Ukraine hero Yuriy Protasov is on track for securing victory on home soil following his sterling performance during the first full day of competition on the Prime Yalta Rally, round ten of the Intercontinental Rally Challenge.
Three different rally leaders surfaced throughout today's three repeated stages covering 145 competitive kilometres but it was home ace Protasov who emerged on top. Despite incurring two punctures in his M-Sport Ford Fiesta RRC, the 28-year-old holds a 38.3s winning advantage going into the final day. After a string of top-five stages times, multiple Turkish champion Yagiz Avci is second at the wheel of a Fiesta S2000 run by Castrol Ford Team Turkiye.
“Everything has gone reasonably well for me today and I am very happy to be in this position,” said rally leader Protasov. “We had a puncture on the Plato 1 test and then again on Plato 2 this afternoon but we were able to get back to number one position so it was not too much of a problem. We will not push tomorrow, it will be a long day and my main target is to finish the rally.”
Skoda Fabia Super 2000 driver Laszlo Vizin had a clear run through today's slippery sealed stages and the Hungarian driver is currently third, more than three minutes adrift of second-placed Avci.
Last night's rally leader Mikko Pajunen had a trouble-free morning and was only 14.2s behind Protasov at the second service halt on Yalta's picturesque waterfront. Stage six, however, proved problematic for the 27-year-old Finn who was forced to retire after hitting a large rock and damaging the front and rear end of his AT Rally Team-run Fiesta S2000.
Fourth overall and leading the way in both the IRC Production Cup and the IRC 2WD Cup is Robert Consani in a Renault Megane RS. “It feels great to be leading in 2WD and in the IRC Production Cup, especially after using the same front two tyres for both loops,” said Consani. “It's a difficult rally and hard to know whether to take some of the cuts or to try and drive round them: you can either risk a puncture or end up in the trees! Tomorrow is another long day so we will drive at a steady pace and hope we can keep our position.”
Romania's Vlad Cosma rounds off the top five and is also placed second in the IRC 2WD Cup at the wheel of a Citroën C2 R2. Sixth overall is Ukraine's Mkyola Chmykh in a Subaru Impreza STI, with Marco Tempestini only 0.3s behind Chmykh in seventh place. Lying eighth is the Honda Civic Type R of Oleksiy Panov, with Marco Cavigioli ninth at the wheel of a Lancer. Rounding off the top 10 is IRC's leading lady Ekaterina Stratieva from Bulgaria in a Citroën C2 R2.
Tempestini was leading the IRC Production Cup until the gearbox lever broke on his Subaru Impreza R4 STI and dropped the Romanian driver back to third in the classification. The second part of the father-and-son duo, Simon Tempestini, is fifth in the IRC Production Cup but had a troubled day after he rolled his Subaru Impreza STI N15 on a hairpin and lost more than five minutes on the day's opening stage.
Elsewhere, Valeriy Gorban was forced to retire from seventh position after the Ukrainian broke the front-left driveshaft on his Ralliart Mitsubishi Evolution Lancer Evolution IX during stage six. Fellow countryman Vitaliy Pushkar retired when his Lancer Evolution X R4 was damaged following an off-road excursion on stage five. Yukhym Vazheyevskyy also retired after his Peugeot 207 S2000 suffered an engine problem during the morning loop.
Tomorrow [Sunday]'s final leg will consist of six stages totalling 116.74 competitive kilometres. The day will begin with the 18.95-kilometre Opolznevoje test at 08:09hrs and end with the 17.07-kilometre Uchan-Su 2 test at 14:45hrs local time.