Damiano De Tommaso seized victory at Rally di Roma Capitale as mechanical gremlins derailed Andrea Crugnola’s charge on Sunday’s final leg.
Local specialist De Tommaso led for the first five stages of the FIA European Rally Championship’s sixth round but relinquished the top spot late on Saturday afternoon when fellow Italian Crugnola outpaced him by 9.8sec on Santopadre – Fontana Liri.
The Škoda Fabia Rally2 driver began Sunday’s finale over 10 seconds behind his rival in second overall and conceded more time in the opening test.
Glory seemed almost guaranteed for Crugnola until Rocca di Cave – Subiaco 1 – the longest stage of the rally at 32.30km – provided a brutal sting in the tail and the pendulum swung back in De Tommaso’s favour.
An unresponsive throttle left Crugnola’s Citroën C3 Rally2 severely down on power and he spluttered through the morning’s last pair of stages, haemorrhaging time.
Repairs were made during the mid-leg service but they were too little, too late. Almost 1min 30sec had been lost and Crugnola plummeted down the order – cruelly missing out on the win for the second year in a row.
Crugnola’s demise left De Tommaso clear at the top and he cruised through the final loop to take the spoils by 10.5sec from Simone Campedelli, who enjoyed a trouble-free run in a Team MRF Tyres Fabia.
“I don’t have the words to describe this feeling,” beamed an elated De Tommaso. “I am very happy and I need to thank the team, Pirelli Tyres and all our mechanics.
“I enjoyed all the stages and our tyres were very, very good on this rally.”
Citroën C3 driver Yoann Bonato was locked into a dicing duel with championship leader Efrén Llarena and pipped the MRF Škoda man by just three-tenths of a second to fill the final podium spot.
Llarena made another major gain in his title bid and, while Nil Solans and Simone Tempestini remain mathematically in contention, the Spaniard holds a huge 58-point advantage with just 70 still to play for.
A dejected Crugnola fought back to claim fifth overall ahead of Tempestini, who trailed the frontrunners by 1min 11.8sec.
Tempestini’s Škoda began to understeer from Saturday afternoon onwards and, while the Romanian was unable to improve its handling, he clinched the ERC-Michelin Talent Factory series win. His prize includes 32 Michelin tyres to use in the final two rounds.
Early favourite Giandomenico Basso was forced to retire his Hyundai i20 N Rally2 after SS9 with accident damage. Similarly in trouble was Fabio Andolfi, whose Fabia stopped with a holed engine sump.
Alberto Battistolli – also driving a Škoda – looked set to finish 12th overall, but retired on the final road section with fuel pump failure.
The championship resumes next month with another spectacular asphalt fixture at Barum Czech Rally Zlín – which takes place from 26 – 28 August.
1. D De Tommaso / G Ascalone (ITA) Škoda Fabia 1hr 52min 37.5sec
2. S Campedelli / T Canton (ITA) Škoda Fabia +10.5sec
3. Y Bonato / B Boulloud (FRA) Citroën C3 +27.7sec
4. E Llarena / S Fernández (ESP) Škoda Fabia +28.0sec
5. A Crugnola / P Ometto (ITA) Citroën C3 +1min 06.8sec
6. S Tempestini / S Itu (ROU) Škoda Fabia +1min 11.8sec
Championship standings (after round 6 of 8):
1. E Llarena 137pts
2. S Tempestini 79pts
3. N Solans 70pts
The official Home of the FIA European Rally Championship: FIAERC.com