All aboard for Azores: ERC talking points
It’s 55th Azores Rallye week. Here are just some of the talking points ahead of round five of the 2021 FIA European Rally Championship.
*Andreas Mikkelsen couldn’t be happier ahead of his Azores Rallye return for the first time since his victorious outing in 2012. He describes the event as “one of my absolute favourite rallies in the world” and heads the FIA European Rally Championship standings after four rounds. Driving a Škoda Fabia Rally2 Evo for Toksport WRT, Mikkelsen has called up British co-driver Elliott Edmondson to guide him through the spectacular stages.
*Mikkelsen’s rise to the top of the ERC table was eased when Alexey Lukyanuk (Citroen C3 Rally2) was unable to start the last round in Czech Republic following a car-wrecking testing crash. A repeat of his 2018 victory will reignite the Russian’s title ambitions, the Saintéloc Junior Team driver is currently 30 points behind Mikkelsen.
*ORLEN Team’s Miko Marczyk, the 2019 Polish champion, makes his Azores debut second in the points 19 adrift of Mikkelsen but only two ahead of Rallye Team Spain’s Efrén Llarena, who took an ERC3/ERC Junior double on the Azores Rallye two years ago.
*Norbert Herczig (Škoda Rally Team Hungaria, pictured) is fifth in the standings but equal on points with Lukyanuk and continues to show impressive form in his Fabia Rally2 Evo, also the car of choice for Azores newcomer Nil Solans (Rallye Team Spain), last season’s Spanish Gravel champion.
*Erik Cais can count on Azores experience gained from his debut in 2019, although the Czech visited São Miguel last September having already booked his flight tickets prior to the rally’s cancellation due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Cais, 22, was on course to return to the Azores an ERC winner only to crash out on the final stage of Barum Czech Rally Zlín. But having come so close to a first ERC victory on the last round, the Yacco ACCR Team driver most now show his pace on gravel aboard his Ford Fiesta Rally2.
*World Rally Championship event winner Dani Sordo has been recruited by Team MRF Tyres for its ongoing tyre development programme, which Jari Huttunen and former Azores winner Craig Breen have also contributed to in 2021. Although Sordo and Team MRF Tyres are new to the Azores Rallye, Cándido Carrera co-drove José Antonio Suárez on the event in 2011 and 2017, while Breen scored a podium for the Team MRF Tyres on the last gravel-based round of the ERC, July’s Rally Liepāja.
*Yoann Bonato (CHL Sport Auto Citroën) and Umberto Scandola (Hyundai Rally Team Italia) are preparing to sample the Azorean stages for the first time but are known quantities on loose surfaces.
*Home hero Ricardo Moura is a 10-time Azorean champion and scored a memorable Azores Rallye victory in 2016. Luis Rego is another rapid local driver aiming for the top, while their fellow islander, Rafael Botelho, makes his ERC debut 18 months later than originally planned following last year’s cancellation.
*Bruno Amaral, Aloísio Monteiro, Ruben Rodrigues and emerging talent Pedro Antunes, an ERC3 Junior graduate who is in his first season at Rally2 level, are also flying the Portuguese flag on their home round of the ERC.
*Rachele Somaschini, one of four ERC-MICHELIN Talent Factory members in action, has described her Azores debut as a “dream come true”. As well as building her limited experience behind the wheel of her Citroën C3 Rally2, the Italian will use the event to promote #CorrerePerUnRespiro (Race for a Breath), which aims to raise awareness of cystic fibrosis, a condition from which she suffers.
*Daniel Dymurski, who co-drove Łukasz Habaj to Azores glory in 2019, returns to partner fellow Pole Igor Widłak in a Ford Fiesta Rally3.
*After scoring points on his ERC debut on ORLEN 77th Rally Poland in June, Adrian Chwietczuk makes his second start in the FIA European Rally Championship. But while the Azores is all-new for the Polish promise, co-driver Jarek Baran partnered Kajetan Kajetanowicz on four previous starts in Ponta Delgada, claiming two podium finishes.
*Luis Vilariño claimed top-15 finish on his last ERC appearance in Czech Republic and will look to build on that performance when he competes in the Azores for the first time.
*Having achieved success in the World Rally Championship, Benito Guerra makes his ERC debut on the Azores Rallye, the rapid Mexican set to compete in a Škoda Fabia Rally2 Evo.
*The ERC2 line-up features four drivers in Rally2 Kit cars, Victor Cartier (Toyota Yaris Rally2 Kit), plus Dmitry Feofanov and Suzuki Motor Ibérica pair Javier Pardo and Joan Vinyes, who will all drive the Suzuki Swift Rally2 Kit.
*Points leader Pep Bassas (Peugeot 208 Rally4) will battle Renault Clio Rally4 drivers Jean-Baptise Franceschi and Ola Jr Nore for ERC3 honours. None of this exciting trio have competed in the Azores before making it a level playing field.