We are incredibly happy with the turnout this weekend in ERC Liepaja! This time Sports Racing Technologies team accompanied 4 crews! R2 pioneers Oliver Solberg and Adam Westlund. And two R5 rockets - Nikolay Gryazin and Lukash Habaj!
Every single driver and co-driver did an amazing job and we are proud. Congratulations to L.Habaj/D.Dymurski on 5th place in FIA Rally Liepaja overall. An incredibly humble crew - it's our pleasure to work with you.
O.Solberg/V.Engan had a very interesting rally - a very tight fight with Martins Sesks throughout the entire rally. Finally, they had an engine malfunction and finished 2nd place Juniors season overall.
A.Westlund/D.Kammersgaard took 3rd place overall in LRC Junior class. Showing steady results since his first rally this season and keeping up the good work.
Finally - our champions N.Gryazina and Y.Fedorov! FIA ERC Junior U28 champion title and 2nd place overall in class ERC1. This was what we had hoped for since this season starter. No - not only hoping for this, we have been working, testing, rebuilding non stop to be where we are now. Congartulations - your team is very proud.
See below more info on N.Gryazin/Y.Fedorov troughout the stages.
Pre-event Q and A.
Turning to Nikolay Gryazin, the winner here 12 months ago. While Fredrik can't win the ERC Junior U28 title you very much can. As the championship leader, how confident are you and what would winning the title and prize mean to you?
I feel really excited for this because it's our last rally in the ERC season, so we need to have good points to fight to win the ERC Junior Under 28 championship. So I'm really excited because you really have to finish, not pushing at all, we just have to be smart and score good points. I've done a full season or two overall so I know these roads. I think it will be really good and I feel really confident.
You recently turned 21. As a driver what areas of your performance and capabilities have you improved in the last year?
We improved a lot in pace notes and the feeling of the car, with feedback for engineers. Also, we are improving the set-up, with a lot of work on Tarmac because last year, we understood we are not masters on this surface! We're also not the master everywhere, there are big gaps but we've done lots of work on Tarmac. We also improved in other countries like Finland. It's a really good school for driving smartly, not pushing. It's improving my stability also. We're improving a lot and I hope next year, we will improve more.
Sports Racing Technologies driver Gryazin won the first five stages, gradually increasing his lead over Ingram in their battle for ERC Junior U28 title honours. However, his lead nearly came unstuck on stage six, picking up a rear-left puncture around halfway through the ŠKODA (Vilgāle) test. Despite this, Gryazin lost only 0.6s to stage winner Ingram, finishing the day with 19s in hand.
Leg one recap: Late drama fails to halt Gryazin's progress
Gryazin set the pace from stage one, taking his first of five stage wins on leg one immediately. Ingram was surprised to slot straight into second, unhappy with his driving but still clear of his remaining rivals. Neste (Pērbone)'s first pass was the last stage for Simone Tempestini however, his RGT-spec car suffering a technical failure after the finish line after stopping mid-stage earlier. Unable to remedy the issue, he drove straight back to service and retired.
Another stage win beckoned for Gryazin on SS2 but Ingram was only 0.5s behind, even though both suffered high-speed spins. Ingram's spin put him into a bank but the Brit escaped without incurring any damage to his Fabia. Kreim meanwhile made his first push to put himself in the podium fight, temporarily dispossessing Åhlin for third place before losing it again one stage later.
Autoklub of Czech Republic-backed Filip Mareš shook off a slow start on stage one to march up the leaderboard on stages two and three. Moving past Rhys Yates on SS2, he immediately picked off PEUGEOT Rally Academy's Laurent Pellier on Ramirent (Upītes), moving up from ninth to seventh overall.
A similar theme continued into the afternoon for the leading contenders. Gryazin was fastest again on stage four with Ingram in tow, though losing nearly five seconds this time around. Both had big sideways moments but continued on unhindered once more. Spare a thought for Paulo Nobre down in P15, though – he had been sweeping away all the loose gravel as first car on the road, yet was going slower instead of faster on the afternoon loop despite the roads being cleaner. His tyre choice contributed to his time loss, picking a hard set of Pirellis while most elected for mediums.
Stage five brought the battle for third back to the fore, as Åhlin clocked a time 13.7s slower than Gryazin, who continued his stage-winning streak. He slipped behind Kreim once more, albeit with only 0.2s separating the pair.
The best action was saved for last, as drama befell many of the top 10 drivers on leg one's final stage. One by one, drivers arrived with stories of trials and tribulations. ERC2 production class leader Sergei Remennik picked up a puncture. Rhys Yates was wayward in the final kilometres, convinced something had broken on the rear left corner of his car after hitting a rock around two kilometres from the finish.
Laurent Pellier arrived with a skyrocketing water temperature, coasting into the finishing time control with the engine switched off. Habaj arrived with a punctured front left tyre, like Yates pointing the blame at a rock on the road around two kilometres from the finish. Not even Gryazin, who had won every stage up to the final test, was impervious. He had nursed a punctured rear left from around the halfway mark to the finish, the tyre completely off the rim. And yet his time lost was almost zero, dropping only 0.6s to Ingram to go second fastest.
Amazingly, despite that plethora of issues befalling the top ERC drivers, none lost position. They finished as they started but with tighter time gaps, with 19s separating first and second and a mere 9.1s between Kreim in third and Brynildsen in sixth.
Leg two recap: Gryazin on song as Juniors steal the show
Nikolay Gryazin already had one hand on the ERC Junior Under 28 trophy heading into leg two's six stages, having scored five stage wins out of six the previous day.
