|Sirmacis seals home ERC win in Latvia, Kajetanowicz defends title and Griebel grabs ERC Junior crown|
Ralfs Sirmacis scored the third win of his sensational first season at the top level of the FIA European Rally Championship on home soil in Latvia as Kajetan Kajetanowicz clinched his second title and Marijan Griebel triumphed in a dramatic ERC Junior decider*.
Sirmacis produced a stunning display on Rally Liepāja, which was being run as a pure gravel event for the first time. Finishing over a minute clear of the competition, the 22-year-old and his co-driver Arturs Šimins won every stage with the exception of the two short street stages in Liepāja on Saturday evening.
Still the only driver to have won more than once in the ERC this season, Sirmacis has now scored three victories from five starts this year since stepping up from the ERC Junior Championship to a ŠKODA Baltic Motorsport-backed, MICHELIN-equipped Fabia R5, run by the Sports Racing Technologies squad from Latvia. “It’s a very good feeling, but I almost crashed two corners before the finish! First place is amazing at our home rally,” said Sirmacis, adding that he intends to return for a full campaign in the ERC next season with the aim of succeeding Kajetanowicz as champion.
Fourth place in Latvia was enough for Kajetanowicz to complete the defence of the crown he won last year at the wheel of his LOTOS Rally Team Ford Fiesta R5, fitted with Pirelli tyres. “It’s amazing,” he said. “I think I have the best team in the world and I’m happy we can achieve this success again. I have worked very hard because I wanted to deserve this moment. We have had many problems this year. Thank you to all my family, my sponsors and my fans, they are all great."
Alexey Lukyanuk held second place throughout the event, driving a Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution X instead of his usual Ford Fiesta R5. The speed of Sirmacis combined with a couple of errors on Saturday prevented him from repeating the victory he took with the car in Estonia in 2015, but he was happy to have a trouble-free finish after late problems on his previous two starts. He holds onto second in the standings ahead of Sirmacis ahead of the final round in Cyprus next month.
Lukyanuk also took the ERC2 victory, but was only one place ahead of fellow Mitsubishi driver Siim Plangi, who extracted similar performance from his showroom-specification model to achieve back-to-back podium finishes on the Latvian round of the ERC. Plangi had lost third to Kajetanowicz on the twisty city stages at the end of Saturday, but soon claimed the place back on the final morning. Kajetanowicz had already been delayed by technical issues on two stages on leg one, and lost around 20s when his engine cut out during SS10.
Latvian driver Raimonds Kisiels claimed fifth place in his Toni Gardemeister-prepared Fabia R5, gaining three places on the final day as those ahead of him hit trouble. Compatriot Jānis Vorobjovs stopped out of fifth with an engine problem on his Evo X on SS11, promoting Łukasz Habaj, but the reigning Polish champion ripped a wheel from his Rallytechnology Fiesta R5 on the final stage. Norwegian Frank Tore Larsen had rolled his similar model on SS9 but still made the finish in 11th place.
Latvian ERC2 drivers Māris Neikšāns and Martin Švilis spurred each other on to sixth and seventh places respectively, split at the finish by just two tenths of a second. Tomasz Kasperczyk gained three places on the final stage to finish eighth in his Tiger Energy Drink Rally Team Fiesta R5, just half a second ahead of Dávid Botka, who earlier picked up 30s in penalties after being delayed by an engine problem on his Citroën DS3 R5. Jarosław Kołtun restarted after brake issues on Saturday and was fifth fastest over the second leg in his C-Rally Fiesta R5.
Griebel becomes ERC Junior champion with hard-fought win to claim prize R5 drive in Cyprus
Marijan Griebel claimed the ERC Junior title* by triumphing in an incredible winner-takes-all battle with Chris Ingram at the deciding round in Latvia. The German’s prize is a debut in a ŠKODA Fabia R5 prepared by Motorsport Italia on next month’s Cyprus Rally. Both Opel team-mates came into the event knowing that a win would secure them the title, but faced stiff competition from a number of young aces from the Baltic regions and Finland. Griebel led Ingram by 0.7 seconds after the first day, and they were then dead level after Sunday’s opener. An off dropped Ingram to fourth before he was forced out by electrical failure on SS11. But Griebel still needed to win the rally and had Estonia winner Miko Niinemäe and Finn Alex Forsström within six seconds of him, with two stages remaining.
