Miko Marczyk is on course for victory on home soil at Orlen 78th Rally Poland after rival Nil Solans went off the road on Saturday’s penultimate test.
The Škoda Fabia Rally2 Evo star will start Sunday’s final leg with a hefty 20.4sec advantage over Tom Kristensson after pulling clear on what turned out to be a disastrous day for Solans, who led for the majority.
Just nine-tenths of a second separated the pair as the championship’s fourth round got underway in earnest following Friday evening’s super special stage – and a thrilling battle developed on the superfast gravel stages.
Marczyk and Solans were in a league of their own as they traded blows throughout the opening loop, although the Spaniard stretched his legs with a blistering time on the final stage of the morning to carry a 4.6sec advantage into the afternoon.
Solans added another 0.8sec to his assault over the next two speed tests before drama struck on the second pass of Wieliczki. The steering broke following a heavy compression and he became a passenger as his Hyundai i20 N Rally2 slid off into a ditch and out of the rally.
His demise left Marczyk all alone at the front and the Pole was in high spirits as he returned to the Mikołajki service park.
“I am very happy to be honest,” reflected the leader. “It was a big day for us and this rally is something special for me because I made another step in my development.
“We drove today not only on stages we knew from the past, but we also had some new stages which were very good. We are here and I am very happy.
“It’s not good that Nil isn’t here, but this is part of the rally game. Tomorrow is a long day, but I am in good shape and I will try,” he added.
Solans’ KOWAX Racing team-mate Kristensson showed impressive pace aboard his first-generation i20 R5 and is clearly enjoying his first ERC start since 2018.
The Swede came under increasing pressure from those behind and ended 5.6sec in front of Fiesta Rally2 man Ken Torn, who leapfrogged Team MRF Tyres Škoda driver Efrén Llarena in the final stage.
With Solans out of contention, Llarena is on course to extend his championship lead. He is a mere 0.3sec back from the podium, while Simone Tempestini finished another 5.0sec down to round out the top five in his Škoda.
The rest of the leaderboard comprised of Fabia cars, headed by sixth-placed Adrian Chwietczuk.
He trailed the leaders by 1min 4.4sec at close of play with Grzegorz Gzryb, Filip Mareš and Alberto Battistolli hot in pursuit. Javier Pardo was over two minutes off the pace in 10th and picked up 50sec in time penalties for a late check-in caused by an engine fault.
ERC3 category leader Robert Virves was 11th overall with an M-Sport Poland Ford Fiesta Rally3, while Mārtiņš Sesks tops the ERC Open standings.
Simone Campedelli languishes well down the order after spending over 20min stuck in a ditch on the first stage of the day, with his MRF team-mate Norbert Herczig also sitting outside the top ten after being dealt a 1min penalty for an early check-in.
Vaidotas Žala suffered a similar fate to Solans when a suspension damper broke on his Fabia. The Latvian had been running as high as eighth at the time.
Leading positions after Saturday:
1. M Marczyk / S Gospodarczyk (POL) Škoda Fabia 55min 36.8sec
2. T Kristensson / A Johansson (SWE) Hyundai i20 +20.4sec
3. K Torn / K Pannas (EST) Ford Fiesta +26.0sec
4. E Llarena / S Fernández (ESP) Škoda Fabia +26.3sec
5. S Tempestini / S Itu (ROU) Škoda Fabia +31.3sec
6. A Chwietczuk / D Syty (POL) Škoda Fabia +1min 4.4sec
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