European Rally Championship leader Alexey Lukyanuk believes his win on Rally Fafe Montelongo has boosted his chances of seeing out the season to compete for his second title, despite announcing pre-event that he’d run out of budget.
Lukyanuk took his second win of the season in Portugal despite last-minute drama when a handbrake problem sent him into a spin and cost him nearly 20 seconds, setting up a three-way final-stage showdown he eventually won.
That combined with a disastrous event for main rival Oliver Solberg, who crashed heavily on Friday shakedown and then suffered a broken exhaust on Saturday that cost him all hope of points, has given Lukyanuk a 42-point advantage in the title race.
Having also won in Rome and made the podium in Latvia, this is now Lukyanuk’s most successful start to an ERC season ever, and he expects his strong 2020 form to help him find money for the rest of the season.
“It’s not really a new situation because only one year, in 2018, did we have the confirmed budget for the whole year,” Lukyanuk told DirtFish.
“But apart from that, every other year, we are always searching for money during the season.
“Somehow we survived so far, so I believe our position and our performance this year should help me to be more successful with my [commercial] activities.”
On Rally Liepaja he was beaten to victory by Solberg, with Lukyanuk remarking during one regroup during the rally that his rival had done more testing ahead of the event.
The 2018 ERC Champion is in a strong position to take a second title if he secures the budget for the remaining three rounds of the season. Only three drivers have gone further than and won the title three times, one of whom is current WRC3 competitor Kajetan Kajetanowicz.
Despite Kajetanowicz’s move to the World Rally Championship’s support category for privateer Rally2 machines, Lukyanuk has no plans to do the same, citing the disparity in testing resources.
“We see that the number of guys who have enormous test programs is growing up, the level of competition is growing,” he said.
“If you look back five years it was way different. To be at that level, we definitely need strong preparations on all sides.
“And not like really waiting to step up and play in WRC2, because I know our abilities according to the budget with that situation. I would stick to ERC, because for me it’s still a pretty good challenge.
“I really enjoy that last year of ERC and for the money we pay, we get many more opportunities to fight and to have a good experience and good emotions.”
FIA regional rally category manager Jérôme Roussel has previously suggested he hopes to see the incoming Rally3 category become part of the WRC’s support category structure, and at €100,000 purchase cost it offers a more affordable four-wheel-drive alternative to Rally2.
But Lukyanuk made clear he has no interest in stepping down a car level to compete at world championship level.
“For me it’s definitely not interesting to drive a really underpowered four-wheel-drive car,” he said.
“It sounds strange to me. Normally you want to control the car with throttle, and the more you have under your right foot, the more joyful and interesting it comes.
“But when you have 200hp on four-wheel-drive car, it makes me surprised.
“In terms of budget, yes of course, R5 is expensive and in that case, this Rally3 class may be of some use.
“I [would] like to see the car, to test it, to see how it goes, but I have some suspicions it will not be so exciting to drive.
“Of course, when you have similar cars in the competition it always makes a sort of excitement but when you are driving a rally car, you want to be excited everywhere in each corner, in each straight, and everywhere.
“On this particular rally in Fafe, I was thinking to myself at each start of the stage ‘Oh God, how good is this car? How powerful is it? What a joy to launch it into the stages’.
“But when you are crawling through the stages I don’t know how fun it is.
“Anyway, I appreciate the work people do to develop new classes, find new opportunities and maybe market solutions. Let’s wait and see.”