|Lukyanuk on course for win as ERC Junior graduate Griebel stars|
Alexey Lukyanuk leads the CNP ASFALISTIKI Cyprus Rally into the final day of the FIA European Rally Championship season, while ERC Junior champion Marijan Griebel is a superb second having had an amazing battle with two other graduates of the category.
Lukyanuk flew into a healthy early advantage through the two rally-opening stages on Friday night (despite a scary high-speed moment), and the rapid Russian continued to stretch his margin through the eight tests on Saturday.
The day ended with a superspecial stage in the capital city Nicosia – crossing through the United Nations-controlled buffer zone between the Greek Cypriot and Turkish areas – which was broadcast live on television by Cypriot national broadcaster CYBC. Lukyanuk’s sixth fastest time of the day gave him a lead of 1m35.5s with four stages – including Love Cyprus Golden Stage 1 and 2 – remaining, as he looks to wrap up his second win of the season and with it the championship runner-up position.
Lukyanuk, who shares his Pirelli-equipped Ford Fiesta R5 with co-driver Alexey Arnautov, said: “It’s been a very good day for us, with only a few small mistakes and overall a really nice and enjoyable day. It’s not a 100 per cent safe mode but we have been reasonably fast trying not to take risks. The car is very good, the stages are beautiful so it would be a shame not to have some joy. We are saving some tyres for the Golden Stage tomorrow. We want to do well there but the finish is the most important thing.”
Despite his comfortable lead, Lukyanuk’s pace has not been completely untouchable on the challenging mixed-surface stages, with Griebel in particular doing an impressive job in the ŠKODA Fabia R5 prize drive he earned by claiming the ERC Junior crown in Latvia last month.
The German prospect only had around 50 kilometres in the car before his first rally in four-wheel-drive machinery but holds a brilliant second place, which he has contested with fellow ERC Junior graduates Nikolay Gryazin and Ralfs Sirmacis. Gryazin, who celebrated his 19th birthday on Friday, occupied the position with a narrow margin over Griebel for much of the morning in his second ever event in a Sports Racing Technologies-entered Fabia R5, but unfortunately rolled into retirement when he clipped a bank on the inside of a corner on the Lagia stage.
Ralfs Sirmacis, who has claimed three victories since he stepped up from ERC Junior to another SRT ŠKODA at the start of the season, lost more than a minute to Lukyanuk with an overly-cautious start to the rally in the darkness of Friday night.
The MICHELIN-shod Latvian youngster bounced back immediately however, and won SS3 and SS6 to climb to third and cut the gap to Griebel. Griebel, who recovered from a spin, stall and intercom glitch this morning, responded well in the afternoon to build a margin of 41.6s. “We had some problems this morning but the afternoon loop was with no mistakes, everything went well and I’m happy with the pace,” said Griebel.
Dávid Botka, who has made more ERC starts than anyone else this season, is fourth overall in his Citroên DS3 R5 but a combination of mechanical issues and a heavy landing on the superspecial means he is only 7.4s ahead of local ace Christos Demosthenous. Closing in on a hat-trick of home class wins in ERC2 in his Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution IX, Demosthenous has a margin of over two minutes on category rivals “Chips Junior” and Costas Zenonos, who are 14.2s apart.
Lambros Athanassoulas had a difficult day with a series of issues of his Team Greece Fiesta R5, and the two-time ERC podium finisher eventually stopped for the day out of sixth position on the way back to Nicosia for the superspecial due to a lack of fuel pressure.
Demosthenous nears class hat-trick in ERC2
Christos Demosthenous is in control in ERC2 as the Cypriot closes on a third-straight win in the showroom class on his home event. His category lead has increased to over two minutes and he has climbed to fourth place overall. He hasn’t had total domination of the fastest ERC2 stage times though, as Panikos Polykarpou has bettered him on four occasions. The 25-year-old restarted this morning after being forced to stop after Friday’s very first stage by two punctures. “Chips Junior” and Christos Zenonos are embroiled in a close fight for second in ERC2 and seventh overall, separated by 14.2 seconds. Contesting the event in the driver’s seat for the first time, “Chips Junior” has held the advantage since the start but a problem with his Mitsubishi allowed Zenonos to cut the gap despite running on the same set of tyres all day.
Bostanci and team in charge in ERC3
Murat Bostanci is on his way to a second ERC3 win of the season, with Castrol Ford Team Türkiye poised to occupy all three places on the podium. Double Turkish champion Bostanci has been fastest on every stage and leads by 2m41s. While he isn’t able to stop Chris Ingram becoming ERC3 drivers’ champion, the maximum bonus points on leg one was enough to decisively move Onur Vatansever past Marijan Griebel’s navigator Pirmin Winklhofer to the top of the co-drivers’ standings. In pace terms, Bostanci’s debutant team-mates Bugra Banaz and Ümit Can Özdemir have been fairly evenly-matched, but the latter lost six minutes with a puncture on the second run of the DHL Lythrodontas stage. Last year’s Cyprus Rally ERC3 winner Dimi Morozov stopped out of fourth in his Suzuki Swift Sport in the afternoon.
Sunday consists of four stages and 67.42 competitive kilometres, beginning with repeats of the two Friday night stages, this time in daylight. Then there will be two stages alongside the southern Mediterranean coast that together form the Love Cyprus Golden Stage. The fastest crews across the two stages overall and in two-wheel drive will share a prize fund of 60,000 euros.