Llarena ahead in ERC3 as Cais rediscovers confidence
Efrén Llarena heads the FIA European Rally Championship’s ERC3 category over Erik Cais on the sun-baked Cyprus Rally.
Making his first appearance with the factory-backed Peugeot Rally Academy team, Llarena took the opportunity with both hands, winning all three stages on the morning loop.
Czech federation-backed Cais (ACCR Czech Rally Team) bounced back after a “scary” spin in the morning that had dented his confidence with a stage win on the afternoon pass of Politiko, taking 12.3s out of Llarena.
“We had a puncture on the first stage of the loop, a slow puncture on the rear, so we tried to manage the speed to try and not run the tyre flat,” Llarena said, explaining some of his time loss.
But on the next test, it was back to business as usual for Llarena.
The recently crowned ERC3 Junior champion* took 16s out of Cais on stage five, the lead gap settling at 49.6s after the loop-ending Nicosia superspecial.
Despite losing ground over the course of the afternoon loop, Cais was feeling much more positive at the end of the day.
“It was good. I felt pretty low [before service]. It was better than the morning,” said Cais. “It was quite good, we changed the set-up with my engineer and now I feel much more confident with the steering and everything.”
Orhan Avcioğlu (Toksport WRT) was left frustrated from start to finish on the first leg, complaining his car was down on power. The root cause was believed to be a sensor issue, with new sensors fitted at midday service.
But the swap made no difference, with Avcioğlu feeling “like I’m driving an R1 car,” referring to the class below the R2 and R3s used in ERC3.
Despite being starved of power, Avcioğlu reaffirmed his reputation as a superspecial demon, winning the day’s final stage around the streets of host city Nicosia by 0.4s from Llarena.
Avcioğlu has already scored an outright stage win in ERC, going fastest around the streets of Las Palmas on last year’s Rally Islas Canarias, when he piloted a ŠKODA Fabia R5 for Toksport.
Though the stage win made little difference to his overall position, he’s a comfortable third place in class, one minute ahead of Florian Bernardi in fourth.
Bernardi is more at home on asphalt but is taking on the rough and tumble of the Cyprus Rally as learning experience on gravel, with himself and the team working on the car “step by step” to find more pace in his Renault Clio R3T.
Constantinos Televantos (Q8 Oils Rally Team) completes the top five in his Ford Fiesta R2, ahead of 2015 ERC Ladies’ Trophy winner Ekaterina Stratieva (Saintéloc Junior Team), who was happy to survive the “really crazy” stages.
The Bulgarian is reacquainting herself to the championship in the boldest possible manner, as the notoriously rough and punishing Cyprus Rally is only her third event in the past two years.
Christos Mannouris has scored four class wins and two class podiums across various Cypriot rallies this season, but is unlikely to take home any silverware this weekend. He retired his Citroën DS3 R3T with a technical issue on the road section between stages one and two this morning, having already lost several minutes on the opening Politiko stage.
*Subject to confirmation of results by the FIA