Bryan Bouffier inherited an unexpected European Rally Championship lead at Rally di Roma Capitale, after long-time leader Alexey Lukyanuk ripped a wheel from his Fiesta R5 in the final stage of the day.
Lukyanuk had won three stages amongst a series of dramatic events that punctuated the day’s running, leading up to an unexpected twist of his own doing when he retired in the second running of the Greci-Pico stage. The rally schedule had been thrown out of the window earlier in the day, following a red flag the first running of the same stage.
Albert von Thurn und Taxis ran wide and crashed in a narrow section of the stage, causing heavy damage to the right side of the Rome-based driver’s Skoda Fabia and blocking the road. There were further setbacks after the following stage was delayed by half an hour due to the number of spectators and their placement on the stage.
Bryan Bouffier had initially taken advantage of being one of only two cars to complete the Greci-Pico stage at racing speed, moving into second by gaining four seconds on championship leader Kajetan Kajetanowicz. The rest of the ERC1 field – along with Kajetanowicz – had been awarded the same time as Nikolay Gryazin in the cancelled Greci-Pico test, handing the Frenchman a time advantage.
Bouffier then found himself demoted back to third by the reigning champion during the evening pass of Colle San Magno, but the day’s final test – which had caught out Lukyanuk – saw Bouffier take 8.9 seconds out of Kajetanowicz and sent him directly to the lead of the rally.
The last of the championship protagonists Bruno Magalhães suffered a somewhat difficult day, spinning in the opening stage as loose stones were dragged onto the tarmac from corner cutting by those ahead, making the stage very slippery. He continued to ship time to Lukyanuk and Kajetanowicz in the first loop with a less than ideal set-up, but moved up third after beating Grzegorz Grzyb in the day’s final stage.
Jan Černý mirrored Magalhães’ struggles on his way to seventh after leg one, spinning at the same hairpin in the opening test and then complaining of poor tyre choice in the evening loop, as had Magalhães.
His stress boiled over into an argument with race control at the final stage, demanding to be awarded a notional time after sixth placed Simone Tempestini arrived ahead of him at stage six finish line time control, despite starting the stage behind.
“I didn’t understand anything in this stage,” said a bemused Tempestini. “We had three times a red flag, then a yellow flag and no red flag anymore. Jan Černý slowed as well, he is behind me now.”
Nikolay Gryazin had led after Friday’s opening superspecial in central Rome, but his early success turned sour after his transmission broke in the stage prior to afternoon service. This left him unable to turn in properly to corners, dropping nearly a minute to the leaders and accruing a further 40 seconds of penalties for checking out of service late after fixing the part at fault.
Peugeot Rally Academy suffered a disastrous day, after their main Junior U28 pairing of Pepe López and José Antonio Suárez both retired from the first leg. Suárez rolled off in the final kilometre of the day’s opening stage, while López suffered a power steering failure through the shorter Pico stage and was unable to continue.
Shoehorned between the ERC podium contenders Kajetanowicz and Magalhães in the overall classification are Campionato Italiano Rally leaders Simone Campedelli and two-time event winner Umberto Scandola. They currently stand third and fourth in the combined standings, the pair separated by only three tenths and within touching distance of both Kajetanowicz and Bouffier ahead.
Érdi Jr Flying Solo in ERC-2
Tibor Érdi Jr found himself unchallenged in the secondary support category, following a crash for Sergey Remennik in the day’s opening test.
ERC-2 championship leader Zelindo Melegari had withdrawn from the rally before the day’s action began due to his father passing away, leading Érdi Jr to add a black ribbon to the rear wing of his Mitsubishi Lancer Evo X as a nod to his fellow competitor.
Remennik is expected to return for Sunday’s second leg, but leaves Érdi Jr an unassailable lead in the category.
Zawada Heartbroken, Huttunen Frustrated in Junior U27
Junior U27 championship leader Aleks Zawada was left heartbroken after a drivetrain problem with his Opel Adam R2 only three kilometres into the morning’s opening stage left his title hopes in tatters.
Chris Ingram moved into the lead after Zawada was removed from the equation, holding Filip Mareš at bay for most of the day. Jari Huttunen cut a frustrated figure throughout the day’s events, saying the “time doesn’t matter” despite winning the penultimate stage and moving into the lead of the Junior U27 category, demoting Ingram and Mareš to second and third respectively.
The Under 27s saw little running time, as with both the third and sixth stages red flagged the junior contingent completed a third of the day’s competitive sections in road mode.
Dominik Brož suffered a miserable first leg, coping with a misfiring engine throughout the first loop and leaving him to crawl through the opening three tests to end the day in seventh. He inherited a place after the rerun of Colle San Magno when Sebastien Bedoret rolled out of the rally, having held a steady fifth place up until that point.
Overall classification after Leg 1
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