FIA European Rally Championship / Rally di Roma Capitale / Crugnola overthrows De Tommaso with late Saturday push

Andrea Crugnola snatched the Rally di Roma Capitale lead on Saturday’s opening leg – dethroning event-long pacesetter Damiano De Tommaso late in the day.

De Tommaso – winner of Friday night’s curtain-raising super special in central Rome – was initially dominant in his Škoda Fabia Rally2 and outpaced Crugnola on the first five technical asphalt speed tests to open a slender advantage.

But as sizzling temperatures pushed the crews, cars and tyres to their limits in the penultimate 29.09km Santopadre – Fontana Liri test, Crugnola found his feet.

Mid-leg service set-up tweaks unlocked more traction from Crugnola’s Citroën C3 Rally2 and he charged to the fastest time by 9.8sec from De Tommaso to swoop into the lead. He then cemented that position by winning the finale to end the day 9.5sec in front.

This isn’t the first time Crugnola has led on a Saturday evening in Rome. The 33-year-old found himself in an identical situation last year, but eventually missed out on victory after puncturing on the final day.

“The fight is very, very tight,” Crugnola admitted. “Tomorrow, we start almost from zero again because we are very close with each other.

“The day has been good for me with no mistakes, but this morning I lost a bit of time because I was trying to manage the car too much in the long stage. Overall we can be pleased about our day,” he added.

Simone Campedelli finished 16.9sec behind De Tommaso to complete an all-Italian top three in an MRF-shod Škoda. A spin in the Roccasecca – Colle San Magno opener cost a handful of seconds but apart from that, his day went without drama.

The second passage of Santopadre – Fontana Liri also proved fruitful for Frenchman Yoann Bonato, who climbed from sixth to fourth overall. He ended just 8.7sec down on Campedelli, with championship leader Efrén Llarena only seven-tenths of a second behind in fifth.

If the rally were to end now, Llarena would not be crowned champion this weekend – but six punishing stages remain on Sunday so there’s plenty of time for that to change.

Simone Tempestini was setting podium-challenging pace until his Fabia began to understeer and he eventually trailed the frontrunners by 39.3sec in sixth overall. Despite dropping back, the Romanian remains on course to clinch the ERC-Michelin Talent Factory crown.

Giandomenico Basso – winner in 2021 – languishes in 11th overall with a Hyundai i20 N Rally2. He jump-started on two stages and received 1min 10sec of penalties. Without those errors, he would be just 2.7sec behind leader Crugnola.

Tet Rally Liepāja winner Mārtiņš Sesks went off the road on SS3 and dropped over 15 minutes, but the Latvian was able to continue despite being out of contention for an overall result.

Leading positions after Saturday:
1. A Crugnola / P Ometto (ITA) Citroën C3 56min 47.8sec
2. D De Tommaso / G Ascalone (ITA) Škoda Fabia +9.5sec
3. S Campedelli / T Canton (ITA) Škoda Fabia +26.4sec
4. Y Bonato / B Boulloud (FRA) Citroën C3 +35.1sec
5. E Llarena / S Fernández (ESP) Škoda Fabia +35.8sec
6. S Tempestini / S Itu (ROU) Škoda Fabia +39.3sec

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