The battle for victory on round five of the FIA European Rally Championship is tightly poised starting Saturday's final six stages, with Bernardo Sousa now leading the SATA Rallye Açores following a dramatic day in the mid-Atlantic.
The Ford Fiesta RRC driver may hold the overnight advantage, but Kevin Abbring is firmly in contention, currently 6.3s behind in the remaining Peugeot 208T16 following Craig Breen's retirement with an electrical fire at the end of stage nine.
In an incident-packed second day, local hero Ricardo Moura retired on the opening stage breaking his Fiesta R5's suspension on a rock on a second-gear left-hander, which also accounted for Kajetan Kajetanowicz's similar car. The Pole was 0.9s behind erstwhile leader Breen at the completion of Thursday's stages, but his hopes of a debut win in the Açores were soon dashed. The LOTOS Rally Team driver will restart on Saturday, and Moura is expected to do likewise in the car he is using in competition for the first time.
With two of the leading contenders out, the focus switched to the battle for top spot between Peugeot Rally Academy team-mates Kevin Abbring and Craig Breen, which unravelled when Breen dropped out shortly after he claimed his fourth stage win of the all-gravel spectacular.
and RTP Açores
were broadcasting live when Abbring's powersteering failed on the penultimate stage. Although he was able to complete the run, what would have been a comfortable lead over Sousa was reduced considerably for the final stage. Following makeshift repairs, which involved using cable ties to fashion a replacement belt to drive the alternator and powersteering - “I am not really a mechanic so it is a miracle I am here” - Abbring was able to make it through the closing test, albeit having lost his advantage over Sousa, who turned 27 on the day.
“The bad luck cannot happen only to me,” said Sousa, who has been competing since the start of the event with no launch control on his Fiesta following a sensor failure, “Of course I would like to be winning on the road, not for the mechanical problems of the others, but they had some benefit with my problems. I will fight like hell to win this rally, it's achievable but I have to be very smart.”
Behind the troubled Abbring, Vasily Gryazin is a strong third for Sports Racing Technologies. The 20-year old Russian's only major concern occurred when he bashed the right-rear suspension of his Fiesta S2000 on a bank during the morning loop. Double Açores winner Bruno Magalhães is fourth despite having to start stage WW with three inflated tyres after a double tyre failure left him with no spares. He completed the final stage with smoke rising from his 207 S2000.
Pedro Meireles is fifth overnight with Jean-Michel Raoux sixth and Adruzilo Lopes the top ERC Production Car Cup contender in seventh followed by Luis Rego and Ruben Rodrigues. Stéphane Lefebvre, the runaway leader in ERC 2WD and ERC Junior is tenth with ERC stalwart Antonín Tlusťák eleventh after he was able to up his pace in the afternoon following set-up changes. A double driveshaft failure and a spate of punctures leaves Robert Consani languishing in 13th overnight.
Vitaliy Pushkar's hopes of a second ERC Production Car Cup win of 2014 were dashed when he stopped on the second Sete Cidades stage, where Jaroslav Orsák retired with broken suspension first time through. Martin Hudec lost time stopping to change a puncture. Jan Černý, the ERC Junior Championship leader, retired when he rolled on stage nine. Risto Immonen is second in the category followed by Briton Chris Ingram, Italian Fabio Andolfi and Belgians Gino Bux and Guillaume Dilley. Andrea Crugnola retired with clutch failure.
The 49th running of SATA Rallye Açores concludes on Saturday with six stages over a competitive distance of 99.75 kilometres.