Victorious Vytautas earns opening FSTi win on Emerald coast
The 2008 Fiesta SportingTrophy International series kicked off this weekend alongside the sixth round of the FIA World Rally Championship, Rally d’Italia Sardegna. The opening round of the six event series was won by Lithuanian Vytautas Baranauskas (24) and co-driver Gediminas Celiešius (36) finishing 25th overall just one place off Barry Clark’s all-time record of 24th in Portugal last year. The Lithuanian also finished fourth in the GpN category and first in Gp N3.

Supported by Pirelli the event was full of excitement as all five registered crews battled fiercely for maiden honours in the 2008 series. Second place went to Castrol Ford Team Türkiye crew Burcu Çetinkaya (27), from Istanbul, with Çiçek Güney (26) reading the notes. The pair were also the only all-female crew to compete on the Italian event this year. Third in Sardinia was Koray Muratoğlu (30) from Istanbul, along with co-driver Levent Özokutucu. Despite retiring on day 1 the Turkish pair re-entered under SupeRally regulations to finish on the podium in their first event in the FSTi championship.

It was not such a great event for the remaining two crews competing in the FSTi. Denis Grodetskiy (33) from Russia and co-driver Safoniy Lotko were forced to retire from the event this morning along with fellow FSTi competitors Emre Yurdakul (25) from Istanbul and co-driver Can Erkal (24) after both pairs retired on the opening two stages this morning.

Day 1 saw Baranauskas pick up fastest stage times on the opening two tests including Crastazza, which at 33.96 kilometres in length, was the longest of the rally. The final three stages after midday service were all won by Baranauskas as he began to build a strong lead of over two minutes by the day’s end.

Unfortunately day 1 was not so popular for Muratoğlu who broke a drive-shaft and limped to the end of the test losing over six minutes. The damage incurred forced him to crawl back to service which forced the Turk over the time limit and into retirement for the day. Fellow FSTi competitor Grodetskiy also hit trouble on day 1 after he slid into a ditch on SS4 damaging his Fiesta ST. The Russian was able to make it to the end of the stage but unfortunately retired less than two kilometres into SS5 as a result of the damage.

With all five FSTi crews restarting on day 2 it was a battle which saw Baranauskas win all six special stages with Yurdakul nipping right at his heals. It was again a less fortunate day for Grodetskiy who broke a drive-shaft over the 29.31 kilometre Monte Lerno stage and was forced to retire from day 2. By the conclusion of SS12 Baranauskas led Yurdakul with his Castrol Ford Team Türkiye team-mate Çetinkaya occupying third position.

The opening stage on the final day of Rally Sardinia saw Yurdakul and Muratoğlu strike back as they set times faster than Baranauskas with Yurdakul taking the honours. Unfortunately for the Turk, disaster struck on the following test when he hit a rock damaging the suspension on his Fiesta ST and ending his Rally Sardinia campaign after a superb effort which saw him occupy second FSTi for the majority of the event. This saw Çetinkaya move into second with Muratoğlu in third. Grodetskiy will be looking for a fresh start on the next round in Turkey after he retired with a broken ball-joint today forcing him to retire completely from the event under FIA regulations.

Vytautas Baranauskas (24) from Lithuania said:
“We had a great weekend and it is good to start the 2008 season with a win on the first round. We had no problems with the car all weekend which is a credit to my team. We also had no punctures this rally which is a big bonus and the people from Pirelli have been helping us a lot during this event which has been a big help. We slowed down today because the gap was so big that there was no need to take risks. We will now head to Turkey looking for another win but this will be another tough rally especially with some of my competitors coming from there.”

Burcu Çetinkaya (27) from Turkey said:
“I really enjoyed this rally and it was only my second WRC event so it was a big thing for me. OK we had some problem but when things were working our times were a lot closer to the other Fiesta competitors. I am happy that my pace has improved from last year and we are now getting closer to the guys in front. I am hoping to get faster and I will look to improve on my speed in the next round.”

Koray Muratoğlu (30) from Turkey said:
“In the end things were good even though we had some problems in this rally. On Friday we decided to use a different setup to what we use in the Turkish Championship and unfortunately this didn’t work for us and we had to retire with broken suspension on stage 2. Today and yesterday we used a harder setup and the times got much better. In Turkey we want to win for sure and we were able to make some setup tests for that event in Sardinia this weekend.”

M-Sport Managing Director Malcolm Wilson said:
“This has been a tough event for all crews and it has taken its toll on the small Ford Fiesta ST but the car and the Pirelli tyres have held up remarkably well despite this. Vytautas has led from start to finish and it great to see he has improved on his pace from last season where he was constantly challenging Barry [Clark]. It is also great to see our first ever all-female crew to finish on the podium. Burcu and the Castrol Ford team from Turkey have done a great job and have been rewarded with second place.”

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