Sun 27 Mar 2022

Llarena claims dramatic upset win at Azores Rallye

Efrén Llarena claimed a sensational victory at the Azores Rallye after stealing the top spot from hometown hero Ricardo Maura on the very last stage.

The Spaniard left it late, but his stunning drive on the rally-ending Power Stage secured a maiden FIA European Rally Championship (ERC) win for Team MRF Tyres. 

Moura appeared to be on course for a repeat of his 2016 victory having led from the very first stage in his Skoda Fabia Rally2. The Azorean looked comfortable on the stages, but came under increasing pressure as the afternoon developed. 

Llarena was never far behind and he put pedal to the metal on the penultimate Sete Cidades test to pull back a massive 7.7sec. Heading into the Feteiras Power Stage, just 6.1sec separated the two.

With fire in his belly, Llarena put in the drive of his life. He set a pace that was more than one-second per kilometre faster than Moura’s, overturning the local star's lead in dramatic fashion to emerge 2.7sec clear at the finish. 

"It's amazing," beamed Llarena. "We were completely full attack and at the end we made it, it's just absolutely incredible!"

"We pushed like hell," he continued. "We were at 200 per cent for the whole of the final stage and I am really proud of my team and MRF Tyres."

ERC returnee Simon Wagner found himself locked into the top-end battle on Saturday, but lost touch with the leaders on Sunday morning. 

The young Austrian eventually ended 28.7sec behind Moura after picking up a puncture on SS13. His podium bid was simplified when Ken Torn’s Ford Fiesta Rally2 succumbed to mechanical issues early in the day. 

Simone Tempestini claimed a brace of stage wins on Sunday to leapfrog Fafe runner-up Armindo Araújo and take fourth place as well as the ERC-Michelin Talent Factory honours. 

The Romanian was only 19.0sec down on the podium finishers and had 57.6sec in hand over Araújo, who moved into the championship lead despite battling to find the optimum set-up on his Fabia.  

Bruno Magalhaes was the only non-Skoda driver in the top ten. He brought his Hyundai i20 N Rally2 home 1min 13.9sec adrift of Araújo after completing the final loop with damaged rear suspension. Simone Campedelli was 9.0sec slower in seventh after damaging a brake pipe during the morning loop. 

Set-up tweaks paid off for Campedelli’s Team MRF Tyres colleague Norbert Herczig as he climbed four places to finish eighth. Herczig’s ascent up the leaderboard was aided by Italy’s Alberto Battstolli, who rolled in the final stage. 

Luckily for Battistolli there were some spectators on hand to push the battered car back onto all fours. He finished, but slipped from sixth to ninth. Javier Pardo also tumbled down to 13th when a broken driveshaft left his Fabia with only two-wheel drive. 

Martins Sesks rounded off the top ten after claiming his second consecutive ERC Open victory in a Skoda Fabia Rally2 Kit. The Latvian suffered from a lack of power but still ended 5min 10.5sec clear of Joan Vinyes’ Suzuki Swift. 

Jon Armstrong restarted after retiring in a water splash on Saturday and went on to claim ERC3 honours in an M-Sport Poland Ford Fiesta Rally3. He set multiple top ten stage times and gained valuable experience for his FIA Junior WRC title bid.

Classification after SS14 /14:
Pos Driver Car Time
1. Efrén LLARENA (ESP) / Sara FERNÁNDEZ (ESP) Skoda Fabia Rally2 2hr 24min 58.3sec
2. Ricardo MOURA (PRT) / António COSTA (PRT) Skoda Fabia Rally2 +2.7sec
3. Simon WAGNER (AUT) / Gerald WINTER (AUT) Skoda Fabia Rally2 +31.4sec
4. Simone TEMPESTINI (ROU) / Sergiu ITU (ROU) Skoda Fabia Rally2 +50.4sec
5. Armindo ARAÚJO (PRT) / Luis RAMALHO (PRT) Skoda Fabia Rally2 +1min 48.0sec
6 Bruno MAGALHAES (PRT) / Carlos MAGALHAES (PRT) Hyundai i20 N Rally2 +3min 1.9sec
7. Simone CAMPEDELLI (ITA) / Tania CANTON (CHE) Skoda Fabia Rally2 +3min 10.9sec
8. Norbert HERCZIG (HUN) / Igor BACIGÁL Skoda Fabia Rally2 +3min 35.0sec
9. Alberto BATTISTOLLI (ITA) / Simone SCATTOLIN (ITA) Skoda Fabia Rally2 +3min 49.4sec
10. Martins SESKS (LVA) / Renars FRANCIS (LVA) Skoda Fabia Rally2 Kit +5min 15.5sec


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