Nil Solans has stolen a march on his European Rally Championship rivals with a stunning stage time on SS2, Boticas, streaking ahead into a 14.3 second lead over Erik Cais.
Solans had chosen to start first on the road after going fourth-quickest on Friday’s qualifying stage, a choice that paid dividends as he went 15s faster than anyone else over the 9.35-mile stage.
“For the moment it looks like [the right choice to go first on the road],” said Solans.
“The grip is quite nice. We know this gravel when it’s moving, it’s starting to be slippery. Right now the grip is quite OK, so let’s see.
“We need a bit more traction and power on this stage. The grip is high, so we need more engine!”
Ford Fiesta Rally2 driver Cais, who won the Fafe superspecial on Friday night to take an early lead, leads the chasing pack in second place, 5.9 seconds up on Armindo Araújo in third.
Georg Linnamäe, who picked fifth on the road after his qualifying stage win on Friday, was only fourth-fastest on Boticas, 21.8s off the pace.
But the ALM Motorsport man still believes his strategy play will pan out across the course of the day and suggested mistakes were to blame for his gap to Solans.
“I think it was the right choice,” said Linnamäe of his road order pick. “We didn’t have the best drive through, made some stupid mistakes, put the wrong [engine] map on the stage so the car had no power for a minute. But we live and learn.”
Simone Tempestini completes the top five overall, 30.2s off the lead.
Ken Torn, the reigning ERC Junior champion, is already out of the rally, parking up with an apparent engine overheating problem.
And there was yet more misery for first seed Efrén Llarena, who drove slowly through the stage with a broken radiator aboard his Škoda Fabia Rally2 evo.
Team MRF’s lead driver had a miserable Friday, with a slow qualifying time leaving him 17th in the road order and then dropping time with a handbrake problem on the Fafe superspecial.
Llarena dropped 1m37.2s to Solans altogether, ruining any hopes of a comeback drive to contend for victory.
1 Nil Solans/Marc Marti (Volkswagen) 11m30.8s
2 Erik Cais/Petr Tesínský (Ford) +15.0s
3 Armindo Araujo/Luis Ramalho (Škoda) +19.6s
4 Georg Linnamäe/James Morgan (Volkswagen) +21.8s
5 Simone Tempestini/Sergiu Itu (Škoda) +29.5s
6 Javier Pardo/Adrián Pérez (Škoda) +38.6s
7 Alberto Battistolli/Simone Scattolin (Škoda) +43.1s
8 Josep Bassas/Axel Coronada (Škoda) +45.7s
8 Norbert Herczig/Igor Bacigál (Škoda) +46.3s
10 Bruno Magalhaes/Carlos Magalhaes (Hyundai) +47.1s
Leading positions after SS2
1 Solans/Marti (Volkswagen) 12m58.0s
2 Cais/Tesínský (Ford) +14.3s
3 Araujo/Ramalho (Škoda) +20.2s
4 Linnamäe/Morgan (Volkswagen) +22.9s
5 Tempestini/Itu (Škoda) +30.2s
6 Pardo/Pérez (Škoda) +42.8s
7 Battistolli/Scattolin (Škoda) +45.9s
8 Herczig/Bacigál (Škoda) +47.4s
9 Magalhaes/Magalhaes (Hyundai) +48.7s
10 Basses/Coronado (Škoda) +49.8s