|Rainer Aus won ERC2 and was third overall|
In one of the cruel twists of fate that makes rallying so unpredictable and exciting, Pirelli lost out on a clean sweep of all the class victories on Rally Estonia – the latest round of the FIA European Rally Championship – with just one stage to go.
Having dominated from the start of the event, Russian driver Alexey Lukyanuk lost a certain victory because of a steering problem following a fast jump on the penultimate stage. Pirelli also lost the lead of the historic class before the final stage, when the leading Porsche’s engine broke.
Despite these last-minute dramas, the Italian firm still emerged with two cars on the podium and three class victories: local hero Miko Niinemae won the ERC Junior category and ERC3 in a Peugeot 208 R2, while another Estonian, Rainer Aus, claimed the ERC2 class (for Group N cars) in a Mitsubishi. Making Aus’s achievement even more special was the fact that he also finished third overall, despite encountering mechanical difficulties right at the end of the event.
The rally’s runner-up spot on for reigning European champion Kajetan Kajetanowicz means that the Pirelli-equipped Pole continues to lead the FIA European Rally Championship overall: the oldest rally series continually in existence, having first been established in 1953.
“It was a great run for me,” said Niinemae. “The tyres and car have been perfect. I know just how strong the level of competition is in ERC Junior, so to beat the top drivers fighting for the championship is a real satisfaction for me. I’ve been very happy with the whole package all weekend.”
Chris Ingram’s third place in the ERC Junior series – exclusively supplied by Pirelli – means that the Englishman continues to lead the standings. Added to Woijech Chuchala’s championship advantage in WRC2, which was unaffected by his absence from Estonia, this means that Pirelli still leads every class overall on the European Rally Championship.
Estonia was the fastest rally of the year: similar to the WRC’s Rally Finland but without many of the big crests, meaning that average speeds were even higher. Conditions were complicated by cool and damp weather on the opening leg, so all the leading Pirelli drivers used the soft Scorpion K8 tyre (in 15-inch size) to maximise grip on the first four stages. As conditions dried out, they moved to the harder K6 compound (for the R5 cars) and K5 compound (for the front-wheel drive ERC Junior competitors).
The K tyre is one of the best known in Pirelli’s gravel range, having proved its worth on rapid gravel rallies all over the world. It is particularly good when maximum driving precision is needed; thanks to a tight tread pattern that optimises contact with the road and a rigid structure that emphasises handling. This also helps to make it puncture-resistant, with none of the Pirelli runners encountering any problems of this nature throughout the 16 demanding Estonian stages.
Pirelli’s rally activity manager Terenzio Testoni concluded: “Rallying is one of the most dramatic forms of motorsport that there is, with nothing over until the very final stage, and so many unforeseen circumstances to catch people out. That’s why we love it, but of course it can be cruel, and our drivers were the victims of those circumstances today. Lukyanuk dominated the rally right up to the final few kilometres and would have deserved to win. On the other side, there was joy for our two local heroes, Niinemae and Aus, who both drove a fantastic rally and made the very most of our products under difficult circumstances, conquering what is almost certainly the fastest gravel rally in Europe.”
The next round of the FIA European Rally Championship is Rally Rzeszow in Poland, which takes place on gravel from 4-6 August.
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Anthony Peacock • +44 7765 896 930 • email@example.com