Murat Bostanci and Onur Vatansever held a 35.8-second lead after the opening six timed gravel special stages of Marmaris Rally Turkey on Saturday.
Large crowds gathered to watch TOSFED’s dress rehearsal for next year’s FIA World Rally Championship and the Castrol Ford Team Turkey crew won two specials en route to the overnight lead over Orhan Avcioğlu and Burçín Korkmaz (Skoda Fabia R5). Dust was a factor during the early kilometres under forest tree cover, but it failed to prevent Yağiz Avci and Bahadir Gücenmez (Peugeot 208 T16 R5) from holding third overall at the night halt in Marmaris.
Leader Bostanci said: “I have not competed in Turkey this year until now and this will be my only time this year. I have just secured the ERC Teams’ title in Latvia and am excited to be here now and to see Turkey coming back to the WRC. Hopefully I will have plans myself in the WRC next year, but this sport is my passion and it’s great to see the support from such a strong organisation and so many members of the media.”
Avcioğlu won Friday afternoon’s shakedown and three stages on Saturday. He said: “We came here last year for the first time for this rally, but we can see now that the atmosphere is building. I was in Catalunya for the WRC recently and it reminds me of that already. It is a great opportunity for us local drivers to show what we can do in an international arena. My goal is to win the Balkan Trophy, but it is a tough rally and the stages are not easy.”
Alexandros Tsouloftas (Mitsubishi), who is the son of veteran Cypriot driver Andreas Tsoulftas, held an excellent fourth place, while Burak Çukorova (Skoda) and Deníz Fahrí (Ford) rounded off the top six. Cyprus-based Mustafa Bulutoğullari and Uğur Soylu were classified in seventh and eighth.
Çukorova said: “I am leading both the Teams’ and the Drivers’ Championship in Turkey and I hope to be in the same position on Sunday evening. All my competitors are fast and we all know that being the fastest isn’t always the best way. You need to be intelligent as well.”
Thirty-three of the original entries were flagged from the start in 19 May Youth Square on Friday evening in the presence of Osman Aşkin Bak, Minister of Youth and Sports of the Republic of Turkey, TOSFED president Serkan Yazici, the FIA’s Michèle Mouton and Oliver Ciesla and Jarmo Mahonen from WRC Promoter.
Hakki Ağaoğlu (Peugeot 207 S2000) and Ahmet Burkay (Peugeot 208 R2) were two of those who failed to start, although eight historic cars tagged on to the end of the field.
Burcu Çetínkaya Bucak was a regular face in the FIA Middle East Rally Championship until her last appearance in Dubai in 2013. Along with navigator Nehir Yilmaz to replace Çiçek Güney, she is entered in a Ford Fiesta ST in the RC3 category under the Ford Motorsport Turkey umbrella and was running near the rear of the field. She said: “I have been away for a while. I had a first child 15 months ago and got tired of being called the ‘ex-rally driver’ in the local media, so it was time for me to come back with the Fiesta ST for this rally….”
Saturday – as it happened
Bostanci set the target time of 7min 50sec through the opening 10.42km of a stage named in memory of the late Ayhan Tokyay and running north of Marmaris and to the east of the Muğla highway. Dust issues were prevalent in the forest and several drivers were forced to stop for a short time. This played into the hands of Bostanci: the Ford Fiesta R5 driver claimed the fastest time to snatch a 12-second lead over Avcioğlu. Eren Burkay failed to finish the stage.
The longer second timed test of 21.30km ran a little further north and Avcioğlu moved into a one-second lead over the Ford driver after winning the special in his Skoda. Both Mustafa Çakal and Emre Hasbay failed to complete the section.
Bostanci regained a 2.8-second lead with the fastest time in the third 14.95km stage, held just to the south of Muğla, and headed into the afternoon’s repeat loop of three stages in confident mood.
Avci claimed his first stage win on the re-run of the opening special, but Avcioğlu dropped a minute to his main rival after leaving the track and that enabled Bostanci to extend his advantage to 43.5 seconds over the stage winner. Avcioğlu slipped to third but remained 90 seconds in front of the impressive Cypriot Alexandros Tsouloftas, running a Toksport Mitsubishi Lancer in fourth place.
Avcioğlu hit back in SS5 with a fastest time of 15min 43.9sec and that was 14.9 seconds faster than Avci’s time, thus enabling the Skoda driver to regain second place by just 1.2 seconds. Bostanci’s outright lead grew to 53 seconds.
Avci, who won one of the day’s stages, said: “Last year I had a big fight here with Murat (Bostanci). The stages are cleaner this year. I have already qualified for the final of the FIA European Rally Trophy in Portugal, so I am safe for that, but there are two rounds of the local championship to go and that is important.”
Bostanci stayed out of trouble to record the second quickest time and conserve his overnight lead on a sixth stage where Avcioğlu was again fastest.
Tomorrow (Sunday), crews tackle two further loops of three stages and a Red Bull-supported finale of 6.36km before the ceremonial finish in Marmaris.
The action gets underway with a stage of 17.63km, named after the late Renç Koçibey, at 09.03hrs, and further stages in the repeated loop run for 8.40km and 23.95km.
2017 Marmaris Rally Turkey – positions after SS6 (unofficial @16.45hrs):
1. Murat Bostanci (TUR)/Onur Vatansever (TUR) Ford Fiesta R5 1hr 12min 17.2sec
2. Orhan Avcioğlu (TUR)/Burçín Korkmaz (TUR) Skoda Fabia R5 1hr 12min 53.0sec
3. Yağiz Avci (TUR)/Bahadir Gücenmez (TUR) Peugeot 208 T16 R5 1hr 13min 19.7sec
4. Alexandros Tsouloftas (CYP)/Antonis Chrystomou (CYP) Mitsubishi Lancer 1hr 16min 19.8sec
5. Burak Çukorova (TUR)/Vedat Bostanci (TUR) Skoda Fabia R5 1hr 16min 55.8sec
6. Deníz Fahrí (TUR)/Bariş Kalfaoğlu (TUR) Ford Fiesta R5 1hr 17min 14.6sec
7. Mustafa Bulutoğullari (CYP)/Nebíl Öneral (CYP) Skoda Fabia R5 1hr 17min 26.6sec
8. Uğur Soylu (TUR)/Aras Dínçer (TUR) Skoda Fabia R5 1hr 18min 27.8sec