Fri 21 Oct 2022

Bonato denies home hero Llarena on opening day in Catalunya

Yoann Bonato is on-course to claim his first victory in the FIA European Rally Championship, after seizing the initiative in a nip-and-tuck duel with recently-crowned champion Efrén Llarena on the opening leg of RallyRACC Catalunya-Costa Daurada on Friday.

With the pressure off his shoulders, Llarena entered his home event in a relaxed mood and was quickest out-of-the-blocks on SS1, but three consecutive fastest times over the remainder of the morning loop vaulted Bonato to the top of the table by 4.2sec.

Cheered on by the partisan fans lining the tricky asphalt stages south of Barcelona, Llarena responded on SS5, replicating his morning dominance to narrow the deficit to barely a second – raising expectations of another classic showdown between the pair, who have already enjoyed close battles this season in Gran Canaria and Rome.

From thereon in, however, the day belonged to Bonato, as the Frenchman inexorably increased his lead. The Citroën star was a commanding 8.6sec clear of his nearest rival on SS7 – run under cover of darkness – to extend his advantage to 18.5sec overnight after the final stage was cancelled.

Llarena remains second, comfortably ahead of fellow MRF Tyres driver Javier Pardo, who had to fight back from a puncture and a turbo wastegate issue that left him well adrift of the leaders early on. The Spaniard outpaced his team-mate on both SS6 and SS7 to climb to third overnight – more than a minute-and-a-half away from the lead, but 13.5sec ahead of fourth place.

That position is occupied by Martin László – making it three Škoda Fabias inside the top four – with Laurent Pellier producing arguably the performance of the day in fifth overall, a staggering 1m14.6sec in front of the next-best ERC4 competitor. The Frenchman has won every event he has finished to-date in 2022, but his hopes of stealing the class title this weekend hinge on results outside of his control after missing the first two rounds of the season.

Alberto Monarri leads the inter-team Suzuki scrap for ERC Open honours in sixth position, but ninth-placed Joan Vinyes needs only to finish the rally to lift the laurels. In-between the pair sit Italian duo Andrea Mabellini and Alberto Battistolli. The former is pushing hard in a bid to pip Óscar Palomo – just over 50sec behind in tenth – to the ERC4 crown, but Battistolli admitted to lacking confidence following his accident on Barum Czech Rally Zlín last time out.

The action – and 2022 ERC campaign – concludes on Saturday with six competitive stages totalling 116.6km, culminating in the live-broadcast, 24.18km El Montmell 2 Power Stage at 17:58 CET.

Leading positions after Friday:
1. Y. Bonato / B. Boulloud (FRA) Citroën C3 1hr 02min 02.3sec
2. E. Llarena / S. Fernández (ESP) Škoda Fabia +18.5sec
3. J. Pardo / A Pérez (ESP) Škoda Fabia +1min 39.9sec
4. M. László / D. Berendi (HUN) Škoda Fabia +1min 53.4sec
5. L. Pellier / M. Pelamourgues (FRA) Opel Corsa +2min 55.2sec
6. A. Monarri / B. Odriozola (ESP) Suzuki Swift +3min 12.1sec

Starts: Thursday, July 18, 2024 at 4:31:00 AM
Starts: Friday, July 26, 2024 at 7:00:00 AM
Starts: Saturday, July 27, 2024 at 6:00:00 AM