Giandomenico Basso has broken Alexey Lukyanuk’s stranglehold on Rally di Roma by winning two of Sunday’s first three stages as Craig Breen vaulted from sixth to fourth.
Lukyanuk – the 2018 European Rally Champion – had won every single stage of the rally in his Citroën C3 R5 prior to SS7 Rocca di Cave, but Basso immediately responded on Sunday morning in his Volkswagen Polo GTI R5 by taking 2.6 seconds away from Lukyanuk on the leg’s first test.
Basso – carrying the #1 on the door after winning last year’s Rally di Roma – repeated the feat on the longer SS8, gnawing another 1.7s from Lukyanuk and then on Guarcino’s SS9 Basso was another 0.5s quicker than Lukyanuk, though Andrea Crugnola won the stage.
It means Lukyanuk’s lead over the chasing Basso is now 4.8s less than it was on Saturday night, down from 34.1s to 29.3s. Basso declared himself “satisfied” with his morning’s work while Lukyanuk was somewhat concerned and not as confident as he was on Saturday, despite remaining in command of the rally. From carrying two spare tires – one more than Basso – Lukyanuk felt the extra weight was slowing him on the uphill sections.
Lukyanuk said: “Not so bad but could be better. Actually we are close to the limit. We expected to be a bit faster, but [it was] so-so.”
Behind the leading duo, Oliver Solberg’s third place is looking increasingly secure with a 20.6s buffer to the battle for fourth and a 25.6s deficit to second-placed Basso. Solberg – on his first pure asphalt rally start – was challenged by stages though that were very different to Saturday’s and the ones he drove at his test, with Sunday’s action “all about momentum and flow”.
Breen was another to be affected by the demanding nature of the rally on SS8, commenting that the sun was shining directly at him in places and forcing him to drive “with smell not sight”. But with the wiper-related issues that slowed him at the end of Saturday resolved, the World Rally Championship regular was a man on the move.
Team MRF’s Breen began the leg sixth, just 0.1s behind Fabian Kreim and a further five seconds adrift of Simone Tempestini’s Škoda Fabia R5. His quest was made easier when Kreim left the road early on SS7, breaking a wheel on his Polo GTI R5 and dropping out of the event.
That moved Breen up into fifth which would become fourth after SS8 with Tempestini struggling to recapture his magic Saturday form that put him into the thick of the podium battle. A dejected Tempestini said he needed to “wake up” as he fell to fifth, but is just 0.4s adrift of Breen after stealing 1.6s back on SS9. Breen however has some “ideas in his head” on how to improve the balance of his Hyundai i20 R5 for the next loop.
Efrén Llarena is closing on Tempestini too after a very strong morning. The Citroën C3 R5 pilot began the day 32.4s shy of Tempestini but was “more confident with the car” with Saturday’s power issues sorted and a change of springs and anti-roll bars doing the trick.
Tempestini is now just 27.7s up the road from him, with Hyundai junior driver Grégoire Munster slipping further behind Llarena too in seventh. In stark contrast to his rival, Munster was “struggling” to build a rhythm on Sunday morning’s first two stages and despite a stronger SS9, he is beginning to slip into the clutches of the two Škoda’s behind him: Emil Lindholm and Filip Mareš.
Lindholm’s form had fluctuated like a yo-yo on Saturday, and he admitted his “strategy had changed” on Sunday as he looked to just get through the stages and continue the development of the MRF rubber. Mareš meanwhile immediately jumped up two places from 11th to ninth without even starting SS7 following Kreim’s accident and Giacomo Scattolon’s fiery exit after Saturday’s stages.
Despite not feeling happy with his pacenotes, Mareš gained a further spot on SS9, ending the loop 0.3s ahead of Lindholm to hold eighth. And worryingly for Munster, Mareš promised “to do everything” to catch them over the rest of the day. His Fabia is currently 8.6s behind Munster’s i20.
Rudy Michelini is 10th overall in his Polo GTI R5 and second of the Italian championship runners, but hasn’t registered for ERC points, so Miko Marczyk completes the ERC top 10, 32.4s behind Lindholm.
One of the pre-event favorites, Crugnola – who lost two wheels in an accident on the first stage of the rally – restarted on Sunday and showed a glimpse of what could have been in his Citroën C3 R5.
He was second fastest behind only Basso on SS7, fourth quickest on SS8 after forgetting to turn the anti-lag back on after a stall and fastest of all by 4.2s on SS9. But because he didn’t set a time on any of Saturday’s six stages, Crugnola is just under an hour behind the similar car of rally leader Lukyanuk overall.
Ken Torn and Pedro Antunes had enjoyed a heavyweight battle in the ERC3 class for RC4 cars, separated by just 11.2s in Torn’s favor after Saturday.
Antunes started Sunday in an inspired move however, nicking five seconds from Torn’s Ford Fiesta Rally4 with his Peugoet 208 equivalent. But Torn responded on SS8 Rocca Santa Stefano to take another 2.7s back from his rival.
Torn said: “Antunes is pushing very hard so we have to give it everything.” Antunes struck a similar tone saying: “We are trying everything. We have still much [of the] rally to do and we will try to push.”
Antunes appeared to be giving more though, taking another 4.6s from Torn on SS9 to trail by just 4.3s overall. Josep Bassas holds third in his 208 but it’s a distant third, three and a half minutes down on the class leader Torn.
Zelindo Melegari continues to lead ERC2 in his Subaru Impreza N14 despite a problem with his intercom on SS8. Abarth Cup leader Andrea Mabellini is second.
Results after SS9
1 Lukyanuk 1h18m58.9s
2 Basso +29.3s
3 Solberg +54.9s
4 Breen +1m15.5s
5 Tempestini +1m15.9s
6 Llarena +1m43.5s
7 Munster +2m01.2s
8 Mareš +2m09.8s
9 Lindholm +2m10.1s
10 Michelini +2m17.5s