Penultimate FIA European Historic Rally Championship event of 2023 is one of the most evocative and challenging on the calendar
Italian pairing in the Lancia Delta Integrale lead on the fabled asphalt of Sanremo
Mechanical dramas bring out the fighting spirit among top contenders
An immaculate performance from Italian veteran ‘Lucky’ and his former World Rally Championship vice-champion co-driver Fabrizia Pons has put the Italian star’s Lancia Delta Integrale into the lead of the FIA European Historic Rally Championship encounter on the fabled stages of Sanremo.
Not only are the Italians in contention to win the rally, but they also stand to take the lead in the points battle in Category 4, for the youngest and fastest historic rally machinery in the series, after Hungary’s Tomas Erdi hit trouble on the opening day.
Consistency has been key to the season that ‘Lucky’ is enjoying, while Erdi has won three times but occasionally found his Ford Sierra Cosworth 4X4 to be mechanically frail. Such was the story today when Erdi’s steering developed a serious issue that dropped him back before a repair could be effected at the service halt – although a thrilling recovery drive is always a possibility for the crowd-pleasing purple Ford.
Another driver hampered in the early stages was Northern Irishman Martin McCormack in his BMW E30 M3. A spin on the second stage of the day cost a full minute after picking up a puncture in the incident. A sensational recovery drive followed, pushing himself back up the order to reclaim 38 seconds over the remaining three stages of the day and standing second to ‘Lucky’ both overall and in Category 4.
Category 3 delivered a nip-and-tuck battle between the Porsche of Guy Trolliet and the Renault 5 Turbo of fellow countryman Philippe Mermet at the top of the order. Regular front runner in the category Karl Wagner suffered a throttle linkage problem which meant that co-driver Gerda Zauner was obliged to operate it via a cable while the Austrian worked the steering and gearbox.
Despite this setback, the distinctive yellow machine sits just ten seconds behind the category lead battle at the overnight halt.
Norway’s Valter Jensen heads Category 2 by a comfortable margin at the wheel of his Ford Escort Mk2 RS1800, leading the Czech driver Stanislav Budil’s BMW 2002 by almost 80 seconds after the five stages run.
In Category 1 for the oldest cars in the field, Antonio Parisi – one of the founders of the Sparco racewear brand – is running in solitude on the Sanremo stages as category champion Ernie Graham gives his BMW E30 M3 a long-awaited and cautious debut on the challenging Alpine asphalt.
The action resumes on Sunday morning with six more stages to be run.