Forced to run a mixture of tyre compounds on the final stage after discovering a slow puncture, he held on to victory by just 4.7s over Niinemäe, before the Estonian picked up a 20s penalty for being late to the finish. “It’s a completely amazing feeling,” said Griebel, whose victory made him the only driver to win multiple ERC Junior rounds this season. “I had everything in my hands in the Czech Republic and made a mistake. Here, I think I drove the best rally of my life: 100 per cent aggressive and committed from the start with no mistakes. I’m really, really looking forward to Cyprus: it has been one of my dreams to sit in an R5 car one day.”
One consolation for Ingram is that he has effectively secured the ERC3 title because Griebel will not be eligible to add to his tally when driving the R5 car in Cyprus. Niinemäe’s penalty dropped him to third and promoted Forsström to second on a highly impressive second appearance in the ERC. Also impressive was debutant Mārtiņš Sesks, who put what he learned in the ERC Junior Experience training programme this year into practice to take fourth. He starred around the streets of his home city – where his father is mayor – on Saturday night, then began his 17th birthday in style with two fastest times to be one of six drivers within 10.6s of the lead with four stages to go.
Second early on, Joonas Tokee had to settle for fifth, while Julius Tannert ended up sixth after a roll on SS10. Kristóf Klausz was seventh while Catie Munnings was eighth and moves into the ERC Ladies’ Trophy lead. Nikolay Gryazin restarted after a Saturday crash and took ninth. Łukasz Pieniążek was forced out by engine failure on SS9, but keeps hold of third place in the final standings, while Dominik Brož crashed out on the same test. Murat Bostanci was the one-non Junior driver in ERC3 to make the finish in seventh place, with Artur Muradian and Szabolcs Várkonyi exiting on the final afternoon.
Chuchała wraps up ERC2 crown despite final-stage crash
Wojciech Chuchała wrapped up the ERC2 title* in Latvia, despite his 100 per cent victory coming to an end after he crashed out on the final stage. When rival Giacomo Scattolon failed to restart this morning due to gearbox problems, the Subaru Poland Rally Team driver could no longer be caught after his five wins from as many events earlier in the year. Running first on the road on the final day, he had slipped to fifth in class prior to his crash, but had been on for another outright points finish. Alexey Lukyanuk beat Siim Plangi to the ERC2 win – and second overall – by 44 seconds. But the fight for the final podium place was decided by a mere two tenths of a second, Māris Neikšāns just holding on under attack from Martinš Svilis in a rally-long scrap that drove the two Latvians up the overall leader board and past Chuchała. They also both gained a place when Jānis Vorobjovs stopped out of third in class with engine problems. Lithuanian driver Vytautas Švedas took fifth in ERC2 and 10th overall, with Tibor Érdi Jr finishing sixth.
Sesks and Rovanperä awarded Colin McRae ERC Flat Out Trophy
For the first time in its history, the Colin McRae ERC Flat Out Trophy was awarded to two drivers on the same event: Mārtiņš Sesks, for his performance on his ERC Junior competition debut, and Kalle Rovanperä, for displaying Sirmacis-rivalling speed aged just 15 in the two Latvian Rally Championship rounds that ran on the same stages as the ERC. Delayed by a loss of power steering on Saturday, Rovanperä beat Sirmacis to the fastest time of anybody on four stages, was a close second on many others, and added to his lead in the Latvian series.
*All results remain subject to official FIA confirmation
TOP 10 POSITIONS (after 13 stages, 203.60 kilometres)
FIA ERC2: Alexey Lukyanuk (RUS)/Roman Kapustin (RUS) Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution IX
Colin McRae ERC Flat Out Trophy: Mārtiņš Sesks and Kalle Rovanperä
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Photo: FIA ERC