Magnificent Magalhaes wins Azores

Magnificent Magalhaes wins AzoresFrom Azores Airlines Rallye [ 02/04/2017 ].
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Portuguese driver Bruno Magalhães has taken an incredible third Azores Airlines Rallye victory. Magalhães, who previously won the spectacular mid-Atlantic event in 2008 and 2010, was contesting his first gravel rally for 18 months and was driving a Skoda Fabia R5 for the first time. As he gained in confidence in his new car, Magalhães climbed through the top five, and benefitted when the notoriously challenging stages of São Miguel island caught out leading FIA European Rally Championship contenders Kajetan Kajetanowicz and Alexey Lukyanuk on Friday and Saturday mornings respectively.

Losing the lead on the final day for the second year in a row, Lukyanuk broke a steering arm on SS12, promoting Magalhães into a 9.3s lead over Ricardo Moura, the local hero and 2016 winner. Two stages later, Moura's hopes of a dream repeat result ended with a technical problem on his Ford Fiesta R5.

This gave Magalhães a margin of 43.9s and he stretched this to 1m34.4s over the final two stages, winning the last. He also took Portuguese championship honours.

"I didn't expect this," he said. "It's just amazing, just perfect. Thanks to my sponsors who give me this opportunity, and to my family and the team. I don't have many words." Magalhães hopes the result will help him to gain the support to continue in the European championship this season. For co-driver Hugo Magalhães, the victory follows a triumph alongside Bernardo Sousa in 2014 and a win in the ERC Junior category with Diogo Gago last year.

Marijan Griebel finished in second place in another Skoda, repeating his result from his debut at the top level of the European championship in Cyprus last October. The German also took the first win in the new ERC Junior U28 category for young drivers in top-of-the-range R5 cars, after last year claiming the two-wheel drive Junior title. He began the final day 2.8s behind rival Nikolay Gryazin, who then suffered punctures and a power-steering failure on his Skoda and finished up fifth.

Griebel said: "Finishing second in Cyprus on my debut in an R5 car last season was already really, really good but here with 28 R5 cars I never thought before that we can reach second overall. It was nearly a perfect rally for me."

Irishman Josh Moffett claimed a fine third overall with a consistent and quick drive on his second visit to the Azores, recovering from a spin that left him last of the top-class cars on Thursday morning's Qualifying Stage. He was second in ERC Junior U28, while third (and fourth overall) was another driver making a superb recovery: Pepe López. Making his ERC debut with the factory-backed Peugeot Rally Academy, the Spaniard was delayed by a gearbox issue at the end of Thursday's action and was as low as 33rd before setting some impressive stage times. Jan Černý was up to third ahead of Moffett before crashing heavily on the penultimate stage.

Pedro Meireles took seventh ahead of Ralfs Sirmacis, who was delayed by a litany of punctures, and three more Portuguese drivers, João Barros, Carlos Vieira and Miguel Barbosa. After Moura's exit, Luís Rego took the Azorean championship win (despite a late penalty dropping him from 10th to 12th overall) ahead of Ruben Rodrigues and Luís Pimentel, who claimed the ERC2 victory for production-based cars upon his return after five years away when Sergey Remennik dropped out of an event-long lead two stages from home.

There was a highly-dramatic conclusion in ERC Junior U27 for two-wheel drive cars. Chris Ingram, who won the category in the Azores in 2015, led from the start under intense pressure from new Opel team-mate Jari Huttunen. British driver Ingram began to suffer car issues at the end of the morning however, leaving Finn Huttunen just 0.8s behind at midday service. Huttunen then moved ahead on the next test, but suffered a broken driveshaft approximately 200 metres from the finish, handing the win to Ingram.

"Massive respect for Jari for how well he's driven on his first time here," said Ingram. "It's my fourth time here and for him to be on our pace is very impressive and fair play. It was a comfortable drive until we had some problems towards the end but we won in the end."

Kajetan Kajetanowicz returned to action on the final day after crashing out of the lead in Friday's first stage. He spun twice on the opener to leg two, but he later won three stages in a row.