While Andreas Mikkelsen celebrated a winning return to the FIA European Rally Championship, Alexey Lukyanuk fought back like a champion with a charging display on Rally Hungary’s deciding leg today, scoring seven potentially crucial points in his bid to win the coveted title for a second time.
Lukyanuk was firmly in the victory fight, a mere 5.1s behind Mikkelsen after five stages. But when he was checked in five minutes early for stage six, his hopes of a third 2020 ERC win came crashing down as a five-minute penalty was applied to the Saintéloc Junior Team driver’s total time.
Despite languishing in a distant P18 at the overnight halt in host city Nyíregyháza, Lukyanuk didn’t give up and went on a flat-out charge to win leg two courtesy of three stage wins. His performance cut the margin to winner Mikkelsen to 4m53.5s in the ultimate case of what might have been.
“We won the day so the mission is complete,” said Lukyanuk, who was competing in a Citroën C3 R5 on Pirelli tyres. “Risk management is something to learn of course and we see it’s possible to be faster. All in all we tried to concentrate on speed and consistency and it feels good.”
For Mikkelsen, his victory alongside co-driver Ola Fløene came on the back of seven stage bests, a remarkable performance given this was the Norwegian’s first rally of 2020 at the wheel of a Pirelli-equipped, Topp-Cars Rally Team-run Škoda Fabia Rally2 Evo.
“I’m undefeated in 2020 so far!” said a jubilant Mikkelsen, a winner of three World Rally Championship events in the past. “It’s been a good weekend. As I said I haven’t been competing, only testing as most of you know, for the last couple of years on Tarmac has been really difficult for me and I think maybe people thought I couldn’t drive on Tarmac any more so it’s nice to come here and show we’ve still got it and we’re still fast. I have to say a huge thanks to our team, Topp-Cars, for delivering me this car, it’s been working flawless all weekend and as well to Skoda for making this really, really nice car. I tried it in 2017, I loved it then but a lot has happened since then and now it’s even better. I feel so comfortable driving and it’s all about confidence. I felt I’ve pretty much been in control all the rally. I felt very good,. We drove a clever strategy, not taking too big risks but we were still quick so it’s really enjoyable.”
BMA Autosport Hyundai i20 R5 driver Grégoire Munster won ERC1 for the second rally in succession in a career-best second overall with Efrén Llarena, the ERC3 Junior champion from 2019, also landing a personal best in third for Rallye Team Spain.
MOL Racing Team’s Norbert Herczig was third with two stages remaining but a puncture on SS15 denied the Hungarian a home podium. “I’m really sad, we had a puncture but I don’t know how because we drive carefully,” said the four-time national champion, who drives a Volkswagen Polo GTI R5. “Unfortunately, we lose the podium and I’m sorry for everybody. I wanted very much the podium, but life is life. Next time.”
As well as benefiting Llarena, Herczig’s delay promoted Oliver Solberg – who was ninth overnight after two punctures on Saturday – to fourth and Niki Mayr-Melnhof to fifth, the Austrian dropping time with a moment through a ditch on SS14.
Callum Devine was seventh for the Motorsport Ireland Rally Academy to continue his strong recent run with double ERC Junior champion Marijan Griebel overcoming a high-speed spin this morning to finish eighth for Saintéloc Junior Team.
Erik Cais produced a succession of rapid stage times as he recovered from his second-stage off to finish ninth for the Yacco ACCR Team. Yoann Bonato was also delayed going off the road on the opening morning to demote András Hadik for P10 on the final stage. Josh McErlean marked his ERC debut with an impressive P12 for the Motorsport Ireland Rally Academy. Dominik Dinkel (Brose Motorsport) battled back from several delays – plus no working intercom for several Saturday stages – to finish P13 ahead of Lukyanuk and ORLEN Team’s Polish champion Miko Marczyk, who led after SS1 but lost out on a top result due to a puncture. Albert von Thurn und Taxis took P16.