Nil Solans has crashed out of the lead on Rally Poland, ending his chances of taking a third straight European Rally Championship victory.
A tight battle had emerged on Saturday between Solans, driving a Kowax 2B Racing-run Hyundai i20 N Rally2 for the first time this week, and World Rally Championship 2 regular Miko Marczyk.
Marczyk had won Saturday’s opening two stages to draw dead level with Solans but from then on, the Hyundai driver began to edge away by winning the first pass of Wieliczki, the longest stage of the rally.
But Wieliczki would come back to haunt Solans, as he clipped something solid on the inside of a left-hander and broke the steering on his i20, straightlining him directly into a ditch on the opposite side of the road.
Though co-driver Marc Martí and nearby spectators attempted to push Solans’ stricken car back onto the road, the broken steering on his Hyundai means he has dropped far out of the lead fight.
It’s a potentially disastrous outcome for Solans’ ERC title hopes, as due to budgetary constraints he has already missed Rally Azores and cannot drop his score from Poland in the final standings.
Championship leader Efrén Llarena, meanwhile, has yet to retire from a rally this season, putting him in a strong position ahead of the remaining events.
It was hardly a drama-free day for new rally leader Marczyk though, as he rocked up at stage end on the afternoon pass of Kyrzwe with most of the left-rear bodywork missing from his Škoda Fabia Rally2 evo.
Despite missing part of his door shell and all of his wheelarch, the tire, wheel and suspension all remained undamaged.
“I was too much to the inside in the bumpy part on the mud, my fault,” explained Marczyk. “We have two big jumps and too much to the side but we are here, that’s good.”
Marczyk has now inherited a healthy 20-second lead on his home ERC round, with Solans’ new team-mate Tom Kristensson running second in a first-generation i20 R5.
He’s under pressure from a pair of ERC Junior champions in Llarena and Ford Fiesta Rally2 driver Ken Torn, who have been in a battle of their own all day long.
Llarena briefly nipped ahead of Torn on the morning pass of Wojnasy, only to have Torn smash in a second-fastest time on the lengthy Wieliczki test and retake fourth.
But on the second passes of Wojnasy and Wieliczki it was Llarena on the pace, taking third place by a mere 0.9s after Solans’ issues promoted him up an extra position.
Alas, there was one final twist, as Llarena dropped over two seconds on the day-ending Mikołajki superspecial as his notes didn’t match the course, and fell back behind Torn into fourth.
“Now is bulls*** of a stage now,” Llarena complained. “They moved the bales during this stage, so our pacenote was not in the same line. It’s stupid to have lost two seconds here.”
Simone Tempestini remains in touch with the podium battle he’d been at the head of early on Saturday morning, hovering 5.7s behind Torn in fifth overall.
Interestingly, Tempestini may well have been the ultimate source of Llarena’s last minute aggravation without realizing it.
“I had a misunderstanding with my gearbox and I had to check which gear we had in one corner, I just touch one bale,” he said, sporting damage to the front of his Fabia.
1 Miko Marczyk/Szymon Gospodarczyk (Škoda) 1m46.7s
2 Alberto Battistolli/Simone Scattolin (Škoda) +0.2s
3 Tom Kristensson/Andreas Johansson (Hyundai) +0.4s
4 Simone Temepstini/Sergiu Itu (Škoda) +1.0s
5 Ken Torn/Kauri Pannas (M-Sport Ford) +1.4s
6 Norbert Herczig/Igor Bacigál (Škoda) +1.7s
7 Adrian Chwietczuk/Damian Syty (Škoda) +1.7s
8 Grzegorz Grzyb/Adam Binieda (Škoda) +1.9s
9 Javier Pardo/Adrián Pérez (Škoda) +2.1s
10 Simone Capedelli/Tania Canton (Škoda) +2.2s
Leading positions after SS8
1 Marczyk/Gospodarczyk (Škoda) 55m36.8s
2 Kristensson/Johansson (Hyundai) +20.4s
3 Torn/Pannas (M-Sport Ford) +26.0s
4 Efran Llarena/Sara Fernandez (Škoda) +26.3s
5 Tempestini/Itu (Škoda) +31.3s
6 Chwietczuk/Syty (Škoda) +1m04.4s
7 Grzyb/Binieda (Škoda) +1m13.5s
8 Filip Mares/Radovan Bucha (Škoda) +1m17.9s
9 Battistolli/Scattolin (Škoda) +1m31.0s
10 Pardo/Pérez (Škoda) +2m11.0s