Rock and roll
rally star

Rock and roll rally star 01

From Russia with full throttle
Some rally drivers have won more titles, but few have been more popular than Colin McRae, the 1995 world champion. “If in doubt, flat out” was his motto, and his all-or-nothing style won him fans all over the world. Now, a driver with a reputation for a similar approach has become European rally champion with Pirelli: Russia’s Alexey Lukyanuk.

There was a McRae link to Lukyanuk’s breakthrough drive five years ago on snow and ice in Latvia. On his European Rally Championship (ERC) debut behind the wheel of a production-specification Mitsubishi, Lukyanuk battled French legend Francois Delecour for third place before a damaged radiator forced him to stop. 

The performance earned Lukyanuk the Colin McRae ERC Flat Out Trophy, and he picked up another when he next took on Europe’s best on Rally Estonia the following year and was the only driver to match the local hero Ott Tanak. 

“We really like pushing to the limit,” he says. “Latvia and Estonia are places where you can go really flat out. I’m happy to bring some joy to the people. It drives me and I try to push harder and harder. I just like driving and it makes me happy. Once I’m at a rally it’s like I’m on holiday in the best place in the world.”

Rock and roll rally star 02

Learning the hard way
Born in Moscow (but now based in St Petersburg), Lukyanuk played in a heavy metal band before turning his hand to rally driving. Making it from Russia wasn’t easy, but Lukyanuk used his trusty Mitsubishi (fitted with Pirelli tyres) to win both his national title and the Estonian crown in 2014, before embarking on an expanded European campaign in 2015. 

He spent the year getting to grips with new rallies and a more sophisticated Ford Fiesta R5, but took his maiden win in Estonia when he stepped back to more familiar surroundings. The 2016 season started and ended with victories, but there were many disappointments in-between when his exuberant style perhaps got the better of him. His 2017 campaign was then severely disrupted by an accident in Russia.

This year, Lukyanuk managed to tame his natural style to score points on a consistent basis, as well as winning three very different events in the Azores, Canary Islands and Italy. 

“It’s like a reward for many years of trying and pushing and finally it paid off that we changed our approach,” he says. “Definitely, it wasn’t easy for us to change our passion and our driving style because normally I try to push as hard as I can. But in the end, we understood that it’s a necessary thing. Perhaps I don’t get so much joy from driving [like this] but I get a lot of joy from the results and from the points. I think we’ve made some good progress.”

New horizons?
Now that he has conquered Europe, could Lukyanuk take his speed and style to the World Rally Championship? Raising the required budget is still a concern for him as it always has been, but he hopes that his success will help open doors. 

“We’ll try to enjoy this and after we’ll get together with sponsors, the team and discuss our opportunities, goals, ambitions, and objectives, and then we will see. I really enjoy the atmosphere in the ERC, it’s so calm, so friendly. In the world championship it’s different, it’s really tough and demanding but we need to move forward so I hope we’ll advance to the next stage.”

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