FIA ERC: Azores proves tough as the Magalhães take home win


Bruno Magalhães has become a three-time winner of the Azores Airlines Rallye following a dramatic start to the FIA European Rally Championship season and an exciting new era for ERC Junior.

22 MAGALHAES Bruno MAGALHAES Hugo Skoda Fabia R5 Action during the 2017 European Rally Championship ERC Azores rally, from March 30 to April 1, at Ponta Delgada Portugal – Photo Jorge Cunha / DPPI

To provide a clear path from national level to the world championship, ERC Junior has been split into two separate categories for 2017 based on driver age and car performance.

Brit Chris Ingram won the ERC Junior Under 27 category for drivers born on or after 1 January 1990 competing in R2 cars on Pirelli tyres after a thrilling battle with Opel team-mate Jari Huttunen, which ended in despair for the Finn when he retired 200 metres from the finish of the final stage. Germany’s Marijan Griebel, the ERC Junior champion from 2016, came out on top in ERC Junior Under 28 for young stars (born on or after 1 January 1989) in R5 cars. The eventual ERC Junior U27 champion receives a support fund of 100,000 euros for use in ERC Junior U28 in 2018 with the ERC Junior U28 winner earning a one-off drive in a World Rally Car on a European round of the world championship next season, therefore providing a clear path of progression.

Not only did Griebel take top ERC Junior U28 honours and one outright stage win, by finishing second overall the German underlined his huge potential on his second gravel event in an R5 car. “Finishing second in Cyprus on my debut in an R5 car last season was already really, really good but here with 28 R5 cars I never think before that we can reach second overall. It was nearly a perfect rally for me winning ERC Junior Under 28, and a lot of fun. I had a great car and thanks to Baumschlager Rallye & Racing and to my sponsors, this is amazing. For sure it was a nice battle with Nicolay [Gryazin] at the beginning of the day. When he retired it was getting difficult thinking what could happen, where could I reach but in the end everything worked out and I’m very happy.”

For Ingram, ERC Junior U27 success was the perfect start to the new season after he lost out on the ERC Junior crown on the final round in 2016. “Massive respect for Jari for how well he’s driven on his first time here,” said Ingram. “It’s my fourth time here and for him to be on our pace is very impressive and fair play. It was a comfortable drive until we had some problems towards the end but we won in the end.”

Based on the mid-Atlantic archipelago’s largest island of São Miguel, the 52nd running of the Azores Airlines Rallye was action-packed from start to finish with reigning ERC champion Kajetan Kajetanowicz, last season’s runner-up Alexey Lukyanuk and local hero Ricardo Moura all hitting trouble. Despite not rallying on gravel for 18 months and with scant experience of his ŠKODA Fabia R5, Magalhães steered clear of the drama and powered ahead of Moura on leg one before moving in front when Lukyanuk broke his steering striking a rock on Saturday’s second stage to add to the wins he scored in 2008 and 2010.

“I didn’t expect that, it is just amazing, just perfect and thanks to my sponsors who gave me this opportunity, to my family and everybody in the team,” said Magalhães, who is now trying to secure the funding to extend his ERC campaign.

Co-driver Hugo Magalhães also becomes a three-time Azores winner having navigated Bernardo Sousa to victory in 2014 and Diogo Gago to ERC Junior success last season. “It’s so special for me and I really didn’t expect to finish with first place in my pocket but we did a great job all weekend.”

Kajetanowicz restarted on leg two following his off on Friday’s opening stage and recovered to P27 overall, scoring six leg bonus points. Having announced his bid for an historic third-consecutive ERC title on the eve of the start in Ponta Delgada, the highlight for the LOTOS Rally Team Fiesta driver was the capture of ERC stage win number 100 when he set the pace on the Grupo Marques superspecial on Thursday.

“It wasn’t easy after yesterday but came back and thanks to my team for doing a great job and to my co-driver Jarek [Baran] who was the driver today because in the fog you can see nothing and you must turn when he says,” Kajetanowicz said. “Okay, there was one mistake, but it was an amazing rally and I am very happy to be here at the finish.”

Thick fog and slippery stage surfaces combined to make driving conditions treacherous for large chunks of the final leg with several drivers being caught out and going off or being delayed by car damage, failures or punctures. They included Murat Bostanci, Dávid Botka, Łukasz Habaj, Jarosław Kołtun, Ricardo Moura and Albert von Thurn und Taxis, who was making his ERC debut but stopped on the penultimate stage with a mechanical issue.

32 PIMENTEL Luis PIMENTEL Bruno Mitsubishi lancer EVO X Action during the 2017 European Rally Championship ERC Azores rally, from March 30 to April 1, at Ponta Delgada Portugal – Photo Jorge Cunha / DPPI

Pimentel wins ERC2 after late woe for Remennik

Luis Pimentel, on his return to action after five years away, won the ERC2 category after long-term leader Sergey Remennik dropped out in the closing stages.

With a turbo fault repaired overnight, Zelindo Melegari restarted on the final day to take second in class.