Alexey Lukyanuk began his quest for a second European Rally Championship title with a dominant opening day on Rally di Roma, building his gap over last year’s rally winner Giandomenico Basso to 34.1 seconds.
Basso had ended the morning loop within 10s of 2018 champion Lukyanuk, but backed off during Saturday afternoon.
Instead, Volkswagen Polo GTI R5 driver Basso prioritized scoring maximum points for the Italian championship, which counts each day of Rally di Roma as a full points-scoring round.
A lack of competition from Basso ensured Saintéloc Junior Team’s Lukyanuk ended the first day with the fastest times on every stage so far in his Citroën C3 R5.
Behind the leading pair was a close fight for the final podium spot between Hyundai-driving Craig Breen and VW-driving Oliver Solberg, with Breen jumping straight from sixth to third on the second pass of Pico.
But Solberg then pounced on a mistake by Breen on SS5 (Roccasecca) to take third. The Team MRF driver’s windscreen wipers suddenly switched on and caused a distraction, lead to him running wide and dropping 4.1s.
Breen then dropped another 11.1s to Solberg on Saturday’s final stage, Santopadre, falling behind Simone Tempestini and Fabian Kreim to sixth overall as a result.
Solberg is also battling for ERC1 Junior honours against Tempestini and Kreim, with 7.5s in hand over the former and a 12.5s advantage over the latter in third, fourth and fifth overall.
A tight five-way battle emerged for the remaining places in the top 10 between Norbert Herczig, Giacomo Scattolon, Efrén Llarena, Emil Lindholm and Grégoire Munster.
Herczig initially led heading into Saturday’s second loop but crashed into a tree and broke the radiator on his Polo, retiring on the spot.
Scattolon was next to inherit seventh place but he then struggled on stage five, complaining he was out of fresh tires and backing off to preserve his rubber and dropping to 10th on pace.
His luck then got worse as his Škoda Fabia R5 caught fire after leaving the last stage, forcing him to retire before end-of-day service.
Llarena was promoted to seventh by Scattolon’s pace drop-off on SS5, but then had a minor issue on the final stage, suggesting he was struggling for power with a pop-off valve problem.
That allowed Munster to end the first leg in seventh, 0.4s ahead of Llarena and 6.2s up on Scattolon.
Lindholm had been eighth and catching Llarena but, like his MRF team-mate Breen, he struggled on the loop-ending Santopadre test and dropped 20s to stage-winner Lukyanuk to fall to 10th.
That became ninth after Scattolon’s post-stage fire, with reigning ERC1 Junior Champion Filip Mareš completing the top 10.
Subaru Impreza driver Zelindo Melegari extended his lead in ERC2 over Andrea Mabellini to 50.8s, heading a trio of RGT-spec cars with his older Group N machine.
Roberto Gobbin completes the ERC2 podium after the first day in his Abarth 124, taking third from Petr Nešetřil’s Porsche 997 GT3 on SS4 (Pico).
Ken Torn continues to lead the ERC3 category for front-wheel drive cars in his Ford Fiesta Rally4, and is engaged in a tight head-to-head battle for victory with Pedro Antunes’ Peugeot 208 Rally4. The pair are separated by 11.4s after the first day.
Marco Pollara had been third at midday service but was dropped behind William Creighton before SS4 (Pico), serving a 20s penalty for being late to SS2 earlier in the day.
He quickly gained the place back when Creighton lost 3m30s with a puncture on Pico, but Pollara then dropped out of the running entirely with a technical problem on SS5, a re-run of the same Roccasecca test he’d picked up his penalty on.
That promoted a resurgent Pep Bassas to the final podium place, who’d lost over three minutes with a puncture on the first stage of the rally.
The Spanish-federation backed driver scored three stage wins to climb quickly up the leaderboard in his Saintéloc Junior Team-prepared Peugeot 208 Rally4.
Amaury Molle is fourth in a previous-generation Peugeot 208 R2, ahead of father-and-son duo Martin and Zoltán László in fifth and sixth respectively.
Results after SS6
1 Lukyanuk (Citroën) 58m52.7s
2 Basso (Volkswagen) +34.1s
3 Solberg (Volkswagen) +47.1s
4 Tempestini (Škoda) +54.6s
5 Kreim (Volkswagen) +59.6s
6 Breen (Hyundai) +59.7s
7 Munster (Hyundai) +1m33.4s
8 Llarena (Citroën) +1m33.8s
9 Lindholm (Škoda) +1m39.6s
10 Mareš (Škoda) +1m49.1s