Not just one important retirement among the front runners, but two, were the shocking news Rally de la República (round 3 of the Paraguayan Championship) offered today in the afternoon when the second leg was just about to finish.
SS9, penultimate of the day, showed two shocking news in a matter of minutes when both the leader, Gustavo Saba, and his main rival, Diego Domínguez, retired from the event. The current champion (co-driven by Fernando Mussano) had won special stages 5, 6 and 8 and had been second in SS7 when he found that, after the third consecutive jump in just a handful of meters, a strange noise came from the front end of his Volkswagen Polo GTI R5. One of the damper strut mounts collapsed and left Saba without any chance to go on. Although his team will find out more later, there is a possibility that some parts of the suspensions were harmed yesterday when the car left the road in fifth speed in a very fast off road.
Half a kilometer before that, Domínguez and Edgardo Galindo suffered an electrical failure in their Hyundai i20. It was a part feeding the fuel pump, the reason why the engine stopped. Both RC2 pro crews will res-start the event to score some extra points in Leg 3.
Clever tactics and a pace which allowed to always remain close to these more experienced names let Luis Maldonado Jr. grab the overall lead in his Škoda Fabia, co-driven by Jorge González.
In SS10, Maldonado was 7.4s faster than the Toyota Etios R5 of Alejandro Galanti and Leonardo Suaya, the new runner-up crew since then. Their gap between then was 46.62s. 1m48.25s off the pace, Miguel Zaldívar and Diego Cagnotti powered to third place the only Polo left in action.
Earlier, Zaldívar had been delayed by aching brakes and a scary, sudden temperature going too high in the exhaust system near the fuel tank, smoke in the cockpit included (a problem which caused some of these cars to catch fire elsewhere in the world). Despite that, the MZR driver won the ninth stage with an eight-second gap over Galanti. Meanwhile, the Toyota driver felt that something was still missing in terms of his car outright performance.
José Luis Jacquet was celebrating a welcome fourth position, almost four minutes and a half behind Maldonado, waiting for tomorrow to keep up to speed in order to retain that spot with one more of the Czech cars.
Top production entrant and first in RC2N Pro class was César Martínez Jr., now followed by his homonymous father, a bit less than five minutes slower. Yesterday, it was diesel South American Cross-Country champion Andrea Lafarja who held second, but the rally lady succumbed to a front wheel puncture and a blown turbocharger that wrapped her car in heavy smoke until she made it to parc fermé in Carapeguá. As Lafarja fell to fifth, Fernando Servín and Rubén González climbed to theird and fourth, respectively. They all run Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution X.
Front-wheel drive cars took the rest of the Top-10 overall positions. Álvaro Yaluk led the group (and RC3 Pro division) in a Citroën DS3. He and co-driver Fabrizio Roca agreed that the French product handled much better than in the Shakedown and only an overheated brake fluid and running behind Andrea Lafarja’s wounded Mitsubishi for a while made them lose some time.
Behind Yaluk, Diego Elizeche could barely select first and fourth speeds in his Honda Civic Si gearbox. He changed it in the mid-day service, getting a 20s penalty after the work, so the gap with his predecessor would grow to 50.90s. Elizeche leads the RC3 class. Sebastián Lafarja’s Civic Type R finished the day in tenth position in front of the faultless Toyota Corolla of Riyosuke Shima.
The Rodrigo Ocampos/Alejandro Álvarez duo was the one to beat in RC4 with an older specification of the Honda Civic Type R. The front suspension in the small Toyota Vitz driven by Arnaldo Duarte felt exhausted after a rough second Stage, so Félix Bareiro and Manuel Vera took first place in RC4L class using a 1.6 Volkswagen Gol.
Rafael Saurini and Joel Gómez (Toyota), in similar fashion to his Stage times yesterday, dominated RC5 class and –consequently- also the Etios Cup, leading Giulio Massagrande and the Gol of 2018 champion Nicolás Baeza.
Diego Domínguez Jr. had a painful afternoon because he experienced just the same incident than yesterday when a few wheel bolts in his Peugeot 208 R2 (RC4 Pro) broke and the front left tyre went off near the end of the day.
Photo: JES Audiovisual