Round three of the 2016 FIA European Rally Championship served up drama from the word go, as crews tackled the infamous Acropolis Rally. Ralfs Sirmacis was to make his début in the top flight category of the ERC, driving a Skoda Fabia R5, Alexey Lukyanuk was hoping to bounce back from a testing accident before the Circuit of Ireland while series leader Kajetan Kajetanowicz was hoping to continue his good streak.
There was drama on the very first stage as Kajetanowicz rolled his Ford Fiesta R5 on to his roof after cutting a corner to tight. The Pole was able to continue but lost 14 minutes getting the car back on its wheels. Sirmacis beat Lukyanuk by 4.4 seconds to win that first stage, then extended his lead to 26 seconds when the Russian driver suffered a puncture on SS2. Lukyanuk was fastest on the third test but as slapped with a ten second penalty for a jump start and so the gap was extended to 27.2 seconds.
Lukyanuk managed to claw back some time on the afternoon loop and ended the day eight seconds behind the Latvian, dramatically however the Russian had is ten second penalty rescinded and went into day two with a two second lead. Jaromir Tarabus and local driver Lambros Athanassoulas. were enjoying a good battle for third with Tarabus ending the day 19.5 seconds ahead of the Greek driver. Raul Jeets and Jarosław Kołtun rounded out the top six.
There was more drama to follow on day two as Lukyanuk suffered a puncture on SS7 and had to stop and fix a broken suspension arm on SS9 losing over seventeen minutes in the process. Sirmacis managed to keep his head and completed the event to take a well earned first victory in the top flight category of the ERC. “It’s really nice when you’re on your début and you win the rally. This rally is one of the most difficult in the world so I’m really happy.” said Sirmacis, who was also awarded the Colin McRae ERC Flat Out Trophy in recognition of his incredible achievement.
There was final stage drama for local driver Athanassoulas who earlier in the day had turned a 19.5 second deficit to Jaromír Tarabus into a 35-second advantage and inherited second when Lukyanuk hit trouble. The Greek driver caught a slower car on the final stage and was held up arriving at the stage finish in tears thinking he had lost second place, in the end Athanassoulas held onto the runner up spot from Tarabus by just a tenth of a second.
Raul Jeets completed a career best fourth while Wojciech Chuchala took fifth and the ERC2 win. Jaroslaw Koltun took sixth while Kajetanowicz recovered to seventh.
Chuchala won the ERC2 category be almost 12 minutes in his Subaru Impreza STi N15 while Murat Bostanci won the ERC 3 category in his Ford Fiesta R2T. The next round takes crews to the Azores which kicks off on June 2.