Rally Fafe Montelongo wasn’t quite the return to the FIA European Rally Championship – or birthday treat – Ekaterina Stratieva had hoped for.

The multiple ERC Ladies’ Trophy winner and championship stalwart was in sixth position in the ERC3 category when trouble struck on stage 11 of the Portuguese Tarmac event.

“It wasn't the best birthday present, but it's part of the game,” said the Bulgarian, who had worked tirelessly to secure her first start in this season’s ERC in a Peugeot 208 R2. “Overall, Rally Fafe turned out to be quite an interesting race, the stages looked very technical and tricky, but at the same time quite fast. The specific thing was to find the right setting and the right tyres [for the weather conditions].”

“I had the feeling that we were constantly with the wrong settings and wrong tyres on the first day – it was not my day. My [Saintéloc] team my [co-driver] Georgi [Avramov] all did their best but it always looked like something was missing.

“On Saturday night we upgrade again some things in the car and on Sunday, everything changed. We left quite confident and with the right settings and tyres. I was so happy that finally I feel the rally. All was great on SS10 but, unfortunately, on the SS11 the car started to indicate an elevated temperature. Everything happened very quickly and at one point it reached 142 degrees.

“I didn't want to believe it was a problem because I had a similar situation, but it turned out that the problem was from some sensor, not the engine. We had to return the gas and after the temperature continued to rise we stopped.

“We immediately saw that the water pump belt was broken and Georgi and I started changing it. It was not easy because everything was crazy hot. The space was very tight and we were also with helmets because of the situation that we are in the special stage and it takes longer time.

“Unfortunately, after we changed everything and went to the next control, seven minutes separated us from the start. Automatically the race was over for us.

“I'm sorry about what happened, but I definitely liked it there and I'll be happy if I have the opportunity to do one day the whole race.

“The car is now in France at Saintéloc and the engine is to be inspected and prepared for the upcoming races.”

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