Bonato leads in Canaries, but Paddon chasing

Yoann Bonato has been the man to beat on Friday, but Hayden Paddon is keeping him honest

FIA European Rally Championship 2023 Stop 2 – Canaries, Spain

Yoann Bonato holds Hayden Paddon to an 11-second deficit after the first full day of Rally Islas Canarias, round two of this year’s European Rally Championship.

Both Bonato and Paddon had been disadvantaged at the start of the day, running towards the head of the field as a damp stage turned dry and gave those further back an advantage.

Reigning European Rally champion Efrén Llarena was the chief beneficiary as he set the pace to move into the rally lead.

But all things being level, Citroën C3 Rally2 driver Bonato was the clear pacesetter and he managed to steal a strong 19.6s from Llarena’s Škoda Fabia RS Rally2 over the next two stages.

At that pace, Bonato was poised to pass Llarena anyway, trailing him by 0.7s heading into service. But the Frenchman’s task was made easier as Llarena was awarded a 10s time penalty for deviating from the rally road book on Thursday night’s superspecial.

Despite moving into the lead, Bonato didn’t relent. Two fastest times on three of the afternoon’s stages earned the four-time France Tarmac champion a good lead to defend into Saturday’s final day.

“I definitely love my wife, but I also love my tires and my car – so I have to choose no?” Bonato smiled.

“It’s really a perfect day. My driving is not so bad, my co-driver is not so bad, I’m a bit surprised [how well it’s gone].

“Let’s see tomorrow.”

Paddon, who led the event overnight and currently leads the championship courtesy of his Rally Serras de Fafe victory back in March, found it challenging to judge how fast to go – pushing too hard overworked his tires, but backing off made it feel like he was going too slowly.

But the former World Rally Championship driver scored a scratch time on the final stage of the day, Santa Lucía – pipping Bonato by 0.2s.

“It’s all about tire management,” he said, after comparing his rubber to jelly babies at the end of the previous stage.

“Like I said, jelly babies!” Paddon added. “I quite like the green ones, but this one doesn’t look like a green one.”

FIA European Rally Championship 2023 Stop 2 - Canaries, Spain

After his 10s penalty Llarena dropped to fourth, but the Spanish star made up a position over the course of the afternoon at the expense of Andrea Nucita.

But Nucita has impressed behind the wheel of his Hyundai, ending Friday just 3.1s adrift of Llarena – 27.3s off the lead.

The Italian heads a scintillating scrap between two Spaniards: Iván Ares and Javier Pardo.

Both i20 pilots have their eyes fixed on the Spanish Superchampionship, and it’s Pardo who’s currently ahead (and in fifth overall) – but only just!

Just 0.1s separates the pair after seven of Rally Islas Canarias stages.

French Gravel champion Mathieu Franceschi is also firmly in this fight, just two seconds behind Ares in sixth. But without a penalty for checking into SS4 one minute late, Franceschi would be ahead of them both.

Another three-way fight is developing for eighth place, headed by Diego Ruiloba. The C3 Rally2 pilot has just one second in hand over Simone Campdelli, while Andrea Mabellini trails Campedelli by just 0.3s.

FIA European Rally Championship 2023 Stop 2 - Canaries, Spain

Elsewhere, star of the opening round in Portugal, Mikko Heikkilä, is 19th overnight in his Škoda Fabia Rally2 evo – contesting just his fourth ever asphalt rally. He heads 2020 Junior WRC champion Tom Kristensson by 2.4s.

Mads Østberg’s broken driveshaft, which hampered him on two of the morning’s three stages, was fixed for the afternoon and he therefore returned to setting a more competitive pace.

But the Citroën driver remains rooted outside the top 20, nearly two minutes down on rally leader Bonato after admitting the rally was now an extended test session for him.

Jon Armstrong leads ERC3 in his new Ford Fiesta Rally3 Evo as the only entrant in the class. ERC4 is led by Roberto Daprà’s Peugeot 208 Rally4.