Teemu Suninen holds a lead of 12.7 seconds over Rally Spain’s WRC2 field aboard his factory Hyundai i20 N Rally2 – but it’s the battle for sixth that holds the most significance after the first day of action.
Both Kajetan Kajetanowicz and Emil Lindholm came to Spain with a very realistic chance of overhauling current points leader and reigning champion Andreas Mikkelsen in the standings, who has already completed his maximum allowance of WRC2 events this season.
That leaves a shootout across both Spain and Japan between Kajetanowicz and Lindholm to see who will likely become champion – except drama befell both contenders on the opening day.
Lindholm led after the first stage but sustained a puncture only a few corners into the second test, clipping a piece of concrete and pushing his rear-right tire off the rim.
Rather than stop and change it he pressed on, even spinning out of control and going off the road at one point, but the damage was limited to only a minute.
“The start was fine, I guess. The second stage not!” Lindholm quipped.
“Yeah, punctured on something I hadn’t noted in the recce. Actually, it clipped the rear tire, so I thought I was clear of the small concrete blob of some sort but the rear tire caught it.
“With the punctured tire we had a spin later on in the stage; it was quite action-packed. But anyhow, it’s still early days and if our target is to somehow get some kind of points, I think we’re still able to do that, so the game’s not over.”
Indeed it wasn’t. That error should have given Kajetanowicz the break he needed to press on and captalize – except his pace had deserted him, languishing down in eighth in the early stages and stuck behind Jari Huttunen’s works Ford Fiesta Rally2.
It then got worse, as on stage six – the rerun of Serra de la Llena that had tripped up Lindholm earlier, Kajetanowicz spun at speed while taking a polluted corner cut and ended up in a field.
There was no damage to his car but it took a healthy dent out of his rally time, to the point that Lindholm was only 3.4s behind afterwards.
A stage win on the second pass of Els Omells had shown that Lindholm meant business and by the end of Friday he’d climbed to sixth place, 15.4s behind former Subaru factory driver Stéphane Sarrazin’s Volkswagen Polo GTI R5.
Lindholm’s progress up the leaderboard was also aided by dramas for others.
Alejandro Cachón, a front-runner in the Spanish Superchampionship, broke the front-left corner of his Citroën C3 Rally2 on stage six, retiring from fourth place. Meanwhile, Georg Linnamäe picked up a front-right puncture on the same test and lost almost two minutes, ejecting him from sixth place.
Out front Suninen had no such dramas to contend with. Once the damp and muddy conditions of the first two passes cleared – which had left him struggling to read the grip and allowed Nikolay Gryazin to briefly lead – he racked up four stage wins and left the best-placed Toksport Škoda Fabia Rally2 evo well behind.
Yohan Rossel’s hopes of contending for the WRC2 title had ended with a final-stage rollover in Greece but he was determined to end his season on a high.
A puncture cost him a handful of seconds on Friday morning but overall he simply lacked the pace of either Suninen or Gryazin, slowly slipping behind the lead pair into third.
His podium position looks reasonably comfortable, though, as Rossel holds a 22s advantage over Huttunen in fourth, who in turn is 6.4s up on Sarrazin.
Lindholm and Kajetanowicz in sixth and seventh appear comfortably clear of Fabrizio Zaldivar in the second works Hyundai.