Heikkilä leads chaotic Fafe as Breen hits tire issue

Finn in his Škoda Fabia heads Østberg's Citroën after day of stage cancellations and a red flag for an Araújo crash

FIA European Rally Championship 2023 Stop 1 – Fafe, Portugal

The first full day of Rally Serras de Fafe ended early after the day’s final two scheduled stages were canceled due to safety reasons, while what proved the final stage was cut short after a crash involving Armindo Araújo.

A statement from Araújo’s team shortly after the incident confirmed both he and co-driver Luís Ramalho have not shown any apparent physical injuries, but have been taken to hospital for further examination.

The scheduled final two stages of the day, stages eight and nine, were canceled for reasons unrelated to the crash.

FIA European Rally Championship 2023 Stop 1 - Fafe, Portugal

As the afternoon unfolded, Craig Breen – who had been leading – dropped out of contention for the win after a tire issue on the day’s final stage meant he lost almost three minutes to the leaders.

The Irishman in his Hyundai had taken the lead on the stage prior with a stage win featuring an impressive 7.9-second margin over Mikko Heikkilä’s Škoda Fabia next up.

But that work came undone almost as quickly as he’d moved into first, finding himself out of the car on the second pass of Boticas/Senhor do Monte and replacing the tire that had caused the problem.

FIA European Rally Championship 2023 Stop 1 - Fafe, Portugal

Speaking at the stage end, Breen said it was something that could have been “very easily avoided”.

“All hell broke loose. I had a dodgy nut gun which didn’t help either,” he explained.

“I was thinking there would be more people who’d get punctures on that stage. Every time I drive an R5 car I seem to have problems like that, and it’s through no fault of Pirelli.

“It could’ve been very easily avoided to be honest with you, but that’s how it is.”

This was good news for Heikkilä as it allowed him to take a lead of 4.2s over Mads Østberg.

But there was cause for concern for Østberg, who said there was an unusual smell in his Citroën at the end of stage six, before explaining the issue further at the end of the following stage.

“I feel like I have no power on the low end, so I feel like I have to be in the high gears,” he said.

Hayden Paddon put in a good time on stage seven and made the most of Breen’s problems, as he jumped up to third, passing Georg Linnamäe in the process.

However, Paddon said he was finding it a bit of a struggle to look after the tires.

“Really tough, you could push a lot more, but you have to look after tires,” he explained. “Trying to find the middle ground is working though.”

Mārtiņš Sesks and Mikołaj Marczyk have been engaged in an all-Škoda battle throughout the day, with Sesks ending up 5.3s ahead in fifth.

Tomorrow’s final-day action is set to get under way at 7:32am local time.