Following his titles in the 2021 Clio Trophy France Asphalte and French Two-Wheel-Drive Tarmac Rally Championship with Clio Rally5, Romain Di-Fante wins the first-ever Clio Ice Trophy round. The Naudon Rallye Services driver dominated in practice and qualifying before winning the Final A to claim the lead in the general classification ahead of his teammates Mathieu Lannepoudenx, who won the Final B, and Pierre-Paul Baltolu.
The inaugural round of the Clio Ice Trophy took place at 2,400 metres above sea level at the Pas de la Casa circuit. All of the eleven competitors, who made their way to Andorra, aimed to become the first winner in this ice racing competition contested with Clio Rally5 and Clio RX.
di-fante on form from the off
As the sun set on Saturday, the drivers were getting their bearings on the first of four circuits proposed by the Crèdit Andorrà GSeries promoters. The 754-metre-long counter-clockwise layout opened with a long, tightening left-hand corner before a chicane followed by a more undulating section leading to the final hairpin. Due to the climb on the main straight, the unusual use of rolling starts instead of traditional standing starts was taken.
Koen Verlinde (Q-Grafix Racing) was the first to set a benchmark time, but Romain Di-Fante took the lead ahead of team-mates Mathieu Lannepoudenx and Pierre-Paul Baltolu. The drivers then faced a two-fold challenge in qualifying, with the overall best time synonymous with pole position, while the aggregate time of the four best laps (out of seven allowed) resulted in points for the top ten.
In both cases, Romain Di-Fante was a cut above the rest of the field. The driver from Nice edged Mathieu Lannepoudenx by just 26/1000ths and scored maximum intermediate points, having a lower aggregate time than Pierre-Paul Baltolu over the four fastest laps of each driver.
A naudon double-win with di-fante and lannepoudenx
In the Final A, Romain Di-Fante kept the lead over Pierre-Paul Baltolu, but the latter quickly pressured his teammate. The leader kept a cool head to fend off the attacks and go on for a more than four-second margin of victory. Koen Verlinde deprived Naudon Rallye Services of a podium-sweep thanks to a daring manoeuvre on Bryan Dufas at the start while Markel De Zabalata (Driveland) completed the top five ahead of Jonathan Arnould (Brunet Competition).
The Final B also saw the poleman convert his advantage into victory. Mathieu Lannepoudenx was under attack from Benoit Verlinde (Q-Grafix Racing), but he held onto the lead and extended his lead to three seconds over the Belgian in the last few laps. Guillermo Millan (Driveland) completed the podium ahead of Pauline Dalmasso (Naudon Rallye Services) and Arthur Bourion (Brunet Competition).
The competitors will return this Saturday for round two of the winter calendar on a different track configuration of the Pas de la Casa circuit. Leader of the general classification and the two-wheel-drive category dominated by the Clio Ice Trophy drivers, Romain Di-Fante will defend his four-point lead over Mathieu Lannepoudenx, with Pierre-Paul Baltolu five points further back.
The Clio Ice Trophy will not be the only place to see Clio Rally5 on snow this week as the Dutch crew of Vitalii Antonov and co-driver Christiaan van der Rijsen will launch their 2022 campaign on the snow-covered stages of the Rovaniemi-based Arctic Lapland Rally (14-15 January).
What an experience! It was so nice to get back together on a new trophy with competitors from different backgrounds: rally, rallycross and circuit. It was brand new for everyone, and we had a blast, which is what we all came for, all for a minimal cost. This Clio Ice Trophy is an excellent initiative, and it's always a plus to make the winter go by quicker, especially with this magnificent scenery that I discovered in Andorra! I had never driven on ice before, and it's not my favourite surface as I don't have a "sliding" driving style, but I managed to improve throughout the day with the team. It was a real learning experience, and Clio Rally5 is always a real treat. It was an amazing Saturday with incredible sensations, and I can't wait to do it again! ....Romain Di-Fante
General classification (round 1/4)
ROMAIN DI-FANTE - 40 points
MATHIEU LANNEPOUDENX - 36 points
PIERRE-PAUL BALTOLU - 31 points
BENOIT VERLINDE - 27 points
KOEN VERLINDE - 20 points
BRYAN DUFAS - 19 points
GUILLERMO MILLAN - 17 points
PAULINE DALMASSO - 16 points
MARKEL DE ZABALETA - 13 points
ARTHUR BOURION - 11 points
JONATHAN ARNOULD - 8 points