Mikkelsen leads first day in FIA ERC Fafe Rally


Andreas Mikkelsen leads Rally Serras de Fafe e Felgueiras at the overnight halt as fog, mud, wind and rain combined to make for a tough opening day on round six of the FIA European Rally Championship.

But Mikkelsen, whose Toksport WRT Škoda Fabia Rally2 Evo is co-driven by Elliott Edmondson, faces a big fight for ERC glory on Sunday’s deciding leg after defending champion Alexey Lukyanuk completed the day-closing Boticas stage 4.4s behind in his Saintéloc Junior Team Citroën C3 Rally2.

“It’s been a very tough day, really hard to judge the grip because it was changing all the time,” said Mikkelsen, who was delayed by a right-rear damaged tyre on SS4. “The last stage was very rough with very deep ruts and I was a afraid I was going to fill the car with sand. We could have been faster, but I drove on the safe side because I didn’t want another puncture.”

Part two of the ERC’s Portuguese double-header quickly turned into a battle of attrition with the tricky conditions hitting the hopes of several leading drivers. They included Dani Sordo (Team MRF Tyres Hyundai i20 R5), who led by 28.9s at midday service, but slipped back on SS5 with a damaged tyre. And it would get worse for the Spaniard on SS8. Initially stopping with a steering issue, Sordo was in the final kilometre of the stage when he crashed. “We had already some problems, the steering has broken and that’s why, shortly after, we have finished out of the road,” he said.

His misfortune should have put Simone Tempestini back into third after the six-time Romanian champion lost the place to Sordo on SS6, which proved particularly treacherous due to several mud-coated sections. But having been delayed by an overshoot on SS7, the ERC-MICHELIN Talent Factory member stopped on the final stage with broken steering, poor return following an impressive performance.

Instead, Portuguese championship leader Armindo Araújo completes the provisional podium despite the water temperature in his Fabia reaching 140 degrees centigrade at the end of SS8. After suffering a “big spin” on SS3, last year’s Rally Serras de Fafe e Felgueiras winner is 13.5s in front of title rival Bruno Magalhães, who is making his debut in a Team Hyundai Portugal-run i20 N Rally2 on the back of a one-day test and still trying to find an optimal set-up.

Having switched to a ‘softer’ set-up for the afternoon after reporting his Škoda Rally Team Hungaria-run Fabia was “too hard” for the damp conditions this morning, Norbert Herczig climbed from P14 to fifth with Erik Cais (Yacco ACCR Team Ford Fiesta Rally2) demoting Rallye Team Spain’s Nil Solans for sixth on SS8 after Solans was forced to slow when his Fabia’s radiator filled with mud and overheated. Cais, who battled set-up and confidence issues this morning, is the top ERC-MICHELIN Talent Factory member.

Yoann Bonato (CHL Sport Auto) overcame two slow punctures to complete day one in eighth with Benito Guerra ninth after stopping on SS1 fearing he’d picked up damage on the front-left of his Fabia. Miko Marczyk is P10 having hit back from a damaged tyre on SS1 after Ricardo Teodósio’s Fabia overheated on the final stage. José Pedro Fontes, another ex-Portuguese champion, dropped back with a puncture.

Rallye Team Spain’s Efrén Llarena’s hopes of winning the ERC-MICHELIN Talent Factory’s top prize of the full tyre allocation for the final two events of the season look to be over after he rolled into retirement on SS6. Both he and co-driver Sara Fernández were uninjured although their Škoda Fabia Rally2 Evo sustained significant damage.

After being slowed by a driveshaft issue on SS4, Umberto Scandola went no further than SS6 when his Hyundai Rally Team Italia entry was struck down but another technical issue. Simone Campedelli (Team MRF Tyres) also failed to make it through the run due to a turbo issue, while contact pulled the right-rear wheel from the Hyundai i20 R5 of Iván Ares.

Alberto Battistolli’s chances of a strong result were hit by a double puncture on the morning loop but a battling performance in the afternoon has enabled the Italian youngster to fight back to P15.

Alexander Villanueva’s return to ERC action for the first time since 1992 ended when he damaged the front-right corner of his Citroën C3 Rally2. Luis Vilariño and Alessandro Taddei were non-starters after crashing in free practice on Friday afternoon.

