Newly crowned European Rally Champion Efrén Llarena has crashed out of Barum Rally Zlín only three stages in, triggering a red flag.
Llarena had wrapped up the title before the rally began courtesy of Simone Tempestini’s non-participation, mathematically securing the championship in the process.
But his first outing as champion-in-waiting has ended in disaster, going off the road and crashing into a tree on the wet Držková test. The impact was sufficient that the engine from his Škoda Fabia Rally2 evo was ejected from the chassis.
Llarena and co-driver Sara Fernández were able to get out of their crashed Fabia, with Llarena walking unaided to an ambulance for checks.
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MRF team manager Vivek Ponnusamy said that an issue with Llarena’s car, not a driver error, was to blame for the crash.
“It’s not Efren’s mistake; something happened to the car,” said Ponnusamy.
Ponnusamy also confirmed that the substantial damage to Llarena’s stricken car will prevent him from restarting on Sunday.
Držková proved to be a typically challenging Barum stage, with earlier rainfall making the stage wet and slippery.
Jan Kopecký, a nine-time winner in Zlín and currently on a seven-in-a-row streak on the event, mastered the conditions to go 18.4s faster than anyone else before the red flag flew.
A challenge from Simon Wagner looked to be brewing but he was also caught out by Držková, overshooting the entry to a junction, clattering a haybale and spinning out, costing him 40s and a podium place.
Tom Kristensson had also stopped earlier in the stage than Llarena, while Kopecký’s main rival in the Czech championship, Filip Mareš, overshot the first junction of Držková.
Erik Cais had nearly won this event last year before crashing on the last stage but is already 26.1s off the lead – and is at a loss to explain how Kopecký dominated the Držková test that had caught Llarena out.
“I don’t know,” said Cais of how Kopecký had pulled off his fastest time. “I was on the limit. I don’t know why such a big difference.”
The interruption means the current leading order is somewhat unclear.
Miklós Csomós isn’t registered for ERC points but had taken the lead on stage two, taking advantage of running far down the road order as a non-priority driver to traverse Brezová in drier conditions than the other frontrunners.
He hasn’t had a chance to run Držková yet due to the red flag and may well end up with a notional time.