The Team MRF Tyres frontrunner languished outside the top ten after Thursday evening’s superspecial, but he and co-driver Sara Fernández hauled their way up the leaderboard after winning the first stage on Friday.
The pair scrapped with fellow podium-sitter Yoann Bonato on the final day and ended the finale on identical times, pinching the runners-up spot on countback thanks to their SS2 result.
Llarena now tops the drivers’ championship by five points from Nil Solans with five rounds to go.
“We knew it would be difficult to come here, but we tried our best,” explained the Spaniard.
“Bonato did an amazing rally, but I think we drove a really good rally as well. This is the first ERC podium on asphalt for MRF Tyres, so I think that’s very important.”
It’s the second time in as many rallies Llarena has pinched a position on the very last test.
Last time out at the Azores Rallye he leapfrogged Ricardo Moura in the Power Stage to take the win.
However, he admitted to taking a slightly more reserved approach this time around.
“To be honest, I was comfortable with third and I was really just thinking about the championship points,” said Llarena.
“We drove fast, but not 100 per cent. We were driving at maybe around 95 per cent just to be focused and so that we didn’t make any mistakes.
“It was very easy for me to manage it and I wasn’t really stressed. We were just driving and going until the end.”
The championship reverts to gravel for Rally Poland next month. The fourth round is based at Mikołajki from 10-12 June. Llarena remains confident in his title hopes.
“We are leading now and I think we’re approaching two really strong rallies for MRF Tyres in Poland and Latvia,” he smiled. “I'm sure that we will need to be very fast, but we are ready for the challenge.”