Efrén Llarena has won the 2022 European Rally Championship title without even turning a wheel, as closest championship rival Simone Tempestini has pulled out of Barum Rally Zlín.
After six of eight rounds, Llarena leads Tempestini by 58 points in the championship with a maximum of 35 available from each round of the ERC.
That means the withdrawal of Tempestini makes Llarena impossible to be caught, as Nil Solans has not entered this weekend’s event in the Czech Republic either.
Llarena’s title success – and co-driver Sara Fernández’s second co-drivers’ title in a row – will be celebrated with a presentation in Zlín this Friday before the rally starts.
“I have no words,” said Llarena.
“It’s a dream – a dream which started four years ago when we were the first crew to compete in the ERC with the colors of Rally Team Spain. We achieved the ERC3 Junior championship and also the ERC3 championship and now, to get the overall title, it’s fantastic.
“This is a very important year for MRF. We tried our best and put all our effort into the tire development, so I think we worked really hard in one direction.,” he added.
“It has been great work from everyone: the engineers, the team and everybody who has been involved.”
Consistency has been key to Llarena’s title charge as has finished in the top four on every single round, and on the podium on half of them.
The highlight so far was undoubtedly a final stage victory in the Azores, where Llarena went seven seconds faster than anybody else on the powerstage to rip victory from the grasp of local driver Ricardo Moura.
Fellow Spaniard Solans had looked to be a serious rival to Llarena this season with victories on both the season-opening Rally Serras de Fafe and Rally Islas Canarias.
But budget issues have plagued Solans’ season and forced him to miss several rounds.
“On behalf of WRC Promoter and the FIA ERC, I’d like to pass on my congratulations to Efrén Llarena and Sara Fernández on becoming our 2022 champions. They have performed exceptionally all season,” said ERC championship manager Iain Campbell.
“Furthermore, I also want to congratulate Team MRF Tyres on making history with this breakthrough win.”
Campbell revealed that the championship had tried all it could to convince Tempestini to compete on Barum Rally Zlín – efforts that ultimately didn’t bear fruit.
“We actively pursued all opportunities to guarantee Simone Tempestini’s participation in the event. We did this to ensure our full support for the rally and for the championship,” Campbell said.
“Unfortunately, despite our endeavours, Simone could not be persuaded to start the rally, although he hopes to compete at the final round in Spain.”
Llarena appropriately will start this weekend’s rally with #1 on the door of his Škoda Fabia Rally2 evo and now free to just drive for a good result with no championship pressure on his shoulders.
But that could be a tall order given the strength of his opposition, headlined by nine-time Barum winner Jan Kopecký, fellow local hero Erik Cais – who led before crashing on the final stage last year – and ERC regulars Javier Pardo, Simone Campedelli and Ken Torn.