Fri 28 Apr 2023

Bonato versus Llarena: ERC aces ready to continue close rivalry

One of the most exciting rivalries in recent FIA European Rally Championship history will resume when Rally Islas Canarias hosts round two of the 2023 season next week (4 - 6 May).

Yoann Bonato and defending champion Efrén Llarena are two of the ERC’s fastest but also most evenly matched drivers, as demonstrated on Rally Islas Canarias 12 months ago when they finished level on time after 194 kilometres of competitive action.

Llarena was classified ahead of Bonato in second place due to the fact he was the faster out of the two on the opening stage. But Frenchman Bonato got his revenge when he beat Llarena to victory on RallyRACC Catalunya - Costa Daurada five months later after winning seven stages compared to the five claimed by his Spanish rival.

Rally di Roma Capitale, which took place last July, also provided another example of just how closely matched the two drivers are with Bonato finishing 0.3s ahead of Llarena in third position alongside co-driver Benjamin Boulloud.

Bonato, for one, can’t wait for the battle for supremacy to reconvene on the challenging asphalt roads on Gran Canaria in six days from now.

“I don’t know why we are always very close like that, unfortunately he’s also fast!” said Bonato, 39. “We are always very close on gravel as well, all the rallies and I think on this Rally Islas Canarias it will be the same, well I hope so because the battle is so good and so fun and I hope it’s the same but with a better result for me!”

Bonato hopes to compete in the new-specification Citroën C3 Rally2 on Rally Islas Canarias and starts the event on the back of finishing a strong fifth on the ERC season-opening Rally Serras de Fafe, Felgueiras, Boticas, Vieira do Minho e Cabeceiras de Basto last month. He was also a winner on the latest round of the French Tarmac championship last weekend.

“No, [winning in Catalunya hasn’t boosted our confidence for this event] because we never lost our confidence,” the Michelin-equipped CHL Sport Auto driver explained. “But we expect a good rally for sure. If I can fight for the win, it should be good, but if we can fight for the podium, it will be perfect as well and we try to do our best.

“Definitely this is the most beautiful rally on Tarmac I have been to before, it’s really fun with maybe two or three corners in the whole race [where] you have cutting. The main difficulty is the weather. We never know what will be the condition in the mountains so we never know what is the best tyre choice. We need some luck for this.”

Successful test gives Llarena renewed hope as ‘home’ ERC round approaches
After a tough start to his title defence in Fafe, Efrén Llarena is convinced that he can be on top form on Rally Islas Canarias, his first outing on Tarmac in his new-for-2023 Škoda Fabia RS Rally2, which is co-driven by double European champion co-driver Sara Fernández.

“We have been testing the car for the first time on Tarmac,” said the 27-year-old. “We did some kilometres on really abrasive Tarmac like [you have] in Canarias so it was a successful day. We saw we were very comfortable in the car and more or less I can drive the car with my driving style. I felt really well with the car and I will try to win the rally and maybe [Bonato] can be second!”

Of his rivalry with Bonato, Llarena, who drives for Team MRF Tyres, said: “He is one of the best drivers in the Rally2 category, especially on Tarmac. He has won four French Tarmac championships and he’s a really nice guy, like a friend. We enjoy the rallies together and the battles are very healthy. We try to be as fast as possible but we stop a lot of time together on the road sections to explain how the stages have been. It’s a pleasure to compete with Yoann.”

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