Sesks sets early pace on Rally Liepāja

On his home event of the ERC, Mārtiņš Sesks built a lead of 18 seconds over Robert Virves on the opening loop

Martin Sesks

Home driver Mārtiņš Sesks is setting a searing pace to lead Latvia’s Rally Liepāja, the fourth round of the European Rally Championship, by 18 seconds over Robert Virves after the first loop of stages.

Sesks came into the event on fine form, having won the previous round in Poland. He also dominated last year’s Rally Liepāja, winning every single stage.

The Škoda Fabia RS Rally2 driver earned most of his lead by winning the morning’s 17-mile opening Tukums test by 16.4s ahead of the Citroën C3 Rally2 of Mads Østberg, with whom he was tied for second in the championship coming in to the event. Ford Fiesta Rally2-mounted Virves was a further 1.3s back.

With road sweeping expected to be a major factor on the loose gravel, Sesks elected to start behind all his main rivals, having won Friday’s qualifying stage.

However, with two-minute intervals between cars, many drivers found that hanging dust negated much of the benefit of road position. It led to SS2, a re-run of the opening test, being cancelled due to safety concerns.

Rain began to fall ahead of the five-mile SS3 Talsi, a technical stage which began with an asphalt section, meaning that dust was no longer a problem. Sesks was fastest through that as well, albeit by only 0.3s over Virves.

Perhaps ominously for his rivals, Sesks was not entirely happy with his performance: “We can do a lot better,” he said. “I’m not feeling really comfortable today. I don’t have the right rhythm.”

Robert Virves

Virves was more satisfied but still reckoned there was room for improvement: “We are making quite a lot mistakes but we are not too far away from the pace so it’s nice to see.”

Championship leader Hayden Paddon (Hyundai i20 N Rally2) lies third overall, 4.7s behind Virves. The World Rally Championship event winner found the dust of SS1 particularly difficult, losing 21.9s to Sesks.

Third fastest on SS3, just 0.8s slower than Sesks, Paddon said: “Now that we can see where we’re driving, we can drive a bit harder! I actually probably attacked a few places a little bit too hard where we got out of the line. It was an OK stage but not a clean stage.”

Østberg dropped to fourth, 25.8s off the pace, after sliding off the road when he stalled under braking on SS3 and struggled to get the car restarted.

“At least we are not losing time because we are slow – we are losing time because something happened,” he said. “We will see how the next stages develop. I think it will be more like Rally Wales now.”
Mads Ostberg

Joint fifth overall are Efrén Llarena, who has switched back to his older Rally2 Evo Škoda, and Georg Linnamäe (Hyundai), more than 30s behind the leader. Llarena lost time on SS3 after clipping a kerb early on and initially fearing he might have sustained a puncture.

Linnamäe impressed with his pace having started first on the road. He made the most of having no dust to contend with on the opening test, and may have benefited from slightly drier asphalt than those behind on SS3.

Mikko Heikkilä’s Škoda lies seventh, just 1.9s ahead of the Hyundai of Josh McErlean. “I never thought I’d welcome the rain so much but it’s a relief,” smiled the Irishman.

Škoda duo Mathieu Franceschi and Simone Campedelli complete the early top 10.

Words:Mark Paulson