Reigning champion Kajetan Kajetanowicz has delighted the home fans as the FIA European Rally Championship's return to Poland kicked off with a spectacular street stage in Rzeszow city centre.
Lotos Rally Team driver Kajetanowicz was fastest through the four-kilometre stage on Thursday night that kicked off Rally Rzeszow, which is celebrating its 25th edition with a first appearance in the ERC.
Driving his Pirelli-shod Ford Fiesta R5, Kajetanowicz was 3.8s faster than anybody else, to the joy of the passionate crowds.
Kajetanowicz is expecting a tough challenge this weekend, particularly from French asphalt ace Bryan Bouffier, who won Rally Rzeszow for the fourth time last year. Bouffier was second quickest through the opening stage in his Citroën DS3 R5 on MICHELIN tyres for the Gemini Clinic Rally Team.
On Thursday morning, the ERC Qualifying Stage was held at Niechobrz, with Kajetanowicz quickest but only half a second ahead of the reigning Polish champion Łukasz Habaj, with Bouffier in third.
Habaj, who announced on the eve of the rally his plans to contest more ERC rounds to further develop his driving, was third quickest on SS1 in his Rallytechnology Fiesta R5, followed by Raul Jeets, Grzegorz Grzyb, Dávid Botka and Filip Nivette.
Wojciech Chuchała, the current ERC2 leader, was eighth fastest overall at the start of his home event in his Subaru Poland-backed Impreza WRX STI. Category rival Tibor Érdi lost 50 seconds on the first stage with a lack of turbo pressure on his Mitsubishi. Another local driver Tomasz Gryc set the pace in ERC3 in a Peugeot 208 R2.
Over the next two days, the drivers will face 12 stages over fast, narrow and winding asphalt roads in the foothills of the Carpathian Mountains. Friday features two loops of three stages, including the event's signature Lubenia stage, also the longest of the rally at 24.44 kilometres.