Llarena secures ERC3 crown* with Cyprus victory
Efrén Llarena’s successful year of FIA European Rally Championship action got even better on the Cyprus Rally with the Spaniard taking ERC3 victory and with it the class title alongside co-driver Sara Fernández*.
Making a debut appearance with the Peugeot Rally Academy as a reward for his performances in ERC3 Junior with Rallye Team Spain, Llarena picked up where he left off last month after the switch to blue and red colours.
He won eight stages out of 12 on his way to victory, his only real scare coming on leg one when a slow puncture developed halfway through the afternoon pass of Politiko and cost him 12.3s to the chasing Erik Cais (ACCR Czech Rally Team).
Cais took three of the remaining four stage wins and looking increasingly racy on the second day of action, with two of those coming each side of midday service on Sunday. But any hopes of scoring four stage bests in a row to finish the rally were dashed by a gearbox problem on the final loop, which left Cais with only first and second gears to choose from on his Ford Fiesta R2T. “I think the engine is overheating, but the Ford is really strong,” said Cai, complimenting his car despite the gearbox problem.
Despite an, at times, frustrating run Orhan Avcioğlu (Toksport WRT) achieved his goal of a podium finish in ERC3, having spent the first leg down on power with a suspected sensor issue. A one-minute penalty for a technical infringement had dropped him to only 0.4s ahead of Florian Bernardi but he swiftly pulled away over Sunday’s six stages. Avcioğlu capped his first podium finish of the season with a stage win on the Nicosia superspecial on Saturday.
Bernardi, a sealed-surface specialist, came to Cyprus as a learning experience and banked fourth place for his persistence, though ultimately fell short of his aim to win the ERC3 title due to Llarena’s victory. “It’s great to finish the rally, it was very difficult for me,” said Bernardi. “In the second stage of this loop we had a puncture, so now I just wanted to finish!”
There was late drama in the battle for fifth position, as a technical issue struck the older-spec Fiesta R2 of Constantinos Televantos (Q8 Oils Rally Team). The sole remaining Cypriot in the ERC3 running order was nearly seven minutes off the pace on the afternoon rerun of Kourdali, dropping him to sixth behind Ekaterina Stratieva (Saintéloc Junior Team).
Stratieva scored her best-ever ERC3 finish with fifth place and equalled her best ERC 2WD result on the 2013 Tour de Corse. Most importantly she picked up a substantial 70 points for the ERC Ladies’ classification, putting her second in the title race and only 14 points behind current leader Nabila Tejpar. Litsa Yiangou, whose son Panayiotis finished P18 in the overall ERC rally classification, picked up a second-place trophy in the ERC Ladies’ category, piloting a Subaru Impreza.
*Subject to confirmation of the results by the FIA