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Spaniard concentrates on maintaining championship lead as series returns to asphalt

  • gb

FIA European Rally Championship (ERC) leader Efrén Llarena has a clear plan of attack for Rally di Roma Capitale this week (22 - 24 July).

The Team MRF Tyres star sits at the top of the championship standings with a neat 46-point lead before round six of the eight-rally season.

After two high-speed gravel fixtures in Poland and Latvia, the series returns to asphalt for the first time since Rally Islas Canarias in May. There, Llarena finished second overall behind Nil Solans - his closest title challenger.

Solans will steer a Hyundai i20 N Rally2 and needs a strong result to keep his hopes alive. The Spaniard already has two non-scores to his name and also finished a lowly 11th last time out at Tet Rally Liepāja.

But Llarena, cool as ever, isn’t getting ahead of himself. While solid results at the final three rallies would almost guarantee him the title, the 27-year-old’s focus remains solely on keeping Solans at bay.

“There are a lot of points still available,” mused the Škoda Fabia Rally2 driver. “We will try to do our best in Rome and I think we need to keep watching what Nil Solans is doing.

“Our priority is to end the rally with the same advantage as we have now in the championship. For sure, we have always had a good feeling on this rally and we are really optimistic and fully motivated.

“One of the best things for us is that we have been doing a lot of running with the car and with the tyres on asphalt. Rally Islas Canarias was good for us, but for sure, we have been doing a lot of really good work since then,” he added.

A host of Italian hopefuls will be in attendance to keep the regulars on their toes. They include two-time ERC champion and two-time Rally di Roma Capitale winner Giandomenico Basso in a Hyundai as well as last year’s runner-up Andrea Crugnola in a Citroën C3 Rally2.

Llarena’s MRF squad fields a five-strong Fabia line-up with Liepāja winner Mārtiņš Sesks also joined by Javier Pardo, Norbert Herczig and Simone Campedelli.

Other drivers worth keeping an eye on include Simone Tempestini, Filip Mareš and Alberto Battistolli in Fabia cars plus Citroën C3 man Yoann Bonato.

The rally is based east of Rome in Fiuggi and kicks off with a brand-new super special test around the Colosseum in the Eternal City on Friday evening. The route contains 13 stages totalling 187.14km.