Nikolay Gryazin has secured a convincing victory on the second round of the 2021 European Rally Championship, Rally Liepãja, ahead of Craig Breen and reigning champion Alexey Lukyanuk.
Gryazin – Russian born but driving with a Latvian competition license – defeated Breen by 17.3 seconds in his Volkswagen Polo GTI R5 to make up for Rally Poland where he lost a near-certain victory to a double puncture.
Breen netted his first podium since returning to the ERC with MRF Tyres last year and beat Lukyanuk’s Citroën C3 Rally2 by 13.6s.
Rally Liepãja is one of the fastest rallies anywhere in Europe, so it was little surprise to see a driver renowned for his pace on fast gravel setting the strongest times.
Gryazin – luckless in his WRC2 campaign so far but on form this weekend – took a clean sweep of Friday’s four stages to build an overnight lead of 10.6s over Breen and the impressive Efrén Llarena.
Breen (pictured above) and Llarena had irked some of their rivals though – particularly championship leader Lukyanuk – who felt the pair were “cheating”.
On the pre-event qualifying stage neither Breen or Llarena set a time quicker than 15th fastest, which meant they were not part of the pre-rally road selection ceremony.
That meant they headed into Friday’s stages 21st and 25th respectively and benefited from a much cleaner line and better road conditions than rivals who had actually done better on the qualifying stage.
Breen admitted it was unfair, but he could only work with what was presented to him and he was Gryazin’s chaser-in-chief on the first day.
Andreas Mikkelsen had been quick enough to be trading tenths of a second with Breen on his first visit to Rally Liepãja, but the Toksport Škoda driver was hampered by a one-minute penalty after starting the second stage late.
Mikkelsen and Toksport appealed this sanction however, with Mikkelsen explaining on his social media that “the marshal never confirmed our start time” at the SS2 start-line.
“After several attempts from our side to get our start time confirmed the time was out,” he added. “We can’t start the stage without our start time.”
Mikkelsen would’ve been promoted to second if he had won his appeal but the penalty stood and he was therefore fifth, 1m13.3s down on winner Gryazin.
There was no disputing the victory though as Gryazin was in a class of one for much of contest.
“Incredible weekend, we are finally here,” he said.
“It wasn’t an easy job but in the last part I was relaxed, just getting though. I’m satisfied with all our team, it’s like a home rally for us so it’s time to celebrate.”
Llarena ended up fourth, 25.9s down on Lukyanuk after struggling to keep pace with the leaders when road conditions were more equal on Saturday. It consolidated a strong start to the year for the Škoda driver after his sixth place on round one.
Finishing sixth in Latvia was Mikołaj Marczyk in his Škoda Fabia Rally2 evo, 49.6s clear of Eerik Pietarainen’s older Fabia R5 model.
Erik Cais, Emilio Fernández and Simone Tempestini completed a top 10 that featured drivers from nine different countries.
Hyundai junior Ole Christian Veiby – starting his first rally since he was handed a six-month ban from the WRC for a breach of COVID-19 protocols at Rally Portugal in May – had been seventh before he was excluded for a technical irregularity.
The rear wing on his i20 R5 was found to be too low and featured extra holes on the lateral support, meaning it did not comply with FIA homologation.
It had not been a smooth rally for Veiby before that as he suffered an issue with his pop-off valve on both days, which cost him time at lower speeds.