'Horrific' road conditions challenge drivers at Rally Liepāja 2015

Round 2 of the FIA European Rally Championship (ERC) wrapped up this weekend in the icy back roads of Liepāja and Kuldīga districts, with motor sports fans braving the nasty weather to watch drivers navigate the slippery terrain at terrifying speeds, (much like the everyday Latvian drivers tend to do, according to recent statements by distressed authorities).

The ERC's second round took place for just the third time in Latvia thanks to state and local government support, this year offering superbly treacherous conditions to add to the winding and picturesque gravelly roads, as winds blew drifts of fresh snow across the track under continuously changing weather. Drivers and organizers alike termed the circumstances “tough” and “dramatic”.

Rally Liepāja 2015 goes down in sports history with a win by the Peugeot Rally Academy crew Craig Breen and Scott Martin, who showed themselves best able to handle the extremely snowy Latvian rural roads in the freezing winds. That was largely thanks to an early upside-down wipe-out into a ditch Saturday by local fan-favorite from Belarus Alexey Lukyanuk and a mistake by First Round winner, Poland's Kajetan Kajetanowicz, both in top-spec Ford Fiesta R5s.

“It was the most horrific conditions,” said Breen.

Still, both drivers came back Sunday to wow the crowds with spectacular driving to win all of the subsequent stages.

Starting with the International Jännerrallye in Austria and concluding on Round 10 at Corsica's Tour de Corse, the ERC is an all-action motorsport contest featuring some of the best rising talents up against experienced professionals on gravel, asphalt and snow in a variety of different rally cars. The next race is scheduled for April at the Circuit of Ireland in Belfast.

Siim Plangi and Marek Sarapuu (Mitsubishi Evo X) were second overall and first in the ERC2 class, finishing 1 minute and 40 seconds behind Breen. Third place on the podium was reached by Dominykas Butvilas / Kamil Heller (Subaru Impreza STI), who spent the second day in a close battle with two Latvian crews – Mārtiņš Svilis / Ivo Pūķis and Jānis Vorobjovs / Andris Mālnieks (both with Mitsubishi Lancer Evo X), who finished fourth and seventh, respectively.

Three-times Latvian champion in R2 group Ralfs Sirmacis was the recipient of the prestigious Colin McRae ERC Flat Out Trophy. Sirmacis became the first Latvian driver to receive this prize.

The bronze medalist in 2014 World Rallycross Championship in Supercar class, Reinis Nitišs, had a successful rallying debut. While he did get a puncture on the very first stage of Rally Liepāja, from there on out he showed a very consistent pace and his times were among the top 10 in his class.

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