Nil Solans scored a second European Rally Championship win of the season on Rally Islas Canarias, taking advantage of a heartbreaking retirement for local legend Luis Monzón.
After 15 years of near misses Monzón finally looked like he was in the box seat to win his home rally. Gaining time on Nil Solans and Yoann Bonato on Moya-Vallesco indicated the 56-year-old may well be able to hold off the young chargers behind.
But then disaster struck. A nail had entered his Škoda Fabia Rally2 evo’s front-right tire. Monzón himself hadn’t even noticed – instead, it was Efrén Llarena who’d clocked it and warned the two-time Spanish champion.
That word of caution came at the last minute. Monzón could either change the wheel and check in late for the next stage, potentially costing him the lead, or gamble that it would last one more stage.
El momento justo que le costaba el rally a Luis Monzón. Que pena… pic.twitter.com/MMclzF5z0G
— Solo Rally (@RallySolo) May 14, 2022
Monzón took the gamble. It didn’t pay off. The tire let go under braking for a slow left-hander, sending him wide.
While he could have stopped to change the puncture and continue, Monzón hadn’t the heart. He wanted to win and that battle was already lost. He elected to drive straight back to service and retire instead.
That left the two title protagonists, Solans and Llarena, to battle with asphalt interloper Yoann Bonato for the win.
Solans had his lead eaten into during the morning, as Llarena pushed hard straight out of the gate. Yet he wasn’t worried, shrugging off any suggestion he was going to get caught.
His instincts were spot on. And no stage showed it as well as Arucas. Solans was smooth, the setup on his Volkswagen Polo GTI R5 finally spot on and being flicked through the hundreds of corners on Gran Canaria like it was on rails.
Llarena pushed hard. Very hard. At one point the rear kicked out and slid through a fast left, coming inches from striking a concrete wall on the outside. He pushed beyond the limit of grip – but it wasn’t enough to challenge for the win.
Solans wrapped up the win. It was, on paper, an against-the-odds win. There was no pre-event test for the Rally Fafe winner – “no money, no budget,” he explained. But he’d got the job done regardless.
A big push by Llarena wasn’t without reward, though. Bonato had been there or thereabouts but hadn’t won a stage all rally. That lack of stage win, especially on the first stage of Friday, would ultimately cost the Citroën C3 Rally2 driver second place.
Team MRF’s lead driver had slowly edged closer to Bonato on Saturday afternoon to challenge for second. And he would get the job done. By zero seconds.
Llarena and Bonato ended in a tie. After 120.5s miles of flat-out driving, the pair had finished on exactly the same time, down to the tenth.
Squeezing that last tenth of a second makes a huge difference for Llarena. It’s an extra three points on the board. Who knows how important those might be if Solans can find the budget to finish the season and try to take the title off him?
Try as he might, Enrique Cruz wasn’t quite able to step up to the plate and keep the winner’s trophy on home soil.
Cruz took a stage win on the first pass of San Mateo but the seven-time Canary Islands champion could only match, not surpass, the times of those ahead and finished achingly close to the podium places.
Javier Pardo was supposed to be best of the rest. He’d battled Pep Bassas and until Saturday morning had successfully edged his compatriot in the battle for fifth.
But final loops on ERC rallies have not been kind to Pardo. On Rally Azores in March, a broken differential cost him minutes. This time, an engine problem cost him power and sent him sliding down the order to eighth, behind Emmanuel Guigou’s unregistered Alpine A110.
“I need to go to the church,” said Pardo afterwards. After three rounds, his prayers for a clean rally remain unanswered.
In another case of what might have been, Simone Campedelli recovered to sixth overall after a shunt on Friday.
An elated Campedelli had finally broken a three-year streak without a stage win, only to crash into an armco barrier on the very next test and drop nearly a minute.
Alberto Battistolli had originally picked up the final point but was disqualified after the finish, as his car was found to be underweight by four kilograms.
1 Nil Solans/Marc Martí (Volkswagen) 1h58m57.1s
2 Efrén Llarena/Sara Fernández (Škoda) +11.1s
3 Yoann Bonato/Benjamin Boulloud (Citroën) +11.1s
4 Enrique Cruz/Yeray Mújica Eugenio (Ford) +23.9s
5 Simone Campedelli/Tania Canton (Škoda) +1m09.2s
6 Josep Bassas/Axel Coronado Jiménez (Škoda) +1m27.9s
7 Javier Pardo/Adrián Pérez Fernández (Škoda)+1m46.0s
8 Simone Tempestini/Sergiu Itu (Škoda)+2m05.2s
9 Norbert Herczig/Igor Bacigál (Škoda) +2m06.9s
10 Miguel Ángel Suárez/Eduardo González Delgado (Citroën) +3m45.6s