SEASON REVIEW: FIA European Rally Championship 2017 – Kajetanowicz Seals Third Successive Title

by Steven Batey

The 2017 FIA European Rally Championship saw battles across the entire field and its various classes, with all but one of the titles still needing to be decided going into the final round of the year proving that once again the series is extremely competitive.

ERC Overall: Kajetanowicz Claims Third Successive Title

But despite the closeness of the competition, it was a familiar name to once again claim the ERC title in 2017 with Kajetan Kajetanowicz winning a third successive title overall in a Ford Fiesta R5.

2017 had an incredible seven different winners in the eight rounds around Europe but thanks to consistency, Kajetanowicz was able to take advantage and go on to claim his third successive ERC title.

Round one back in March however, the Azores Airlines Rallye, went the way overall of Kajetanowicz’s main championship rival in 2017, Bruno Magalhães. Magalhães would be the only driver who could compete with the Polish driver’s pace throughout the year and in Portugal he was able to prove why.

Magalhães won his home event ahead of young German driver and ultimately the ERC Junior Under 28 champion Marijan Griebel who took second overall with Irish driver Josh Moffett rounding out the top three in his Ford Fiesta R5.

Photo Credit: @Jorge Cunha / DPPI

Champion to be Kajetanowicz’s campaign got off to the worse of starts however as the Pole finished down in 27th place overall in the ERC class despite leading the event on day one. He was able to however push hard on the final leg of the event and claim six championship points thanks to three stage wins out of six on day three.

Round two saw another fine performance from Magalhães as the championship moved to Gran Canaria for round two. Russian driver Alexey Lukyanuk took the win overall ahead of Kajetanowicz in second and Magalhães in third giving the Portugese driver the championship lead.

Lukyanuk dominated the event for the second year in a row after claiming the 2016 victory and won ten of the stages on the event. However between rounds two and three, the Russian would be involved in a testing accident in his native Russia causing him injuries including a broken leg and he would miss the next two rounds of the season.

The next stop on the calendar for 2017 was Greece for the Seajets Acropolis Rally, where Kajetanowicz claimed his only victory of the season on the way to his third title. He finished ahead of his title rival Magalhães and Grzegorz Grzyb in third.

Despite Kajetanowicz winning in round three, it looked seemingly like either Magalhães or former WRC driver Nasser Al-Attiyah was going to be the victor. However both drivers hit issues on the last day of the rally; Al-Attiyah retiring on stage 10 after a returning power steering problem forced him out of contention. Magalhães held on to second despite having both an overheating problem and a non-working powershift on his Fiesta.

Photo Credit: @Thomas Fenetre / DPPI

Round four marked the midway point of the championship with the Cyprus Rally and Al-Attiyah was able to win on the event has he has previously dominated in the past and make up for his heartbreak in round three. The Qatar driver became the most successful driver in the events history after claiming his fifth win on the rally and overtook Sebastian Loeb’s record win tally as a result.

As the event in Cyprus was not a points scoring round for several of the ERC field due to a summer break, some of the usual front-running drivers were not competing and therefore Al-Attiyah was joined on the podium by local Greek drivers Simos Galatariotis and Panikos Polykarpou.

But, both championship contenders Kajetanowicz and Magalhães were competing on this event and both would remarkably retire from day one of the event on exactly the same corner on the same stage. Magalhães would be out for the rest of the weekend after substantial damage to his Fabia, but Kajetanowicz just like in round one managed to salvage championship points by winning the final leg of the event after restarting.

As the second half of the season got underway, it was Magalhães on top in the championship standings ahead of Kajetanowicz with round five set to get begin in Poland with the Rzeszow Rally.

The asphalt based event saw several big names on the entry list with both WRC regular Mads Østberg competing in a Fiesta R5 in preparation for the tarmac of WRC Rally Germany later in the season and experienced competitor Bryan Bouffier set to battle for the win. Alexey Lukyanuk also returned to the championship earlier than predicted after missing the previous two events.

Bouffier used his experience in top-level competition to full effect and claimed the win in Poland ahead of Kajetanowicz who finished second on his home event with Marijan Griebel claiming another strong result and finishing third overall with Kajetanowicz’s rival Magalhães only managing a ninth place finish after struggling throughout the weekend.

