ERC3 Junior: Llarena takes first victory
Efrén Llarena scored his first FIA ERC3 Junior Championship victory on the Azores Rallye, beating Sindre Furuseth and Elias Lundberg.
Rally Team Spain’s federation-backed star started leg two a mere 8.8s ahead of FPAK Portugal Team ERC’s Pedro Antunes in the fight for honours in the Pirelli-backed category.
But as Antunes suffered suspension damage on Tronqueira, which hindered him for the rest of the morning, Llarena pulled away from Furuseth, who had moved into second following Antunes’ problems.
An emotional Llarena was crying at stage finish, having finally broken his duck after a year of near misses and bad luck during his 2018 campaign.
“We are happy. The team is perfect. We are perfect. It’s hard for us to be here so I’m really happy,” said Llarena, who built his Peugeot 208 R2 from scratch with co-driver Sara Fernández.
Furuseth suffered a scare on the very final stage, a re-run of Tronqueira, with the engine mount on his car breaking. Although he was 23.5s slower than stage winner Antunes, he was still faster than third placed Elias Lundberg to secure his first ERC podium.
Antunes won the final two stages on his home event but it was not enough to catch Lundberg, who secured the final podium place for ADAC Opel Rallye Junior Team. The Swede had been ill all weekend but persevered to finish third on his ERC3 Junior debut.
Simon Wagner had looked set to catch the lower end of the podium battle and was running fourth until retiring on Vila Franca-São Bras, hitting a rock on the racing line after a crest and breaking his Opel ADAM’s suspension.
The Austrian had been hopeful of a strong result for the Stengg Motorsport team, setting two fresh tyres aside for the afternoon loop. His team-mate Roland Stengg was not able to start the rally due to crashing during testing on Monday.
Behind Antunes in fourth, Erik Cais weathered the stormy conditions – which he compared to being in the movie Jurassic Park – to complete the top five in ERC3 Junior, the best placed of the three ACCR Czech Rally Team drivers.
A strong third-fastest time from Cais on the tricky Tronqueira stage helped him pass Yohan Rossel, who finished sixth in the overall ERC3 category for Peugeot Rally Academy only three seconds behind. With Rossel ineligible for ERC3 Junior points, sixth place in the category for future stars in R2 cars went instead to the second ACCR-backed entry of Jan Talaš.
Talaš had been locked in battle with Team ROMO’s Roman Schwedt until the German driver got stuck on Vila Franca-São Bras, losing 43 minutes and then retiring due to going over the time limit for maximum lateness at midday service.
Two Rally2 returnees bounced back from their Friday issues to score ERC3 Junior points. Norway’s Steve Røkland had hit a rock and broken a driveshaft on his Ford Fiesta R2 on the iconic Sete Cidades volcano stage but came back to finish seventh, while Belgian Grégoire Munster was eighth on a weekend plagued by technical issues.
Munster’s finish was aided by the final ACCR-backed driver Dominic Brož helping to push him out of a field. Both drivers had become stuck on the same section of the Tronqueira stage and, while Brož was stuck and unable to keep going, he and co-driver Petr Těšínský were able to push Munster out, getting caked in mud in the process.
In the overall ERC3 order, American Sean Johnston was eighth on his debut with the Saintéloc Junior Team and Russian Dmitriy Myachin, who had retired on Thursday after rolling his Peugeot 208, bounced back to finish ninth. Røkland and Munster were behind both of them in the ERC3 classification in P10 and P11.
Peugeot Rally Academy’s Catie Munnings had been forced to retire on Friday when she sustained two punctures on Sete Cidadaes and unfortunately failed to finish leg two as well, rolling her car onto its side during storm-like conditions on Tronqueira.