Bonato takes maiden European win as ERC4 titles go to the wire

The final round of the year ended with Yoann Bonato as victor

Yoann Bonato

Yoann Bonato has scored a career-first European Rally Championship victory on Rally Spain, fending off recently crowned ERC champion Efrén Llarena for top spot.

Several times this year Bonato and Llarena have squared off for podium positions. On Rally Islas Canarias, Llarena pipped Bonato to second place on the final stage via a tiebreak scenario, having finished dead level on final rally time. Bonato then got his own back on Rally di Roma Capitale, stealing third place away on the powerstage by just 0.3s.

But there would be no repeat of last-minute heroics from either this time, as Bonato had done the hard work earlier in the rally to score the win.

Llarena had won the rally opener on Friday morning but simply couldn’t keep up with Bonato thereafter, as the Citroën C3 Rally2 driver took the lead on stage three and then didn’t look back. In all, Bonato racked up seven stage wins on his way to the top spot.

FIA European Rally Championship 2022 Stop 8 - Salou, Spain

Despite missing out on a home victory, Llarena wasn’t particularly disappointed.

“We had a little bit [of] bad luck during the rally with some rain and problems with the gearbox,” said Llarena. “But it’s our first time here so we’re really happy with our performance.”

Javier Pardo backed up Llarena in the second Team MRF Škoda Fabia Rally2 evo by completing the podium positions in third.

His job was made easier when former Citroën WRC factory driver Xevi Pons had a puncture on stage three and fell back, clearing the way for Pardo to take third as Pons settled for fourth.

Oscar Palomo clinched the ERC4 title aboard his Spanish motorsport federation-backed Peugeot 208 Rally4, only needing to bring his car to the finish to secure the silverware.

Getting the end was a necessity for Palomo as Andrea Mabellini was up ahead in second place – and was gutted to miss out on the title not only for himself, but co-driver Virginia Lenzi.

Lenzi went into the season finale leading the points but ERC4 victory in Spain for Laurent Pellier meant Marine Pelamourgues took the ERC4 co-drivers’ title instead.

“For the championship, it’s gone, we lost it,” said a disconsolate Mabellini. “We tried until the end. I’m sorry for Virginia because she can win the co-drivers championship but in this condition, no.

FIA European Rally Championship 2022 Stop 8 - Salou, Spain

“In a tough championship like this, you cannot lose any points, you have to keep points in each race and we had two mechanical problems that stopped us. We will try better the next year.”

But in Pellier’s cockpit, there was celebration: “A huge thanks to Marine my co-driver because she was very good on my right. I think she is now European champion also in ERC4. That’s perfect.”

ERC Open title honors were clinched by Joan Vinyes in a Suzuki Swift Rally S: “That’s incredible because it’s a hard season because there’s so may rallies. In all the rallies we can’t go maximum attack and for the head it’s difficult.”