Erik Cais has taken an early lead on Rally Serras de Fafe, the opening round of the European Rally Championship, as Team MRF’s lead duo suffered a nightmare first stage.
A short 0.89-mile superspecial on the streets of Fafe town centre threw up a surprising amount of drama. But Cais, who currently leads the WRC2 Junior standings on level terms with fellow Fafe competitor Georg Linnamäe, was comfortably clear of the field, 0.6 seconds up on anyone else.
Several drivers struggled for grip in the main donut section midway through the superspecial but none suffered worse than Team MRF’s Simone Campedelli.
Before Cais’ run Campedelli had been fastest on the first split, only to skid straight on at the entry to the second donut section of the stage. His Škoda Fabia Rally2 evo nudged a wall head-first and he was forced to reverse out, the time loss leaving him 22nd overall overnight.
“Unfortunately on the big park I arrived really fast. When it was time to brake on the small stones, it was slippy like hell and I had an ice effect,” explained Campedelli.
“Maybe I arrived too fast and probably the damp coming down, I wasn’t able to slow down the car.
“I am really sorry. But for sure we started our maximum. I made a mistake. My fault.”
He wasn’t the only MRF driver in trouble. Efrén Llarena also had a nightmare stage, not being able to get round a tight hairpin amid signs of potential handbrake trouble.
Llarena subsequently had issues navigating the same set of donuts as Campedelli, again unable to turn in properly – all was not well with his Fabia either.
“I don’t know. Honestly I don’t know,” replied Llarena when asked what wasn’t working on his car. Said problems had left him down in 26th.
Both Campedelli and Llarena also had difficult runs on the qualifying stage, which decides the order in which drivers get to pick their road order position for Saturday’s stages.
With muddy conditions out on the stages it’s expected that a higher road order position will generally be more beneficial – so with the pair starting 15th and 17th respectively on the road tomorrow, neither are in a strong position to make up lost time.
“For sure it will be a lottery,” said Llarena. “Maybe 17th position will be the best or the worst if it starts to rain it will be absolutely chaos. But if it doesn’t rain for sure it will be a good position. But we don’t know, for sure it will depend on the weather.”
Campedelli wasn’t the only driver who was fast on the first split but caught out by the slippery donut section. Linnamäe’s run was fast on the first split and spectacular to watch but he could only muster the seventh-fastest time.
Hyundai Team Portugal pair Bruno Magalhães and Ricardo Teodosío were in the same boat as Linnamäe, going fast early on before the slippery donuts left them 10th and 15th respectively.
Behind the dominant Cais, the third works Hyundai of Miguel Correia went second-fastest, one tenth up on Nil Solans’ Volkswagen Polo GTI R5.
Solans will open the road on Saturday, voluntarily choosing first on the road ahead of Armindo Araújo, Alberto Battistolli, Cais and Linnamäe.
Reigning ERC3 Junior champion Ken Torn was also quick on his first outing in a Rally2 at continental level, 1.2s off the pace in fourth ahead of two-time PWRC champion Araújo.
Leading positions after SS1
1 Erik Cais/Petr Tesínský (Ford) 1m26.5s
2 Miguel Correia/Jorge Carvalho (Škoda) +0.6s
3 Nil Solans/Marc Marti (Volkswagen) +0.7s
4 Ken Torn/Kauri Pannas (Ford) +1.2s
5 Armindo Araujo/Luis Ramalho (Škoda) +1.3s
6 Simone Tempestini/Sergiu Itu (Škoda) +1.4s
7 Georg Linnamäe/James Morgan (Volkswagen) +1.8s
8 Norbert Herczig/Igor Bacigál (Škoda) +1.8s
9 Ruben Rodrigues/Estevão Rodrigues (Citroën) +2.2s
10 Bruno Magalhaes/Carlos Magalhaes (Hyundai) +2.3s