Alexey Lukyanuk further extended his Azores Airlines Rallye lead despite a close call with a herd of cows in Friday’s final stage of the FIA European Rally Championship’s season-opener.
Lukyanuk edged further ahead of nearest rival Ricardo Moura, taking a cautious approach to keep the car in one piece. Moura was similarly conservative after picking up a puncture during the morning loop, keen not to repeat his misfortune.
Three-time Portuguese rally champion Bruno Magalhães worked his way past ERC Junior U28 lead pair Martin Koči and Chris Ingram for third, but time he lost to Lukyanuk while unhappy with the balance of his car this morning put him 32.4 seconds away from first place by day’s end.
Third placed ERC Junior U28 competitor Fredrik Åhlin was left to rue his tyre choice, dropping 26.9 seconds in the Sete Cidades afternoon re-run to stage winner Magalhães. He managed to hold his nearest rival at bay however, Bernardo Sousa taking the same stage easy to avoid risking punctures which had caught out many other drivers.
Rhys Yates, currently fourth in ERC Junior U28, remains in a hotly contested battle for the remaining top 10 places, fighting with local drivers Carlos Vieira, Ricardo Teodósio and Luis Rego. However, power steering issues dropped Rego to the rear of said battle, allowing Frank Tore Larsen to pick up fifth in ERC Junior U28.
Lukasz Habaj suffered a difficult day first in the road order, slowed by loose gravel in the morning loop followed by a puncture in Feteiras 2 and hitting a wall in the second pass of Sete Cidades, causing his engine to cut out momentarily. His various dramas dropped him well out of reach from the top 10.
Zelindo Melegari’s ERC2 class lead was a brief one, a clutch failure during the afternoon loop sending him back to second place behind Sergei Remennik after SS7.
Mārtiņš Sesks still leads both ERC Junior U27 and ERC3 after SS8 despite a late puncture. His main competition comes from local entrant Diogo Gago, who closed to within 3.2 seconds of Sesks. Efrén Llarena fell away from the leaders after a puncture in the first pass of Sete Cidades.