Dimitar Iliev can make it seven different winners in this year's Intercontinental Rally Challenge providing he can maintain his advantage out front when the Mabanol Sliven Rally concludes in Bulgaria on Sunday.
Iliev, who is on course for his sixth win on the asphalt rally located 300 kilometres east of the Bulgarian capital Sofia, moved in front on Saturday's opening test after trailing overnight leader Yagiz Avci by 4.0s following Friday night's superspecial stage around Sliven's Hadji Dimitar Stadium.
In high ambient and ground temperatures, the Bulgarian championship leader, in his Vivacom Rally Team Skoda Fabia Super 2000, recorded a trio of stage bests to reach the midday service in Sliven with a lead of 19.4s over Peugeot 207 S2000 pilot Petar Gyoshev. However, a slightly more measured approach in the afternoon, combined with an extremely cautious run through stage eight, which was coated in gravel in some sections, allowed Goyshev to trim his lead to 7.1s.
But Iliev hit back to win the day's closing test to hold a slender margin of 11.4s starting Sunday's final quartet of challenging stages. “We can go faster but I don't want to make any mistakes because I also need to think about the Bulgarian championship,” said Iliev. “However, the gap is not enough to relax so I will have to push a bit more tomorrow.”
Gyoshev endured an anxious start to the day while his ASC Prestige team rushed to repair damage the Bulgarian inflicted on his car when he struck a tree during SSS Sliven. But he slowly regained his composure to win two stages in the afternoon and has vowed to go on maximum attack on day two.
Krum Donchev, who began the day with a stage win having dropped time trying to reverse after a wrong turn on SSS Sliven, was in third place when he picked up a front-right puncture two kilometres into stage five. By having to stop and change the damaged tyre, the Globul Rally Team Peugeot driver languishes in fifth place overnight, 22.3s behind Prime Yalta Rally winner Yagiz Avci, who continues to build his limited experience of driving on asphalt in his Castrol Ford Team Türkiye M-Sport Fiesta S2000.
Todor Slavov is a hugely impressive third overall in his Renault Clio R3. The rising Bulgarian star, making his first full start of the season due to budgetary constraints, has shone throughout the day despite reporting an initial struggle to gain confidence as a result of his limited competition schedule.
Slavov tops the IRC 2WD Cup classification by almost two minutes ahead of Hungarian Menya Krózser, who dropped time on stage eight with an intercom fault. Behind Krozser, Martin Kangur holds seventh overall in his Catwees Honda Racing Civic Type R. The Estonian teenager admitted to a lack of confidence with his pacenotes in the morning but otherwise reported no problems.
Georgi Vasilev tops the IRC Production Cup category after class rivals Robert Consani and Marco Tempestini both hit trouble. A down-on-power engine plagued Consani throughout the day before a double driveshaft failure caused further frustration for the French driver. He holds 10th overall behind Turkish IRC 2WD Cup contender Murat Bostanci. Tempestini, meanwhile, lost time with a turbo problem on stage five, set the fastest Production Cup time on stage six only to stop on the subsequent road section with a loss of oil following a small fire.
Harry Hunt had been in the top 10 and second in the IRC 2WD Cup but dropped out of contention when he slid wide on a corner on a patch of gravel and got stranded for almost 15 minutes. Leading female driver Ekaterina Stratieva was plagued by a handling issue in the morning but is on course for a strong result in the IRC 2WD Cup.
Sunday's action consists of four stages and begins with the 15.28-kilometre Ablanovo stage at 10:30hrs local time. The finish is scheduled in Sliven at 14:00hrs.