Ralfs Sirmacis led from start to finish to claim victory on his home rally and round nine of the 2016 FIA European Rally Championship, Rally Liepaja. The Latvian driver crossed the finish line in his Skoda Fabia R5 over a minute ahead of Russian Alexey Lukyanuk in a Misubishi Lancer Evolution X with Siim Plangi taking third in a similar machine. But the weekend belonged to Kajetan Kajetanowicz as fourth place was enough for the Pole to retain the European Rally Championship crown.
Sirmacis made his intentions known early in the event by winning the first five stages on Friday. The Latvian driver had a lead of over half a minute by the second service stop on leg one from Lukyanuk who was over 11 seconds ahead of Plangi in third.
The battle between the Estonian and Kajetanowicz was the talking point of the opening day as the pair traded positions three times over the opening leg. A slight mistake from Plangi on SS6 gifted Kajetanowicz the final podium spot heading into Day 2.
Into the second leg and it was Sirmacis that was in control. The Latvian driver won all of the days stages on his way to victory. Lukyanuk again demonstrated his ability on gravel by setting second fastest time on all of the day’s tests beating many R5 machinery in the process.
Kajetanowicz lost third on stage 9 and then had a worrying moment on the tenth test when his engine stopped. The Pole struggled to get it restarted but eventually did losing over 30 seconds in the process.
Local drivers Raimonds Kisiels, Maris Neikšans and Martinš Svilis came home fifth, sixth and seventh respectively. Tomasz Kasperczyk improved throughout the event and climbed from 15th to finish eight.
David Botka overcame an engine issue to bring his Citroen DS3 R5 home in ninth. Vytautas Švedas rounded out the top ten. Estonian Raul Jeets had an early exit from the event when he rolled his Fabia R5 on SS5, there was heartbreak for Lukasz Habaj as the Pole crashed out of fifth on the final stage of the event. Wojciech Chuchała also crashed out on the final stage but with Giacomo Scattolon retiring from the event the Pole has done enough to win the ERC2 title.
The ERC Junior series provided fans with a thrilling conclusion. Championship rivals Chris Ingram and Marijan Griebel enjoyed a thrilling fight in Latvia. After the fist three stages leader Ingram had built up a lead of 8.8 seconds over Griebel who held fifth after three stage but the German cut that to 2.5 seconds on the fourth test and jumped into second position.
Griebel snatched the lead on SS6 and ended the day leading Ingram by 0.7 seconds. Into day two the pair were inseparable to nearest tenth of a second after the opening test of the day but Griebel retook the lead on SS9 before the battle was brought to a premature end on stage 11 with electrical failure for Ingram.
Griebel held the lead until the end to claim the title, Miko-Ove Niinemäe took second 4.7 seconds off the lead with Alex Forsström taking third.
The final round of the series takes crews to Cyprus on October 7.