Mikko Pajunen has got his bid for a maiden Intercontinental Rally Challenge victory off to a flying start on the Prime Yalta Rally, round ten of the series.
Piloting an M-Sport Ford Fiesta S2000 for the first time, Pajunen completed the opening 7.61-kilometre loop quickest, which has earned the 27-year-old Finn a 0.98s advantage going into the first full day of action in Ukraine on Saturday. Hot on Pajunen's heels, however, was home hero Yuriy Protasov who steered his Fiesta RRC to a stage win on the day's opening 2.12-kilometre super special.
“We've only had two short stages today but now we must concentrate on keeping Yuriy behind us tomorrow,” explained rally leader Pajunen, whose Fiesta is run by the AT Rally Team. “The first part of the second stage was very slippery and had a lot of hairpins. It was the first time I have driven tight hairpins in this car so that was a new learning experience for me. I'm feeling very comfortable in the car but there are still a lot of new things to learn so I need to be careful tomorrow.”
Multiple Turkish champion Yagiz Avci is third despite having limited experience of competing on asphalt in his Fiesta S2000. Avci is currently 10.1s behind second-placed Protasov. “We were perhaps too cautious on the first stage but the real challenge starts tomorrow,” admitted Avci. “First, we want to finish the rally but if the feeling is good then maybe we will attack.”
Fourth overall and leading the way in the IRC Production Cup is Marco Tempestini in his Subaru Impreza R4 STI. Tempestini, currently second in the IRC Production Cup title standings, is 1.76s ahead of second-placed Ukrainian Vitaliy Pushkar in a Ralliart Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution X R4. Valeriy Gorban is third in the IRC Production Cup in a Lancer Evolution IX, with fellow local driver Yurii Kochmar fourth in a similar car. Skoda Fabia Super 2000 driver László Vizin is ninth overall, with Ukraine's Yukhym Vazheyevskyy rounding off the top 10 in a Peugeot 207 S2000.
Frenchman Robert Consani leads the way in the IRC 2WD Cup at the wheel of a Renault Mégane RS despite losing a handful of seconds when changing gear. Murat Bostanci is second in a Fiesta R2, 12.3s behind the rapid Cansani. Third is Romanian Vlad Cosma, 1.0s adrift of Turk Bostanci.
Saturday's action will consist of six stages totalling 145.13 competitive kilometres. The day will begin with the 17.26-kilometre Al Petri 1 test at 08:49hrs local time.