ERC title fight rolls on, De Tommaso takes maiden win

Damiano De Tommaso took a maiden ERC win as Simone Tempestini ensured the title race would continue

FIA European Rally Championship 2022 Stop 6 – Rome, Italy

Damiano De Tommaso secured a maiden European Rally Championship victory in Rome as key rival Andrea Crugnola suffered throttle problems, while Simone Tempestini’s fifth place was enough to stop Efrén Llarena from wrapping up the title.

Llarena’s closest title rival heading into Rally di Roma Capitale, Nil Solans, withdrew before the rally began as logistical problems meant he had no car. His co-driver Marc Martí had also injured his back from a heavy landing at last week’s Rally Estonia, so had no navigator either.

That meant a strong result in Rome, coupled with a low score for Simone Tempestini, Alberto Battistolli and Javier Pardo would have been enough for Llarena to win the title two rounds early – but it wasn’t to be.

As expected the Italian drivers were simply unstoppable on home soil against the ERC regulars, with Andrea Crugnola looking set to finally break his unlucky streak after five years of near-misses on the event.

FIA European Rally Championship 2022 Stop 6 - Rome, Italy

Crugnola had led overnight after taking the lead from De Tommaso but his rally fell apart on Sunday morning, as a throttle issue caused his car to stall twice on Rocca di Cave and cost him over a minute.

While the problem was fixed at midday service by replacing his Citroën C3 Rally2’s electronic control unit and throttle pedal, the damage was already done, though he did recover from eighth to fifth place at the finish.

It was a painful reminder of Crugnola’s terrible luck on this event in years past, where on multiple occasions he’d led only for something to go wrong.

In 2019 and 2021 he’d led until punctures cost him precious seconds, while in 2020 he came back from a first-stage crash to win all but one stage the following day – showing he had the speed to win from the outset.

FIA European Rally Championship 2022 Stop 6 - Rome, Italy

“Every year we are so close to win this rally which I like a lot. But maybe next year,” Crugnola commiserated.

That repetition of Crugnola’s curse left the way clear for De Tommaso to take his first career ERC win – and only his second victory in the Italian championship too, having won for the first time at the Targa Florio in May this year.

Simone Campedelli finally scored his first podium of the ERC season with second place, having gradually eaten into De Tommaso’s lead all day but ultimately running out of stage miles to catch him.

Llarena’s MRF team-mate had lost around 10 seconds on the first stage of Saturday with a spin at a hairpin, a mistake Campedelli may well live to rue given the margin of victory by De Tommaso was 10.5s.

FIA European Rally Championship 2022 Stop 6 - Rome, Italy

Third place was hotly contested between Llarena and Yoann Bonato, who traded tenths of a second for much of the day.

Llarena started Sunday by taking fourth from Bonato on the first pass of Fiuggi, which then became third after Crugnola’s dramas.

But in the afternoon Bonato staged a comeback, trimming the gap to 0.2s with two stages left, finding one more tenth on the penultimate test and finally winning the rally with a big push on the powerstage.

That dropped Llarena to fourth at the finish, though he could only compliment Bonato for his success, especially after beating him to the final step of the podium on Rally Islas Canarias on a tiebreaker after finishing dead level earlier this year.

“Now, OK, honestly I’m really happy for Yoann Bonato,” said Llarena. “He’s a really good guy. In Canarias we f***ed him [over].”

FIA European Rally Championship 2022 Stop 6 - Rome, Italy

While Crugnola passed Tempestini for fifth place on the powerstage it was still enough to ensure Llarena wouldn’t wrap up the ERC title early, though with a 58 points gap and only 70 available for the rest of the year it’s likely a matter of time before Llarena becomes champion.

After a tricky opening day where he’d initially bolted into fourth place, only to plummet down to 10th, Javier Pardo recovered well in the third of the Team MRF Škodas, only falling 2.6s short of catching Tempestini in seventh.

Pardo’s rise up the running order was helped by crashes for Fabio Andolfi and Battistolli.

Andolfi ran wide on the final corner of the Fiuggi test and struck a rock with the underside of his Fabia Rally2 evo, damaging the engine and forcing him to retire.

FIA European Rally Championship 2022 Stop 6 - Rome, Italy

He wasn’t the only one caught out by that corner. Giandomenico Basso, who with two wins and six podiums is the most successful driver on Rally di Roma, ran wide in the same place and oversteered into a wall when returning to the road and demolishing the timing beam at the stage finish.

As for Battistolli, he came a cropper one stage later, going off-line at a fast right-hander and sliding into a tree. Unlike Basso and Andolfi he was able to continue but would only cross the finish line in Fiuggi 13th overall.

Alas, he wouldn’t even get to keep his 13th place; a fuel pump failure left him stranded on the road section between the powerstage finish and final time control at the service park in Fiuggi, triggering his retirement from the rally.

Further down the order, it was a case of what might have been for Filip Mareš. He retired after the opening superspecial when the front-left wheel bolts sheared off his car on a road section.

He scored three stage wins on Sunday, including the powerstage, and without his 10 minute restart penalty plus an additional 10s lateness penalty on Saturday morning, he’d have been only 36.8s off De Tomasso’s pace – enough for fifth place.