Lukyanuk extends ERC Azores lead despite spin

Alexey Lukyanuk continues to edge ahead out front in Azores Airlines Rallye, moving closer to victory in the FIA European Rally Championship’s season opener despite a spin.

Drama befell many drivers through SS10, including a long stoppage for a crash early in Tronqueira by Frank Tore Larsen. He went nose-first into a tree, blocking the stage and causing a near hour-long suspension of competitive action.

After Larsen’s stricken Ford Fiesta R5 was cleared, issues struck almost every front-running car. Lukyanuk complained of a soft brake pedal caused by a leaking caliper, dropping 10 seconds with a spin yet still going quickest through the 21.99 kilometre test.

Nine-time Azorean rally champion Ricardo Moura also spun after hitting a bank, lucky not to sustain any major damage. He lost further time in Lukyanuk’s dust during the Grupo Marques superspecial, dropping five seconds.

Bruno Magalhães kept his car pointing forward throughout, but struggled with a broken rear differential, dropping 20.5 seconds to second placed Moura across leg two’s morning loop.

ERC Junior Under 28 leader Chris Ingram did not survive Tronqueira without drama either, sustaining a left rear puncture to his Toksport WRT-prepared ŠKODA Fabia R5. Ingram’s 15 second gap to Martin Koči was almost entirely wiped out, now holding fourth overall by only 2.6 seconds to ERC Junior U28 rival Koči behind.

Rhys Yates dropped down to P13 due to being stuck behind Larsen’s crashed Fiesta R5, but is expected to regain seventh place overall and fourth in ERC Junior U28, with a notional time for Tronqueira yet to be assigned to him. Fredrik Åhlin remains around one minute clear, third in ERC Junior U28 and sixth overall.

Łukasz Habaj and Norbert Herczig were two of a small number of drivers with a drama-free morning, taking advantage of clean runs to move up to seventh and eighth respectively.

Luis Rego benefitted not only from Larsen’s retirement but troubles for his fellow Portuguese rivals to keep his top 10 place, running ninth overall. Carlos Vieira had to brave unswept gravel in Graminhais as first car out, his car crabbing throughout leg two’s first pair of stages with suspension damage. Losing over four minutes, his chances of ERC points are now gone.

Bernardo Sousa was also caught out by the same leg-opening stage, sustaining front left damage after clipping a bank inside a corner. Oil temperatures rising aboard his Citroën DS3 R5 after stage end, he was forced to retire thereafter.

Diogo Gago used his local knowledge to devastating effect, snatching first place in ERC Junior Under 27 from long-time leader Mārtiņš Sesks. He immediately set to work, gaining 19.7 seconds in leg two’s opening test to establish a 9.3 second lead.

Simon Wagner and Efrén Llarena continued to hold station in third and fourth place for both ERC Junior U27 and ERC3 standings. while Ruben Rodrigues completes ERC3’s top five and Dominik Brož rounds out ERC Under 27’s top five.

Further twists and turns in ERC2’s lead battle came courtesy of Sergei Remennik, who spun out and became stuck between two rocks midway through Tronqueira. This allowed Juan Carlos Alonso to gain nearly a minute, sending him into first place after an amazing comeback drive from losing over three minutes with fuel pump failure on Thursday.

Zelindo Melegari’s rally suffered another unfortunate turn of luck, following up clutch failure on Friday with a broken turbo this morning. He continues to nurse his Subaru Impreza STI towards service after SS11, but is uncertain whether he will continue this afternoon.