Iván Ares tops an end-of-leg FIA European Rally Championship leaderboard for the first time after completing Friday’s action on Rally Islas Canarias with a 7.5s advantage over Adrien Fourmaux, as changeable weather conditions made tyre compound choice a lottery and required drivers to be at their very best on Gran Canaria’s challenging hillside roads.
Nil Solans had been the man to beat after six stages, but a spin on SS7 cut his lead over Ares from 16.1s to 3.1s. And with Solans experiencing the worst of the rain on SS8, Ares was able to move in front by 10.5s heading to the DISA-sponsored Las Palmas de Gran Canaria street stage.
Although the 1.53-kilometre test was held in dry conditions for the first four crews, which included Fourmaux, by the time the stage resumed following a brief stoppage due to a non-rally-related incident, it was raining, leading to the remaining runners losing time in the slippery conditions.
“It was difficult to make the right tyre choice and find the grip but it has been a good day and I’m happy,” said Ares, who drove his Pirelli-equipped Hyundai i20 R5 to second-place ERC points on Rally Fafe Montelongo last month.
Fourmaux, whose only previous ERC appearance ended in a huge crash on July’s Rally di Roma Capitale, said he was “really happy” to be leading ERC1 Junior in second overall. “We had really tricky conditions but we had good pace and a good tyre choice,” said the Michelin runner, who was quickest on SS7 and SS8 in his M-Sport Ford World Rally Team-run Fiesta R5 MkII.
For Solans, his late delay was poor reward for a strong performance for a driver making his debut in the ERC and on Rally Islas Canarias. “I didn’t expect the Tarmac to be as slippery as it was, we did the correct tyre choice, that’s true but we still need to improve the car set-up,” said Solans after vacating his Michelin-shod Škoda Fabia Rally2 Evo prior to midday service at the Estadio de Gran Canaria. “I have done a lot of work with my pacenotes, they are so descriptive and with these circumstances it’s much easier.”
Yoann Bonato, an established asphalt expert, is fourth in his Michelin-equipped Citroën C3 R5 with José Suárez and Luis Monzón completing the top six followed by Oliver Solberg.
The 19-year-old kept out of trouble despite his lack of event knowledge and not always being on the right tyres for the ever-changing conditions. “It was a very difficult morning with very bad conditions,” said the Volkswagen Polo GTI R5 driver, who is challenging for both the overall and ERC1 Junior titles this weekend. “It’s not easy, very slippery but I was on the limit many times. I could have gone faster but it was way too risky so I just wanted to survive without making any mistakes so I’m happy. I don’t try to think about the title so much. There’s still a very long way to go and we’ve had difficult conditions.”
Alexey Lukyanuk, the European championship leader after four rounds, was the last of the Rally2 drivers to start leg one, a tactical move to try to benefit from what he believed would be drier conditions this morning. However, the rain was far heavier and frequent than he expected and he struggled to make an impact this morning as a result.
It got better for the Saintéloc Junior Team driver this afternoon when he set the fastest time on SS5 and SS6. But rain on SS7 and SS8 was unexpected based on his forecasts and meant for a frustrated Russian. “We enjoyed two dry stages and that’s what I was keeping in my heart for the memories of this event but all the other parts was not good,” said Lukyanuk, who remains on course for his second ERC title in three years. “We are pleased with the position but [the tyre choice is] a lottery and you can’t make it right.”
Canary Islander Yeray Lemes is P10 after nine stages with Andreas Mikkelsen battling back to P11 after the Rally Hungary winner haemorrhaged time during the morning rain when he selected dry-weather Pirelli covers for his Topp-Cars Rally Team Škoda Fabia.
Despite his limited knowledge of his C3 R5, double ERC Junior champion Marijan Griebel showed strong form including a top-three stage time this morning. But he was unlucky to drop 15s on SS8 when his windscreen misted up and he struggled for vision. The German is ninth at the overnight halt.
Enrique Cruz, Motorsport Ireland Rally Academy’s Callum Devine, Simone Tempestini (Napoca Rally Academy) and Craig Breen from Team MRF Tyres round out the ERC points-scorers. Surhayen Pernía, ORLEN Team’s Miko Marczyk and Albert von Thurn Taxis hold positions P16-P18 respectively, while ERC3/ERC3 Junior contenders Pep Bassas and Sindre Furuseth complete the top 20 in their Peugeot 208 Rally4s.
Niki Mayr-Melnhof is P21 after overcoming clutch issues this morning. A puncture delayed Josh McErlean in the second Motorsport Ireland Rally Academy Hyundai. Pepe López’s bid to repeat his 2019 Rally Islas Canarias victory ended when he crashed out on SS1. Erik Cais was in the top six when he retired his Yacco ACCR Team Fiesta after striking a bridge on SS5.