the rally – his Skoda Fabia R5 caught fire and the crew was forced to fight with it, but not with the difficult driving conditions. As a result, Lukyanuk rose from the fourth line to the second. In addition, the “Pico-Greci 2” special stage broke records in the number of punctured tyres – six crews lost their spare wheels and were forced to stop to replace them on the go or immediately after the competitive distance.
Well, the final special stage of the day, where the current FIA European Rally Championship leader Lukasz Habaj went off the track and was forced to give up the fight, got on fans nerves. The special stage was stopped until the moment of Habaj’s car evacuation that blocked the narrow road.
Alexey Lukyanuk, “We started the day so-so, because of the wheels, the gearbox, the brakes… So we couldn’t drive at all. It was very slippery and we lost a lot of time, although we were driving almost at the limit. During the daytime service we changed the settings and tyres, and it transformed everything. I got to the point and began to move in the right direction in working with the settings. We had a very good pace at re-passing the morning special stages, especially at the first one, until we “caught” a puncture. Literally ten centimeters from the road there was a rock inside. Entering the corner I saw a cut, that is, a lot of people drove there before me and I reflexively went there. I hooked that stone, and the tyre lowered instantly. We drove at least five kilometers to the finish line without a wheel, but lost only twenty seconds. The pace at the beginning was very good, and then we decided not to risk without a spare wheel. In addition, a lot of people “fell down” at that fourth special stage, and we ended up second, although we were fifth. There is a big gap in front and behind and the risk is no longer relevant. We drove carefully, took care of the car and watched the wheels. At the last special stage of the day, it turned out that our main rival Habaj ran off the track. After that everyone asked us to be careful because points for the championship are very important to us. We are doing it anyway, but we will still do it tomorrow. It’s not the most interesting situation for the race, but it’s important for the championship”.
The final day of the rally will take place on Sunday – the route is made up of 10 special stages. Unlike the Saturday track, the second day total distance is small and the longest SS is only 19.7 km long. The rally will end with a spectator special stage “Arena Aci Roma” in the vicinity of Lido di Ostia, near the ancient port of Rome.