Kajetan Kajetanowicz leads his home round of the FIA European Rally Championship into the final day after a close battle with Bryan Bouffier through much of Friday's action on Rally Rzeszow in Poland.
Leading after Thursday night's spectacular street stage in Rzeszow city centre, there was early drama for reigning European Champion Kajetanowicz after Łukasz Habaj slid off into a ditch on the second corner of the morning's first test. While Habaj was helped back onto the stage, Kajetanowicz found the road blocked and lost 13.2 seconds to Bouffier, who surged into the lead of a rally he has won on four previous occasions – more times than anybody else.
With Kajetanowicz and Bouffier splitting the fastest times over the next two tests, it was Frenchman Bouffier who took a narrow lead into mid-day service. Kajetanowicz then won SS5 to cut the gap further, before his SS2 time was reduced by the stewards by 10s, putting the Lotos Rally Team driver into the lead in his Ford Fiesta R5 on Pirelli tyres.
In his attempts to respond, renowned asphalt ace Bouffier spun on the next stage and lost 20s, before Kajetanowicz won the day-ending Chmieinik test to extend his lead to 33.1s.
Kajetanowicz and Bouffier have been in a class of their own on the overall leaderboard, helped by problems for their expected rivals Habaj – whose SS2 moment cost him over two-and-a-half minutes – and Grzegorz Grzyb, who lost 30s to the leading pair with a puncture at the end of SS3 Lubenia, the longest stage of the rally at 24.44 kilometres.
Grzyb, a two-time winner of Rally Rzeszow and the current Polish series leader, remains in a podium position in his Rufa Sport Fiesta R5, 1m51.8s off the lead. Jakub Brzeziński has had a strong day in fourth place despite reporting a loss of power from his Fiesta R5. He's only 14.6s behind Grzyb and has 13s in hand over fifth-placed Filip Nivette.
Nivette (ŠKODA Fabia R5) and ERC regular Tomasz Kasperczyk (Tiger Energy Drink Rally Team Fiesta R5) both had spins during the morning but have since shown strong pace and are split by just 6.9s in their fight for fifth. Seventh is Jarosław Kołtun, who started the day in 19th after a time-consuming spin of his own on the Rzeszow street stage.
The ERC2 leader Wojciech Chuchała is eighth ahead of Raul Jeets, pleased with his progress during the day on his less-preferred surface in his Sports Racing Technologies Fabia R5. Since his off, the current Polish champion Habaj has set a series of top-three stage times to recover back into the top 10 in his Rallytechnology-run Fiesta R5.
Antonín Tlusťák spent the morning on the cusp of the top 10 in his Fabia R5, and although he was then delayed by a puncture, he came back to 11th by the end of the day. János Puskádi is 17th on his first ERC appearance since Rally Islas Canarias in his Eurosol Racing Team Fabia R5. Dávid Botka was firmly in the fight for fifth before suffering more mechanical misfortune in his Citroën DS3 R5, failing to start SS6 after complaining of a low battery.