Madagascar’s Esports rally driver, Andritiana Mathieu, survived an early roll to win Rally Poland, going one better than his runner-up finish on the opening round of Jon Armstrong’s Thrustmaster eRally Series.
Like the opening round in Germany, the battle between Mathieu and Japan’s Kazunokota went down to the final stage. But this time Mathieu did just enough to seize top spot ahead of the Rally Germany winner.
Mathieu finished just 1.1 seconds ahead of Kazunokota with championship organiser Armstrong a further 11 seconds back in third.
Kazunokota led the majority of the rally, setting the pace early on as Mathieu hit trouble on Stage 3 – Jezioro Lukie. Mathieu lost 15 seconds when he rolled and collided with a tree, fortunately, he avoided any punctures and further time loss in his Ford Fiesta R5.
Armstrong inherited second position on the following stage and stayed within five seconds of Kazunokota for the rest of the opening day. However, the Northern Irishman lost seven seconds on Stage 7 and dropped to third behind the recovering Mathieu who was now 12 seconds off the lead.
Mathieu then capitalised on a mistake by rally-leader Kazunokota on Stage 10. The Rally Germany winner lost 18 seconds in his Peugeot 208 R5 and gave Mathieu a one-second lead with two short sprints left.
However, Kazunokota made the perfect recovery and looked set to take a second rally win when he overtook Mathieu on the penultimate stage but a fastest time by Mathieu was enough to reclaim the lead and win the rally on the final 6.8-kilometre stage.
“It’s incredible that I won the rally with a best time in the power stage,” said Mathieu. “I will give my best in the next two rallies.”
Armstrong was gifted the remaining podium position when Polish driver Kryspa run into trouble on the last stage of his home event.
Estonia’s Speedsense pipped Sweden’s Robban to fourth place, 45 seconds off the leader.
Meanwhile, rally photographer, Mark Breen, put in an impressive performance to finish a tricky Rally Poland in eighth.
Next up for the championship competitors is the smooth asphalt roads of Rally Spain. The fast, sweeping stages will provide a completely different challenge and once again we can expect an incredibly close battle for victory in Spain.
With Mathieu and Kazunokota switching places throughout the opening two rounds there is nothing between them in the overall championship standings.
Mathieu has admitted he is not at his strongest on asphalt but he is excited by the prospect of battling for the championship on New Zealand’s pristine gravel stages.
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Photo by Mark Breen