Yoann Bonato is a two-time winner in the FIA European Rally Championship after a sublime drive to victory at Rally Islas Canarias on Saturday.
With fellow Frenchman Benjamin Boulloud co-driving, Bonato started leg two 11.0sec in front of European championship leader Hayden Paddon. He eventually triumphed by 36.9 seconds following a day dominated by the changeable weather conditions – and some seriously close competition throughout the field.
Paddon extended his title advantage in second place with defending European champion Efrén Llarena coming home third. Jon Armstrong claimed FIA ERC3 honours and Bendegúz Hangodi inherited the FIA ERC4 victory after long-term leader Roberto Daprà retired, while Michelin was the winning tyre.
Bonato grew his relatively narrow overnight margin to 12.8 seconds by winning Sunday’s opener before he trounced his rivals with a stunning run through the 27.74-kilometers Moya – Valleseco test, which featured dry, damp and full wet sections plus fog in places.
At the wheel of a Citroën C3 Rally2 fitted with four medium compound Michelin tires, Bonato was 11.3 seconds faster than the next quickest driver but a whole 19.4 seconds quicker than Paddon to move 32.2 seconds clear in the battle for top spot on round two of the 2023 ERC season.
Bonato made further progress with his third consecutive fastest time of the leg on SS10 to return to the midday service halt at the Estadio Gran Canaria leading by 34.3sec. Although his tally of stage wins would stop at seven out of a possible 13, Bonato’s victory was never in doubt.
“We did our best but the car and tires were also perfect and I am very happy,” said Bonato, who scored his first ERC win in Catalunya last October. “We were with the medium-compound Michelin tyre for all the first loop and for these [weather] conditions it was perfect.
“You never know with the weather what will happen but we took one spare [hard compound] tyre this morning because we understood there would only be damp parts and not in all special stages. This is a beautiful rally and this makes it easy to be fast here. And when it’s like this you don’t want the rally to stop, you want to keep going for the next few days.”
Bonato’s only obvious cause for concern was at the start of SS8 when he forgot to activate stage mode, meaning he wasn’t at flat-out pace initially although he quickly rectified the error and went fastest.
Paddon’s capture of second place, which included one stage win, means the Pirelli-equipped New Zealander remains in front in his bid to take the European title in the ERC’s 70th-anniversary season.
“The most difficult thing was the tyre decision when the weather is so changeable,” said Hyundai-powered Paddon. “If you’re not in the championship hunt you can take a risk [with the tyre choice] but we had to cover every eventuality and that meant it was a compromise.
“We took the safe option. We dropped a lot of time on the second stage [of the morning] but, to be honest, we were never chasing Yoann today anyway and were happy to maintain position. The car was perfect and this is a good result.”
Hampered by running through the rain-hit SS8 on hard-compound tires, Llarena (Team MRF Tyres) beat a charging Iván Ares to the final podium place by 15sec.
Simon Wagner started leg two in 16th after a confidence-light Friday. And while he still wasn’t happy with his performance nor his car set-up, the double Austrian champion charged through to fifth place in the final order courtesy of one stage best.
Saddled by persistent understeer, Andrea Nucita finished sixth having jointly led after two stages. With his time penalty for a late check-in at midday service on Friday rescinded, Mathieu Franceschi finished a strong seventh.
Mārtiṇš Sesks battled illness and pace notes not entirely to his liking to finish eighth with José Antonio Suárez and Grzegorz Grzyb completing the top 10.