The Finn’s success on Rally Liepāja-Ventspils followed three days of thrilling high-speed competition on ice and snow-coated roads between the two Baltic cities.
While Ketomaa excelled alongside Kimi Räikkönen’s former co-driver Kaj Lindström in a Ford Fiesta RRC, there were standout performances too from Peugeot 207 Super 2000-driving Irishman Craig Breen, who finished second, and third-planced François Delecour. The Frenchman secured the final podium place in another Peugeot after a close battle with Russian Alexey Lukyanuk.
Lukyanuk, who was leading the ERC Production Car Cup, was 1.7s behind Delecour with two stages left when a brush with a snowbank damaged his car’s oil cooler and forced him to retire. However, Lukyanuk won’t be leaving Latvia empty-handed after he was chosen as the recipient of the Colin McRae ERC Flat Out Trophy, while multiple Baltic and Lithuanian champion Vytautas Švedas inherited the showroom category laurels in a similar Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution X.
There was also success for Finland in the ERC 2WD Championship with Risto Immonen claiming victory in a Citroën C2 R2 Max after long-term leader Stéphane Lefebvre dropped down to second on the final morning when a gearbox issue slowed his Peugeot 208 R2. Nevertheless it was a hugely impressive showing by the young Frenchman, who had never competed on snow or ice.
Ketomaa had trailed Breen over the opening five stages but moved in front on stage six when the additional top-end speed of his turbocharged engine told on the super-fast roads. Breen remained in contention until stage 12 when a minor electrical glitch cost him precious time and prompted him to settle for a strong second place.
"I’m really happy with this result after two years of bad luck,” said Ketomaa, who moves to the top of the ERC drivers’ standings following his triumph. “We didn’t want to take any risks and knew that we would settle into a rhythm after the first day. The feeling was really good and the conditions on the rally were extreme with very high speeds and lots of frozen gravel. But we never stopped believing in the work we could do and the team has done a great job.”
Despite losing out on top spot, Breen was more than satisfied with second on his first of eight planned ERC appearances with the Peugeot Rally Academy-Saintéloc team. “I’m overwhelmed to even have been in contention for victory,” he said. “I came here to finish on the podium and that’s exactly what I’ve done. I wasn’t pushing over the top, the wins will come this season.”
For rallying legend Delecour, his decision to run with a short-ratio gearbox masked his ultimate pace while there were also a few dramatic moments including a high-speed trip through a field and a scare on Friday night when he completed much of stage three with his door flying open.
Reigning ERC 2WD champion Jan Černý celebrated his first outright European championship stage win with the fastest time on the closing spectator stage in Ventspils to secure fourth overall in his family-run ŠKODA Fabia Super 2000. Raimonds Kisiels charged through the order to claim fifth and the honour of being the top Latvian finisher in his MINI John Cooper Works RRC, which he was using in competition for the first time on the back of a 40-kilometre pre-event test.
Behind Švedas, Aivis Egle finished seventh, Raul Jeets took eighth with Jarsoláv Orsak scoring strong points in the European Rally Championship for Teams for the GPD Mit Metal Racing squad in ninth overall. Vitaliy Pushkar overcame transmission issues to complete the top 10 with Frigyes Turán the leading Subaru Impreza finisher in 11th.
Marco Tempestini headed the Napoca Rally Academy challenge in 20th with Zbyněk Baller reaching the finish in a Eurosol Honda Civic. However, there was disappointment for ERC 2WD title leader Hannes Danzinger, who retired his Renault Clio R3 with water pump failure on Sunday’s first stage.
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