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International rallying returned with a bang this weekend as Russian Rocket, Alexey Lukyanuk, charged to victory on Rally di Roma Capitale, round one of the delayed 2020 FIA European Rally Championship. Partnered by new co-driver Dmitry Eremeev, the Saintéloc Junior Team ace led from start to finish in his Pirelli-equipped Citroën C3 R5 to claim his second win in Rome and his 10th in the ERC by 16.1s. “It’s good points for the championship and of course winning in Rome is something special,” said Lukyanuk, who hadn’t driven a rally car for 255 days prior to a test on Tuesday. “It’s a unique race with very hard competition. It was a long rally, very tough and very hot. It took a lot of effort to achieve the result and I’m delighted for the performance and happy for the team. I thank our sponsors for their support in this hard situation. You never expect to be the winner and when it comes it’s a special feeling. It was a controlled drive, quite calculated with reasonable pace. It’s very pleasant to see we didn’t lose our feeling and our performance during this lockdown. But without my new co-driver this result would not have been possible.”

Italian Giandomenico Basso finished second in his Volkswagen Polo GTI R5. Photo: Frédéric Le Floc'h

Giandomenico Basso, the two-time ERC champion who won this event 12 months ago, finished second with Oliver Solberg taking third and winning the ERC1 Junior category on his Roma debut. Zelindo Melegari claimed a richly-deserved ERC2 victory on his first start since he and co-driver Corrado Bonato were hospitalised following a crash on Barum Czech Rally Zlín 11 months ago. ERC newcomer Andrea Mabellini bagged Abarth Rally Cup honours. Ken Torn won a frenetic battle for ERC3 and ERC3 Junior glory, as his rally-long rival Pedro Antunes crashed out of first place on the final stage. Pep Bassas took second for Rallye Team Spain on his first event as the winner of Spanish federation RFEDA’s Beca Júnior R2 scholarship. ERC3 Junior champion Efrén Llarena (Rallye Team Spain) marked his graduation to ERC1 Junior by finishing sixth overall behind fourth-placed Craig Breen (Team MRF Tyres) and Romanian champion Simone Tempestini, who came home 1.3s behind the five-time ERC winner from Ireland after a spin. Grégoire Munster held seventh ahead of the advancing ERC1 Junior champion Filip Mareš, who narrowed the Hyundai Junior Driver’s margin to 5.5s. Emil Lindholm and Miko Marczyk filled out the top 10. Leg two round-up After winning all six stages on Saturday to build an advantage of 34.1s, Lukyanuk was second best to Basso this morning, with the two-time ERC champion going quickest on the first and second stages north of rally hub Fiuggi. At the regroup in the thermal spa town earlier, Basso had narrowed Lukyanuk’s overall lead to 29.3s with Oliver Solberg maintaining his grip on third as the top ERC1 Junior driver. Basso scored a brace of stage wins in the middle loop to start the final trio of tests 23.9s behind Lukyanuk. Although he would win the penultimate test, Lukyanuk’s controlled performance and measured approach in ambient temperatures exceeding 30 degrees centigrade meant the Russian was never truly threatened. Solberg belied his absence of Rally di Roma Capitale experience on his first pure Tarmac rally in a Volkswagen Polo GTI R5 to take third with Hyundai-powered Craig Breen taking advantage of a spin for Simone Tempestini on SS13 to grab fourth. Tempestini admitted he struggled to “wake up” and repeat his flying form from Saturday this morning. Despite only confirming his Roma entry on Tuesday, Tempestini was 2.3s ahead of Breen starting the final trio of stages, but his spin caused a six-second delay and Breen finished 1.3s in front. Meanwhile, Breen, on his return to ERC action with Team MRF Tyres, was hugely praiseworthy of the rate of progress of the Indian company’s development programme. ERC3 Junior champion Efrén Llarena starred on his step up to ERC1 Junior, finishing sixth after adapting the handling of his Rallye Team Spain C3 R5 more to his liking by tweaking the spring and anti-roll bar settings. Hyundai Junior Driver Grégoire Munster took seventh on his second outing in an i20 R5 with ERC1 Junior champion Filip Mareš battling back to eighth after a tough rally, which began with a roll in Friday practice. Young guns Emil Lindholm and ORLEN Team’s Polish champion Miko Marczyk impressed as they rounded out the top 10.

