The consistent Mikko Heikkilä leads V-Híd Rally Hungary, the Hungarian round of FIA European Rally Championship at the end of Saturday’s leg, ahead of Martins Sesks also driving a Toyota Yaris. The best Hungarian is Miklós Csomós, who took a stage win and is to the continue from sixth place.

It’s been a long, dusty day, full of tricky jumps for the Rally Hungary competitors – but that’s what a gravel race is all about, and that’s why the drivers love it so much. Because it’s challenging, because it’s the essence of rally. Europe’s top rally drivers have compared the stages around Veszprém to the ones of Safari Rally or Acropolis Rally, and they all agree that it’s not necessarily the speed will decide about winning, but tactics.

This is proved by the fact that although Mathieu Franceschi of France took three stage wins, it is Mikko Heikkilä of Finland who is leading the overall standings – 2.3 seconds ahead of Martins Sesks. The two Toyota drivers put in a consistent performance throughout the day and despite a minor technical problem (pop off valve) for the Finn and a puncture for the Latvian, they are the men to beat going into Sunday’s leg.

“We had some problems, we lost at least fifteen seconds due to the pop off valve, and surely it did not help either that no water came to the windscreen on the third stage and I could barely see anything because of the mud,” said Heikkilä. “What did I do better than the others? Maybe I went faster. Even though we didn’t win any stages, we gave a very consistent performance and just concentrated on our own pace.”

Martins Sesks of Latvia was leading the race before the last stage, but he got a puncture on the short stage in Várpalota. He said he learned the lesson that safety was sometimes more important than speed.

“These are beautiful stages, they looked much harder in the training car than they really are, but these are Rally2 cars and they can take a lot,” said Sesks. “We’ve been through hot and dusty stages, I won’t say it’s a perfect day because we got a left rear puncture at the end, but it’s getting better to drive the car. Tomorrow, we have a long day ahead of us.”

Simone Tempestini of Romania takes third place – but overall, it’s a very close battle, with the top six pairs within half a minute (26 seconds to be precise) of each other. “This race is not easy at all, but I like it because the stages are like back home in Romania. It’s a new car and I’m not familiar with the tyres either, so there’s still a lot to learn. I don’t always know what to expect. Today’s stages went well, I hope the trend will continue.”

Defending European Champion Hayden Paddon is in fourth place, but it would be a huge mistake to write him off. On the one hand, he’s only 12 seconds behind and on the other hand, he makes it clear every time that he feels at home here. Because these stages are similar to the ones in New Zealand. Moreover, Paddon will start from a much better position on Sunday, there is no need to clean up the roads.

“We are aiming for the podium,” Paddon said at the end of the day. “We didn’t have a good starting position today, there were big rocks, we were cleaning up for the others, but fortunately, we didn’t lose much time, and we’re in a pretty good position. I don’t think the stages are difficult: straight, corner, straight, corner, but you have to be very careful with the stones to avoid any problems. I think the biggest task is to make sure we have tyres left for Sunday afternoon.”

Mathieu Franceschi, who has the most stage wins (three in total), got a one-minute deficit because he came into a right-hander too quickly and his car rolled sideways over the top, suffering a puncture in the process. However, his speed is beyond question.

In the Hungarian classification the order is: Miklós Csomós, László Ranga, Martin László – Csomós is in sixth place in the ERC ranking. He is 26 seconds behind, which gives him the opportunity to attack on Sunday, if he wants. However, it is a big question, whether taking risks instead of securing points is worth it in the long run.

“To be honest, I wanted to finish higher, but we drove very little on gravel,” said Csomós. “We thought that we would be better on Kislőtér stage, but we blew it both times: we simply ruined the two front tyres and from the middle of the stage we just slid, and even slid over a few times. It’s a tight race, we’re not far from the leaders and I think there will be some surprises tomorrow. Sor us it’s important to get a strong points finish, we want to go step by step this year.”

Péter Ranga is 11th overall, which means that he is not far from his original target of a top ten finish, and he is also standing well in the Hungarian classification. “We’re in a bit of a vacuum in terms of the Hungarian classification, because Mixi is way ahead of us, while behind us the gap to Martin and László is quite big, so we can say it was a good day,” said Ranga. “Our tyres wore surprisingly quickly in the heat, so I feel it will be a crucial point how we can manage the 16-tyre contingent. Everything went well except for one issue: at 140 km/h speed we had a huge jump, we hit the nose of the car and were afraid of rolling over. Fortunately, that didn’t happen and apart from that we kept everything under control.”

László Martin had an ungrateful task: he was one of the drivers who cleaned the road, and lost a lot of time because of it. He also had a slow puncture on the first loop, so his 15th place in the overall standings (and third in the Hungarian one) is not bad at all, in fact…

“It didn’t feel good to clean the road, especially on the long straights I felt that the car wasn’t going the way I wanted. On the second loop, we slid over the side of the road in Kislőtér and the curb took our front bumper off, but luckily there was no big problem, we just lost a bit of time. What are the tactics for tomorrow? There are no tactics, you have to simply keep pushing” said Martin Laszló.

Rally Hungary will finish on Sunday with six special stages.


Overall standing after SS7: 1. Mikko Heikkilä, Kristian Temonen (Finnish, Toyota GR Yaris) 59:41.0, 2. Martins Sesks, Renars Francis (Latvian, Toyota GR Yaris) +2.3 seconds, 3. Simone Tempestini, Sergiu Itu (Romanian, Skoda Fabia RS) +6.3 sec., …6. Miklós Csomós, Attila Nagy (Hungarian, Skoda Fabia Evo) +26.6 sec.