Ricardo Moura kicked off the Azores Airlines Rallye in style, going fastest during the FIA European Rally Championship’s first Qualifying Stage of the season.
Nine-time Azores rally champion Moura, who leads the Portuguese national championship, stamped his authority over the ERC field by setting a 1m52.808s time through the 3.12-kilometre Remédios qualifying stage, 0.4s faster than ERC regular Alexey Lukyanuk.
Born in host city Ponta Delgada, his local knowledge of the Azores stages gives him a minor advantage over ERC’s championship contenders. Moura made clear his fastest time would be a sign of things to come for the rest of the rally.
“The important thing is I need to feel instinct with the car – not thinking all the time – and that will come with the rally. With that [feeling], we will be fastest all the way through. A big thanks to everyone that made this possible.”
Fredrik Åhlin made an impressive start to his step up from the British Rally Championship, setting the pace amongst the ERC Junior Under 28 entrants and going third quickest overall with a 1:53.819s qualifying stage time.
Fellow BRC graduate Rhys Yates was equally impressive with second quickest time in Junior U28, half a second behind Åhlin in only his second ERC rally, setting a 1m54.275.
Last year’s ERC championship runner-up Bruno Magalhães went fifth quickest overall, ahead of Frank Tore Larsen, last year’s ERC Junior Under 27 champion Chris Ingram, Ricardo Teodósio, and PEUGEOT Rally Academy driver Laurent Pellier, who is making his championship debut with the help of ERC’s Junior Experience programme.
Behind Åhlin, Yates, Larsen, Ingram and Pellier in ERC Junior U28 was Pierre-Louis Loubet, who was still sixth quickest aboard his OSCARO-backed BRC Racing Team Hyundai i20 R5, despite recovering from an off in free practice.
Juan Carlos Alonso was quickest in a hotly-contested ERC2 battle with a time of 2m05.583, edging out Sergei Remennik’s Russian Performance Motorsport Mitsubishi Lancer Evo X by 0.062s. Tibor Érdi Jr. was third quickest, a mere 0.122s off Alonso’s time.
Tom Kristensson made a positive start to his factory ADAC Opel Rallye Junior Team debut in ERC, setting the quickest Qualifying Stage time in Junior Under 27 with a 2:02.502.
ERC Junior U27 drivers dominated the ERC3 category, as Diogo Gago, Rally Team Spain’s Efrén Llarena, Kristensson’s ADAC Opel team-mate Mārtiņš Sesks and Saintéloc Junior Team driver Simon Wagner completed the top five in both categories.
Paulo Nobre was not classified but made a valiant effort to participate in the Qualifying Stage, after the Palmeirinha Rally driver crashed into a bank and damaged his ŠKODA Fabia R5 during practice. Starting the stage late meant his time did not count, but was elated to have simply fixed the car to compete in the road order-deciding stage.
Crews will now head for Portas do Mar on Ponta Delgada’s shorefront for ERC’s 15 quickest drivers to choose their starting position for today’s three stages at 12h00 local time.