ERC Liepaja: Great Gryazin scores high-speed hat-trick in Latvia; Breen back on the podium with strong displa
Nikolay Gryazin is the Rally Liepāja hat-trick hero following his victory on round two of the 2021 FIA European Rally Championship season.
Gryazin, who also won Latvia’s ERC counter in 2017 and 2018, led the high-speed event from the opening stage to claim a hugely impressive triumph alongside co-driver Konstantin Aleksandrov in a Pirelli-equipped Volkswagen Polo GTI R5.
He finished 17.3s ahead of Craig Breen, who claimed Team MRF Tyres’ first podium in the ERC in second with Alexey Lukyanuk extending his ERC title lead to nine points in third place for Saintéloc Junior Team after the Russian overtook Rallye Team Spain’s Efrén Llarena on Saturday’s opening test.
“After problems in Poland finally we are here in first place,” said Gryazin, the 24-year-old Latvia-based Russian. “We did a good job, no issues, no problems. For the last part I could relax because when you have a gap you can drive through. Everybody in the team did a good job and it’s always nice to win your kind of home rally.”
Llarena, the leading ERC-MICHELIN Talent Factory finisher, took fourth with Toksport WRT’s Andreas Mikkelsen fifth in another Škoda Fabia Rally2 Evo and the best of the Rally Liepāja newcomers.
After finishing third on his home round in Poland last month, ORLEN Team’s Miko Marczyk continued his strong run of form in sixth position with Hyundai Junior Driver Ole Christian Veiby marking his ERC return in seventh place, despite power issues masking his ultimate speed. However, the Norwegian was subsequently excluded after his car failed post-event technical checks.
Finland’s Eerik Pietarinen moved up to seventh in his older-specification Fabia with Yacco ACCR Team’s young Czech Erik Cais impressing by climbing up from P15 overnight to finish eighth. Chilean Emilio Fernàndez took ninth for Toksport WRT, while Simone Tempestini (Napoca Rally Academy) completed the top 10. Nil Solans (Rallye Team Spain) slipped to P11 due to time lost opening the road for his rivals behind, as Georg Linnamäe, Norbert Herczig (Škoda Rally Team Hungaria), Raul Jeets and Yoann Bonato (CHL Sport Auto) rounded out the top 15.
Alberto Battistolli was P16 with Hyundai Junior Driver Grégoire Munster P17 after various delays. ERC Junior winner Ken Torn was a fine P18 overall in his M-Sport Poland Ford Fiesta Rally3 followed by Jarosław Kołtun and Russian Radik Shaymiev.
Umberto Scandola rolled his Hyundai Rally Team Italia i20 R5 into retirement on SS8. Fabian Kreim (Pole Promotion) was in the top-six fight when he stopped with damaged suspension on the same stage. Suspension damage cost Motorsport Ireland Rally Academy driver Callum Devine vital time when a top 10 finish beckoned.
Dmitry Feofanov won ERC2 for the first time in his career with Liepāja’s very own Mārtiņš Sesks hitting back from a testing crash on Tuesday to score an ERC3/ERC3 Junior double in his Fiesta Rally4 after Friday pacesetter Sami Pajari rolled his Fiesta on Saturday’s first stage but continued to finish third behind Renault Clio Rally4 driver Jean-Baptiste Franceschi.
Yigit Timur took an impressive maiden victory in the Clio Trophy by Toksport WRT, the arrive-and-drive series for the Clio Rally5 on MICHELIN tyres ahead of Andrea Mabellini. Dariusz Poloński made it back-to-back Abarth Rally Cup wins with Martin Rada second.
How Gryazin claimed an ERC Rally Liepāja treble
Heading into Saturday’s six high-speed gravel stages east of host city Liepāja, Nikolay Gryazin’s lead of 10.6s was far from secure. But he was 3.4s faster than Craig Breen through the opening test of the day to grow his advantage to 14.0s as Alexey Lukyanuk demoted Efrén Llarena for third.
Eager to make up more ground, Lukyanuk narrowed his gap to Breen to 11.0s by winning SS8. However, there was a scare for Lukyanuk on SS9, the European championship leader damaging the radiator of his Citroën C3 Rally2 after he ran wide on a corner and briefly dropped into a ditch.
Although temporary repairs ensured he could reach the midday service halt in Liepāja, Breen was now 16.0s to the good over Lukyanuk with Gryazin going quickest on SS9 to lead Breen by 15.2s with three stages remaining.
Gryazin was quickest again on SS10 before Andreas Mikkelsen signalled his intent with a brace of stage bests to win leg two and collect five bonus points as Lukyanuk settled for second behind Breen.