Alexey Lukyanuk holds a lead of nearly 10 seconds over Giandomenico Basso at the end of a dramatic opening loop of the European Rally Championship season on Rally di Roma.
The Saintéloc Racing driver, in a Citroën C3 R5, won all three stages and leads last year’s winner Basso by 9.8s.
Tire management was a key factor over the morning, with ambient temperatures around 86°F (30°C) and two red flag stoppages proving problematic.
The top 15 crews from the qualifying stage selected their road order positions ahead of the ceremonial start in Rome on Friday night, with Oliver Solberg opting to run first in his Volkswagen Polo R5.
Qualifying pacesetter Basso elected to run second in his Loran-run Polo R5, while Lukyanuk chose third on the road.
Lukyanuk beat Basso by 5.8s in the opening stage (Pico) before extending it by another 1.6s on SS2 (Roccasecca-Colle). The Russian then consolidated his margin in SS3 (Santopadre) to take a slender lead advantage into the second loop.
Simone Tempestini currently lies third in his Škoda Fabia R5 after a superb time on the Santopadre stage, leapfrogging Hyundai World Rally Championship regular Craig Breen who suffered a suspected puncture.
Team MRF’s Breen had set the second fastest time on the opening test of Pico with a car “more than superb” but dropped three places to sixth following his SS3 troubles.
In between Tempestini and Breen are the two Polo R5s of Fabian Kreim and Solberg. The loss of his glasses before SS2 meant Solberg drove two of the stages with some difficult, and is 35s behind Lukyanyuk.
Just four cars managed it through the opening Pico stage before a lengthy red flag stoppage, caused by F.P.F. Sport’s local hero Andrea Crugnola crashing a little over a mile into the 8.32-mile test.
The Italian, who won 13 out of 16 stages on Roma last year, suffered extensive damage to his F.P.F Sport Citroën C3 R5 while navigating a right-hander over a crest. The impact ripped two wheels off his car, forcing an interruption of over 45 minutes while it was removed from the stage.
The second stage was also stopped after M-Sport’s Adrien Fourmaux rolled his Ford Fiesta R5. Both the Frenchman and co-driver Renaud Jamoul emerged unharmed in the incident but are out of the rally.
Motorsport Ireland Rally Academy’s Callum Devine is another casualty from the opening loop after his Hyundai i20 R5’s engine cut out on the final corner of SS3, forcing his retirement.
Zelindo Melegari leads the way in ERC2 in a Subaru Impreza following early leader Dariusz Poloński’s retirement in SS2.
RallyTechnology’s Poloński suffered a turbo failure in his Abarth 124, which leaves Melegari with a 35.4s advantage over another Abarth of Andrea Mabellini.
While there was disappointment for M-Sport in ERC1, it was a different story in ERC3 as Ken Torn leads the way from Pedro Antunes’ Peugeot 208 Rally4.
Estonian Torn, driving a Ford Fiesta Rally4, won the opening stage by nearly eight seconds and only dropped eight-tenths to Antunes on SS2.
Behind, Marco Pollara suffered a puncture on SS2 but remained third after SS3 despite struggling with a brake problem in his Ford Fiesta Rally4.
Torn’s advantage over Antunes was then extended to 14.2s, with Pollara some 40 seconds further back in third.
Miika Hokkanen was a notable retirement on SS3. The Finn, who had been fifth following the first two stages, crashed out in the final test before service.
Results after SS3
1 Lukyanuk (Citroën) 29m25.3s
2 Basso (Volkswagen) +9.8s
3 Tempestini (Škoda) +31.9s
4 Kreim (Volkswagen) +33.8s
5 Solberg (Volkswagen) +35.0s
6 Breen (Hyundai) +36.5s
7 Scattolon (Škoda) +48.5s
8 Herczig (Volkswagen) +49.3s
9 Llarena (Citroën) +49.8s
10 Munster (Hyundai) +1m00.0s