European Rally Championship leader Alexey Lukyanuk has admitted that his slow qualifying time for the Canary Islands season finale, in which he set only the 34th-fastest time, was a deliberate strategy ploy.
At the end of the qualifying stage, Lukyanuk had blamed cold tires for being 14.397 seconds off the pace of Miko Marczyk, after being pulled over by police and warned not to weave to warm up his slick rubber before setting his time.
But the Saintéloc Junior Team driver later admitted he’d driven slowly on purpose, aiming to be last on the road in a strategy gamble based on the team’s weather forecast.
“To be honest I had no mood to drive the stage in full attack,” said Lukyanuk.
“We tried to save tires for the rally, [to] make a good choice, and it was not optimal for sure for this stage, and our set-up was also not fantastic.
“So all in all, I decided to make it that way. I don’t know if I’m right or not but my past experience tells me that it should work.”
“The weather forecasts we have – I cannot disclose anything about it – should be getting better over time. We will see.”
While the overall championship leader was coy on over what was to follow, ERC1 Junior title contender Grégoire Munster – who drives for his family BMA squad in a semi-works Hyundai i20 R5 – hinted that overnight rain might lead to Lukyanuk’s roll of the dice working out as hoped.
“We can see it on the [road order] position, nobody wants to be first or 15th, because it will rain in the night and maybe tomorrow in the morning,” said Munster, referring to the road order selection process undertaken by the 15 fastest drivers from qualifying.
“So I think some drivers want to be behind to get a cleaner line.”
Lukyanuk, who is aiming for a second ERC title after his first success in 2018, only needs to score 13 points in the Canary Islands to secure the trophy over a chasing Oliver Solberg.
Seventh place would guarantee the required points, though up to 10 bonus points are available for the fastest time set across each of the rally’s two days.
While Lukyanuk expects sealing his title with a win an unlikely outcome, he ruled out the possibility of driving extra carefully.
“I think it’s very hard to try and win it this time because the start list is so strong, and so many local drivers who know these roads quite well have good setups and good feeling,” he said.
“For us, it would be nice to clinch the battle for the first place in the rally but I’m not feeling that I’m authorized to do that, I would say!
“We definitely need to be on the pace because if you go off the pace, you can lose way more than you should.
“We will be on our target performance and adjust it on the way.”
Though he set the 34th-fastest time, Lukyanuk will start 27th on the road during Friday’s running, with all Rally2 cars required to start ahead of competitors from the ERC2 production and ERC3 front-wheel-drive classes.