ERC - FLYING SOLANS LEADS ERC OPENER AFTER RAIN-HIT OPENING DAY
Nil Solans conquered challenging terrain at Rally Serras de Fafe - Felgueiras - Cabreira e Boticas to lead by a comfortable margin after Saturday’s action.
Torrential rain, thick fog and muddy roads rattled the crews on a shortened day which saw two stages cancelled due to adverse weather conditions.
Solans took a gamble, choosing to open the road in his Volkswagen Polo GTI R5. It paid off immediately as he leapfrogged Friday leader Erik Cais in the morning opener and never looked back.
Cais retired on the very next stage when his Fiesta Rally2 suffered two punctured tyres and damaged steering after hitting a rock. That left Estonian youngster Georg Linnamäe and local ace Armindo Araújo to complete the leading trio.
A misted-up windscreen at Luílhas threatened to break Solans’ stride, but the Spaniard remained cool, calm and collected.
Finding a clean line was difficult - particularly in the afternoon. Nevertheless, Solans racked up four stage wins to arrive back at service with a hefty 1min 44.4sec lead. A win on Sunday would mark the former FIA Junior WRC champion's maiden FIA European Rally Championship (ERC) triumph.
“I am really satisfied because the conditions were really, really difficult,” said Solans. “The first loop was good for us, but opening the road on the second pass after all the two-wheel drive cars was really difficult.
“It was really difficult to clean the road in that way, especially as we found a lot of water in the ruts, but I am really happy with what Marc (Martí, co-driver) and I have done.”
Linnamäe started on the back foot and dropped 21.8sec to Solans on SS2 after selecting the wrong engine map on his Polo.
The 23-year-old clawed back 15.7sec across both passes of Cabeceiras de Basto, but struggled for grip during the afternoon and dropped time to the leader on every other stage. A misted-up windscreen on the final test only added to his frustrations.
Skoda cars accounted for the next six positions as Araújo led the Fabia charge 15.3sec back from Linnamäe. He was never outside the top three and actually enjoyed the challenging conditions, building a 58.5sec gap over ERC-Michelin Talent Factory leader Javier Pardo by close of play.
Simone Tempestini struggled with low visibility on the stages, but built his speed to climb the leaderboard. The Romanian rounded out the top-five 18.0sec behind Pardo, with the ever-cheerful Alberto Battistolli another 36.6sec down.
Team MRF Tyres pilot Norbert Herczig opted not to carry a lamp pod, which cost him time under the darkness of SS9. The Hungarian was 4min 40.7sec adrift of the leaders in seventh, while home-hero Miguel Correia finished another 1min 23.9sec behind.
Bruno Magalhaes ended ninth in a Hyundai i20 N Rally2 and Citroën C3 Rally2 man José Pedro Fontes rounded off the leaderboard. He was 8min 30.9sec back from Solans by service.
Efrén Llarena had a disastrous day after damaging his Skoda’s radiator on the very first stage. The Spaniard made running repairs but was already more than ten minutes off the pace. Ken Torn’s Fiesta also took radiator damage but he had to retire.
Llarena’s Team MRF Tyres team-mate Simone Campedelli was another casualty. He bowed out with rear suspension damage on SS7 but plans to restart on Sunday.
Dmitry Feofanov leads the ERC3 category by 32.6sec from Kaspar Kasari after Saturday. He chalked up three stage wins in his Fiesta Rally3 despite a spin on SS5. Andorran pilot Joan Vinyes tops the ERC Open leaderboard in a Suzuki Swift Rally2 Kit with 25.0sec in hand over team-mate Alberto Monarri.
In ERC4, Peugeot 208 debutant Óscar Palomo leads by 1min 32.9sec from Andrea Mabellini's Renault Clio. Paulo Soria is third in his similar car after being dealt a 30sec time penalty for a late check-in.
Four stages – each driven twice and divided by service – make up today’s finale. The action resumes at 0808hrs with Montim (8.73km) and Seixoso (9.97km), followed by Santa Quitéria (9.18km), which remains unchanged from last year’s route.
Lameirinha (14.83km) rounds out both loops. The second passage forms the bonus points-paying Power Stage, which is another new feature for the 2022 championship.