Mon 29 Apr 2024

Event preview: Llarena fired up to tame the Canarias Tarmac in ERC

The race for on-stage glory in the 2024 FIA European Rally Championship switches to Tarmac this week (2 - 4 May) with the 48th edition of Rally Islas Canarias set to provide another action-packed test for the ERC stars and their cars.

What is essentially a dress rehearsal ahead of the event’s planned elevation to the FIA World Rally Championship in 2025, round two of the 71st ERC season is hotly anticipated – and of particular significance to Efrén Llarena, the 2022 European champion.  

The 28-year-old Spaniard has made big results his big target for 2024 as he looks to swap some of his trademark consistency for greater speed aboard his Škoda Fabia RS Rally2, which is co-driven by Sara Fernández.  

“We will try to win,” said Llarena, a non-finisher for Team MRF Tyres on the season-opening V-Híd Rally Hungary. “Winning is important for the points but we have changed the mentality this year, taking it rally by rally and not thinking about the championship.   

“MRF has been working really hard during the winter to get the perfect tyre and we want to be fighting. For the last three years I have been on the podium but now I want to win, even though I know it will be really tough.”

As well as taking on the ERC regulars, including Pirelli’s defending champion Hayden Paddon (BRC Racing Team Hyundai i20 N Rally2) and Yoann Bonato, who won last year’s Rally Islas Canarias driving a Citroën C3 Rally2 on Michelin tyres, Llarena also faces a threat from closer to home.  

“The ERC is so strong, but we also have the drivers from the Spanish championship on this rally,” Llarena said. “During previous years we have done really good results so I’m really comfortable with the island, with the atmosphere and the fans. Even if it’s 3000 kilometres from my home it’s still my home event and you feel the fans are supporting you, so you are fully motivated.”

Numbers rising: 30 Rally2 cars to battle for ERC Rally Islas Canarias points
After 28 ERC-registered Rally2 cars lined up for the V-Híd Rally Hungary earlier this month, 30 top-of-the-range machines are set for a fast-paced asphalt adventure on the Spanish island of Gran Canaria. But with a further two Rally2 cars also entered, albeit not eligible for European championship points, a 32-car Rally2 entry underlines the popularity of the ERC and the Las Palmas-based event.  

Forty-nine crews are in contention for ERC points on Rally Islas Canarias. In addition to 30 ERC1 entries, two drivers will be in the thick of the FIA ERC3 battle, while 16 will gun for FIA ERC4 points with 14 of those eligible for Hankook-equipped FIA Junior ERC honours. Previews for the support championships will be published at during this week.  

In addition to Bonato, Llarena and Paddon, Mathieu Franceschi will bid for back-to-back ERC podiums in his Michelin-equipped Fabia RS Rally2. Miklós Csomós, who finished third on his homer ERC counter in Hungary, returns to Rally Islas Canarias 12 months on from a car-wrecking crash that forced him to miss three events while a crowdfunding campaign secured the money needed to build up a replacement Fabia Rally2 Evo.

Erik Cais, Miko Marczyk, Andrea Mabellini, Jon Armstrong and Filip Mareš (above) complete the top 10 ERC entries, while Mārtiņš Sesks, Mads Østberg and double ERC champion Alexey Lukyanuk – a four-time Rally Islas Canarias winner – can also be expected to battle for the top positions.   

With ERC rules allowing drivers to count their best seven scores from a possible eight, Simone Tempestini, who banked his maiden European championship victory in Hungary, has elected not to include Rally Islas Canarias on his 2024 schedule. He will target June’s BAUHAUS Royal Rally of Scandinavia for his next ERC challenge instead.

Holidays not pictured for ERC aces
While the island of Gran Canaria is a popular holiday destination, there will be no time for the ERC aces to unwind.   

Precision-key asphalt roads that climb and descend and twist and turn with rapid frequency combine with changeable mountain weather for a challenge that’s not to be underestimated. And the abrasive surface, constructed partly from volcanic lava, means grip levels are high but tyre wear can increase.   

The first stage of Rally Islas Canarias, SSS1 Las Palmas de Gran Canaria, is set to provide another ERC season highlight. Featuring a spectacular section inside the Gran Canaria Arena, the 1.80-kilometre route might be short in terms of length but there will be no shortage of fans with all 8000 available tickets snapped up almost instantly.

SSS1 Las Palmas de Gran Canaria, which is due to get under way at 20:35 local time on Thursday 2 May, is one of many fan-focused attractions in store during round two of the 2024 ERC season. The ceremonial start returns to the centre of Las Palmas de Gran Canaria from 21:00 on Wednesday 1 May, while a drivers’ parade is another exciting addition to the itinerary from 19:45 on Thursday 2 May.  

Three stages run either side of service at the spectacular Estadio Gran Canaria on both Friday and Saturday with the San Mateo Valsequillo Power Stage due to begin at 17:05 on Saturday.  

How to watch?
Fans across the globe can experience the excitement and drama of the ERC with every stage of every rally broadcast platform. In addition, the ERC is broadcast in a number of countries around the world and fans are advised to check local listings for details.   

Rally Islas Canarias 2024: the key numbers 
Stages: 13
Competitive distance: 193.12 kilometres 
Total distance: 617.68 kilometres

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