It’s been a long wait. A very long wait. Two-time Spanish national champion Luis Monzón last won Rally Islas Canarias 15 years ago. And that’s a big deal. He is the local hero here: born in rally host city Las Palmas, with his permanent residence on the rally’s shakedown stage. The most local of locals.
After years of the ERC’s invading forces beating him to the top step, Monzón has a golden opportunity to beat all-comers from around Europe and keep the winner’s trophy in Gran Canaria.
How experienced is Monzón? One of his three wins on this rally came by beating Juha Kankkunen with the same car in the same team. Quite a stat.
He put himself in the box seat by being quickest out of the blocks, using that rich depository of local knowledge – all 56 years of it – to win two of the first three full-length stages on Friday morning.
Fastest times on Santa Lucía and Tejeda built a small double-digit advantage. But from there, the internationals began to fight back.
Simone Campedelli was the first to have a go. Team MRF’s second driver was coming off the back of a rough start to the year but went full send into a fastest time on the second pass of Valsequillo.
“Yes, finally!” yelled the relieved Campedelli. Three years of seemingly non-stop disasters in the ERC, with cars breaking down left right and center, had finally borne fruit.
Or so it seemed. He went full send into an armco barrier on the next test and dropped out of the fight.
One less rival for Monzón to worry about. But more breathing space? Forget it. Another challenge was building. This one would stick.
Nil Solans was next of the non-Islanders to pick up the mantle. He’d been all at sea on the Friday morning loop, his front tires burning up despite the fairly mild temperatures. And his car setup? Nothing felt right.
By the afternoon, the body language of his Volkswagen Polo GTI R5 told a different story. The rear end was dancing around on the limit. This was more like it.
It took until the last stage of the day but Solans had finally set a fastest time. His arrears to Monzón had decreased to 8.4 seconds.
But if you asked Solans, it should have been 0.4s. The first pass of Santa Lucía had been red-flagged thanks to Simon Wagner understeering his way into a rock face, wrecking the left-side of his Škoda Fabia Rally2 evo and blocking the stage.
Solans was not happy.
“After SS3 was canceled they applied a very bad time for us, eight seconds I think slower without doing the stage, so it’s stupid.”
He didn’t have many compliments for the car either.
“We are still not comfortable with the car. A few kilometers when we have the correct temperature on the tire, we are working well. But we need to continue on this line, trying to improve the car to our driving style.”
And yet, here he was. Eight seconds behind the local hero.
That’s less than another local hero had on an ERC round this year. We’ve been here already. Azores. Ricardo Moura. Using his decades of local knowledge, Moura sprinted out of the blocks, only to be caught by Efrén Llarena on the final two stages and cruelly lose a popular home win on the very last test of the rally.
Perhaps it won’t be Llarena to repeat the feat. The de-facto championship leader, given Armindo Araújo’s absence, is already 20.3s off the top spot in fourth and struggled slightly during the Friday afternoon loop.
There’s a joker in the pack too with Yoann Bonato, the French asphalt ace. When he took a breather from deploying quips at stage ends, he was consistently fast. No stage wins, yes. But with only 12.1s in arrears, he’s still there.
And Solans? He’s getting quicker. Monzón is feeling the heat.
“I feel pressure,” he conceded. “I race in my home with my family; that helps.”
It wasn’t enough for Moura in the Azores. Will it be enough for Monzón in his backyard?
End of day one classification:
1 Luis Monzón/Carlos Déniz José (Škoda) 59m48.5s
2 Nil Solans/Marc Martí (Volkswagen) +8.4s
3 Yoann Bonato/Benjamin Boulloud (Citroën) +12.1s
4 Efrén Llarena/Sara Fernández (Škoda) +20.3s
5 Enrique Cruz/Yeray Mújica Eugenio (Ford) +27.0s
6 Gregorz Gryzb/Kamil Kozdroń (Škoda) +40.2s
7 Josep Bassas/Axel Coronado Jiménez (Škoda) +41.8s
8 Javier Pardo/Adrián Pérez Fernández (Škoda) +42.5s
9 Simone Campedelli/Tania Canton (Škoda) +48.4s
10 Norbert Herczig/Igor Bacigál Škoda) +1m09.6s