Yoann Bonato has won the second round of the 2023 European Rally Championship, Rally Islas Canarias, despite a late 10-second time penalty.
Points leader Hayden Paddon led the rally after the opening spectator stage on Thursday, which briefly headed inside a basketball court.
But it was Škoda Fabia RS Rally2 driver Efrén Llarena – the reigning ERC champion – who hit the front on Friday morning, profiting from a later start position as a damp stage dried out.
The Spaniard therefore moved into an early lead, but as soon as conditions dried out for the very next stage, Bonato’s charge began.
The Frenchman slashed Llarena’s advantage over the next two tests to head into service trailing by 0.7s. But he was soon promoted into the lead after Llarena was handed a 10s time penalty for deviating from the defined road book on SS1.
It was a gift Bonato didn’t really need.
Building an 11s advantage over Paddon by the end of Friday – who’d himself climbed back up to second facing the same handicap as Bonato on Friday’s first stage – the four-time French Tarmac champion kept the hammer down on the rally’s final day.
Bonato, who turns 40 years old next week, powered on to record a 36.9s victory over Paddon – the second ERC win of his career following a maiden success on Rally Spain last October.
The only real hiccup was a 10s penalty added to his rally time for hitting an element of a chicane on SS10.
“Really incredible, incredible!” said a delighted Bonato.
“My team is perfect, my tires are perfect, my car is perfect. The conditions were so tricky until the end so what can I say?
“It’s a good win. I am so, so happy.”
On his least favored surface, Paddon knew catching Bonato was going to be a tough task, so re-aligned his mission for Saturday. Instead he wanted to simply bank second place, and that’s exactly what he did.
“To come away with a podium is more than we expected, so really, really happy,” said Paddon.
“There’s obviously a lot more to come from me on Tarmac but it’s a good step, and from a championship perspective it’s the perfect result.”
For Llarena, third place looked to be secure, despite a big battle with Iván Ares, Jan Solans and Mathieu Franceschi.
Heading onto the powerstage, Llarena was behind Solans but had four seconds in hand over Ares’s Hyundai, with Franceschi’s older generation Škoda another 3.7s back.
But some late rain suddenly put them under threat from Simon Wagner, who had started Saturday all the way down in 16th place but fought back impeccably.
Franceschi took things particularly gingerly and fell behind both Wagner and Andrea Nucita – who had been running as high as third on Friday – to seventh.
But Ares and Llarena did enough to hold onto their respective fourth and third places.
There was, however, powerstage heartbreak for Simone Campedelli who had looked set to secure sixth place but failed to start the final test due to a fuel pump issue on his Fabia Rally2 evo.
Mārtiņš Sesks finished ninth ahead of José Antonio Suárez and Grzegorz Grzyb.
Mads Østberg finished outside the points after he lost nearly two minutes with a broken front driveshaft on Friday morning.
Jon Armstrong was the sole Rally3 entrant so won the ERC3 class in 21st place overall on the debut of M-Sport Poland’s new Ford Fiesta Rally3 Evo.
Bendegúz Hangodi secured a comfortable ERC4 win in his Peugeot after fellow 208 Rally4 pilot Roberto Daprà retired from the lead on Saturday morning.