Alexey Lukyanuk scored a controlled victory on Rally di Roma, the opening round of the European Rally Championship, while Oliver Solberg scored a podium on his asphalt rally debut.
After winning every stage on Saturday, Lukyanuk took a more considered approach to Sunday’s nine stages, composed of a single loop repeated three times.
That allowed last year’s Rally di Roma winner Giandomenico Basso to make inroads on the Saintéloc Junior Team driver’s lead, cutting down Lukyanuk’s advantage from over half a minute to only 16.1 seconds at the finish.
Lukyanuk admitted he “lost more [time] than I expected” in the second loop but still banked victory in what the 2018 ERC champion described as a “calculated drive”.
Despite failing to make up enough time to win the rally, Basso’s priority wasn’t to catch Lukyanuk for victory.
With each day of Rally di Roma counting as a points-scoring round in the Italian championship, Volkswagen Polo GTI R5 driver Basso spent the day in a tooth-and-nail battle with F.P.F Sport’s Andrea Crugnola, gaining time on Lukyanuk in the process.
Crugnola had been an early favorite for overall victory but had crashed out on Saturday’s opening stage.
Ultimately Crugnola won the said head-to-head battle for maximum Italian championship points, winning six out of nine stages. Basso won the remaining three Sunday tests.
Solberg wrapped up a comfortable third position on his first ever asphalt rally, far surpassing his expectations of “hoping for a top 10” finish pre-event.
He steadily pulled away from the dueling Craig Breen and Simone Tempestini over the course of Sunday, and also secured victory in the ERC1 Junior category.
Breen, one of two drivers competing in ERC as part of MRF’s efforts to develop its rally tires, had been struggling on the final stages of loops for most of the event and had fallen behind Tempestini to fifth just before final service.
But a spin at a hairpin for Tempestini on the final pass of Rocca di Cave, combined with Breen giving it “pretty much everything I have” on Rocco San Stefano, ensured that Breen clung on to fourth place by 1.3s.
Tempestini completed the top five ahead of reigning ERC3 Junior champion Efrén Llarena, who initially looked to be catching both Breen and Tempestini for fourth position.
The penultimate stage, Rocca San Stefano, would bring an end to his hopes of a top-five finish, overheating his brakes and tires and falling back into the path of Grégoire Munster.
Munster, making his second career start in a Hyundai i20 R5, pushed to bridge the gap to Llarena for sixth place and went fourth-fastest on Guarcino, the rally’s final stage.
But it wasn’t quite enough to pip the Citroën C3 R5, Munster having to settle for seventh overall and just missing out on an ERC1 Junior podium behind Solberg, Tempestini and Llarena.
Filip Mareš recovered from a confidence-shattering crash during free practice on Friday to take eighth place, ahead of Emil Lindholm in the second MRF-shod car in ninth.
Miko Marczyk completed the Top 10 in the ERC classification, though Italian championship runner Rudy Michelini was ahead of both Lindholm and Marczyk in ninth overall.
ERC3’s extremely tight head-to-head battle for honors between Ken Torn’s Ford Fiesta Rally4 and Pedro Antunes’s Peugeot 208 Rally4 had a dramatic finish, as Antunes crashed on the final stage and handed the win to Torn.
Orsák Rally Sport driver Torn had led for most of the rally but was caught and passed by Antunes on the first stage of the final loop, as Antunes took 4.7s out of Torn on Rocca di Cave and with it the class lead.
Antunes then extended his lead to 4.3s with one stage left, but went off the road on Guarcino, causing the stage to be red flagged and leaving a stunned Torn to celebrate an unexpected victory.
“I’m shaking, and I’m very happy,” said Kauri Pannas, Torn’s co-driver. “This Sunday, oof, we pushed so hard, over the limit, really.”
Rally Team Spain’s Pep Bassas was promoted to second place on his ERC3 debut after Antunes’s crash, climbing from 16th after Saturday’s first stage following a puncture.
Martin László completes the ERC3 podium in 2019-spec Ford Fiesta R2T, ahead of his son Zsolt László in a similar Fiesta in fourth.
Zelindo Melegari scored ERC2 victory on his first rally since a car-destroying accident on last year’s Barum Rally left him hospitalized.
Driving a 10-year-old Subaru Impreza N14, Melegari took a comfortable win over Abarth Rally Cup class winner Andrea Mabellini.
Petr Nešetřil completed the podium in his Porsche 997 GT3. His battle with Roberto Gobbin’s Abarth 124 was effectively over before Sunday’s first stage, as Gobbin was given a 2m30s penalty for checking in late to parc fermé on Saturday night.
Dariusz Poloński had been the early ERC2 pacesetter on Saturday before his Abarth’s turbo failed and forced him to retire. He returned on Sunday, only for the same thing to happen again on SS9.
1 Lukyanuk 1h58m57.0s
2 Basso +16.1s
3 Solberg +1m03.2s
4 Breen +1m57.0s
5 Tempestini +1m58.3s
6 Llarena +2m15.9s
7 Munster +2m20.5s
8 Mareš +2m26.0s
9 Michelini +2m31.9s
10 Lindholm +2m54.0s