Sat 26 Mar 2022

Islander Moura rolls back clock to lead in the Azores

Local hero Ricardo Moura is on track to victor again at his home event after a flawless drive on Saturday where just 9.0sec blanketed the leading trio at the Azores Rallye.

The Ponta Delgada driver previously stood on the top step of the FIA European Rally Championship (ERC) podium at this rally in 2016 and, if things stay as they are, he could be doing the same again come Sunday afternoon.

In typical Azores fashion, the weather on Sao Miguel Island was variable. Relentless rain and fog peppered crews for most of the opening day, although sunny spells later in the afternoon offered the tiniest hint of respite. 

Moura - driving a rally car for the first time in six months - snatched the lead on the very first stage and stayed at the top for the remainder of the leg. 

He enjoyed a trouble-free run aboard his Skoda Fabia Rally2 and claimed a brace of stage wins on both runs of Graminhais to lead Simon Wagner’s similar car by 8.4sec at close of play. 

"It's so, so muddy with a lot of water," said Moura. "It was such a difficult day with not too much pleasure to drive [in the conditions].

"I think we went a little bit down on the second pass of Tronqueira and lost a little bit too much because I couldn't find a good rhythm. 

"The rest of the day was okay. I am trying to be my best and see where it leads us. Eight seconds is nothing, so we will keep on doing our job tomorrow," he added.

Wagner’s ever-increasing pace had Moura keeping a watchful eye in his mirrors. The Austrian started steadily on his championship comeback, but went on to claim his maiden ERC stage win at Coroa de Mata. With confidence brimming, he then flew from fourth to second with a storming run through Tronqueira 2. 

Day 1 Highlights
Classification after Saturday (SS7 /14)
Pos Driver Car Time
1. Ricardo MOURA (PRT) / António COSTA (PRT) Skoda Fabia Rally2 1hr 24min 11.8sec
2. Simon WAGNER (AUT) / Gerald WINTER (AUT) Skoda Fabia Rally2 +8.4sec
3. Efrén LLARENA (ESP) / Sara FERNÁNDEZ (ESP) Skoda Fabia Rally2 +9.0sec
4. Ken TORN (EST) / Kauri PANNAS (EST) Ford Fiesta Rally2 +11.7sec
5. Armindo ARAÚJO (PRT) / Luis RAMALHO (PRT) Skoda Fabia Rally2 +35.5sec
6 Simone TEMPESTINI (ROU) / Sergiu ITU (ROU) Skoda Fabia Rally2 +45.1ec
7. Javier PARDO (ESP) / Adrián FERNÁNDEZ (ESP) Skoda Fabia Rally2 +51.4sec
8. Simone CAMPEDELLI (ITA) / Tania CANTON (CHE) Skoda Fabia Rally2 +52.9sec
9. Alberto BATTISTOLLI (ITA) / Simone SCATTOLIN (ITA) Skoda Fabia Rally2 +1min 0.1sec
10. Rúben RODRIGUES (PRT) / Estevao RODRIGUES (PRT) Citroën C3 Rally2 +1min 2.1sec
  • Full coverage from the Azores Rally will be available on WRC+ All Live here, including every stage broadcast as it happens as well as key interviews, features and expert analysis from the service park.

Team MRF Tyres star Efrén Llarena was only six-tenths of a second behind with third. The Spaniard’s low starting position hindered him during the afternoon as standing water filled the ruts, but he remained very much in the fight. 

Ken Torn was one of two non-Skoda drivers inside the top ten. He climbed to second on the opening loop, but slipped to fourth after a poor time on the penultimate speed test and eventually ended 2.7sec down on Llarena.  

Round one runner-up Armindo Araújo was a hefty 23.8sec further back. Most of that time was dropped with a brief excursion on the opener, and the 44-year-old was reinvigorated after making some set-up tweaks at midday service.

Simone Tempestini upped his speed throughout the day and trailed Araújo by just 9.6sec, with ERC-Michelin Talent Factory member Javier Pardo another 6.3sec down in seventh. Pardo was happy to build his experience despite spinning twice early on.

Simone Campedelli was hot on Pardo’s tail in his MRF-shod Fabia. Only 1.5sec split the pair after 107.54km of action, with Alberto Battistolli just 7.2sec further back. 

Citroën C3 Rally2 pilot Rúben Rodrigues rounded off the top ten. He also claimed his first ever ERC stage victory at Tronqueira 1 and finished the day 1min 2.1sec adrift of the leaders. 

Skoda Fabia Rally2 Kit driver Martins Sesks took a clean sweep of fastest times to lead ERC Open by 3min 18.9sec from Suzuki Swift stalwart Joan Vinyes. 

There were no finishers in ERC3 after both Jon Armstrong and Igor Widlak retired their Fiesta Rally3’s. Armstrong set a storming pace before his car ground to a halt after a water splash in SS3, while Widlak’s machine succumbed to brake troubles shortly afterwards.

Team Hyundai Portugal driver Ricardo Teodósio was another non-finisher after he ripped a wheel off of his i20 N Rally2 in Graminhais. Paulo Nobre also crashed his Fabia on the very next stage. 

• Full coverage from the Azores Rallye is available on WRC+ All Live here, including every stage broadcast as it happens as well as key interviews, features and expert analysis from the service park.

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