02 Sirmacis Ralfs Simins Arturs Skoda Fabia R5 Action during the 2016 European Rally Championship ERC Liepaja rally, from september 16 to 18 at Liepaja, Lettonie - Photo Jorge Cunha / DPPIERC
Looking to score his third win from five events since stepping up to the top level of the ERC earlier this year, 22-year-old Sirmacis won each of the first five gravel stages in his ŠKODA Fabia R5, and leads by 30.7 seconds overnight.
Alexey Lukyanuk swapped his regular Ford Fiesta R5 for his ERC2-specification Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution X for this event, but that hasn’t stopped the Russian being a leading contender on Pirelli tyres. Some errors under braking due to the different driving dynamics of the production model cost him time in his battle with Sirmacis earlier in the day, but he ended it by winning the two runs over the new Great Amber street stage in Liepāja itself.
Kajetan Kajetanowicz is 15s further back in third, and remains set to secure his second ERC title tomorrow. It wasn’t an entirely straightforward day for the LOTOS Rally Team star however, who filled the front of his Ford Fiesta R5 with grass when he made a deep cut on SS3, raising temperatures and cutting the power, before then having to perform a reset on SS4 to cure a separate power steering fault.
On gravel, Estonian driver Siim Plangi extracted similar performance to Lukyanuk from his Mitsubishi, reproducing the form that took him to second place on the same event last February when it was run on snow and ice. Third overall prior to the Great Amber stages, he’s still only 3.2s behind Kajetanowicz. Latvian Jānis Vorobjovs is another quick Evo X driver in fifth, climbing up from eighth during the morning loop.
Ford Fiesta R5 drivers Łukasz Habaj and Frank Tore Larsen have been in a close battle since the first stage, when they posted identical times. Habaj, who recently abandoned his Polish title defence to contest more ERC events and improve his driving on gravel in particular, was marginally quicker than Larsen on the subsequent stages but only 12.5s separate the pair overnight, with Norwegian Larsen also pleased with his performance on his second ERC start.
Raul Jeets was eighth in the second SRT ŠKODA before he rolled it on a slow corner on SS5, with a fire at the front of the car preventing him from continuing. That promoted local driver Raimonds Kisiels into eighth in his similar car. Dávid Botka held 10th for most of the day in his Citroën DS3 R5, a bad first run around Great Amber costing him in a battle for ninth with the man poised to succeed him as ERC2 champion, Wojciech Chuchała.
Tomasz Kasperczyk sits 13th overnight in his Fiesta R5, but C-Rally team-mate Jarosław Kołtun was forced to stop after power steering and brake issues over the first two stages.
There are six stages on Sunday, split into two loops of three and totalling 100 kilometres. The action begins with the Vivus.lv stage at 9h30, while the final stage Blue Shock Race begins at 14h30 before the podium ceremony in Liepāja at 16h00.