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Sat 29 Apr 2023

Remembering when Saintéloc saved the day for rival Orsák team in ERC

Jean-Baptiste Franceschi missed out on winning the two-wheel-drive category on Rally Islas Canarias by 1.3sec back in 2019 – but he very nearly missed out on finishing altogether.

When a member of his Orsák Rally Sport team got lost trying to reach the refuel zone after stage two, Franceschi was seemingly high and dry and on the verge of retiring.

But an incredible gesture from the Saintéloc Junior Team – which was running Sindre Furuseth, one of Franceschi’s key rivals – saved the day for Franceschi when it refuelled his Ford Fiesta R2T.

Although the delay meant Franceschi and co-driver Anthony Gorguilo were two minutes late for the next stage and incurred a 20sec time penalty as a result, they remained in contention.

With nothing to lose, Franceschi clocked six stage wins out of eight on leg two as he hunted down ERC3 leader Florian Bernardi’s Renault Clio R3T.

A 28.5sec gap after SS8 was quickly whittled down to only 6.3sec heading to the final stage, setting up a tense finale. But one final push from Bernardi was enough, limiting his losses to only 1.3sec and securing the ERC3 victory.

While Franceschi was denied the ERC3 win by Bernardi in his higher-class Clio, he nevertheless took Junior ERC honours by almost two minutes ahead of eventual champion Efrén Llarena.

“To win is amazing,” Franceschi said at the finish. “This was a good opportunity from M-Sport and I want to thank them. It’s amazing to be here, it was the first time for us. The car worked very well and I enjoyed a lot the stages. I love the ERC, the atmosphere is very nice. The competition was really close, we had a penalty and we can have some regret, but that’s rally and everything can happen anywhere and in any moment. At the end the result is very nice but I have to say thanks to the Saintéloc team. We were waiting for the refuelling on Friday but the guy from our team was lost on the road and nobody came. But we were lucky because Saintéloc helped us to put some fuel in the car. If not, we would have stopped so I want to say thanks to them.”

After a season competing in France, Franceschi returned to the ERC for 2021 and claimed an impressive ERC3/Junior ERC title double in a Renault Clio Rally4. But an accident on Rallye du Var one week after the Rally Islas Canarias ERC finale left him with serious injuries. He’s since recovered, however, and scored a French Gravel championship event win earlier this month alongside his younger brother Mathieu’s former co-driver Lucie Baud.

Meanwhile, Mathieu Franceschi has stepped up to the ERC in a Michelin-equipped Škoda Fabia Rally2 Evo for 2023 after claiming the French Gravel title in 2022.