Yoann Bonato is in full control of Rally Islas Canarias, extending his lead over European Rally Championship leader Hayden Paddon to over half a minute with just three stages to go.
Bonato has been the clear pacesetter all weekend. Despite being disadvantaged by a damp stage that soon dried out for later runners on Friday morning, the four-time French Tarmac champion soon moved to the front with Paddon clinging onto his coat tails.
With an 11-second overnight advantage, Bonato eked another 1.8s out of Paddon on Saturday’s opening Arucas test – perhaps benefiting from taking just one spare tire instead of two.
Asked about that at stage-end, he laughed: “Nobody’s got big balls!”
Rain had been expected for Saturday afternoon but came earlier than anticipated, affecting several sections of the morning’s second stage Moya-Valleseco.
And Bonato seemed to prove his joke accurate by setting a stunning time over the 17 miles – 15.6s quicker than anybody else and 19.4s up on Paddon.
How did he do it? “I don’t know.”
But the strong run earned him a lead of over half a minute which he extended by the end of the loop with three stage wins from three.
Paddon remains Bonato’s chaser-in-chief, but doesn’t appear interested in putting the Frenchman under any pressure.
“To be honest we were never pushing for the win today, we were always very happy to take second,” Paddon said. “But not taking anything away from Bonato, he did a great job on that last one.
“But for us we’re just trying to manage.”
Jan Solans, brother of last year’s Rally Islas Canarias winner Nil Solans, is third overall but not registered for ERC points.
Reigning ERC champion Efrén Llarena is fourth thanks to a 10s penalty, and is not looking particularly safe there as Mathieu Franceschi trails by just 1.9s.
The French Gravel champion had a 10s penalty applied to his rally time for checking into SS4 one minute late, but his team appealed that decision and successfully won it, meaning the penalty has since been overturned.
That elevated Franceschi 4.2s ahead of Iván Ares, who worked his way past fellow Hyundai driver Andrea Nucita over the course of the morning.
Javier Pardo, last year’s ERC vice-champion, would likely have been ahead of them both but he was forced out on the middle stage of the loop. He had to stop and change a puncture, and then a few kilometers later picked up another.
With just one spare tire in the trunk of his Hyundai, he was unable to continue beyond the stage stop control.
Meanwhile José Antonio Suárez brought himself into play with a strong performance on the damp SS9 to vault up four places to seventh despite a 10s penalty.
But the Spaniard was re-passed by Simone Campedelli on SS10 – which will run as the powerstage later in the afternoon – to trail by 7.8s.
Grzegorz Grzyb and Simon Wagner complete the top 10. But a big battle is brewing, as just 1.1s split Suárez, Gryzb and Wagner.