Lukyanuk storms ahead in ERC Azores as rivals falter

Alexey Lukyanuk has strengthened his grip on first place at Azores Airlines Rallye, taking advantage of a puncture for chief rival Ricardo Moura and FIA European Rally Championship Junior U28 contender Martin Koči dropping back.

Russian Performance Motorsport’s lead driver Lukyanuk won two stages during Friday’s morning loop, even gaining 10 seconds over the chasing pack in the famous Sete Cidades ‘volcano’ stage, despite colliding with a bank in difficult conditions.

“In the fog, it was tricky. I touched the walls twice. We could have damaged some of the geometry or something in the suspension. It wasn’t a big hit, but still unpleasant,” explained Lukyanuk.

Moura was engaged in a close battle for first until the Feteiras Meo test, picking up a puncture and losing over 13 seconds to Lukyanuk. However, a strong run through the loop-ending Sete Cidades test ensured Moura would hold a 20 second advantage in second place.

Reigning ERC Junior U27 champion Chris Ingram stormed to first in ERC Junior U28 and third place overall, rising from sixth place with a string of impressive stage times in his four-wheel-drive debut. This relegated previous ERC Junior U28 leader Martin Koči to fourth overall by a mere 0.1 seconds, with Bruno Magalhães lying in wait 1.7 seconds behind Ingram in fifth.

Bernardo Sousa was demoted to seventh by the charging ERC Junior U28 pair of Ingram and Fredrik Åhlin, the latter moving to sixth, while good stage times by Luis Rego and José Pedro Fontes in Sete Cidades moved both into eighth and tenth respectively. Rhys Yates dropped to ninth after a spin in the same stage.

Behind Yates, Frank Tore Larsen fell back to fourth in ERC Under 28, with Marijan Griebel completing the top five in class.

Hubert Ptaszek did not start today’s stages, after a mix-up at Thursday evening’s service meant he and co-driver Maciej Szczepaniak failed to check-in at a time control, leading to their exclusion.

Sergei Remennik’s comfortable lead evaporated by the end of Friday’s second test, a front right puncture allowing chief rival Zelindo Melegari to close in and reduce the gap to a mere 3.9 seconds.

Menderes Okur is engaged in a close battle for third with Juan Carlos Alonso, who had led ERC2 until a fuel pump failure in Friday’s final stage. A mere 0.4 seconds separated the pair after SS5. Luis Pimentel continues to hold fifth.

Mārtiņš Sesks has raced away at the head of ERC Under 27, going over a minute quicker than nearest rival Efrén Llarena in the loop-ending Sete Cidades test to establish a 1m13.3s lead.

Sesks’ ADAC Opel Rallye Junior Team team-mate Tom Kristensson suffered a dramatic end to his rally, winning stage four whilst hitting a wall and crashing at the finish line. Damage sustained to his Opel Adam R2 was significant enough to force his immediate retirement.

Friday’s second test, Feteiras Meo, was a difficult stage for the ERC3 and ERC Under 27 competitors, with punctures for Dominik Brož and Gil Antunes. Catie Munnings also ripped the front bumper from her Sainteloc Junior Team PEUGEOT 208 R2, but with minimal time loss.