Double ERC champion Basso wins in Rome

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Giandomenico Basso scored his first FIA European Rally Championship victory in six years, as the double ERC champion took the spoils on Rally di Roma Capitale.

The Loran SRL-entered Italian was in the podium places from the opening test and took a lead he would not relinquish on stage four when Andrea Crugnola punctured. Basso's only mistake of note was overshooting a junction on stage 13, which cost him around 24 seconds and nearly put him within Simone Campedelli's reach.

Afterwards, Basso's co-driver Lorenzo Granai explained that his compatriot had endured a tough event following the passing of a close friend shortly before the start in Rome on Friday.

"We wanted to make a very good race for what happened to the best friend of Giandomenico," said Granai. "We had a difficult weekend but now, with him, that followed us, I'm sure we did a very good job. Giando won two times the European championship and now we come back to home and this victory is very important for us, both for the Italian championship and the European championship."

Campedelli gave M-Sport’s brand new Ford Fiesta R5 challenger its ERC debut in Rome. Despite limited testing he was quickly into his stride and stormed up from ninth to third after tyre trouble on stage two.

That became second place after a time penalty for Alexey Lukyanuk (Saintéloc Junior Team), which demoted the reigning ERC champion down a place.

Campedelli (Orange 1 M-Sport Rally Team) took the Fiesta's first stage win on Affile-Bellegra this morning, although on pure speed no-one could match Crugnola, who had led early on before a puncture demoted him to P10.

The ERC Junior graduate was on a mission thereafter and won 13 out of the rally’s 16 stages to rocket up the leaderboard on Sunday, dramatically picking off Lukyanuk for the final podium place on the rally-ending Ostia superspecial.

Despite the penalty that lost him a potential second place finish, Lukyanuk’s title defence was still strengthened by the result, as chief title rival Łukasz Habaj (Sports Racing Technologies) crashed out on Saturday and only scored points for finishing fourth on leg two.

Filip Mareš (ACCR Czech Rally Team) scored a crucial ERC1 Junior victory over Chris Ingram (Toksport WRT), the pair separated by 17.6s in fifth and sixth overall. Mareš now heads to the ERC1 Junior season finale – his home ERC event, Barum Czech Rally Zlín – still with a chance of beating Ingram to the title.

Ingram and Norbert Herczig (MOL Racing Team) spent most of leg two swapping positions in fifth and sixth, which became sixth and seventh when Crugnola went breezing past them on the morning loop.

Hopes for Herczig were high when he swiftly rebutted Ingram’s advances, thanks to the ERC1 Junior Championship leader spinning twice on Rocca Santo Stefano. But it was only temporary relief, with Herczig losing crucial seconds on the afternoon pass of Affile-Bellegra when he forgot to switch stage mode on for the opening kilometres.

Mārtiņš Sesks (LMT Autosporta Akadēmija) capped his second prize drive for winning last year’s ERC3 Junior crown with third in ERC1 Junior. After an overall podium on familiar territory in Latvia on gravel, Sesks turned in a consistent pace to secure eighth overall in his first outing on asphalt in an R5 car.

Umberto Scandola (Hyundai Motorsport N), the only two-time winner of Rally di Roma Capitale, ran in the top five on Saturday but an end-of-day puncture cost him three minutes and sent him down to ninth.

He was nearly a minute faster than Sesks across Sunday’s 10 stages but such was Scandola’s time loss on leg one, he was too far behind to make up any positions on Sunday.

Vojtěch Štajf (ACCR Czech Rally Team) completed the top 10, catching and passing both Hiroki Arai (STARD) in P11 and ERC Ladies' Trophy victor Emma Falcón (Rallye Team Spain) in P12 on Sunday after a difficult first leg had cost him several minutes. Arai and Falcón also completed the top five in the ERC1 Junior classification with Falcón battling a clutch issue.

