Alexey Lukyanuk survived a late drama involving a broken handbrake to win Rally Fafe Montelongo by 4.6 seconds, extending his championships lead over rivals Oliver Solberg and Craig Breen.
A strong first day as title rivals Solberg and Breen dropped out of the top 10 on Saturday – Solberg with a broken exhaust and Breen ripping a wheel off his Hyundai – gave Lukyanuk a comfortable lead of 38.3s, but that was whittled down to nothing by the penultimate stage.
Iván Ares and Yoann Bonato – the latter not registered for points – were pushing each other in a tight battle for second place, which cut Lukyanuk’s lead down to 20.3s over Ares with three stages remaining.
But Lukyanuk suffered a scare on the last pass of the Monte stage as a handbrake issue sent him into a spin and cost him over 15 seconds to the drivers behind, setting up a tense final stage showdown for victory.
“It was quite an odd thing from me, it was my mistake,” said Lukyanuk.
“I made a spin, initiated the turn with the handbrake and initially it was not working so I pulled it a bit more and suddenly snapped off.
“It’s never happened to me before, so it was not the right moment for it to happen. OK, it kept us motivated and focused til the end!
“In the morning it was much more relaxed than during the day because the guys gave me a very hard time.
“I tried to control the pace and it was on the right way before that spin so yeah but we did a good job on the last one.”
Lukyanuk has extended his championship lead over Solberg to 41 points after the Volkswagen Polo GTI R5 driver’s difficult weekend, which also included a crash in the shakedown stage on Friday.
Ares and Bonato had swapped places in the battle for second multiple times during the day in a battle that was decided by only 0.1s.
Bonato started the day by winning the first pass of Várzea Cova, then edged ahead during the rest of the loop.
Tire strategy then came into play, as intermittent rain showers made conditions unpredictable and caused the crews several tire selection headaches.
It was Ares that guessed best on the second loop, picking a medium compound while Bonato had gone for softs to cope with rain that didn’t arrive.
Two stage wins from the next three put Ares back to second, though ultimately Bonato would win the battle for second as he took 5.3s out of Ares on the penultimate stage and then held on during the final test despite clipping a guardrail during an oversteer moment.
With early ERC1 Junior leader Oliver Solberg well out of contention due to his Saturday issues, Hyundai junior Grégoire Munster picked up his first win in the class by a comfortable 37.8s over Sport Racing Technologies driver Miko Marczyk.
Munster’s perfect score – winning his class and taking maximum leg points – means his gap to ERC1 Junior championship leader Solberg has closed to only seven points, with three rounds complete so far this year and four scores out of six counting towards the final standings.
Marczyk was victorious in a long four-way slog over fifth place, inheriting the position from Norbert Herczig on SS15 when the Baumschlager driver was overly cautious in wet conditions and dropped 25 seconds.
Herczig had been one of the biggest losers of the tire lottery, commenting that “had to change tires about 10 times between stages during this rally” on his way to sixth place.
Both ACCR Czech Rally Team’s Erik Cais and Škoda Fabia Rally2 Evo driver Dominik Dinkel were closing in on Herczig and Marczyk during the afternoon, though eventually fell short and finished seventh and eighth.
Cais was able to second-guess the tire lottery better than most by taking slicks for the second loop and wets for the final pass of stages, making big inroads on Dinkel in the second pass of Monte and then taking seventh on SS16.
Callum Devine picked up ninth despite being held back on the first Sunday loop by a fuel pressure problem aboard his Hyundai i20 R5.
That dropped him into a battle with fellow Hyundai runner Surhayen Pernía, though after his pressure problem was resolved at first service, Devine surged back to retake ninth late on the second loop.
Pernía completed the top 10 despite losing around half a minute with a spin on the very last stage, pipping Saintéloc driver Marijan Griebel by only two seconds.
Niki Mayr-Melnhof almost beat both Devine and Pernía to ninth after a strong middle loop, but a puncture on the final pass of Monte cost him a minute and dropped him to 12th.
Tibor Érdi Jr took a comfortable victory in ERC2, as the two-time class champion headed a tight scrap over second place by over three minutes.
ERC2 points leader Zelindo Melegari had been in that second place battle on Saturday but crashed out on stage seven.
While Melegari returned on Sunday to finish fifth, Érdi has cut Melegari’s lead to a single point heading to next month’s Rally Hungary, Érdi’s home event.
That left Dmitry Feofanov and Andrea Mabellini to duel for second, and an emphatic stage win from the Mabellini on the penultimate stage of the rally in his Abarth 124 cut the gap from 22.4s to one second.
Mabellini then won the final stage of the rally, demolishing Feofanov by 28.9s to grab second at the finish and demote the Mistubishi Lancer Evo X driver to third.
Pep Bassas weathered a rally-long assault from Ken Torn and recurring engine problems to secure ERC3 victory by 13.9s.
Bassas had struggled with power issues with his Peugeot 208 Rally4 on Saturday morning and after running at full strength on Sunday morning, the same gremlins returned on the final two loops of stages.
M-Sport-backed junior Torn whittled the gap down to 4.7s by Saturday’s mid-way mark but Bassas was able to respond despite his engine woes, gaining 20s over stages 14 and 15 to give him the required breathing space to nurse his car home to victory.
Torn’s advantage in the ERC3 Junior title race remains at a health 27 points, with the winner receiving a two-round ERC prize drive in a Rally2 car next year.
Pedro Almeida finished a lonely third in the front-wheel-drive category in his 208 Rally4, while Amaury Molle survived his front-right brakes failing and the bonnet coming up and smashing his windscreen on his first-generation 208 R2 to take fourth place.
Final Rally Fafe Montelongo results
- Lukyanuk (Citroën) 1h45m52.5s
- Bonato (Citroën) +4.6s
- Ares (Hyundai) +4.7s
- Munster (Hyundai) +1m06.1s
- Herczig (Volkswagen) +1m43.9s
- Marczyk (Škoda) +1m53.4s
- Cais (Ford) +2m00.2s
- Dinkel (Škoda) +2m05.8s
- Devine (Hyundai) +3m02.0s
- Pernía (Hyundai) +3m54.1s