On a day of high drama, the serious competition in the ERC was underlined with three different drivers taking turns to hold the lead, while the positions in the ERC Production Car Cup and ERC 2WD Championship have also fluctuated.
François Delecour set the pace on the opening stage only to slip behind Bryan Bouffier at the completion of the next stage when his fellow Frenchman outgunned him as a powersteering glitch slowed Kopecký. But following repairs in service in Sibiu, Kopecký hit back with the fastest time through stage three.
Bouffier’s bid was over on the next test when a double shock absorber failure five kilometres from the start forced his exit. With Delecour easing his pace due to an overheating engine, the result of a water leak, Kopecký moved in front for the first time. The Czech then extended his advantage by going quickest on stage five and the all-asphalt sixth stage. But he had no answer to Delecour on the final test, which the 50-year-old won by 10.6s to narrow Kopecký’s lead starting Saturday’s final leg of seven stages stands to 15.4s.
“I am happy so far but sorry for Bryan because I was expecting a big battle to the end with him,” said Kopecký. “Now I need to be careful tomorrow because François is not far behind, which means I have to keep pushing but, at the same time, I have to avoid making any mistakes.”
Behind second-placed Delecour, ERC Production Car Cup leader Edwin Keleti is embroiled in a close battle for third with fellow Romanian Dan Girtofan. With seven stages remaining, Keleti is ahead by 6.0s. Toshi Arai is fifth after a selector issue left him stuck in fourth gear for two stages in his Subaru Impreza R4 STI. Napoca Rally Academy’s Marco Tempestini completes the top six as a turbo glitch slowed seventh-placed Dávid Botka, who started fourth on the road.
Behind János Puskádi in eighth, GPD Mit Mital Racing Team aces Jaroslav Orsák and Antonín Tlusťák are ninth and 10th respectively. Vali Porcisteanu, Vitaliy Pushkar and Simone Tempestini were among a number of drivers to lose out during an incident-packed day.
Local hero Alex Filip heads the ERC 2WD Championship after title pacesetters Zoltán Bessenyey and Kornél Lukács both hit trouble. Bessenyey stopped to change a puncture on stage two, which he completed with a broken exhaust on his Eurosol-Honda Civic Type R entry. Lukács stopped with a double puncture on stage four. It’s not clear whether he will restart on day two. Molly Taylor heads the ERC Ladies’ Trophy after Ekaterina Stratieva retired on the second test where a steering glitch slowed Australian Taylor.
Saturday’s itinerary features seven stages over a competitive distance of 120.50 kilometres. The action begins with the 8.50-kilometre Sadu stage, one of two all-asphalt tests.