Home joy! Moura wins the Azores Airlines Rallye

Despite landing the mid-Atlantic archipelago’s domestic championship on several occasions, victory on the Azores Airlines Rallye had always eluded the Sao Miguel resident. However, all that changed when Moura and co-driver Antonio Costa made it through a dramatic final day to defeat Alexey Lukyanuk and Alexey Arnautov by 26.8s in a dramatic finish.

Lukyanuk started the closing loop of three stages in front by 25.3s only for a loose turbo pipe to lead to a vital loss of power – and time – on stage 14, which he completed 42.7s down on Moura. Despite making frantic roadside repairs, Lukyanuk’s efforts to recover the lost time was to no avail and he would settle for second behind the victorious Moura, who becomes the first Azorean to win the event since Raul Mendonca in 1971, 45 years ago.

“My name is on the history of this rally and I am very, very happy,” said an emotional Moura at the finish of the final stage after leading home a Ford Fiesta R5 1-2-3. “Thank you to all the team for this and for all the people of the Azores. I had the hard tyre and I should have come with the soft because it was raining. I was also out of brakes on Graminhais and we had to recover from this. It was really stressful but we are here.”

Lukyanuk, who also lost precious seconds with a spin on SS12, took 21.2s out of Moura on the penultimate stage to close the gap to 21.5s. With the final Tronqueira stage 21.71 kilometres in length, a win for Lukyanuk seemed possible. But Moura upped his pace to keep the Russian at bay. “We had no turbo maybe one kilometre after the start [of stage 14],” said Lukyanuk. “I hate it when the same thing happens again [like it did in Greece], it should not be like this. I was pushing like hell and we take a lot of risks but it was impossible to do more. It was supposed to be our game, next time maybe.”

Kajetan Kajetanowicz, the reigning European champion, was 9.8s behind Lukyanuk at the overnight halt in Ponta Delgada, but a broken driveshaft on today’s opening test, Graminhais, dropped the Polish driver out of contention. After haemorrhaging more time through stages 12 and 13, Kajetanowicz reached midday service 3m33.5s off the lead. He took the first stage win of the afternoon but third overall was as good as it would get for the Fiesta driver, who has yet to win in the ERC in 2016.

It was a frustrating final day in the Azores for Sports Racing Technologies’ drivers Ralfs Sirmacis and Raul Jeets. Sirmacis retired his Skoda Fabia R5 with broken steering on SS12. Jeets reached the finish of SS14 but stopped due to a loss of water pressure after he struck a bank during the run.

Hungary’s David Botka brought his Citroen DS3 R5 to the finish in fourth after demoting Jaroslav Orsak on the final stage. The Czech lost time with a puncture on SS15 and a loss of rear brakes on the last test. Pedro Meireles finished sixth, Luis Rego seventh, Jose Pedro Fontes eighth and Ricardo Teodosio ninth, while Antonin Tlustak overcame a puncture on the penultimate stage to finish P10.

Wojciech Chuchala, from Poland, cancelled out a deficit of 1m12.7s following his puncture on Friday afternoon to beat Ruben Rodrigues to the ERC2 victory, their fourth in a row in the category this season. “We lost a lot of time with the puncture so we had to really attack,” said Chuchala. “I was happy to have to push like this but we had to take care of the car in the conditions today. It’s very good.” Juan Carlos Alonso travelled to the Azores from Argentina to complete the class podium.

Portuguese Peugeot driver Diogo Gago won ERC Junior as overnight leader Marijan Griebel (Germany) crashed out two kilometres from the finish of SS12. Chris Ingram took second with Steve Rokland (Norway) third after Lukasz Pieniazek (Poland) retired. “It’s amazing, no words to describe what I feel, it’s incredible,” said Gago, whose co-driver Hugo Magalhaes partnered Bernardo Sousa to the overall Azores win in 2014. Ingram, meanwhile, revealed that he had been nursing a gearbox issue on his Opel during the closing stages.

Stage times and results:

Stage winners:
SS1 Batalha (7.27km): Kajetanowicz/Baran (Ford Fiesta R5)
SS2 Solucoes M (7.08km): Moura/Costa (Ford Fiesta R5)
SS3 Vila Franca Sao Bras 1 (13.47km): Lukyanuk/Arnautov (Ford Fiesta R5)
SS4 Grupo Marques SSS 1 (3.95km): Sirmacis/Simins (Skoda Fabia R5)
SS5 Pico da Pedra Golfe 1 (7.42km): Lukyanuk/Arnautov (Ford Fiesta R5)
SS6 Feteiras Meo 1 (15.26km): Kajetanowicz/Baran (Ford Fiesta R5)
SS7 Sete Cidades 1 (25.62km): Kajetanowicz/Baran (Ford Fiesta R5)
SS8 Pico da Pedra Golfe 2 (7.42km): Lukyanuk/Arnautov (Ford Fiesta R5)
SS9 Feteiras Meo 2 (15.26km): Lukyanuk/Arnautov (Ford Fiesta R5)
SS10 Sete Cidades 2 (25.62km): Lukyanuk/Arnautov (Ford Fiesta R5)
SS11 Graminhais 1 (20.96km): Lukyanuk/Arnautov (Ford Fiesta R5)
SS12 Tronqueira 1 (21.71km): Moura/Costa (Ford Fiesta R5)
SS13 Grupo Marques SSS 2 (3.95km): Lukyanuk/Arnautov (Ford Fiesta R5)
SS14 Vila Franca Sao Bras 1 (13.47km): Kajetanowicz/Baran (Ford Fiesta R5)
SS15 Graminhais 2 (20.96km): Lukyanuk/Arnautov (Ford Fiesta R5)
SS16 Tronqueira 2 (21.71km): Moura/Costa (Ford Fiesta R5)

Recent winners:
2016: Ricardo Moura/Antonio Costa (Ford Fiesta R5)
2015: Craig Breen/Scott Martin (Peugeot 208 T16)
2014: Bernardo Sousa/Hugo Magalhaes (Ford Fiesta RRC)
2013: Jan Kopecky/Pavel Dresler (Skoda Fabia S2000)
2012: Andreas Mikkelsen/Ola Floene (Skoda Fabia S2000)
2011: Juho Hanninen/Mikko Markkula (Skoda Fabia S2000)
2010: Bruno Magalhaes/Carlos Magalhaes (Peugeot 207 S2000)
2009: Kris Meeke/Paul Nagle (Peugeot 207 S2000)
2008: Bruno Magalhaes/Carlos Magalhaes (Peugeot 207 S2000)
2007: Fernando Peres/Jose Pedro Silva (Mitsubishi Lancer Evo IX)