Of those who had retired the previous day, Simone Tempestini returned with his Fiat 124 Abarth to secure victory in the RGT class, though PEUGEOT Rally Team's Laurent Pellier and ERC Junior U27 star Sindre Furuseth would not be back on Sunday.
Stage seven had Gryazin back at his best, taking another 3.7s out of closest rival Chris Ingram with another stage win. He did even better on the next test, this time beating Ingram for fastest time by 5.8s.
Behind the leading duo, the closest battle of all was still in full swing. Fabian Kreim and Fredrik Åhlin had traded places three times on leg one in their duel for third place, with another swap taking place on stage eight as Åhlin nipped ahead. Neither of the young stars in R5 cars were alone in their podium quest, as Eyvind Brynildsen had already taken fifth place away from Łukasz Habaj in the previous test and was closing in.
Gryazin completed the morning loop with another stage win but this time with Ingram only fifth fastest. He tip-toed around some errant rocks then dipped the right side of his Fabia into a ditch at speed, saving himself from potential disaster by keeping his right foot planted.
There was more drama in the support classes; ERC2 leader Sergei Remennik rocked up at the finish line with steam billowing from under his bonnet, suffering a power steering leak. Local favourite Mārtiņš Sesks was starting to lose fourth gear on his R2 car, forcing a gearbox change at service.
The action was turned up to 11 by Åhlin and Kreim once again on SS10, still inseparable in their battle over the final podium spot. As both Gryazin and Ingram reeled in their pace to ensure they would secure first and second in the ERC Junior U28 championship race, the young pair of drivers behind were pushing to the limit. So too was the last challenger for a podium, Brynildsen, who went off at speed not far into the stage and crashed off into a bank, retiring on the spot. Also caught out was ERC Junior U27 runner Kristóf Klausz, who spun and became stuck in a ditch for 20 minutes before continuing.
Åhlin had won the previous stage to edge another 0.4s ahead of Kreim but the ŠKODA AUTO Deutschland young talent responded in style, winning SS11 outright to retake third by a mere 0.1s. It was a tough stage on all the drivers, with three in all failing to make it through; Paulo Nobre went off the road at around the halfway mark, with non-points registered driver Niki Mayr-Melnhof rolling out on his first appearance in an ERC–run event. Oliver Solberg – son of 2003 world champion Petter – had not registered for ERC3 but was impressing regardless, locked in a tense battle with Sesks. His impressive run came to an end with engine failure.
And so the last stage of the 2018 ERC season was upon the crews. Orhan Avcioğlu had stopped in the stage to change a puncture but wouldn't let his last minute misfortune dent what had been a successful first campaign for the Toksport WRT driver, bagging his third top 10 finish of the year in eighth place.
Plenty of celebrations were had at the finish line of SS15. Åhlin piloted his CA1 Sport Fabia to the final ERC stage win of 2018, ensuring young stars in R5 cars won every stage in Liepāja, while taking over eight seconds out of the entire field to comprehensively steal third place back from Kreim. The latter had suffered a lairy moment when running wide and momentarily putting Kreim's car on its side, which led him to back off for the rest of the stage. Tom Kristensson was almost lost for words after wrapping his ERC Junior U27 win and Emma Falcón won a first ERC Ladies' Trophy title in a GC Motorsport-run PEUGEOT 208 R2, which she had borrowed as a replacement for her usual R3-spec Citroën DS3. But the biggest celebration was for Gryazin, who had sealed not only the ERC Junior U28 title but a prize drive for 2019.
The race to win one of the biggest prizes in rallying is over: Nikolay Gryazin is the winner of the FIA ERC Junior Under 28 Championship for 2018* and the recipient of a prize drive in a World Rally Car on a European round of the world championship in 2019.
He fought off rivals Chris Ingram and Fabian Kreim in a season-closing title showdown on Rally Liepāja, which concluded this afternoon after two days of intense action on high-speed gravel stages in Latvia.
Gryazin, 21, will now be offered a fully-funded drive in a 2016-specification World Rally Car on a European round of the world championship in 2019 by ERC promoter Eurosport Events and follow in the wheel tracks of Marijan Griebel. The German won the inaugural ERC Junior Under 28 title in 2017 and used part of his prize to score overall points on ADAC Rallye Deutschland last August driving a Citroën DS3 WRC.
However, in order to serve Gryazin's best interests, as an alternative to the World Rally Car prize drive, Eurosport Events will cover the costs of two ERC events next season in an R5 car to a total value of €100,000. There is no restriction on the team or car choice but the grant has to cover two ERC rallies in 2019.
"Congratulations to Nikolay on this fantastic achievement," said ERC Co-ordinator Jean-Baptiste Ley. "With three drivers starting Rally Liepāja in contention for this prestigious FIA title and incredible prize, it has been an exciting end to the championship. All three drivers have achieved great things this season and demonstrated true quality. However, there can only be one winner and Nikolay is certainly a deserving champion. We look forward to watching him take his career to the next level with this excellent opportunity."
Russian Gryazin, whose Pirelli-shod ŠKODA Fabia was co-driven by Yaroslav Fedorov, wins ERC Junior Under 28* – the category for young stars in R5 cars – courtesy of victories on Rally Islas Canarias, Barum Czech Rally Zlín, PZM Rally Poland and now Rally Liepāja, with the latter two outright triumphs.
"It feels good and I'm really satisfied," said the Sports Racing Technologies driver. "Our target wasn't to push but to finish and now I can sleep well. I don't show emotions too much but I'm really happy. We improved a lot this year, we had a good strategy and good preparation for each event. Now I look to next year when I get two rounds of the ERC as my gift from Eurosport."