Rally di Roma Capitale: nervous and unpleasant day
Saturday at the Italian round of the FIA European Rally Championship was more frustrating than joyful: both Russian Performance Motorsport crews could not pass the entire distance of the day. The failure of Alexey Lukyanuk and Alexey Arnautov was the bitterest – they won three stages out of five, confidently led the field, but at the very end of the day they “met” a wall in the dark and tore off the wheel – disappointing retirement and defeat in the fight for the European Champion title in 2017.
Compared to last year, when the rally was only the Italian championship round, the Rally di Roma Capitale route was radically updated, resulting in two most notable changes – the competitive distance was enlarged to the ERC standards (from 150 km to 200 km) as well as the average speed on the route increased sharply. And if a year ago at most stages even local stars like Paolo Andreucci or Umberto Scandola hardly managed to overcome the mark of 100 km/h, now at some special stages it was possible to accelerate to 110 km/h (Alexey Lukyanuk at “Pico”)!
Saturday morning was very nervous and unpleasant. At the very first day special stage Sergei Remennik and Mark Rozin went off the stage – their Mitsubishi Lancer Evo X got too serious damage to continue the race with the “Rally2”. Then at the longest Saturday special stage “Greci-Pico” (26.44 km) the German Albert von Thurn und Taxis had a serious accident and blocked the stage. The rally was stopped, and a single time for all crews that did not pass the stage in a competitive mode was set. In addition the race organizers had to postpone the SS-4 start for 15 minutes because of the fans behavior and later shift the evening section for half an hour (that is, to the twilight time).
Even in such conditions Alexey Lukyanuk and Alexey Arnautov had an excellent pace – they won three stages and gradually brought their lead from their main rival, Kajetan Kajetanowicz, to eight seconds or more. But the repeated pass of “Greci – Pico” spoiled it, when several unsuccessful factors collided simultaneously – rapidly gathering twilight, the main lights failure, a small hitch while reading the notes… The result is sad – Lukyanuk’s Ford Fiesta R5 touched the stone wall in the dark and the front left wheel came off. The retirement at the last special stage of the day and the loss of the last chance for the title – Kajetan Kajetanowicz is unattainable now.
Alexey Lukyanuk, “At the start of SS6 our main lights suddenly switched off and we saw only 30-40 meters ahead. I fully focused on the notes and everything was working not so bad. Of course we were losing time, but I knew not really much. And then my co-driver got lost for a second because of poor visibility and delivered the next distance and corner too late. The distance was not enough to slow down, so we hit the wall and lost the front-left wheel. After that we were able to drive another 500 meters to leave the stage, and the lights started to work again. I’m sad and sorry for the team and the fans.”
Sergei Remennik, “It is so disappointing… We prepared for the qualification so seriously – I hoped to fight with Tibor Erdi, but it was canceled. This morning the news that our rival Zelindo Melegari would not drive upset us much. Perhaps I “burned out” or, on the contrary, started to drive too hard because of this… There is no one reason that led to such a finale – it seems everything came together at one time and in one place. It is a pity we could not pass all the special stages – they are much more understandable to me than in the Czech Republic and Poland. When you drive at the limit of the clutch of wheels with asphalt and the car starts to slip slightly, then on broad roads you can experiment with drifts and slides. By the way, that’s why we had a very good result on Canary Islands.
Perhaps I overestimated my own abilities. I decided I knew and understood everything, but this was only the fourth race on the asphalt. In fact, last year in all similar situations we were 100% lucky. And this year, in our first season in the ERC, each even the most minimal mistake immediately gives a fatal result. Perhaps, the transition to a higher level is affecting. Or maybe we have just spent all our luck. I’m looking forward to the next season with anticipation!”
The team will not start at the second rally day; both crews will miss the final race stages. The Sunday program should be the most intense in this race – six special stages and 106.16 km (including two runs of the longest SS of the entire race, the giant “Cave – Rocca Santo Stefano”, totaling 32.7 kilometers). Then it will be known whether the new leader of the race, Bryan Bouffier, will be able to compete for the victory, and how the two remaining contenders for the European Champion title, Kajetan Kajetanowicz and Bruno Magalhaes will fight.