Torn takes a triple in ERC3 as brilliant Bernardi has last-minute heartbreak
Ken Torn extended his winning streak in the FIA ERC3 Junior Championship to three in a row on Rally di Roma Capitale, but Florian Bernardi’s show-stealing run of stage wins almost put him in the hunt for victory.
A tricky opening stage of the rally had set back a number of drivers: Torn (Estonian Autosport Junior Team) lost around 40 seconds and Bernardi two minutes due to tyre damage, giving Sindre Furuseth (Saintéloc Junior Team) an early advantage.
While both were quickly back on the pace, Furuseth held a “comfortable” lead, only to crash out on Saturday’s final stage and hand Torn the advantage heading into day two in his Pirelli-equipped Ford Fiesta R2T.
There was pressure from Erik Cais (ACCR Czech Rally Team) behind on Sunday though, Torn’s lead being cut stage after stage and nearly disappearing altogether when he clobbered a wall and broke his left-rear wheel.
Luckily for the Estonian, it was in the final section of the last stage before midday service. It cost him only a few seconds, while the damage was repaired in time for the next run.
Despite the scare Torn kept his head down and protected his lead, successfully defending his advantage and wrapping up a third ERC3 win over Cais, who drove the rally of his life in only his second season after being forced to give up his career in downhill mountain bike racing through injury.
“It’s incredible,” said Torn. “Before the event we don’t dream this result on our second proper rally on Tarmac. We just came here to learn the Tarmac and at the end the result is quite good, awesome actually. It feels like we lost this rally many times but we improved our pace and the time goes better and better. It was hard but not impossible because other competitors had problems as well.”
But from attacking Torn in the morning, Cais suddenly had to look behind him as Bernardi relentlessly ate into his time gap.
The Renault Clio R3T-driving Frenchman won all eight full-length stages in his higher-class car and stole second place away from Cais heading to the Ostia superspecial, and by now was only 17.1s behind Torn, meaning he’d gained more than a minute on the Estonian driver since Saturday morning.
But there was a heartbreaking late twist: an overshoot into a tyre barrier after a jump on the first pass of the superspecial cost Bernardi 18 seconds, demoting him back behind Cais to third place.
Rallye Team Spain’s Efrén Llarena would have to settle for fourth despite Bernardi’s late error, having been unable to keep up with the Renault driver’s rapid pace.
Llarena, who was in a replacement Peugeot 208 R2 following his huge crash in Poland last time out, had spent much of Sunday locked in a podium battle with Roman Schwedt (Team ROMO), the pair at one point separated by only 0.2s. But Schwedt’s dream of a first ERC3 podium was dashed on SS13, his car suffering an engine problem that forced him to retire.
Fifth place looked like a certainty for Jan Talaš (ACCR Czech Rally Team) on Sunday afternoon but there was a spanner in the works come the Ostia superspecial thanks to a driveshaft failure.
His mechanical dramas cost him several minutes but, such was his gap to those behind, he secured fifth ahead of the returning Orhan Avcioğlu (Toksport WRT). The Turkish driver’s sixth place finish could have been one place better, had he not picked up over a minute of lateness penalties caused by fixing a clutch fault with his car before stage three on Saturday.
Grégoire Munster (ADAC Opel Rallye Junior Team) was running in a strong second position before breaking his steering in a slow speed impact, but returned from retirement on Sunday to pick up seventh in ERC3.
Romania’s Cristiana Oprea was next up in ERC3 on her ERC debut and her first rally in an R2-specification car. While Rallye Team Spain’s Emma Falcón took victory in the ERC Ladies’ Trophy on the road, Oprea scored maximum points, finishing higher in her car class than Falcón.
Completing the ERC Ladies’ Trophy podium was Catie Munnings, who had retired on the road section after stage one on Saturday with a brake issue and returned to finish P9. Fellow returnee Pedro Antunes (FPAK Team Portugal ERC) completed the top 10 having set a number of top three stage times.
Gregor Jeets (Estonian Autosport Junior Team) joined Schwedt on the sidelines after retiring on Sunday’s opening stage with broken suspension, while James Williams and Elias Lundberg (ADAC Opel Rallye Junior Team) did not retstart due to accident damage and health reasons respectively.