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Alexey Lukyanuk won the opening round of the 2016 FIA European Rally Championship after defeating the defending champion Kajetan Kajetanowicz on the final day of Rally Islas Canarias El Corte Inglés.

The triumph in Gran Canaria is a second consecutive ERC win for Russian driver Lukyanuk and co-driver Alexey Arnautov – their third in total – after they won last year’s final round in Switzerland. Lukyanuk started leg two with a 22.7-second deficit to his fellow Pirelli-shod Ford Fiesta R5 driver Kajetanowicz but profited when the LOTOS Rally Team driver suffered excessive tyre wear during the morning loop as the result of high tyre pressures.

Lukyanuk took the lead on SS9 and extended it to over half a minute on SS10 before the midday service in Las Palmas. Thereafter he resisted Kajetanowicz’s attempts to get back on terms, picking up his third and fourth stage wins of the event on the final two stages to finish up 32.7s ahead.

“It’s incredible to be honest,” said Lukyanuk, who had ended the 2015 season with a maiden Tarmac victory. “The competition was so hard. We did a lot of mistakes yesterday but this helped us today. It is super and I am really proud for my team and my sponsors. The competition is very high.”

Local rallying hero Luis Monzón returned to the ERC podium, matching his third place from the championship’s last visit to Gran Canaria in 2013. No longer suffering from the gearbox gremlins of Friday in his Michelin-equipped Citroën DS3 R5, Monzón was a frontrunner throughout the six stages that made up leg two and he beat Lukyunuk to win SS10.

Robert Consani had moved up into third place overall at the end of Friday but endured a torrid second day, which began with his Peugeot 208 T16 failing to start prior to the morning’s first stage. The Frenchman then battled brake issues throughout the day and was eventually classified seventh after three-and-a-half minutes of road penalties.

Poland’s Wojciech Chuchała starred throughout the rally in his Subaru Impreza STi, dominating the ERC2 class and also finishing a fine fifth overall behind Spanish Fiesta driver Jonathan Pérez. Jarosław Kołtun, in another Fiesta, was only 1.1s behind his fellow Polish driver Chuchała going onto the final stage but was forced to settle for sixth after stopping to change a tyre. Tenth overnight, János Puskádi ran first on the road during the second leg and climbed to eighth overall, just one position away from matching his best ever ERC finish from this same event in 2013.

Puskádi’s fellow ŠKODA Fabia R5 driver Hermen Kobus had dreams of a top-five finish and moved into that position on the day’s opening stage, but the Dutchman’s rally ended shortly afterwards when he crashed into a tree on SS9. Italian Giacomo Costenaro retired from top-five contention when hit by a power steering problem in his Peugeot 208 T16 early in the day. Tomasz Kasperczyk finished P10 in his Fiesta, benefiting when Iván Ares suffered a continuation of the braking issues that struck when he was running a fine fourth during Friday.

Chuchała dominates ERC2, Ranga steals second
Wojciech Chuchała led ERC2 from start to finish, setting the best time on every stage and finishing 3m37.8s ahead of his nearest competitor, as well as taking fifth overall for the Subaru Poland Rally Team. While Chuchała was in command, a tight battle emerged for second place during leg two. Giacomo Scattolon (Italy) had held the position since the first stage on Friday but severe tyre wear during the morning loop had eroded an advantage of over 30s to Hungarian Péter Ranga, driving an older Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution. The Hungarian cut the gap to Scattolon just 1.4s ahead of the final stage and then outpaced his rival by 6.1s in the decider to steal the place at the final opportunity. Argentina’s Juan Carlos Alonso was fourth on an unfamiliar surface ahead of Tibor Érdi (Hungary).

Habaj provides more Polish success in ERC3
Łukasz Habaj matched the efforts of his compatriot and fellow national champion Chuchała by sweeping the board in ERC3. Driving a Rallytechnology Peugeot 208 R2, Habaj more than doubled his advantage during the second leg of the rally to finish 2m36.8s clear in 15th overall. As well as supremacy from a Polish driver, another parallel between ERC2 and ERC3 was a close scrap for second until the end. Double Turkish champion Murat Bostanci held the position at the start of the day in his Ford Fiesta R2 but was passed by two-time ERC 2WD champion Zoltán Bessenyey on SS8. The Hungarian Renault Clio R3T driver held on, but the largest his margin grew to all day was the 4.3s gap at the finish – after the pair set identical times on the final stage. Habaj’s team-mate Tomasz Gryc claimed fourth ahead of four-time Slovenian champion Aleks Humar in a Clio R3T. Two more Polish drivers, Łukasz Pieniążek and Aleks Zawada, restarted for the second leg after being stopped on Friday by accident damage and a broken driveshaft respectively on their Opel Adam R2s, and were frequently the closest to Habaj in the stage times.

Visiting star Mads Østberg, currently second in the WRC standings, led until the final stage of day one on his ERC debut, before crashing his Fiesta R5 after experiencing brake fade. The Norwegian paid tribute to the high level of competition in the ERC, admitting that he had been pushing hard in an attempt to stay ahead.

PROVISIONAL TOP 10 POSITIONS (after 12 stages, 213 kilometres)
1 Alexey Lukyanuk (RUS)/Alexey Arnautov (RUS) Ford Fiesta R5….2h03m49.6s
2 Kajetan Kajetanowicz (POL)/Jarosław Baran (POL) Ford Fiesta R5….+32.3s
3 Luis Monzón (ESP)/José Carlos Déniz (ESP) Citroën DS3 R5….+1m41.5s
4 Jonathan Pérez (ESP)/Alejandro López Fernández (ESP) Ford Fiesta R5….+2m44.0s
5 Wojciech Chuchała (POL)/Daniel Dymurski (POL) Subaru Impreza STi ….+5m27.0s
6 Jarosław Kołtun (POL)/Ireneusz Pleskot (POL) Ford Fiesta R5….+5m28.1s
7 Robert Consani (FRA)/Maxime Vilmot (FRA) Peugeot 208 T16….+6m40.1s
8 János Puskádi (HUN)/Barnabás Gódor (HUN) ŠKODA Fabia R5….+7m18.1s
9 Surhayen Pernía (ESP)/Juan Luis García (ESP) Renault Clio R3T….+7m48.7s
10 Tomasz Kasperczyk (POL)/Damian Syty (POL) Ford Fiesta R5….+8m01.4s

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