Young Latvian Ralfs Sirmacis has secured an incredible win on the legendary Seajets Acropolis Rally on his first start at the top level of the FIA European Rally Championship.

The 21-year-old was competing in his first rally in an R5-specification car after stepping up from the ERC Junior Championship, where he was runner-up in 2015. He won the first stage in his Sports Racing Technologies-run, Skoda Baltic Motorsport-backed Fabia R5 on Michelin tyres and led at the end of every test, headed only overnight when Alexey Lukyanuk had a penalty for a jump start rescinded on Saturday evening.

Two seconds separated Lukyanuk and Sirmacis at the start of day two and a puncture for the Russian on SS7 handed the advantage back to the newcomer. Worse was to come for Lukyanuk, who lost 17 minutes on the mammoth 33.86-kilometre SS9 Elatia/Karya test fixing a broken suspension arm on his Ford Fiesta R5. Sirmacis, who raised eyebrows when he said on the eve of the rally that he had come to win, kept his cool through the afternoon to stretch his margin to 2m10.3s and clinch a special victory for himself and co-driver Arturs Simins, who is also celebrating his 26th birthday.

Sirmacis, who was also awarded the Colin McRae ERC Flat Out Trophy in recognition of his incredible achievement, said: "It's really nice when you're on your debut and you win the rally. This rally is one of the most difficult in the world so I'm really happy."

While Sirmacis enjoyed a largely trouble-free run, there was final-stage drama in the battles behind him on the leaderboard. Earlier in the day, Greek hero Lambros Athanassoulas turned a 19.5s deficit to Jarom?r Tarabus into a 35-second advantage and inherited second when Lukyanuk hit trouble. However, he got caught behind a slower car on the very last stage and was in tears at the finish, fearing his dream result had slipped away. In the end, he held on to second over Tarabus by just one tenth of a second in an incredible climax. Athanassoulas therefore went one better than he managed on the 2015 event, as did Tarabus, who scored his first ERC podium since 2013 in the process. Athanassoulas was later given back 32s after being unfairly obstructed on SS12.

Raul Jeets, team-mate to Sirmacis at SRT, scored his best ever ERC finish in fourth after a consistent rally and completed a lock-out of the top four places for the Skoda Fabia R5 on an event that lived up to its reputation as a car breaker. Jaroslaw Koltun briefly got ahead of Jeets after the penultimate stage but dropped time on the final test and a one-minute penalty for being late into the day's first stage relegated him to sixth. That still equalled his ERC best from the season-opening Rally Islas Canarias El Corte Ingl?s, just as fifth place did for Wojciech Chuchala, who made it three wins out of three in the ERC2 category whilst once again fighting with the top-class entries.

Peter Ranga stopped out of seventh on the final stage, promoting Polish Fiesta R5 drivers Tomasz Kasperczyk and Kajetan Kajetanowicz. The defending ERC champion began the day 23rd after losing 15 minutes when he rolled on the very first stage of the rally, but won five out of six stages on leg two as he recovered some crucial points. He eventually outscored rival Lukyanuk by three points, with the Russian ending up 20 minutes in arrears after a further turbo problem on the penultimate stage, but 10th overall. Jose Luis Jacquet Rios made it to the end of his first rally outside of Paraguay in ninth while Tibor Erdi Jr lost ground with a puncture on the final stage.

The FIA European Rally Championship now continues next month with the Azores Airlines Rallye running from June 2-4.

Top 10 positions (after 12 stages, 231.52 kilometres)

1. Ralfs Sirmacis (LVA)/Arturs Simins (LVA) Skoda Fabia R5 2h53m12.5s
2. Lambros Athanassoulas (GRC)/Elias Panagiotounis (GRC) Skoda Fabia R5 +2m10.13s
3. Jaromir Tarabus (CZE)/Daniel Trunkat (CZE) Skoda Fabia R5 +2m42.4s
4. Raul Jeets (EST)/Andrus Toom (EST) Skoda Fabia R5 +5m41.9s
5. Wojciech Chuchaa (POL)/Daniel Dymurski (POL) Subaru Impreza STi +8m19.9s
6. Jaroslaw Koltun (POL)/Ireneusz Pleskot (POL) Ford Fiesta R5 +9m11.1s
7. Tomasz Kasperczyk (POL)/Damian Syty (POL) Ford Fiesta R5 +10m40.4s
8. Kajetan Kajetanowicz (POL)/Jarek Baran (POL) Ford Fiesta R5 +13m58.1s
9. Jose Luis Jacquet Rios (PRY)/Hernan Vargas Pe?a (PRY) Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution X +20m09.6s
10. Alexey Lukyanuk (RUS)/Roman Kapustin (RUS) Ford Fiesta R5 +20m15.5s

FIA ERC2: Wojciech Chuchaa (POL)/Daniel Dymurski (POL) (Subaru Impreza STi)FIA ERC3: Murat Bostanci (TUR)/Onur Vatansever (POL) (Ford Fiesta R2T)

Colin McRae ERC Flat Out Trophy: Ralfs Sirmacis

 

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