Midday report: Kajetanowicz edges close ERC battle
Kajetan Kajetanowicz leads Rally di Roma Capitale by 3.3s at the mid-leg halt in a thrilling battle for victory on the penultimate event of the FIA European Rally Championship season.
LOTOS Rally Team’s double ERC champion cancelled out a seven-second overnight deficit to Bryan Bouffier when he outpaced his French rival by 9.1s on this morning’s opening test, the rally’s longest at 32.70 kilometres, to take the lead by 2.1s – despite reporting brake issues on his Ford Fiesta R5 midway through the run.
Bouffier, meanwhile, feared his decision to run on soft-compound tyres was incorrect for what was a largely drying stage albeit with some wet and muddy sections. And with Kajetanowicz able to rectify his brake issue prior to SS8, the Pole extended his advantage over Bouffier to 3.1s with another stage victory.
Kajetanowicz was fastest again on SS9, albeit by a mere 0.2s ahead of Bouffier, meaning with three stages remaining the fight for top spot in Italy is set to go down to the wire.
“We repaired [the brakes] before the second stage, now we have a little too soft tyres but finally I am okay,” Kajetanowicz said after SS9. “I was afraid about the pacenotes but everything is working very well here. To be honest I don’t want to think about [Bouffier], I want to think about my job.”
Bouffier added: “This morning was bad. The car was moving a lot not and I was not able to drive well and the feeling was not so good. Now I try to catch him up but it’s not easy, our times are similar but we have to be faster.”
It’s also a closely-fought battle in FIA ERC Junior Under 27 with Filip Mareš climbing from his overnight third place to first in his ACCR Czech Team Peugeot. Starting day two 6.9s off the category lead, Mareš outgunned Jari Huttunen by 9.8s on SS7 to knock the Finn off top spot by 2.9s with Chris Ingram taking 24.5s longer to complete the run thanks to a more cautious effort.
Mareš was quickest again through SS8 with Opel-driving Ingram second, 1.9s behind the Czech. Huttunen hit back on SS9, beating Mareš by 1.6s but the Opel driver trails Mareš by 7.8s heading to service in Fiuggi with Ingram 18.3s further back.
Behind Ingram, Karel Kupec, Kristóf Klausz and an ill Tamara Molinaro complete the provisional top six. However, Domink Brož retired with technical issues on stage seven where Catie Munnings lost several minutes stuck in a ditch. Emma Falcón continues to lead the ERC Ladies’ Trophy.
While Peugeot Rally Academy driver Pepe López retired with a reported powersteering failure starting stage seven, team-mate José Suárez has been inspired with thee consecutive ERC Junior Under 28 stage wins. Jan Černý continues to head the category standings, 50.3s ahead of Nikolay Gryazin, who has deposed Stéphane Consani for the runner-up spot. Suárez is fourth after restarting this morning following his SS2 crash.
Tibor Érdi Jr remains on course to win ERC2 with Sergey Remennik not starting due to car damage. However, the Hungarian reported a central differential issue when he completed SS9. Title leader Zelindo Melegari withdrew after his father passed away suddenly on Friday night.
Elsewhere, Bruno Magalhães is third overall on what was his first run in damp conditions in his ŠKODA. He’s 14.5s ahead of fellow Fabia R5 driver Grzegorz Grzyb with Simone Tempestini fifth, Černý sixth, Łukasz Habaj seventh, Gryazin eighth, Consani ninth and Tonino Di Cosimo P10 for Motorsport Italia.
Fiat 124 Abarth driver Fabrizio Andolfi Jr has moved to the top of the FIA RGT classification after overnight leader Romain Dumas was slowed by a tyre issue on his Porsche. Andrea Nucita, in another Fiat, is second, a mere 12.5s behind Andolfi Jr.
The action resumes with the second running of the 32.70-kilometre Cave-Rocca S.Stefano stage from 12h11 CET.