Mon 28 Mar 2022

From defeat to victory: Llarena reflects on maiden win

Efrén Llarena has revealed how he won the Azores Rallye for his maiden victory in the FIA European Rally Championship.

Llarena started the event-deciding Power Stage 6.1s behind home hero Ricardo Moura, who had led the spectacular gravel event from the very first stage.

But a charging performance from the Team MRF Tyres’ star and co-driver Sara Fernández triggered a dramatic change of positions as Llarena triumphed by 2.7s in a thrilling finish.

“We absolutely pushed really, really hard, especially in the beginning of the stage,” Llarena, 26, said afterwards. “In the last part I knew in the first loop I was the fastest in the last sector so I tried to push in the first one and it was okay. I pushed really hard but I was not without brain, so it was okay.”

With three stages remaining Llarena had conceded defeat to Moura, the 10-time Azorean champion. But when he slashed the deficit by more than half on the penultimate stage, Llarena admitted it gave him hope that a first ERC win for he, Fernández and MRF Tyres was in reach.

“Sometimes you need to be relaxed and just attack in the last moment,” the Skoda Fabia Rally2 Evo driver said. “For sure Ricardo did a really good job like always here and is always very fast. In some parts, especially in the first loop [on day two] we didn’t expect rain, so we put hard tyres and it was really difficult for us. We were still fighting, even with hard tyres but I knew very well for the last loop I had four brand new hard tyres and Ricardo was only with two soft tyres so I knew in the last stage we will have better tyres so we push and we get the victory.”

Llarena’s success makes it back-to-back victories for Spanish drivers in this season’s ERC after Nil Solans won Rally Serras de Fafe - Felgueiras - Cabreira e Boticas earlier this month.

Azores Rallye Sunday highlights

“For sure it’s a dream,” Llarena said. “Several times we were on the podium and I think now we deserve it, it’s amazing and also for my family and my friends who support us.

“We are not a rich family so we work hard with 200 per cent, Sara and me, my father and my friends, the sponsors are doing a really big effort to be here so it’s amazing. And for MRF Tyres are doing a really, really good development, working on the tyre, always improving, improving, improving so I can only say thank you to Vivek and his team. We are like a family and it’s amazing.”

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