Solans masters ERC Fafe mudbath to extend lead

There was one point where his ERC lead was halved, but Solans responded in style in low visibility


Nil Solans has taken a commanding lead in the European Rally Championship season opener, Rally Serras de Fafe, built upon a dominant performance on Saturday’s penultimate stage.

Road order played a big part in the AR Vidal-run driver’s advantage, as running first on the road in extremely muddy conditions proved beneficial on the first pass of stages.

That upper hand had initially looked set to be inverted in the afternoon, as water-filled ruts promised plenty of aquaplaning for Solans on the second pass on stages.

But there was a crucial reprieve for the leader. The second pass of Boticas was canceled due to the condition of the stage, while Vieira do Minho ran for the first time on Saturday afternoon as its first pass had been canceled in the morning for the same reason.

Initially, fellow Volkswagen Polo GTI R5 driver Georg Linnamäe closed up on the leader on Cabeceiras e Basto 2, winning the stage by 15.3 seconds. With Solans’ lead gap halved down to 13.5s, it looked as if the battle for the win might be back on.


There would be no tight fight for the lead though, as Solans annihilated the rest of the field on Vieira do Minho. He went 35.7s faster than the next quickest driver, Armindo Araújo, suddenly extending his lead all the way up to 54.2s.

That gap got bigger still when Linnamäe, who “went completely the wrong way with the setup” on Vieira do Minho, then struggled through Luílhas 2 with a misty windshield.

Linnamäe dropped another 50.4s to Solans with his visibility issues, finishing the day 1m44.4s behind Solans and only keeping Portuguese Rally Championship competitor Araújo at bay by 15.3s.

His setup woes had been cured – but it mattered little when he couldn’t see where he was driving.

“It would have been fine but we can’t see anything,” said Linnamäe. “Windscreen was totally fogged up so I put it in road mode. It was slower than recce.


“Now we know that we need to put the heater on when it’s raining. It was impossible.”

Araújo had been fully focused on clinching maximum points for his Portuguese championship title bid, which he managed to secure comfortably, several minutes up on his local rivals.

Two-time Production World Rally champion Araújo conceded he hadn’t been pushing flat out to keep pace with the leading duo. But with Linnamäe’s struggles and no national championship points to play for on Sunday, he now has the freedom to push and fight for second place.

Javier Pardo and Alberto Battistolli were engaged in a day-long battle for fifth place, with Pardo gaining a decisive advantage on Vieira do Minho as Battistoli struggled to cope with the muddy conditions.

But Pardo’s fifth place unexpectedly became fourth after the final stage, Luílhas 2, as a dejected Simone Tempestini dropped 42.3s to Pardo.


“We lost a lot of time,” was the comment from a cagey Tempestini, unwilling to explain why he’d suddenly gone from only a few seconds off Solans mid-stage to losing a position by the finish line.

Battistolli is still over half a minute behind Tempestini despite the latter’s last-stage woe and has nearly a minute in hand over the top Team MRF driver, seventh-placed Norbert Herczig.

Herczig has been left to lead the line in MRF’s three-car line-up after Efrén Llarena’s radiator leak cost him several minutes on Saturday’s first stage, and Simone Campedelli’s retirement with a broken rear-right wheel in sight of the flying finish on Cabeceiras e Basto.

Miguel Correia fended off the late advances of Bruno Magalhães to secure eighth overall for the day and second in the Portuguese championship opener, despite a 30s late check-in penalty at midday regroup.

Magalhães had taken the position by only two seconds after the Vieira do Minho stage but had a disastrous run on Luílhas 2, unable to see anything and dropping 28.8s on the final Saturday test.


“This stage was crazy again,” said Magalhães. “At some point there was so much fog I turned off the lights.

“Even at night it was better without normal lights. It’s absolutely crazy. I don’t see one meter in front even in a straight.”

José Pedro Fontes initially completed the top 10, although the red flagging of the stage after he went through meant the drivers after him recieved notional times and it was ERC Open competitor Martins Sesks who now holds that position, with Fontes down to 11th.

Llarena’s recovery drive brought him up to 20th place, which puts him first on the road for Sunday.

SS9 times

1 Nil Solans/Marc Marti (Volkswagen) 10m18.1s
2 Javier Pardo/Adrián Pérez (Škoda) +14.3s
3 Armindo Araujo/Luis Ramalho (Škoda) +30.8s
4 Alberto Battistolli/Simone Scattolin (Škoda) +31.1s
5 Georg Linnamäe/James Morgan (Volkswagen) +50.2s
6 Simone Tempestini/Sergiu Itu (Škoda) +56.6s
7 Norbert Herczig/Igor Bacigál (Škoda) +57.1s
8 Bruno Magalhaes/Carlos Magalhaes (Hyundai) +1m09.0s
9 Miguel Correia/Jorge Carvalho (Škoda) +1m10.2s
10 José Pedro Fontes/Inês Ponte (Citroën) +1m12.2s

Leading positions after SS9

1 Solans/Marti (Volkswagen) 59m48.5s
2 Linnamäe/Morgan (Volkswagen) +1m44.4s
3 Araujo/Ramalho (Škoda) +1m59.7s
4 Pardo/Pérez (Škoda) +2m58.2s
5 Tempestini/Itu (Škoda) +3m16.2s
6 Battistolli/Scattolin (Škoda) +3m52.8s
7 Herczig/Bacigál (Škoda) +4m40.7s
8 Correia/Carvalho (Škoda) +6m04.6s
9 Magalhaes/Magalhaes (Hyundai) +6m31.4s
10 Martins Sesks/Renars Francis (Škoda) +8m06.8s