Ketomaa wins the second round of strong, new ERC in Latvia

After conclusion of the round two of the FIA European Rally Championship in Latvia there is little doubt about the abilities and knowledge behind the new promoter, and the series itself. First round in Austria was a success, and the season continued this weekend with second round in snowy and icy Latvia. Interesting stages, strong competition and top notch media coverage, that’s the shortest description of Rally Liepaja-Ventspils.

Finnish crew of Jari Ketomaa & Kaj Lindstrom (Ford Fiesta RRC) snatched victory after fierce battle with second placed British aces Craig Breen & David Moynihan (Peugeot 207 S2000). Even though 31 second gap may not exactly sound like very close duel, in rallying 30 seconds translates into very small mistakes. Ketomaa drove a perfect rally, and same can be said about Breen. Third place went to French legend Francois Delecour, co-driven by Dominique Savignoni. Again, Delecour was the star of the show, but he also worked hard to justify this prestigious status – very intense duels with Alexey Lukyanuk & Alexey Arnautov were one of the highlights of this event. In the end, French pair came on top, while the Russian crew stopped on stage 14 and was forced to retire.

For a regional, or let’s call it continental, rally championship, ERC looks in great shape already. Sure, more teams with long term commitment could improve things even further, but I believe championship is on the right track. One of the key factors, and I cannot stop reiterating that, is the media coverage and interaction with fans. Once again, ERC was everywhere – on Twitter with latest news, comments and images; on ERC website with great video highlights and on Eurosport with detailed daily TV reports.

Personally, one of the best features introduced in Latvia is the head-to-head split screen comparison of two crews, using on board footage from both cars. This is just fantastic. You can call me easily amused, but I genuinely enjoyed seeing Breen and Delecour driving simultaneously – you get a great sense of the importance of driving style and some of the techniques used to properly balance the car in speed, and throw it out of balance for that optimal flick and corner slide.

In the end, job well done by everyone involved. It would be great if competitors seen in both Austria and Latvia could continue taking part in remaining rallies this year, but I am pretty sure with Eurosport Events idea of media & fans presentation, more and more teams, drivers and investors will realize the benefits of this new format European Rally Championship. And by all means, this is not a competitor to the World Rally Championship, nor a mere feeder series – it’s a serious and valid international rally championship with strong backing, great fan and media base and tough competition.

This is but a brief overview of what went on in Latvia – once official review is up, I’ll add it to this article, for more in-depth insight into all the various battles that took place across the ranks.

FIA ERC OFFICIAL REVIEW OF RALLY LIEPAJA-VENTSPILS

Jari Ketomaa made history today when he won the first FIA European Rally Championship event to take place in Latvia.

The Finn’s success on Rally Liepāja-Ventspils followed three days of thrilling high-speed competition on ice and snow-coated roads between the two Baltic cities. While Ketomaa excelled alongside Kimi Räikkönen’s former co-driver Kaj Lindström in a Ford Fiesta RRC, there were standout performances too from Peugeot 207 Super 2000-driving Irishman Craig Breen, who finished second, and third-planced François Delecour. The Frenchman secured the final podium place in another Peugeot after a close battle with Russian Alexey Lukyanuk.

Lukyanuk, who was leading the ERC Production Car Cup, was 1.7s behind Delecour with two stages left when a brush with a snowbank damaged his car’s oil cooler and forced him to retire. However, Lukyanuk won’t be leaving Latvia empty-handed after he was chosen as the recipient of the Colin McRae ERC Flat Out Trophy, while multiple Baltic and Lithuanian champion Vytautas Švedas inherited the showroom category laurels in a similar Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution X.

There was also success for Finland in the ERC 2WD Championship with Risto Immonen claiming victory in a Citroën C2 R2 Max after long-term leader Stéphane Lefebvre dropped down to second on the final morning when a gearbox issue slowed his Peugeot 208 R2. Nevertheless it was a hugely impressive showing by the young Frenchman, who had never competed on snow or ice.

Ketomaa had trailed Breen over the opening five stages but moved in front on stage six when the additional top-end speed of his turbocharged engine told on the super-fast roads. Breen remained in contention until stage 12 when a minor electrical glitch cost him precious time and prompted him to settle for a strong second place.

“I’m really happy with this result after two years of bad luck,” said Ketomaa, who moves to the top of the ERC drivers’ standings following his triumph. “We didn’t want to take any risks and knew that we would settle into a rhythm after the first day. The feeling was really good and the conditions on the rally were extreme with very high speeds and lots of frozen gravel. But we never stopped believing in the work we could do and the team has done a great job.”

Despite losing out on top spot, Breen was more than satisfied with second on his first of eight planned ERC appearances with the Peugeot Rally Academy-Saintéloc team. “I’m overwhelmed to even have been in contention for victory,” he said. “I came here to finish on the podium and that’s exactly what I’ve done. I wasn’t pushing over the top, the wins will come this season.”

For rallying legend Delecour, his decision to run with a short-ratio gearbox masked his ultimate pace while there were also a few dramatic moments including a high-speed trip through a field and a scare on Friday night when he completed much of stage three with his door flying open.
Reigning ERC 2WD champion Jan Černý celebrated his first outright European championship stage win with the fastest time on the closing spectator stage in Ventspils to secure fourth overall in his family-run ŠKODA Fabia Super 2000. Raimonds Kisiels charged through the order to claim fifth and the honour of being the top Latvian finisher in his MINI John Cooper Works RRC, which he was using in competition for the first time on the back of a 40-kilometre pre-event test.

Behind Švedas, Aivis Egle finished seventh, Raul Jeets took eighth with Jarsoláv Orsak scoring strong points in the European Rally Championship for Teams for the GPD Mit Metal Racing squad in ninth overall. Vitaliy Pushkar overcame transmission issues to complete the top 10 with Frigyes Turán the leading Subaru Impreza finisher in 11th.

Marco Tempestini headed the Napoca Rally Academy challenge in 20th with Zbyněk Baller reaching the finish in a Eurosol Honda Civic. However, there was disappointment for ERC 2WD title leader Hannes Danzinger, who retired his Renault Clio R3 with water pump failure on Sunday’s first stage.

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