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27 Sep 2016

FIA ERC Rally Liepaja 2016



Text and Photos: Reinis Babrovskis

Global warming sucks, big time! What initially was intended to be the Round 2 of the 2016 FIA European Rally Championship (ERC), in fact had to be rescheduled as the penultimate round of the season due to the fact the winter was simply drunk! Snowflakes turned into the sandstorm and Rally Liepaja was more like Rally Acropolis instead. 

The spring-like conditions in February meant the loose road surface was deemed to be unsafe and Rally Liepaja was initially cancelled, just later during the year to be rescheduled for September. It was great news for all rally fans and I wasn't going to miss it.

Round 9 saw the ERC return to the western part of Latvia with the rally HQ, start and finish ramp located in the beautiful coastal town of Liepaja. It was the local driver Ralfs Sirmacis that was put under the pressure to bring back a home victory for the fans.

FIA ERC Rally Liepaja ran from September 17-18 and featured 13 gravel stages, totaling 207.75 competitive kilometers. The weather remained sunny and with little or no wind on both days drivers did struggle with dirt and visibility.

Friday's qualifying stage was won by Alexey Lukyanuk and the flying Russian chose the last road position available - 15. Alexey opted to save money for the 2017 budget and enter the Round 9 in the Mitsubishi Evolution instead of the R5 car.

The "road sweeper" or Rally Liepaja was Martins Svilis who also started the FIA ERC Round 9 behind the wheel of a Mitsubishi Lancer EVO X. Being first on the road meant Martins was never going to get a great result; however, the young Latvian demonstrated amazing driving skills for his age. Lithuania’s Vytautas Švedas started second, leaving Giacomo Scattolon third on the road.

Day 1

Saturday featured 7 tests; the morning loop consisted of 5 stages ran on the forest roads located near the city of Kuldiga, whilst the afternoon featured two short runs through the rally HQ city of Liepaja.

SRT Driver Ralfs Sirmacis completed the first 12.7 km test fastest, taking out 2.5 seconds from his rival Alexey Lukyanuk; Estonian Siim Plangi was third fastest. Similar results followed in the SS2 where Sirmacis took further 0.1 second from the Russian. Łukasz Habaj and Frank Tore Larsen set identical times on the opening stage and were only 1/10th apart in the next test Castrol Edge Supercar. 

Kajetan Kajetanowicz was always going to take it easy here to secure his second ERC title; however, he experienced a bit of scary moment on SS3 and finished the stage with a lot of grass in the front of his Ford Fiesta R5. The Pole had taken a large cut resulting in a blocked radiator, high water temperature and loss of power. He finished 6th fastest and 4th overall following SS3. 

SS3 also proved tricky to the experienced Russian as Alexey overshot a junction and lost 20 seconds to the rally leader Ralfs Sirmacis. 

SS4 continued the dominance of Ralfs Sirmacis, with Alexey in second and Estonian Siim Plangi in third. It seemed the ERC 2 specification cars well suited for the fast Latvian gravel roads and showed amazing pace. The bad luck of Kajetan continued in SS4 where the Pole suffered a power steering issue. Luckily the fault was cleared following a car restart. Wojciech Chuchała was determined to obtain his ERC 2 title this weekend and he was not afraid to push the car beyond it's limits.

The morning loop finished without any further changes with the Latvian dominating the Russian over all 5 stages. The biggest battle; however, proved to be amongst the FIA Junior ERC drivers where the young British driver Chris Ingram was battling German Marijan Griebel. There were only four tenths of a second between the duo.

The crews returned to Liepaja in the evening for the final 2 tests of the day that took them through a short run in the city centre. Alexey Lukyanuk was the quickest on both attempts taking out a tiny margin of time from Ralfs Sirmacis. Kajetanowicz demonstrated a great pace and reclaimed third from Siim Plangi. It was a wrap after the 7 stages and crews returned to Hotels to rest before Sunday's final 6 tests. 

Day 2

Day 2 featured 6 stages taking the drivers closer to Liepaja through swamps, forests and fast open roads. 

Day 2 started unsurprisingly similar to the one before, with Ralfs Sirmacis claiming the fastest time on SS8, closely followed by Alexey Lukyanuk and Siim Plangi; however, it was still the Junior ERC driver clash that proved to be the most intense, with Chris Ingram and Marijan Griebel being dead level following SS8. Leg 2 also saw the return of Jarosław Kołtun after his technical problem on day 1. Having started under Rally 2 rules he showed 6th fastest pace on SS8. 

SS9 - yet another stage win by the unstoppable Ralfs Sirmacis in his SRT Skoda Fabia R5. His lead over Alexey was now 40.7 seconds. Siim Plangi regained third, but the Polish driver Kajetan didn't seem upset as fourth position still meant he would be crowned 2016 ERC Champion. Norwegian Frank Tore Larsen overshot a junction and rolled his Ford Fiesta R5 and lost over three minutes.

No changes followed the SS10 as Ralfs Sirmacis continued his dominance over the remaining top 5 drivers. The reigning Polish champion Łukasz Habaj was battling Latvian Raimonds Kisielis for 6th and was increasing his lead over a minute after SS10.

SS11 you guessed it - another stage win by the Ralfs Sirmacis. SS11; however, proved a nightmare for a fellow Latvian Janis Vorobjovs, sitting fifth overall Janis suffered an engine fault and had to retire his Mitsubishi Evo X. Janis also suffered a similar result last year after suffering a puncture on the final stage. Better luck next year Janis! The stage also proved disastrous for the Junior ERC title contender Chris Ingram who had to retire from the rally with just two stages to go.

SS12 finished without any surprises; however the final test of the Rally proved a nightmare to both Łukasz Habaj and Wojciech Chuchała who crashed out. Luckily Wojciech Chuchała already had secured his ERC 2 title after his closest rival Giacomo Scattolon retired from the event.

The German driver Marijan Griebel finished the rally fastest in the FIA Junior ERC category and secured his first Championship title. A huge congratulations!

Kajetan Kajetanowicz might not have demonstrated the fastest pace over the two days but fourth position overall was enough for the Pole to claim his second FIA ERC title. Congratulations!

The rally finished with Ralfs Sirmacis claiming the top spot of the podium and rightly so, the Latvian demonstrated an amazing pace throughout the weekend without making any mistakes. Alexey Lukyanuk claimed second and Siim Plangi third.
Despite the change from winter to summer and being relatively short rally overall it was an amazing weekend with loads of great battles and spectacular action. I really hope FIA ERC return to Latvia in the future.

Official TOP 3 Results

Ralfs Sirmacis Arturs Simins LVA Skoda Fabia R5 1:43:11.2

Alexey Lukyanuk Roman Kapustin RUS Mitsubishi Lancer Evo X + 1:04:3

Siim Plangi Marek Sarapuu EST Mitsubishi Lancer Evo X +1:48.3 (+44.0)

More news and full results from Rally Liepaja can be found on the official website: www.lvrally.com


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