Llarena heads ERC3 in close Zlín fight

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Llarena built his advantage with two stage wins on Saturday morning and by showing metronomic consistency, setting top five times on all but one stage during leg one.

“We are very happy with our pace,” said Llarena. “We are trying to push hard, we have the pace. We are leading, tomorrow there are six stages to go with lots of kilometres and a lot of tricky corners, with a lot of gravel and some bumpy corners. We know that we need to win and we'll see the times for Ken Torn. We did our best and were always on the limit.”

Maximum points from leg one and the class lead give him a platform to challenge Torn (Estonian Autosport Junior Team) for the title but he faces resistance from a Torn ally: the championship leader’s Orsák Rally Sport stablemate and fellow Ford Fiesta R2T driver Jean-Baptiste Franceschi.

The Frenchman is participating in his first ever Barum Czech Rally Zlín and spent the morning loop getting his bearings, but on the second pass was on a charge, cutting the gap down to 5.5s at one point.

Franceschi caught and passed the third contender for ERC3 Junior title honours, Sindre Furuseth (Saintéloc Junior Team) for second place while chasing down the leader, but Llarena responded on the final two tests, nudging the lead back up to 7.8s by the final stage of leg one.

Furuseth is still mathematically in contention for the grand prize of free participation in two rounds of the 2020 FIA ERC1 Junior Championship in a Motorsport Italia ŠKODA Fabia R5 but needs both Llarena and Torn to hit trouble, along with wrestling back the position he lost to Franceschi.

Torn began Saturday out of the points in P11 but rapidly made progress up the leaderboard, making it to fourth place by stage four before Franceschi came flying past on the next test and demoted him to fifth.

He spent the afternoon trading places repeatedly with Erik Cais (ACCR Czech Rally Team), who had dropped out of the podium places with fading brakes on Kostelany. Third-fastest time on the night-time re-run of Kostelany by Torn promoted him back to fourth ahead of Cais, helping him to earn another crucial bonus point in his title tussle with Llarena. Torn and Cais are now separated by 2.9s heading to leg two, with Llarena effectively needing to win and hoping Torn drops to fifth to stand any chance of the championship.

Though not registered for ERC3 Junior, Florian Bernardi also has a keen eye on the exploits of Torn, Llarena and Furuseth, as he aims to beat all three to the combined ERC3 title which continues on to the season-ending Cyprus Rally and Rally Hungary.

He initially struggled to break into the top 10 but had found his stage-winning form again by the evening pass of Halenkovice, climbing to sixth in ERC3, 1.7s ahead of Peugeot Rally Academy’s Yohan Rossel.

Overnight leader Adam Březík could not maintain his quick turn of pace from the Zlín city superspecial on Saturday and dropped into a battle over seventh with Rossel, but was forced to retire with a broken water pump on Halenkovice while running eighth.

That promoted Sean Johnston (Saintéloc Junior Team) to eighth, soldiering on while coping with an apparent case of food poisoning during the afternoon loop. Miklós Csomós (East Motorsport Kft.) and René Dohnal (ACCR Czech Rally Team) complete the ERC3 top 10.

ADAC Opel Rallye Junior Team pairing Grégoire Munster and Elias Lundberg are the next best ERC3 Juniors after Cais in sixth and seventh, the pair currently engaged in an in-house battle separated by just 1.8s after leg one.

Petr Semerád, 18, showed top five pace all day and took his first ever ERC3 stage win on Semetín. However, he is only eighth in ERC3 Junior, having lost two and a half minutes when his co-driver mistakenly told him to do an extra lap of the first section of Březová, Saturday’s first stage. Gregor Jeets is ninth in ERC3 Junior with the second Estonian Autosport Junior Team entry.

Nabila Tejpar leads the ERC Ladies’ Trophy over 2014 champion Ekaterina Stratieva, running P17 in the combined ERC3 order.