ERC2: Pardo makes up for early errors to head team-mate Vinyes
Not even an “idiot mistake” could knock Javier Pardo off his stride in his pursuit of a fourth consecutive ERC2 win. The Spaniard, at the wheel of a Suzuki Motor Ibérica-entered Swift R4lly S, is more than two minutes in front of team-mate Joan Vinyes after twice going off on SS4. “In a slow left corner I made a mistake and go to the ditch and stall the engine and can’t restart,” Pardo explained. “Then in another slow left corner I don’t make the corner well and I needed to put the reverse. But the car has been good and I am happy.” Andorran Vinyes, meanwhile, survived a spin on SS2 and admitted to resisting the temptation to go on “maximum attack” due to the conditions. Victor Cartier is third in his self-built Toyota Yaris Rally2 Kit, despite a puncture on SS5 and “some moments in the muddy conditions”. The French youngster is one place ahead of Dmitry Feofanov, who is in a close battle with Pardo for the ERC2 title.

ERC3: Bassas profits after Franceschi’s late drama
Jean-Baptiste Franceschi (Toksport WRT Renault Clio Rally4) was more than half a minute in front of Pep Bassas starting SS8. But a suspected electrical issue allowed Bassas, in Peugeot 208 Rally4 run by local team The Racing Factory, to sweep ahead to the tune of 1m30.2s heading into Sunday’s leg. It was a tough blow for ERC3 championship leader Franceschi, who was sublime in the fog on SS2 to edge ahead of Bassas. “The pacenotes were nice with a good distance and angles of the corners,” Franceschi said. “I trusted my notes and gave the maximum even if I cannot see where I was going.” Bassas added: “The stages were very difficult with many rocks and it’s very important to finish the day for the points for the championship. We have to keep pushing because Franceschi is very fast.” Pedro Almeida overcame a puncture to hold third with ERC newcomer and fellow Portuguese Ernesto Cunha fourth. Poland’s Łukasz Lewandowski fifth in an Opel Corsa Rally4.

PROVISIONAL TOP 15 ERC POSITIONS (after eight stages, 113.42 kilometres)
1 Andreas Mikkelsen (NOR)/Elliott Edmondson (GBR) Škoda Fabia Rally2 Evo 1h23m20.8s
2 Alexey Lukyanuk (RUS)/Alexey Arnautov (RUS) Citroën C3 Rally2 +4.4s
3 Armindo Araújo (PRT)/Luís Ramalho (PRT) Škoda Fabia Rally2 Evo +1m49.2s
4 Bruno Magalhães (PRT)/Carlos Magalhães (PRT) Hyundai i20 N Rally2 +2m02.7s
5 Norbert Herczig (HUN)/Ramón Ferencz (HUN) Škoda Fabia Rally2 Evo +2m40.7s
6 Erik Cais (CZE)/Jindřiška Žáková (CZE) Ford Fiesta Rally2 +2m45.7s M
7 Nil Solans (ESP)/Marc Martí (ESP) Škoda Fabia Rally2 Evo +3m05.9s
8 Yoann Bonato (FRA)/Benjamin Boulloud (FRA) Citroën C3 Rally2 +3m19.1s
9 Benito Guerra (MEX)/Daniel Cué (ESP) Škoda Fabia Rally2 Evo +4m50.5s
10 Miko Marczyk (POL)/Szymon Gospodarczyk (POL) Škoda Fabia Rally2 Evo +5m04.9s M
11 Javier Pardo (ESP)/Adrián Pérez (ESP) Suzuki Swift R4lly S +7m58.2s
12 Ricardo Teodósio (PRT)/José Teixeira (PRT) Škoda Fabia Rally2 Evo +8m26.1s
13 Miguel Correia (PRT)/António Costa (PRT) Škoda Fabia Rally2 Evo +9m56.4s
14 Joan Vinyes (AND)/Jordi Mercader (ESP) Suzuki Swift R4lly S +10m03.8s
15 Alberto Battistolli (ITA)/Simone Scattolin (ITA) Škoda Fabia Rally2 Evo +10m0