Russian ace's hopes crash before event even starts after test wipe-out
He came all the way from Russia, but it proved a wasted and very expensive trip for Alexey Lukyanuk.
The leader of the European championship is out of the Circuit of Ireland even before arriving for tomorrow evening's start in Lisburn, his £250,000 Ford Fiesta wrecked in an accident while testing for the rally.
The Russian crashed heavily during a pre-rally test session on Monday, and although he and co-driver Alexey Arnautov suffered only scrapes and bruises, Lukyanuk's Fiesta R5 was severely damaged and can't be repaired in time.
He had chosen not to take part in the official shakedown test stage in Co Monaghan on Sunday and Monday and instead made his own arrangements to test privately further south. It turned out to be a bad mistake.
But his withdrawal is also a blow to the Circuit, with rally director Bobby Willis describing it as "unfortunate".
"Alexey is a real crowd favourite and we are sorry he is not going to be able to start," said Willis. "We don't know why he decided to test privately instead of coming to the official shakedown stage like most other drivers, but the consequences have been unfortunate. But at least the two of them are unhurt, although the only communication we have had with the team is to say they won't be starting the rally."
Affectionately branded "the Mad Russian" by rally favourite Craig Breen, Lukyanuk is one of the most spectacular drivers in the ERC series, a real hard charger who has won the Colin McRae Flat Out Trophy more times than any other driver. From St Petersburg, he is also the only one to have won a round of the series in a production car, steering a Mitsubishi Lancer to victory in Estonia last year.
And he won the Rally du Valais in Switzerland at the end of 2015 which, added to his Rally Islas Canarias last month, gave him back-to-back victories heading to Ireland.
Sadly, the sequence has now come to a premature end and Lukyanuk is headed back to Russia.