Nil Solans has won the opening round of the European Rally Championship season, Rally Serras de Fafe, despite a late scare on the penultimate stage.
A wet and muddy first day allowed Solans to streak ahead as first driver on the road, building a lead of over two minutes on Saturday.
Come Sunday he was simply managing the gap to ensure he bagged a first career ERC win, and with it the championship lead.
But that proved a harder task than expected, as on the second pass of Santa Quitéria in the afternoon he clipped a bank on the inside of a hairpin, spinning him around and ripping the front end off his Volkswagen Polo GTI R5.
He continued on and lost 24.8s to second-placed Georg Linnamäe but, with well over a minute still in hand before entering the stage, was able to comfortably wrap up the win – plus scored two bonus points for his position on the powerstage.
“We didn’t have time to prepare this race so we’re very happy with this result,” said Solans.
He leaves as championship leader but it’s still unclear whether he will be able to contest the next ERC round in two weeks’ time.
“We are thinking now if we can go to Azores. Our entry is on but we need to find support. It’s good for the championship but we need to continue working,” he said.
Lameirinha was used as the powerstage and proved to be treacherous, bringing back the slippery conditions that featured throughout Saturday’s action.
Armindo Araújo was foremost of those pushing, coming very close to chucking his Škoda into a ditch repeatedly.
But his push paid dividends, as he went second fastest to pass Linnamäe for second place on the last stage of the rally.
“Really tricky stage, very difficult,” said Araújo. “Not raining but so slippery. I slid a lot towards the ditches so a big risk to arrive here. But everything went OK. I’m really happy with the result.”
Linnamäe dropped 13.1s to Araújo at the end but blamed a problem on his Volkswagen Polo GTI R5, not the stage conditions, for his capitulation.
“I had something wrong the car. It’s undrivable. It’s uncontrolable, It’s completely f***ed,” he surmised.
Javier Pardo succeeded in the battle for fourth place, putting in a string of stage-winning times despite suffering from an intermittent intercom issue to fend off Simone Tempestini’s attack from the Sunday morning loop.
Tempestini’s attempts to gain the 17s needed to gain fourth place ended in disaster, as he spun out and crashed into a bank on the powerstage, ending his rally.
Fourth place marked Pardo’s best result in the ERC, having won the ERC2 title last year aboard a Rally2 Kit-spec Suzuki Swift.
Alberto Battistolli had a quiet run to fifth place but put in a strong time on the final stage, picking up three bonus points for his championship account. Bruno Magalhāes inherited sixth place right at the end, as Norbert Herczig retired on the road section before the powerstage.
Mārtiņš Sesks won the ERC Open class aboard his Škoda Fabia Rally2 Kit car and also secured seventh overall, coming out on top in a day-long battle with José Pedro Fontes.
Citroën C3 Rally2 driver Fontes had a 35bhp power advantage over Sesks but still couldn’t overhaul the 2018 ERC3 champion.
There had been under 10s between them heading into the powerstage but Fontes, acutely aware his C3 needed to be rally-ready in less than a week before it was loaded onto a container for Rally Azores, was in no mood to push. That allowed Sesks was able to add 16.6s to his overall margin over Fontes at the finish.
Out of top 10 contention after retiring early in the rally but flying through the powerstage was Ken Torn, who smashed the field to take a maximum of five bonus points, going 14.3s faster than the next-fastest driver Araújo.
Efrén Llarena would have hoped to score powerstage points to help his championship challenge but fell short, as he spun in the opening section.
Erik Cais ended his miserable Fafe outing parked on the side of the road, clattering into a bank early on the powerstage, stopping to changing a tire, hitting another bank and then retiring after stopping again.
1 Ken Torn/Kauri Pannas (M-Sport Ford) 11m04.829s
2 Armindo Araújo/Luis Ramalho (Škoda) +14.345s
3 Alberto Battistolli/Simone Scattolin (Škoda) +16.603s
4 Nil Solans/Marc Marti (Volkswagen) +17.461s
5 Georg Linnamäe/James Morgan (Volkswagen) +27.422s
6 Ricardo Teodosio/José Teixeira (Hyundai) +30.747s
7 Mārtiņš Sesks/Renars Francis (Škoda) +37.579s
8 Miklós Csomós/Attila Nagy (Škoda) +42.163s
9 Bruno Magalhaes/Carlos Magalhaes (Hyundai) +46.845s
10 José Pedro Fontes/Inês Ponte (Citroën) +54.154s
Leading positions after SS17
1 Solans/Marti (Volkswagen) 2h01m13.9s
2 Araújo/Ramalho (Škoda) +55.7s
3 Linnamäe/Morgan (Volkswagen) +59.5s
4 Javier Pardo/Adrián Pérez (Škoda) +2m56.3s
5 Battistolli/Scattolin (Škoda) + 3m32.7s
6 Magalhaes/Magalhaes (Hyundai) +6m53.3s
7 Mārtiņš Sesks/Renars Francis (Škoda) +8m55.3s
8 José Pedro Fontes/Inês Ponte (Citroën) +9m24.7s
9 Teodosio/Teixeira (Hyundai) +9m29.5s
10 Csomós/Nagy (Škoda) +9m58.6s
1 Solans 32 2 Araújo 28 3 Linnamäe 22 4 Battistoli 20 5 Pardo 19 6 Magalhaes 15 7 Sesks 13 8 Fontes 11
1 Rallye Team Spain 30 2 Armindo Araújo 24 3 Hyundai Portugal 24 4 ALM Motorsport 21 5 Javier Pardo 19 6 Alberto Battistolli 17 7 Proracing Rally Team 13 8 Citroën Vodafone Team 11