Alexey Lukyanuk laid down an emphatic marker for his ERC rivals, leading Azores Airlines Rallye from Thursday afternoon all the way through to Saturday’s final stage. The Russian capped off his winning start to this year’s FIA European Rally Championship with donuts before the finish line. Portuguese drivers Ricardo Moura and Bruno Magalhães tried their best, but had no answer for Lukyanuk’s rapid pace. Holding a 21.8 second lead over local legend Ricardo Moura, Lukyanuk found a way to drive around brake issues caused by a leaking caliper to win Saturday morning’s two long stages, nearly doubling his lead ahead of second placed Moura to 37.8 seconds. Moura went all out attack in his attempts to reel in the rapidly escaping Lukyanuk, but his push went slightly too far when he clobbered a bank and spun his ŠKODA Fabia R5 in SS11, Tronqueira’s morning pass.

Alexey Lukyanuk. Photo: ERC

Behind, Bruno Magalhães started the day in third and within touching distance of the leading pair, but a broken rear differential cost him over half a minute and ruined his chances of a dream victory on home soil by midday service. Lukyanuk took a steady approach to the final loop of stages, conserving his tyres and trying not to make any mistakes. Moura’s pace faded somewhat in the afternoon, dropping to 47.9 seconds off first place before leg two’s final stage. Russia Performance Motorsport’s lead driver, Lukyanuk, set hearts racing with only a few hundred meters remaining, pulling wide to celebrate his impending victory with donuts. His showmanship cost over half a minute, but with nearly one minute in hand, entertaining the onlooking fans made no difference to the standings, sealing victory by 16.4 seconds. “With these two guys it was a great battle. I’m really proud to be in this company and to win in front of so many people and spectators to always support us and cheer us,” said Lukyanuk. “I tried to suppress my obvious way to drive and my feelings, my intention to push harder all the time.”

Fredrik Ahlin finished in fifth place in his Skoda. Photo: ERC

“It was a tough rally for me to control myself. In the last stage before the finish line I boiled over with donuts.” “I’m really happy for the team, for sponsors and everybody. I hope we keep going like this,” he concluded. Despite taking what he described as ‘wrong’ tyres, third placed Magalhães pressed on and closed in on Moura ahead, but came only 9.3 second short of stealing second place. National drivers Carlos Vieira and Bernardo Sousa lost a chance of a top 10 ERC finish after separate accidents in Saturday’s opening stage. Vieira bent his right-rear suspension while contact with a bank sent Sousa’s oil temperatures soaring, costing Vieira over four minutes and forcing Sousa to retire.

Catie Munnings and Anne Stein finished second in ERC Ladies. Photo: ERC

SS11 was delayed by Frank Tore Larsen crashing his Ford Fiesta R5 into a tree, blocking the stage and forcing his retirement. Hubert Ptaszek contributed to the final stage drama by crashing into a farm building, a mix-up caused by an incorrect pace-note. Chris Ingram, Fredrik Åhlin, Norbert Herczig, Łukasz Habaj, Rhys Yates, Ricardo Teodósio and José Pedro Fontes completed the top 10 positions. The next round of the FIA European Rally Championship is the Rally Islas Canarias, beginning on the third of May.
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