RIV – Breen moves one step closer to ERC Rallye du Valais victory

2015_SA_lap-1-21Craig Breen has taken another big step towards winning the 2015 Rallye International du Valais, after a dominant performance on leg two of the Swiss round of the FIA European Rally Championship.

Co-driven by Scott Martin, the Peugeot Rally Academy 208 T16 driver set the fastest time on five of today’s seven stunning mountain stages, to increase his overnight lead from 15.4 seconds to 55.9 seconds. On cold north-facing roads, filled with patches of damp fallen autumn leaves, recording a perfect trouble-free day was no mean feat, although a confident Breen is making his awe-inspiring performance look easy.

“It’s nice to do a rally with no pressure and just go out and enjoy yourself,” said Breen. “We’ve had a lot of stage wins and no problems with the car, so I’m happy with that. We’re just driving in the middle of the road and not taking any risks. We have a nice cushion, so the plan is to keep our head down tomorrow and take the win.”

Olivier Burri remains second in his Citroën DS3 RRC, the eight-time Valais winner slowed slightly with more intercom problems and some tyre selection issues today. Rather than challenging Breen for victory, Burri is coming under extreme pressure from Valais rookie Alexey Lukyanuk. Despite his own intercom problems, and taking too harder compound Pirelli tyres in the morning, the Russian Performance Motorsport Ford Fiesta R5 driver is third tonight, just 13.8s behind Burri. On his first Rallye du Valais, Lukyanuk even set fastest time on the final stage today and was truly spectacular over the famous Valais jump.

The slippery and twisty mountain roads are ideal conditions for nimble four-wheel drive cars, but defying logic is the star of the alpine roads, FIA R-GT champion François Delecour. His Tuthill Porsche 997 has been sideways for much of the day, and he’s had to take a slightly more gentle approach this afternoon, after clipping a house this morning and damaging the rear suspension. Delecour remains an incredible fourth overall, and whilst the gravel sections tomorrow are likely to be a huge disadvantage, the laws of physics haven’t influenced his stunning stage times so far!

Florian Gonon set fastest time on SS7, the short Caserne stage, located next to service park in Sion. Last year’s ERC Production Car Cup winner is fifth tonight in his Lugano Racing Team Peugeot 207 S2000. Like his follow countryman Burri, Gonon is coming under pressure from a Valais newcomer, in this case Emil Bergkvist. The ERC Junior champion is enjoying a fantastic debut in a four-wheel drive car, learning on the first passes and increasing his pace in the Saintéloc Racing Peugeot 208 T16 on the repeat runs through the stages. The talented ADAC Opel Rallye Junior Team driver is sixth tonight, just 5.7s behind Gonon.

Another youngster going very well is Nikolay Gryazin. On his first event in a ŠKODA Baltic Motorsport Fabia R5, the 18-year old Russian driver is ninth, after tyre problems (including a puncture) yesterday.

2015_SA_lap-1-27Bruno Magalhães, Jonathan Hirschi (both 208 T16) and Miroslav Jakeš (Citroën DS3 R5) all hit the same bridge on a particularly slippery section of SS6. Magalhães completed the stage with suspension damage, and having lost over five minutes drove to rebuild his confidence and knowledge of the Swiss stages in the afternoon. Hirschi continued after changing a broken wheel and losing two minutes. He flew high over the famous jump on SS9, and completed the day in 10th but with fuel pressure problems, and hoping the heavy landing hasn’t damaged anything. Unfortunately for Jakeš, he retired at the bridge.

Raul Jeets has struggled with engine problems in his MM-Motorsport Ford Fiesta R5 all event. Yesterday he was forced to turn the anti-lag system off and run in road mode, and today the car cut out near the start of Leg 2’s opening stage and refused to restart. With 44% of the stage distance planned tomorrow, the Estonian is hopeful that the electrical problem can be fixed and that he’ll return under Rally 2 rules.

Stunning R5 debut by ERC Junior champion Bergkvist
Emil Bergkvist is using his ERC Junior title-winning prize-drive to show the world what a real star of the future the ERC has found, with a fantastic performance on the Rallye International du Valais in the Saintéloc Racing Peugeot 208 T16. Co-driven by Joakim Sjöberg, the 21-year old ADAC Opel Rallye Junior Team driver is sixth at the end of leg two tonight, just 5.7 seconds behind experienced Swiss driver Florian Gonon (Peugeot 207 S2000). On his first event in a four-wheel drive car, Bergkvist has been driving intelligently – getting used to the car and the conditions on the first pass of a stage, before pushing a little bit more on the repeat runs. His times on today’s last two stages have been particularly impressive. He was fourth fastest overall the second time through Veysonnaz (SS9), taking 7.2 seconds off his previous time through that stage. He was then third fastest on the second pass of Nendaz (SS10), taking a massive 13.2 seconds off his previous time – and flying very high over the famous jump! “The day was good for us,” said Bergkvist modestly. “We started at our pace and in the last two stages we pushed a little bit more. We start to feel a bit more confident in the car and we are getting used to it a little more. We will try to continue like this tomorrow.”

Botka over halfway to becoming ERC2 champion
Dávid Botka has enjoyed another great day in his Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution X, and the Hungarian driver is now over halfway to becoming ERC2 champion. Botka has run first on the road all day, and was therefore the first to find all the incredibly slippery morning sections – making his performance on leg two of the Rallye International du Valais even more exceptional, as he set four fastest stage times. Vojtěch Štajf has struggled to find his normal rhythm after the unsettling corner-cutting incident in Free Practice that ripped a front wheel off his Subaru Duck Czech National Team Impreza WRX STI. Attacking such demanding stages after such a major rebuild was not ideal, and despite more issues like boiling brakes, lost pace notes and brushes with the scenery, the Czech driver set three fastest times today. However, in the race for the ERC2 title, Štajf is 1m00.8s behind Botka. Tibor Érdi remains third, having struggled with gear-selection problems in his Mitsubishi.

Filip opens up a one minute ERC3 lead
Six fastest stage times out of seven has enabled Alex Filip to turn a 7.5s end of leg one ERC3 lead into a 1m10.1s advantage at the end of leg two. The Renault Clio R3 Maxi Plus driver pushed hard on the day’s opening two stages to break away from arch rival Renato Pita, and continued to edge away, despite the Peugeot 208 R2 pilot setting fastest time on Caserne (SS7). Ekaterina Stratieva started the day a lowly 66th on the road, and the ERC Ladies’ Trophy champion completed the day in her Citroën C2 R2 to maintain third in ERC3.

2015_SA_lap-1-26WHAT’S NEXT?
The rally moves from Sion to Martigny for tomorrow’s third and final leg, which consists of seven stages, totalling 114.66kms, in the Verbier/Grand Saint Bernard region. Starting at 08h45, the final day of competition in the 2015 ERC will be a tough one, with a blast over the 33.07km Les Cols (Etiez-Charrat) stage in the morning, and the 25.15km Col des Planches (Etiez-Arbarey) in the afternoon. After all 17 stages, totalling 233.63kms, have been completed, the finish ceremony will take place at the CERM exhibition centre in Martigny at 17h00.

Press release FIA ERC

Pictures Sébastien Moulin and Massimo Prati

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