Kajetan Kajetanowicz claimed the new-generation Ford Fiesta R5's maiden victory in the FIA European Rally Championship with his third win on LOTOS 70 Rally Poland on Sunday.
Kajetanowicz, who wrapped up his fourth Polish title on Saturday's opening leg, had only completed 200 kilometres of running in the M-Sport-built car prior to the gravel event. Using Michelin tyres, he had little trouble adapting to his new surroundings by going fastest on four stages alongside co-driver and fellow Pole Jaroslaw Baran.
“It's one of the best days of my life,” said the 34-year-old, who made sure of top spot by winning the final stage live on Eurosport
. “We have the best team, car and co-driver. The Polish title didn't really matter this weekend; it was this rally that I wanted to win. I now have a big smile on my face because I am very happy. I just hope we can do some more rallies in this car.”
Kajetanowicz's victory, which made him the fifth different winner in this year's ERC to underline the serious competition ahead in the all-action championship, also earned him the prestigious Colin McRae ERC Flat Out Trophy, which was being awarded on the sixth anniversary of the rallying legend's passing.
However, it might have been a different story for Kajetanowicz had Bryan Bouffier's Peugeot 207 Super 2000 not suffered a broken right-rear suspension damper on Sunday's first stage. With two more stages until service in Mikolajki, Bouffier was unable to prevent Kajetanowicz from powering ahead. He settled for second, 23.3s behind Kajetanowicz, with ERC title leader Jan Kopecky completing the podium in his Skoda Fabia Super 2000 after overcoming a minor scare on Sunday morning when a propshaft bolt worked loose.
“I did my best and really tried to push but it was not enough to catch Kajto who really deserved to win this race,” said Bouffier, who was fastest on four stages. “Apart from a small technical problem it was a very nice race with very strong competition.”
Kopecky, meanwhile, conceded that running first on the road in the heavy mud and rain on day one had cost him time although he was more than satisfied with his seventh consecutive podium in this year's ERC. “There was definitely more grip with the sand below for the drivers behind. Finishing third means more points for the championship and that's the most important thing.”
Michal Kosciuszko overcame early mechanical woes to snatch fourth from compatriot Michal Solowow on the final stage when the latter suffered a puncture. Kosciuszko, in another Fiesta R5, had heroically driven the entire rally with a fractured vertebra. With Craig Breen also picking up a puncture on his Peugeot on the last run, Krzysztof Holowczyc jumped from seventh to fifth with Solowow taking sixth and Breen dropping to seventh.
It was a frustrating outing for Peugeot Rally Academy driver Breen. The four-time podium finisher in this year's ERC admitted he was at a loss to explain why he wasn't able to run closer to the front of the field alongside new co-driver Lara Vanneste. “This definitely was not the result I was looking but Lara has done a fantastic job so at least we've got some positives to take away,” he said.