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european rally championship

Virves holds off Linnamäe In Estonian Battle

Robert Virves will need to be at his high-speed best during the deciding leg of Delfi Rally Estonia tomorrow (Sunday) if he’s to keep Georg Linnamäe at bay.

The Estonian aces, 23 and 25 respectively, have fought a thrilling battle for FIA European Rally Championship glory – and home bragging rights – throughout today’s all-action opening leg.

Despite the weather fluctuating between bright sunshine and heavy rain, Virves and Linnamäe have performed largely without fault, despite the intensity of their victory fight.

After 10 stages, Pirelli-equipped Škoda Fabia RS Rally2 driver Virves leads Linnamäe, who drives a Toyota GR Yaris Rally2 on Michelin tyres, by 1.0sec after the pair switched positions for the third time on SS9.

“To be fair, it’s more about having fun because that’s when things usually go better,” said Virves, who earlier lost precious time with a two-wheel moment and a spin. “There’s no extra stress competing on your home event; we just try to do our best.”

Having led Virves by 4.8sec after SS8, Linnamäe was unable to keep his rival behind through SS9. “He was just smart, he used the new tyres for this loop. For us we had no chance with the old tyres for this stage, it was just so slippery. It’s obviously quite exciting to be fighting with a good friend. As long as we come out on top it will be fine.”

Nikolay Gryazin (Citroën C3 Rally2) demoted Mikko Heikkilä for third by 0.1sec on SS10 after the Toyota-driving Finn hit back from a gearchange issue on SS1 and a pop-off valve glitch on SS6. Miko Marczyk (Škoda Fabia RS Rally2) is 11.6sec behind Heikkilä in fifth.

Jon Armstrong started SS9 equal on time with Mads Østberg in the battle for seventh but dropped back to 11th when he spun after 8.8km and swiped a tree before resuming with damage to both rear corners of his Ford Fiesta Rally2. Østberg, meanwhile, lost time this morning with a brake balance issue and a leaking windscreen but holds sixth overnight.

Hayden Paddon reached the finish of SS2 with steam pouring out of his Hyundai i20 N Rally2 due to damage caused by a “big nosedive over a jump halfway through the stage,” according to the defending European champion. Rapid repairs by co-driver John Kennard allowed him to continue his charge to the extent that he was fastest of all through SS3 after benefiting from a break in the weather. The BRC Racing Team driver is seventh at the overnight halt in Tartu after he bent his car’s steering striking a rock on SS9.

Andrea Mabellini is eighth with joint ERC points leader Mathieu Franceschi reporting a lack of confidence in ninth place. Gregor Jeets completes the top 10 followed by Armstrong and Finnish champion Teemu Asunmaa, who has run first on the road. Toyota development driver Yuki Yamamoto is 13th with Frank Tore Larsen 14th after he was slowed by a power steering issue on SS9. Kaspar Kasari and Philip Allen follow.

Having been hampered by a pop-off valve issue, Mārtiṇš Sesks was on course to complete leg one in sixth place only to be forced to stop to change a damaged tyre on SS9, dropping outside the top 15 in the process.

Simone Tempestini was also in trouble when he ran wide on a high-speed left-hand turn 15.2 kilometres from the start of SS2 and rolled. Tempestini and co-driver Sergiu Itu were uninjured but their Fabia RS Rally2 sustained significant damage.

Delfi Rally Estonia concludes tomorrow, Sunday, over a 68.32km timed route featuring two loops of high-speed gravel stages. SS11, Otepää 1, is up first from 09:34 local time with the Kambja Power Stage due to begin at 15:05. The city of Tartu hosts the podium ceremony from 17:30.

Leading positions after Saturday:
1. R Virves / C Drew EST Škoda Fabia RS 1h 3m 41.1s
2. G Linnamäe / J Morgan EST Toyota GR Yaris +1.0s
3. N Gryazin / A Mālnieks Citroën C3 +25.0s
4. M Heikkilä / K Temonen FIN Toyota GR Yaris +25.1s
5. M Marczyk / S Gospodarczyk POL Škoda Fabia RS +36.7s
6. M Østberg / P Barth NOR Citroën C3 +44.3s

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