Alexey Lukyanuk delivered the ultimate comeback victory to begin his FIA European Rally Championship title defence in style on ORLEN 77th Rally Poland today.
Co-driven by fellow Russian Alexey Arnautov, Lukyanuk was seemingly down and out on Tuesday following a testing crash which left his Pirelli-equipped Citroën C3 Rally2 beyond immediate repair after they rolled five times.

But Saintéloc Junior Team heroically answered their call by transporting a replacement bodyshell from its base in southern France and preparing an all-new car in time for Friday’s start.

Undeterred by his lack of loose-surface running – the 20 kilometres he managed in the build-up to the event was Lukyanuk’s first on gravel since Rally Liepāja last August – the two-time ERC champion kept calm and moved into the lead when long-term pacesetter Nikolay Gryazin was forced out with a double puncture on Saturday’s penultimate stage.

Starting Sunday’s final leg with an advantage of 29.7s over Andreas Mikkelsen and Ola Fløene, Lukyanuk and Arnautov achieved the perfect blend of speed and caution to win in Poland for the second time, unflustered when their Norwegian rivals cut their margin to 17.4s heading to the deciding stage on the streets of the capital city, Warsaw, added to the itinerary as part of the event's 100th anniversary celebrations.

Lukyanuk, for whom victory in Poland was number 12 in the ERC, becomes the first European champion since Luca Rossetti in 2011 to start his title defence with a victory. “Before the rally it was extreme, like a movie but it turned out with a victory with the toughest challenge, with very fast drivers around and with very hard roads,” said Lukyanuk. “I’m just happy to be on the first spot today.”

Spain’sJavier Pardo/Adrián Pérezwon ERC2 at their first attempt driving a Rally2 Kit-specification Swift R4lly S from Suzuki Motor Ibérica. FinnsSami Pajari/Enni Mälkönenclaimed the ERC3 laurels in a Ford Fiesta Rally4 built by M-Sport Poland in Kraków. In ERC Junior, which is for Rally3 cars on Pirelli tyres from 2021,Jon Armstrongcame out on top driving M-Sport Poland’s history-making Fiesta Rally3 alongsidePhil Hall.

Pajari was first to finish in ERC3 Junior withPaulo Soria/Marcelo Der Ohannesiantriumphing in the Clio Trophy by Toksport WRT, the all-new arrive-and-drive series for the MICHELIN-equipped Renault Clio Rally5.Dariusz Poloński/Łukasz Sitekwon the Abarth Rally Cup, while the first ERC-MICHELIN Talent Factory incentives were handed out to registered young stars in Rally2 cars.

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