Dariusz Poloński won the Abarth Rally Cup and ERC2 with Ken Torn taking ERC3 and Pirelli-supported ERC3 Junior honours. Nikoly Gryazin, on his first of two prize drives from promoter Eurosport Events for winning the ERC1 Junior crown in 2018, led after winning the first stage only to crash into retirement nearing the end of the very next run.

Poloński wins ERC2 as Rome podium battle takes final twist
Dariusz Poloński wrapped up a maiden win in both the FIA European Rally Championship’s ERC2 category and in the Abarth Rally Cup, but a close fight for second took an unexpected late turn. Poloński had taken the lead after Andrea Nucita, who had led for most of Saturday, retired after stage five and didn’t look back, bagging vital points over his rival in his pursuit of the Abarth Rally Cup title. Behind Poloński, a late battle was brewing between Loran SRL team-mates Nucita and Zelindo Melegari. Nucita was the class of the ERC2 field, using home advantage and familiarity with the Abarth 124 rally to great effect to win almost every stage. Rather than sit back on his return on Sunday, Nucita pushed to the limit to catch Melegari, closing the gap to just 1.1s with two passes of the short Ostia superspecial to go. Keen to make up the difference Nucita pushed on over the artificial jump in the stage, but broke a driveshaft after a heavy landing and lost precious seconds, the gap between the two ending up at 11.4s. There was late heartbreak for Mshari Althefiri, who unlike his other ERC2 rivals, was driving a heavier four-wheel drive Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution X. With the more agile rear-wheel drive Abarths better suited to Rome's asphalt roads, Althefiri had settled into fourth place, only to retire between runs on the rally-ending Ostia superspecial due to a suspected clutch issue. Melegari now leads the ERC2 standings by 18 points from Nucita in second, who in turn has a single point advantage over rally winner Poloński in third. The tables are turned in the Abarth Rally Cup, however, with Poloński now leading the standings by two points from Nucita.

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 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.

PROVISIONAL TOP 10 POSITIONS (after 16 stages, 189.40 kilometres)
1 Giandomenico Basso (ITA)/Lorenzo Granai (ITA) ŠKODA Fabia R5 1h57m32.0s

2 Simone Campedelli (ITA)/Tania Canton (ITA) Ford Fiesta R5 +23.3s
3 Andrea Crugnola (ITA)/Pietro Ometto (ITA) ŠKODA Fabia R5 +1m00.3s
4 Alexey Lukyanuk (RUS)/Alexey Arnautov (RUS) Citroën C3 R5 +1m03.0s
5 Filip Mareš (CZE)/Jan Hloušek (CZE) ŠKODA Fabia R5 +1m26.0s
6 Chris Ingram (GBR)/Ross Whittock (GBR) ŠKODA Fabia R5 +1m43.5s
7 Norbert Herczig (HUN)/Ramón Ferencz (HUN) Volkswagen Polo GTI R5 +1m49.1s
8 Mārtiņš Sesks (LVA)/Uldis Briedis (LVA) ŠKODA Fabia R5 +3m14.5s
9 Umberto Scandola (ITA)/Guido D’Amore (ITA) Hyundai i20 R5 +4m42.4s
10 Vojtěch Štajf (CZE)/Veronika Havelková (CZE) Volkswagen Polo GTI R5 +7m03.1s

FIA ERC2: Dariusz Poloński (POL)/Łukasz Sitek (POL) Abarth 124 rally
FIA ERC3: Ken Torn (EST)/Kauri Pannas (EST) Ford Fiesta R2T
FIA ERC1 Junior: Filip Mareš (CZE)/Jan Hloušek (CZE) ŠKODA Fabia R5

FIA ERC3 Junior: Ken Torn (EST)/Kauri Pannas (EST) Ford Fiesta R2T
Abarth Rally Cup: Dariusz Poloński (POL)/Łukasz Sitek (POL) Abarth 124 rally

ERC Ladies’ Trophy: Emma Falcón (ESP) Citroën C3 R5