To celebrate what should have been the final day of the Azores Rallye weekend, here’s a reminder of what happened when the spectacular island event opened the 2019 FIA European Rally Championship season.
Łukasz Habaj and Daniel Dymurski battled the elements to claim a sensational maiden ERC victory, snatching top spot from reigning champions Alexey Lukyanuk and Alexey Arnautov during a dramatic final afternoon (March 23, 2019).
Lukyanuk was on course for his second consecutive Azores win only to pick up a puncture on the penultimate stage, handing first place to Habaj and dropping to third behind local hero Ricardo Moura. But the flailing rubber from his punctured tyre had damaged his Citroën C3 R5’s braking and resulted in the unsuspecting Russian suffering a huge accident at the first corner of the event-closing Tronqueira stage.
Although Lukyanuk and co-driver Arnautov were uninjured, their all-new Saintéloc Racing-prepared C3 suffered extensive damage. But while Lukyanuk was left to reflect on what might have been, Habaj became the first Polish driver to win in the Azores and the first driver from his country to win in the ERC since Kajetan Kajetantowicz triumphed on the Acropolis Rally in Greece 657 days previously. And by leading through the final stage, Habaj joined compatriots Kajetanowicz and Robert Kubica by heading the field in the Azores.
“The final stage was crazy, the most difficult stage I have ever done,” said the 2015 Polish champion, who was driving a ŠKODA Fabia R5 for Sports Racing Technologies. “I can’t believe it but we had good pace all week. The key to the victory was yesterday. I was afraid of those stages the most but in the end it worked out well. I am sorry for Alexey because he was the fastest all weekend but this is rally. This victory was not just luck, there was a lot of hard work behind it and I want to thank my family, my team for the car and Pirelli for the tyres.”
Just 8.4s behind Habaj, Moura gave home fans reason to celebrate in second with Toksport WRT’s Chris Ingram claiming his first overall Azores podium and winning the ERC1 Junior category for young stars in R5 cars. Bruno Magalhães finished fourth for Team Hyundai Portugal, Ricardo Teodósio took fifth with double ERC Junior champion Marijan Griebel rounding out the top six on his Volkswagen Polo debut.
Cypriot Alexandros Tsouloftas shrugged off his lack of event and car experience to complete a Toksport 1-2 in ERC1 Junior in seventh overall. Portugal’s Bernardo Sousa, Czech Vojtĕch Štajf and Brazilian Paulo Nobre filled the remaining top 10 places.
There was a first ERC3 and ERC3 Junior victory for Rally Team Spain’s Efrén Llarena, who broke down in tears at the finish of the final stage, such was the enormity of his achievement in the Pirelli-supported category.
Juan Carlos Alonso beat Sergey Remennik to ERC2 honours after both drivers overcame a succession of issues, Remennik going slowly to the finish with a transmission issue.