After bringing parts of central Rome to a standstill on Friday evening with a spectacular tour of the historic city followed by a floodlit superspecial stage in front of thousands of fans, the FIA European Rally Championship gladiators headed out onto the all-asphalt stages south east of the Italian metropolis today (Saturday) with drama adding to the excitement.
With a lead of 8.4s starting today’s final stage, Alexey Lukyanuk was on course to reach the overnight halt in Fiuggi with his advantage intact. However, a heavy impact approximately halfway through the closing night test left his Ford Fiesta R5 with a missing wheel and its crew with a missed shot at victory. The Russian’s exit has left Bryan Bouffier in front with Kajetan Kajetanowicz in hot pursuit.
“On the start of SS6 our main lights suddenly switched off and we saw only 30-40 metres ahead,” Lukyanuk explained. “I fully focused on the pacenotes and everything was working not so bad. Of course we were losing time, but I knew not really much. And then my co-driver got lost for a second because of poor visibility and delivered the next distance and corner too late and the distance was not enough to slow down, so we hit the wall and lost the front-left wheel. It is a disaster and again small things destroy our results. I’m sad and sorry for my sponsors, the team and the fans. But we will never give up.”
While Lukyanuk’s hopes of winning Rally di Roma Capitale are over, Bryan Bouffier will start Sunday’s closing leg leading Kajetan Kajetanowicz by 7.0s with Bruno Magalhães – the driver best-placed to prevent Kajetanowicz from claiming a third consecutive ERC crown – 18.5s behind in third having dropped approximately 10s with a spin on today’s first stage.
Elsewhere, Grzegorz Grzyb, starting the 250thrally of his career, slipped behind Magalhães on SS6 but holds a fine fourth overnight ahead of fellow Pole Łukasz Habaj, ERC returnee Simone Tempestini and ERC Junior Under 28 leader Jan Černý. Stéphane Consani is eighth but his older brother Robert was handed a 30-minute penalty for his refusal to obey the instructions of an event official to start stage six – citing safety concerns – and the resulting delay that caused to the running of the event and the subsequent enforced cancellation of the test.
Romain Dumas is ninth in his spectacular Porsche 997 with FIA RGT category rival Fabrizio Andolfi Jr one place behind in his Fiat 124 Abarth. Andolfi Jr is one of three drivers in the Italian machines still in contention for RGT honours, with the class attracting plenty of interest from fans on its second appearance in conjunction with this season’s ERC. Former Rally di Roma Capitale winner Tonino Di Cosimo completes the top 10 in his Motorsport Italia ŠKODA. Emma Falcón tops the ERC Ladies’ Trophy standings.
Lukyanuk wasn’t the only driver in trouble during a dramatic day in Italy. José Suárez crashed out on stage two. His Peugeot Rally Academy team-mate Pepe López stopped with a powersteering issue on SS4. Albert von Thurn und Taxis crashed and blocked stage three, which was ultimately cancelled with notional times awarded to the bulk of the competitors. A transmission issue delayed Nikolay Gryazin – who won Friday night’s superspecial in Rome – while the battle for the FIA ERC Junior Under 27 Championship was turned on its head when title leader Aleks Zawada retired three kilometres from the start of Saturday’s opening run with a mechanical failure.
ERC Junior Under 28: Černý in the frame for first winFortune might finally favour the largely thus far luckless Jan Černý after the ACCR Czech Team driver reached the overnight halt leading ERC Junior Under 28 ahead of newcomer Stéphane Consani and the delayed Nikolay Gryazin, who was four minutes late leaving mid-leg service while his ŠKODA’s faulty transmission was replaced. Peugeot Rally Academy pair José Suárez and Pepe López failed to get beyond SS2 and SS4 respectively thanks to a crash and a mechanical failure. Both Spaniards will restart on leg two. Consani’s day was also far from trouble-free: a power issue slowed him on SS2 and required the Frenchman to momentarily stop for a system reset, before set-up issues led to a frustrating run through SS5 for the championship newcomer.
ERC Junior Under 27: Huttunen, Ingram, Mareš in close battle, Zawada outJari Huttunen leads factory Opel team-mate Chris Ingram by 0.6s after a charging run through SS5 gave him the edge in his ADAM R2. Filip Mareš is third, 6.9s behind Huttunen in his ACCR Czech Team Peugeot with Karel Kupec, Kristóf Klausz and Tamara Molinaro completing the top six. Domink Brož is seventh after being slowed this morning by an injector issue. Catie Munnings is eighth but Sébastien Bedoret’s frustrations were compounded when he crashed out on today’s penultimate stage. Having been hampered by a clutch issue on Rome’s opening test, a gear selection fault caused further frustration for the Belgian before his stage-five accident forced his early exit. Aleks Zawada started Rally di Roma Capitale with a three-point advantage over Ingram. However, a mechanical problem three kilometres into SS2 put him out. “It’s drivetrain-related but I’m not sure if it’s engine or gearbox,” said Zawada shortly after stopping. “Having done all the work and preparation the chance of the championship has been ripped out of my fingertips so I’m pretty distraught. But this is the sport. It’s not the first or last time it will happen like this.”
ERC2: Érdi Jr leads after sombre dayTibor Érdi Jr is on course for maximum points in ERC2 but the Hungarian won’t be celebrating after class rival and championship leader Zelindo Melegari withdrew following his father’s sudden passing on Friday night. Érdi Jr carried a black ribbon on the back of his Mitsubishi Lancer in tribute and expressed his sorrow. “It’s been a good day, the car has been good but I am sorry for Zelindo,” he said. Sergey Remennik crashed on SS2 but is set to restart on Sunday.
What’s next?The battle for FIA European Rally Championship glory on Rally di Roma Capitale concludes on Sunday 17 September with six stages over a competitive distance of 106.16 kilometres remaining. First up is the 32.70-kilometre Cave-Rocca S.Stefano test, the longest of the rally, from 08h13 local time. The event is due to finish in Lido di Ostia, southwest of Rome, on the banks of the Tyrrhenian Sea at 17h00. Live timing and results:https://www.fiaerc.com/live-timing/
DAY ONE HIGHLIGHTS ON EUROSPORT AND EUROSPORT PLAYER. CHECK LOCAL LISTINGS. REPORT ISSUED PRIOR TO RESULTS OF SS6 BEING FINALISED BY EVENT ORGANISERS.