Alexey Lukyanuk leads Rally Fafe Montelongo by 3.2 seconds over his European Rally Championship title rival Oliver Solberg, despite briefly losing first place amid confusion over a jump start penalty.
2018 ERC champion Lukyanuk won all three stages of the rally’s opening loop, opting to take wet tires on his Citroën C3 R5 in mixed conditions that had left the stages with sections of dry and damp asphalt.
Solberg had been driving cautiously after his crash on Friday’s shakedown stage but was keeping Lukyanuk within reach throughout, and then briefly inherited the lead when Lukyanuk was given a 10s penalty for a jump-start on Anjos.
But that decision was then reversed when the crews arrived back in service, as three other drivers – Iván Ares, Surhayen Pernía and Guillaume De Mevius – were also reported to have triggered jump starts on the same stage. None were awarded penalties.
Craig Breen completes the podium positions after the opening loop of stages, 6.3s adrift of Solberg.
Breen’s team-mate Emil Lindholm, who had led a surprise 1-2 for MRF-shod cars on shakedown, had occupied third place after the first stage, Montim.
But his rally began to unravel thereafter, firstly hitting a guardrail on Anjos and dropping to ninth, then crashing out entirely on Queimadela when his brakes failed and sent him into a wall. The incident caused a brief red flag.
That left Breen in a three-way battle with two-time French Tarmac champion Yoann Bonato, who isn’t registered for ERC points, and Iván Ares.
Bonato and Breen were inseparable over Montim and Anjos, setting identical times on the first test and Bonato finding 0.1s on the second stage.
Breen had been “struggling with the tires a bit” on Anjos but rebounded on Queimadela to take 2.3s out of the Citroën driver and move from fourth to third.
There was a double-blow for Bonato on Queimadela as he also lost 2.2s to Ares and fell to fifth place, with Ares picking up fourth by 0.3s despite bemoaning his position in the road order.
Ares had been fifth fastest on Friday’s shakedown but with no qualifying stage to set the running order, the 2017 Spanish champion was left running 15th on the road with slicks.
Lukyanuk’s Saintéloc stablemate Efrén Llarena gambled on slicks, initially slotting into ninth after Montim but rising to sixth as his tire choice paid off on Queimadela.
Llarena spent the morning holding off Norbert Herczig in the lead Baumschlager-run car, extending his gap over the seventh placed Volkswagen Polo GTI R5 driver from 0.3s to 1.1s on stage three.
ERC1 Junior trio Grégoire Munster, Miko Marczyk and Dominik Dinkel complete the top 10 overall.
Two-time ERC2 champion Tibor Érdi Jr has already built a comfortable lead of 37.7s over fellow Mitsubishi Lancer Evo X driver Dmitry Feofanov in the production class.
Feofanov is locked in a close battle with ERC2 points leader Zelindo Melegari’s Alpine A110 over second place, separated by eight seconds.
Pep Bassas is leading ERC3 by 1.7s despite an engine fault leaving him down on power, as championship leader Ken Torn confessed he was too cautious on Anjos and needed to “improve my driving”.
The lead ERC3 pair are already 1m30s ahead of Mário Castro in third, who suffered a gearbox issue on Queimadela.
But Pedro Almeida is expected to inherit the final podium place as he awaits a notional time, after he was delayed on Montim by Sergio Cuesta’s crashed Ford Fiesta Rally4.
Results after SS3
1 Solberg (Volkswagen) 17m59.7s
2 Breen (Hyundai) +6.3s
3 Lukyanuk (Citroën) +6.8s
4 Ares (Hyundai) +8.2s
5 Bonato (Citroën) +8.5s
6 Llarena (Citroën) +13.8s
7 Herczig (Volkswagen) +14.9s
8 Munster (Hyundai) +18.5s
9 Marczyk (Škoda) +23.5s
10 Dinkel (Škoda) +29.6s