Javier Pardo topped qualifying for Rally Azores, the second round of the European Rally Championship, pipping fellow Škoda Fabia Rally2 evo runner Simone Tempestini by just over a tenth of a second.
With points leader Nil Solans absent from the rally due to budget woes and Armindo Araújo not expected to compete in the remaining rounds of ERC after Azores, Pardo finds himself as a de facto championship leader of sorts.
Pardo was only 0.11 seconds faster on the Lagoa qualifying stage than Tempestini, with whom he was locked in a day-long battle with over fourth place at the season opener, Rally Serras de Fafe.
On that occasion Tempestini crashed out on a treacherous final stage and, along with third-fastest qualifier Efrén Llarena, the 2016 Junior WRC champion is playing catch-up after a disastrous opening round of the season.
In Llarena’s case an impact broke a radiator on stage two in Fafe which, combined with a poor run on the qualifying stage there had ruined his rally from the outset.
There was no repeat of that disaster, at least on the Azores qualifying stage, for the current Spanish Superchampionship leader. Llarena was the only other driver within a second of Pardo’s time, 0.5s off the pace.
Alberto Battistolli, who’ll be representing Italy at the upcoming Rally of Nations Guanajuato contest on April 1-3, performed strongly to go fourth-fastest, 0.3s up on reigning ERC Junior champion Ken Torn in fifth.
Ricardo Moura is the most prolific local driver on the entry list, with three Portuguese championship titles and 10 Azores championship wins to his name. He showed his potential favorite status with fastest time during shakedown but, come the qualifying stage, he was only sixth-fastest, 1.6s off the top spot.
Simon Wagner, who is making his first start of the season, Team MRF’s Simone Campedelli, Portuguese championship leader Araújo and Norbert Herczig round out the 10 fastest qualifiers.
Drivers in the top 15 after qualifying are entitled to pick their road order position for the first leg on Saturday.
1 Javier Pardo/Adrián Pérez (Škoda) 2m53.125s
2 Simone Tempestini/Sergiu Itu (Škoda) 2m53.232s
3 Efrén Llarena/Sara Fernández (Škoda) 2m53.629s
4 Alberto Battistolli/Simone Scattalin (Škoda) 2m54.381s
5 Ken Torn/Kauri Pannas (Ford) 2m54.617s
6 Ricardo Moura/António Costa (Škoda) 2m54.763s
7 Simon Wagner/Gerald Winter (Škoda) 2m55.277s
8 Simone Campedelli/Tania Canton (Škoda) 2m57.267s
9 Armindo Araújo/Luís Ramalho (Škoda) 2m59.018s
10 Norbert Herczig/Igor Bacigál (Škoda) 2m59.336s