Alexey Lukyanuk dominated on his way to claiming the win in the opening round of the 2018 FIA European Rally Championship, the Azores Airline Rallye, last weekend.
The returning Russian, who finished fourth in the 2017 standings after missing two rounds due to injury after a large testing accident, lead from start to finish on the Portuguese event and finished ahead of local drivers Ricardo Moura and Bruno Magalhães.
Taking a 21.8s lead into the final day on Saturday, Lukyanuk was able to then extend his lead to Moura on the first stage of the day, before the Portuguese driver while attempting to catch the leader ran wide on stage 11 and spun, costing him the chance of claiming the victory.
Lukyanuk then preserved the tyres on his Ford Fiesta R5 on Saturday afternoon and on the final stage even had time for celebratory donuts on his way to the win.
The Russian said on his victory: “I was so happy that I made some donuts before the end. Thanks to my team, my sponsors, they all did really great job. We tried to do our best to be clever and it worked.”
Magalhães, winner of the event last year, finished third but was seemingly on the verge of catching the leading duo before a broken differential cost him over 30s on Saturday morning and despite his best efforts to catch Moura, had to settle for the final spot on the podium.
Fourth overall and on his R5 debut was Brit Chris Ingram who also won ERC Junior Under 28 class, finishing over a minute ahead of former British Rally Championship frontrunner Fredrik Åhlin who took fifth overall and second in ERC Junior U28.
2017 ERC Junior Under 27 champion Ingram took the lead of his new class on the penultimate stage from rival Martin Koči after a close battle throughout the three-day event, with the Slovakian later crashing his Skoda Fabia R5 on the last stage of the rally and ripping the front left wheel off as a result.
Ingram commented on his weekend: “It’s a dream debut for me. It’s been awesome, I’m learning the car still and I work so hard to do this. I’m really proud for that. But I’m gutted not to be on the overall podium.”
He added: “We got a puncture on Friday and had a stall on Sete Cidades, losing 20 seconds. I’m a little bit frustrated but I can’t complain because I’ve been fighting rally legends and I’ve never been in this car. The biggest challenge I faced was the pacenotes. They’re for for a 2WD car, they’re not making much sense and I’m having to think so hard about it.”
2017 BRC-runner up Åhlin finished ahead of CA1-Sport teammate Rhys Yates who took third in ERC Junior U28 on his ERC debut with the Brit finishing eighth overall.
Norbert Kerczig took sixth, while Łukasz Habaj finished seventh ahead of Yates and local drivers Ricardo Teodósio and José Pedro Fontes rounded out the top 10 overall.
Fellow Portuguese driver Diogo Gago claimed the ERC Junior U27 win in a Peugeot 208 R2 ahead of Efrén Llarena and Mārtiņš Sesks, while Juan Carlos Alonso staged an incredible comeback from being 2m53.6s down on Thursday evening to win the ERC2 class. Tamara Molinaro won the ERC Ladies’ Trophy in her second event in an R5 car.