Nikolay Gryazin leads from European Rally Championship rookie Kalle Rovanperä at the end of day one of Rally Liepāja, with Kajetan Kajetanowicz becoming the provisional ERC champion after rival Bruno Magalhães crashed and was taken to hospital.
Gryazin, today on just his 20th birthday, leads by 18.3 seconds over 17 year old Rovanperä after seven stages in Latvia, with champion elect Kajetanowicz a further 41 seconds behind in third.
Despite Gryazin seemingly being in control at the front of the field, it was Alexey Lukyanuk who began the day seemingly the man to beat, however an electrical issue with his Ford Fiesta R5 on stage five cost him time and then a crash on the next stage all but ended his challenge.
The same stage was to prove pivotal in the championship fight; second in the standings coming into this weekend Magalhães hit the same tree as Lukyanuk during the first run through the Liepāja City stage (SS6) and this put him not only out of the rally, but out of contention for the championship. The damage sustained by the Portuguese driver was substantial and he was taken to hospital for a check over.
With Magalhães out, Kajetanowicz can now relax for the rest of the event knowing that he is the provisional ERC champion and is set to claim his fourth title. The Russian lies third, with Łukasz Habaj in fourth ahead of Under 28 challengers Pepe López and José Suárez rounding out the top six overall and are second and third in class behind Gryazin.
In the ERC Junior U27 class, it’s Jari Huttunen who looks set to claim the title and the 100,000 euro prize as he leads teammate Chris Ingram by 25.4 seconds with Filip Mareš in third.
Austrian driver Mārtiņš Sesks is in contention for the overall win this weekend in fourth despite a roll on stage five with Aleks Zawada fifth in class. Opel factory driver Huttunen also leads ERC3 at the end of day one.
Finally ERC2 sees Jānis Vorobjovs leading the class at the halfway point ahead of fellow Austrian driver Reinis Nitišs and Sergey Remennik in third. The two title contenders, Tibor Érdi Jr and Zelindo Melegari lie behind in fourth and fifth overall with the championship still up for grabs going into day two.
Rally Liepāja continues tomorrow on October 8.