♦ Efren Llarena followed up the potential he showcased recently in France’s Vosges Mountains with his first 208 Rally Cup victory after what turned out to be a particularly complex Rallye du Var
♦ Suspense at the final round of the 2016 208 Rally Cup focused chiefly on the battle for the season’s second and third places and the scrap proved particularly close.
♦ Gilles Panizzi demonstrated that he has lost none of his speed by finishing just shy of the overall podium in his Onyx Racing by Enjolras-run 208T16.
An initial charging threesome
The early part of the event saw three drivers emerge at the front of the field. Jean-Baptiste Franceschi led after SS1 but was soon overhauled by Patrick Magnou (Pitstop) who recovered from a spin on the opening test to post two fastest times and reach Friday evening’s overnight halt in Sainte-Maxime in front, chased by Franceschi and Llarena (Raceseven). The 2016 champion Pepe Lopez (Sainteloc Racing) preferred a cautious start and was fourth at this stage, tailed by the surprising Aki Sahila (CHL Sport Auto).
Pepe Lopez fights back…
When action resumed on Saturday morning, it was Efren Llarena who took control thanks to two consecutive stage victories in difficult conditions. In contrast, Quentin Ribaud’s bid for a medal ended when he crashed out on SS4, registering his first ‘DNF’ of the year.
As incisive as ever on asphalt, Andrea Carella played a front-running role on Day 2 with a brace of stage wins before spoiling his run with an off on the long Pignans test (almost 40km).
It was on the same stage, which caught out several other victims, that Pepe Lopez decided to switch to attack mode in a bid to conclude his title-winning season on a high note. An outstanding time after nightfall saw him beat Jérémie Toedtli by more than 24 seconds!
Lopez completed the second leg with a cushion of four seconds over fellow Spaniard Efren Llarena, while Jean-Baptiste Franceschi was a further six seconds adrift in third place which he inherited when Patrick Magnou made an error on the day’s last test.
…before making a mistake!
Intent on making up some of the ground squandered the previous day, Patrick Magnou hit the ground running on Day 3, yet it was Efren Llarena who appeared on top after SS11 after Pepe Lopez damaged the rear suspension of his 208R2. The Spaniard was then forced to complete SS12 (32km) at slow speed, putting him out of contention for good.
The ‘Plan de la Tour’ stage was won by Jérémie Toedtli (CHL Sport Auto) who inherited third place following the demise of Patrick Magnou (off).
Llarena keeps his nerve
The final stage failed to change the order and Efren Llarena went on to secure the win on the same event that saw him make his 208 Rally Cup debut in 2015! Jean-Baptiste Franceschi ended up second (+8.2s), while Jérémie Toedtli survived his sluggish start to claim third spot and make sure of the year’s bronze medal.
The run of Anthony Fotia (Sainteloc Racing) was rewarded by fourth place, ahead of Brandon Maïsano (Automeca) who provided evidence of his improving form over the weekend. Guillaume De Ridder rounded out the top six to beat Pepe Lopez, William Wagner (PH Sport), Sébastien Bédoret (Pit Stop) and Sam Taveneau (PH Sport).
Aki Sahila (CHL Sport Auto) and Matthieu Autiero (FB Rally) both went unrewarded for their early speed after crashing out of the year’s finale.
Efren Llarena: “It was a great weekend. I’m obviously very pleased to have won given the changing conditions we had to deal with all weekend.”
Jean-Baptiste Franceschi: “I am happy with my performance and glad to have reached the finish. I gave it everything I had, so I’ve got no regrets!”
Jérémie Toedtli: “We posted some good times despite the tough conditions. It was a complex weekend all-round but I am pleased to have ended the year with a podium finish. That was my objective. On top of that, we are third in this year’s 208 Cup.”
FINAL CLASSIFICATION – RALLYE DU VAR (ROUND 7 OF 7)*
1, Efren Llarena/Sara Fernandez, 2h33m55.5s (Junior) (highest number of stage wins)
2, Jean-Baptiste Franceschi/Romain Courbon, +8.2s (Junior)
3, Jérémie Toedtli/Alexandre Chioso, +1m4.2s (Junior)
4, Anthony Fotia/Nicolas Laurent, +3m14.9s (Junior)
5, Brandon Maïsano/Pierre Pebeyre, +3m22.6s (Junior)
6, Guillaume De Ridder/Geoffrey Brion, +3m48.8s (Junior)
7, Pepe Lopez/Borja Rozada, +5m11.0s (Junior)
8, William Wagner/Antoine Paque, +7m9.4s (Junior)
9, Sébastien Bedoret/Thomas Walbrecq, +9m25.2s
10, Sam Taveneau/Clément Point, +16m14.0s (Junior)
FINAL POSITIONS – 2016 208 RALLY CUP (AFTER 7 ROUNDS)*
1, Pepe Lopez, 86 points (Junior)
2, William Wagner, 68 points (Junior)
3, Jérémie Toedtli, 59 points (Junior)
4, Andrea Carella, 47 points
5, Patrick Magnou, 44 points
6, Quentin Ribaud, 36 points (Junior)
(*) subject to the results of post-event scrutineering and confirmation of the official results by Peugeot Sport.