|Efrén Llarena and Sara Fernández have sealed the 2022 FIA European Rally Championship title ahead of Barum Czech Rally Zlín (26 – 28 August)*.
Simone Tempestini’s late withdrawal from this week’s penultimate round in the Czech Republic leaves Llarena and Fernández with an unassailable points lead – confirming the Spanish pairing as champions.
Llarena, who finished runner-up to Andreas Mikkelsen in 2021, becomes the first Spanish ERC champion since Antonio Zanini in 1980, while Fernández secures back-to-back co-drivers’ championship titles. Their achievements will be celebrated with a presentation on Friday in Zlín before the rally starts.
With finishes at every single round so far, consistency has been the key factor in Llarena and Fernández’s success.
After joining Team MRF Tyres at the beginning of the year, their season got off to a rocky start when they ended 12th overall at Rally Serras de Fafe – Felgueiras – Cabreira e Boticas after suffering radiator damage on the opening day. But, since then, they have never looked back.
Driving a Škoda Fabia Rally2 Evo, the duo stole a standout maiden victory at the Azores Rallye in March when they passed long-time leader Ricardo Moura at the final hour with an enthralling Power Stage push.
Second overall on the asphalt roads of Rally Islas Canarias preceded a fourth-place finish on high-speed gravel terrain in Poland, which ensured yet another solid haul of points.
They followed MRF team-mate Mārtiņš Sesks home to confirm a 1-2 finish at Tet Rally Liepāja and, last time out in Italy, finished fourth overall once again.
MRF Tyres first joined the ERC in 2020 and undertook an aggressive development campaign. That hard work has now paid off, with the rubber giant becoming the first-ever Indian manufacturer to win a championship in top-level European rallying.
“I have no words,” beamed Llarena. “It’s a dream – a dream which started four years ago when we were the first crew to compete in the ERC with the colours of Rally Team Spain. We achieved the ERC3 Junior championship and also the ERC3 championship and now, to get the overall title, it’s fantastic.
“This is a very important year for MRF. We tried our best and put all our effort into the tyre development, so I think we worked really hard in one direction. It has been great work from everyone: the engineers, the team and everybody who has been involved,” he added.
Mr, Arun Mammen, Vice-Chairman & Managing Director of MRF Tyres, said, “It is a very happy and momentous occasion to capture this first European Rally Championship for us at MRF Tyres. It is a testament to the work put in by our entire team to come up with championship-winning tyres which have performed at the top level in European rallying, thereby showcasing our superior technical capabilities.
“I would like to congratulate Efrén Llarena and Sara Fernández for achieving this feat, and our other drivers who have supported our team in achieving this historic effort. It is indeed a very prestigious and proud moment for us to be crowned European Rally Champions 2022.”
FIA European Rally Championship manager Iain Campbell was full of praise for the new champions.
“On behalf of WRC Promoter and the FIA ERC, I’d like to pass on my congratulations to Efrén Llarena and Sara Fernández on becoming our 2022 champions. They have performed exceptionally all season.
“Furthermore, I also want to congratulate Team MRF Tyres on making history with this breakthrough win.”
Campbell went on to explain that every effort had been made to ensure Tempestini’s participation in Barum Czech Rally Zlín.
“We actively pursued all opportunities to guarantee Simone Tempestini’s participation in the event. We did this to ensure our full support for the rally and for the championship,” he said.
“Unfortunately, despite our endeavours, Simone could not be persuaded to start the rally, although he hopes to compete at the final round in Spain.”
*Subject to FIA World Motor Sport Council approval