Oliver Solberg lost his glasses on Leg 1, but still managed third place in his Volkswagen Polo GTI R5. Photo: Frédéric Le Floc'h

More drivers rewarded in ERC 2020 With points awarded to the top 15 classified finishers from this season, more drivers than ever before scored ERC points on Rally di Roma Capitale. By finishing in positions 11-15, Alessandro Re, Antonio Rusce, Dominik Dinkel, Albert von Thurn und Taxis and Marijan Griebel all scored. COVID-19 protocol takes centre stage on international rallying’s restart With myriad strict measures in place in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, Rally di Roma Capitale is the first FIA international-level event to run since lockdown restrictions eased in certain countries. Drivers and teams have united in their praise of the extensive steps taken by organiser Motorsport Italia to provide a safe and secure environment for competitors and volunteer officials alike in partnership with the FIA, ERC promoter Eurosport Events and Italian federation ACI Sport.

Rally di Roma Capitale officials adhere to strict COVID-19 regulations on the opening round of the 2020 ERC.

Vogel victorious Adrienn Vogel claimed a fine fifth place in ERC3, following home fellow Hungarian drivers Martin László and his father Zoltán. She also finished as the leading lady driver. P1 Racing Fuels Podium Challenge begins The P1 Racing Fuels Podium Challenge, run for the first time during the 2019 ERC season finale in Hungary, will reward the top three finishes on every ERC1 and ERC2 round with fuel vouchers that can be exchanged for P1 XR5 race fuel at subsequent events, helping competitors to further reduce the cost of competing. Across both categories, winning drivers will be entitled to 150 litres of fuel, while second and third placed drivers will receive 100L and 50L of the product respectively.

An event official with a temperature checker during Rally di Roma Capitale.

TOP 15 POSITIONS (after 15 stages, 197.80 kilometres) 1 Alexey Lukyanuk (RUS)/Dmitry Eremeev (RUS) Citroën C3 R5 1h58m57.0s 2 Giandomenico Basso (ITA)/Lorenzo Granai (ITA) Volkswagen Polo GTI R5 +16.1s 3 Oliver Solberg (SWE)/Aaron Johnston (IRL) Volkswagen Polo GTI R5 +1m03.2s 4 Craig Breen (IRL)/Paul Nagle (IRL) Hyundai i20 R5 +1m57.0s 5 Simone Tempestini (ROU)/Sergiu Itu (ROU) Škoda Fabia R5 +1m58.3s 6 Efrén Llarena (ESP)/Sara Fernández (ESP) Citroën C3 R5 +2m15.9s 7 Grégoire Munster (LUX)/Louis Louka (BEL) Hyundai i20 R5 +2m20.5s 8 Filip Mareš (CZE)/Radovan Bucha (CZE) Škoda Fabia Rally2 Evo +2m26.0s 9 Emil Lindholm (FIN)/Mikael Korhonen (FIN) Škoda Fabia Rally2 Evo +2m54.0s 10 Miko Marczk (POL)/Szymon Gospodarczyk (POL) Škoda Fabia Rally2 Evo +3m25.1s 11 Alessandro Re (ITA)/Paolo Zanini (ITA) Volkswagen Polo GTI R5 +3m25.8s 12 Antonio Rusce (ITA)/Sauro Farnocchia (ITA) Citroën C3 R5 +4m10.2s 13 Dominik Dinkel (DEU)/Ursula Mayrhofer (AUT) Škoda Fabia Rally2 Evo +4m47.1s 14 Albert von Thurn und Taxis (DEU)/Bernhard Ettel (AUT) Škoda Fabia Rally2 Evo +4m54.4s 15 Marijan Griebel (DEU)/Pirmin Winklhofer (DEU) Citroën C3 R5 +6m24.1s FIA ERC2: Zelindo Melegari (ITA)/Corrado Bonato (ITA) Subaru Impreza STI FIA ERC3: Ken Torn (EST)/Kauri Pannas (EST) Ford Fiesta Rally4 FIA ERC1 Junior: Oliver Solberg (SWE)/Aaron Johnston (IRL) Volkswagen Polo GTI R5 FIA ERC3 Junior: Ken Torn (EST)/Kauri Pannas (EST) Ford Fiesta Rally4 Abarth Rally Cup: Andrea Mabellini (ITA)/Nicola Arena (ITA) Abarth 124 rally RALLY LEADERS SS1-SS15: Lukyanuk/Eremeev KEY STATISTICS: ERC rally wins in 2020: Lukyanuk and Crugnola 6; Basso 3 ERC stage wins in 2020: Suárez 1 What’s next? Round 2 of 6, Rally Liepāja (Latvia), 14-16 August: The brainchild of driver turned promoter Raimonds Strokšs and first run to great acclaim in 2013, Rally Liepāja was originally a winter event but switched to autumn in 2016 for more guaranteed weather. The new date effectively made for an all-new rally as crews adjusted to gravel roads free of snow and ice. Although the time of year had changed, the high-speed stages in western Latvia continued to thrill drivers and spectators alike. Organisers of this forward-thinking event made more changes for 2019 with a late May date and an expanded route taking in popular stages around the Talsi region. https://youtu.be/7reg_ajpL7M
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