After Magalhães’s poor performance, he had lost the championship lead going into round six, the Barum Czech Rally Zlín. At the top of the timesheets on his home event was Jan Kopecký who won the rally for a record sixth time.

Photo Credit: Jorge Cunha / DPPI

Second in the Czech Republic was Lukyanuk, still struggling with injuries caused in his accident and former WRC driver Roman Kresta beating his brother in law Tomáš Kostka to third overall on the very last stage of the event.

Kajetanowicz finished fifth behind now ERC Junior U27 champion Griebel who wrapped up his title in the Czech Republic and Magalhães again could only manage a ninth placed finish letting the Pole extend his championship lead further.

The penultimate round of the 2017 season was Rally di Roma Capitale in Italy and it was a last ditch stage win by Bryan Bouffier that gave him a remarkable win by 0.3 seconds over his rival for the win Kajetanowicz.

The pair had traded fastest stage times throughout the weekend and the Frenchman managed to take the win by the narrowest of margins. Behind the duo in a comfortable third was Magalhães who managed to keep the championship race alive until the final round with his result, albeit 24 points behind.

The final round of the 2017 season was Rally Liepāja in Latvia with now only Kajetanowicz and Magalhães in contention for the championship, but by the end of day one, the Portuguese driver’s dream was over after crashing on stage six, damaging his car badly and Magalhães himself being taken to hospital for checks.

With Magalhães out, this handed Kajetanowicz the title with a day to spare and the Pole would himself retire before the start of stage 12 citing ‘personal reasons’ behind his decision. The championship was his and he had won a third ERC title.

Photo Credit: Thomas Fenetre / DPPI

On the event itself, it was three young drivers who led the way with Nikolay Gryazin claiming the victory ahead of highly talked about teenager Kalle Rovanperä who finished a fine second on his debut in the series. Third went the way of Łukasz Habaj.

ERC Junior U27: Ingram Wins Four Way Battle

The ERC Junior U27 class, introduced for 2017, saw drivers under the age of 27 competing over six of the eight rounds of the main ERC calendar compete in R2-spec machinery on Pirelli tyres with the winner of the class earning a fantastic 100,000 euro prize that is to be put towards a 2018 R5 drive.

Photo Credit: Jorge Cunha / DPPI

And after the six events, it was Britain’s Chris Ingram who took the class championship in the most dramatic fashion. Driving alongside newly appointed Hyundai development driver Jari Huttunen in a pair of factory-backed Opel Adam R2’s, the duo battled across the entire championship with Ingram ultimately coming out on top on the final round.

After taking wins in Portugal and Spain on the first two events of the season, Ingram seemingly looked to be dominating the championship, however a mix of bad luck and increased speed from rivals including Huttunen, Aleks Zawada and Filip Mares across the next five rounds saw any one of the quartet still mathematically in with a chance of winning the title going into the final round in Austria.

Jari Huttunen leads ERC Junior U27 in Austria. Photo Credit: @Thomas Fenetre / DPPI

Huttunen, who actually beat teammate Ingram in the shootout for the Hyundai development role for 2018 during this season, was always near the top of the timesheets and took the victory in round three with a pair of runner up spots adding to his points tally also before the final round decider.

And at the end of the first day on the final round, it looked like it was going to be Huttunen who was going to cap a fantastic season with the ultimate reward, but the highly rated Fin would drop to fourth in class as he suffered two punctures with only one spare tyre on-board his Adam and therefore would lose time to Ingram who went on to claim his third victory of the season and win the class title.

ERC Junior U28: Griebel Claims Title In Dominating Fashion

The 2017 ERC Junior U28 class, open to any driver under the age of 28 and driving R5 machinery saw young German driver Marijan Griebel dominate throughout 2017.

The youngster took three wins out of just the four events he competed in before sitting out the last two rounds of the season with the title secured in a bid to concentrate on his efforts for 2018. The German finished at the top of the standings ahead of drivers such as Russian driver Nikolay Gryazin who claimed the overall victory in the final round of 2017 and Spaniard duo Pepe Lopez and Jose Suarez.

Photo Credit: @Gregory Lenormand / DPPI

The ERC2 class title meanwhile went the way of Tibor Érdi Jr after a ding-dong battle throughout 2017 with Italian Zelindo Melegari in a pair of Mitsubishi Evo’s, while the ERC Teams title went the way of Castrol Ford Team Turkey.

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