Bonato holds narrow lead as Østberg in trouble

Østberg dropped close to two minutes with a broken front driveshaft

FIA European Rally Championship 2023 Stop 2 – Canaries, Spain

Yoann Bonato leads Rally Islas Canarias halfway through Friday after Efrén Llarena was handed a 10-second penalty, while Mads Østberg dropped close to two minutes with a broken front driveshaft.

Llarena had ended the morning as rally leader, but he was subsequently handed a 10-second penalty for leaving the defined route of the road book on Thursday evening’s spectator stage. As a result, he’s now dropped to fourth overall.

Østberg, who was second on the season-opening Rally Serras de Fafe, had been seventh after Thursday night’s spectator stage and moved up to second place after Friday’s first speed test.

But disaster struck the former World Rally Championship driver on the way to SS3 Tejeda as his Citroën C3 Rally2 developed a mechanical problem.

“We have a broken driveshaft between the stages,” Østberg explained.

“I knew when I started the stage, I have no idea how that can happen…

“It’s a shame. We were here to fight for the win and I think we were in a very good position to do that. Now it’s lost.”

Losing 37.7s on SS3, the Norwegian lost another 1m12.1s on SS4 to lie 1m30.4s off the overall lead.

Østberg was far from the morning’s only casualty, as Hungarian driver Miklós Csomós spectacularly crashed out on SS4.

FIA European Rally Championship 2023 Stop 2 - Canaries, Spain

Arriving at a quick left-hander with far too much speed, Csomós’s Škoda careered into a protective barrier which scrubbed off speed, but the momentum launched him rolling off the road with the front end completely destroyed.

The crash suspended competitive running for Simone Campedelli, Hayden Paddon and Simon Wagner who were all given notional times.

Paddon had begun Friday morning’s loop in the lead by 0.4s over Italian driver Andrea Nucita, but things changed dramatically on the opening Gáldar test as damp but drying conditions heavily affected the order.

The vast majority of competitors had selected hard compound tires, but on damp roads they were far from the ideal choice.

Championship leader Paddon found that out to his cost early on the stage, suffering a slide that made him think he was heading for a cliff-face. That knocked his confidence as he fell to 10th overall.

All drivers running early in the running order suffered, as the sun soon dried the road out and made it easier for those further back.

Reigning ERC champion Llarena seized the opportunity and set the pace by an impressive 2.2s over Østberg to move into a 0.9s lead. Østberg shared that second spot with Nucita.

Efren Llarena

But, on bone-dry stages, things levelled out for the rest of the loop and a truer competitive order was established.

Yoann Bonato, who could only manage the 14th fastest time on SS2 as first car onto the road, duly set the pace on SS3 by a convincing 4.6s over Paddon as the pair began to re-climb the leaderboard.

Paddon’s charge was interrupted by Csomós’s crash – leading the New Zealander to admit he “can’t catch a break this morning”. He was given a time three seconds shy of Bonato’s to lie third overall.

But Bonato again set the fastest time to close to just 0.7s of then leader Llarena after SS4, as Llarena lost 14.6s to Bonato on the stage.

“We are struggling a lot,” admitted the reigning champion.

“We try our best but for sure yesterday [after we crashed in qualifying] if you put this on the table it was OK but for sure we lost a lot of time.

“It is what it is.”

FIA European Rally Championship 2023 Stop 2 - Canaries, Spain

Nucita lies second overall in his older Škoda Fabia Rally2 evo, 5s off the lead and 6.2s ahead of Paddon’s Hyundai.

French Gravel champion Mathieu Franceschi had been in podium position prior to the final stage of the loop, but clocked a 10s penalty for arriving to the SS4 time control one minute late.

That contributed to him slipping to ninth behind Javier Pardo, Enrique Cruz, Iván Ares and Jan Černý who is visibly loving the stages in his i20 N Rally2.

Andrea Mabellini rounds out the top 10.