ERC 2018: the rallies in 100 words
Eight events will make up the 2018 FIA European Rally Championship. Here’s a recap of each in 100 words.
Azores Airlines Rallye (22-24 March)
Based on the mid-Atlantic archipelago’s largest island of São Miguel, the rally celebrated its half-century in 2015 and remains one of the most spectacular events on the international calendar. Stages criss-cross breath-taking scenery and lush countryside and are characterised by their sandy surface and narrow and undulating nature. And because the timed tests are often no wider than the width of a car, there is simply no margin for error, particularly on the Sete Cidades test along the rim of a volcanic crater lake. Changeable weather is also a factor with conditions switching from sunshine to showers and fog patches.
Rally Islas Canarias (3-5 May)
With the stages climbing and descending at a frequent rate, drivers pay close attention to corner speed and lines to ensure optimal momentum is maintained, while precise car set-up and pacenote accuracy are vital. One of the notable features of the sealed stages is the abrasive surface, constructed partly from volcanic lava. It means grip levels are high and remain constant if it rains, although tyre wear can increase. However, with the opportunity to take ‘cuts’ through corners limited, the roads remain relatively debris-free. Returning to the ERC schedule in 2016, it’s a rally big on challenge and spectator numbers.
Acropolis Rally (1-3 June)
For more than 60 years, the Acropolis Rally has made heroes and broken hearts. Throughout that time, its legendary status has remained undiminished with the 2017 edition offering the usual mix of triumph (for Kajetan Kajetanowicz) and despair (for Nikolay Gryazin, who was leading when his car was gutted by fire). An ERC regular until 1968, the event returned to the European championship in 2014 when Loutraki on the banks of the Gulf of Corinth hosted the 60th running, a mixed-surface affair. Now run in partnership with the OMAE Greek federation on gravel only, Lamia has been home since 2016.
Cyprus Rally (15-17 June)
Since 1970, the Cyprus Rally has put car and crew to a significant test. And while the current format is a little less taxing than it once was, underestimating the challenging nature of this rallying heavyweight would be a big mistake. To mark its return to the ERC roster in 2014 for the first time since 1999, a ground-breaking street stage through the United Nations-controlled Buffer Zone between Nicosia’s Greek Cypriot and Turkish inhabited areas was organised and generated considerable interest. Although fundamentally a gravel rally, Tarmac sections feature while the June date makes for punishing ambient and ground temperatures.
Rally di Roma Capitale (20-22 July)
The progression of this exciting asphalt event, organised and promoted by Motorsport Italia, has been remarkable. Having run for the first time in 2013, Rally di Roma Capitale made its ERC debut in 2017 as Italy returned to the European championship for the first time since 2013 when Rallye Sanremo was on the calendar. It proved a big hit with a driving parade through the centre of Rome, a spectacular spectator stage around the Palazzio della Civiltà del Lavoro in the EUR district, followed by two days of action-packed rallying on stages to the east and south-east of the capital.
Barum Czech Rally Zlín (24-26 August)
Ever-present in the ERC since the championship’s streamlining in 2004, Barum Czech Rally Zlín is based in the South Moravian university city, 300 kilometres south of the Czech capital Prague. It is a Tarmac test like no other due to the bumpy and sometimes broken nature of the road surface. To add to the challenge, several stages feature high-speed blasts through forests and intermittent showers are always possible. While the weather might be hard to predict, huge numbers of fans follow the action, especially on the opening night-time Zlín superspecial stage. The rally has a long-term contract with the ERC.
Rally Poland (21-23 September) One of the world’s oldest rallies is back on the ERC calendar in 2018 after a five-year break as Rally Poland replaces Rally Rzeszow as the country’s round of the European championship for its 75th edition. First run in 1921, Rally Poland’s home since 2005 has been Mikołajki in the picturesque Mazurian lake district, a three-hour drive north from the capital Warsaw, where high-speed all-gravel stages are commonplace. And it was in Mikołajki where Kajetan Kajetanowicz first emerged as a major force in the ERC, taking the win in 2013 prior to beginning his record-breaking title treble sequence in 2015.
Rally Liepāja (12-14 October)
The brainchild of rally driver turned promoter Raimonds Strokšs and first run to great acclaim in 2013, Rally Liepāja was originally a winter event but switched to the autumn for 2016. The new date effectively made for an all-new rally as crews adjusted to gravel stages free of snow and ice. Although the time of year had changed, the high-speed stages in western Latvia continued to thrill drivers and spectators alike. And with its new format now firmly established, this forward-thinking rally serves as a fitting season finale with Liepāja proving to be a popular destination for fans and competitors.