All aboard for Azores: ERC event preview

2021-09-14T16:37:46+02:00September 13th, 2021|2021, 55th Azores Rallye|

ESSENTIALS What: 2021 FIA European Rally Championship round 5 of […]

ESSENTIALS
What: 2021 FIA European Rally Championship round 5 of 8*
When: September 16-18, 2021
Where: Ponta Delgada, São Miguel
Stages: 13
Stage distance: 
201.74 kilometres
Liaison distance: 
443.40 kilometres
Total distance: 
645.14 kilometres
Surface: 
Gravel
ERC appearances (since 2004 restructuring): 7 (2013-2019)
*Also counting for: FIA ERC2, FIA ERC3, FIA European Rally Championship for Teams. ERC-MICHELIN Talent Factory incentives available

Recent winners:
2019: Łukasz Habaj/Daniel Dymurski (Škoda Fabia R5)
2018: 
Alexey Lukyanuk/Alexey Arnautov (Ford Fiesta R5)
2017: 
Bruno Magalhães/Hugo Magalhães (Škoda Fabia R5)
2016: 
Ricardo Moura/António Costa (Ford Fiesta R5)
2015: 
Craig Breen/Scott Martin (Peugeot 208 T16)

The rally in 100 words:
Based on the mid-Atlantic Ocean archipelago’s largest island of São Miguel, the rally turns 55 in 2021 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.

The main changes for 2021:
Postponed from 2020, the 55th Azores Rallye essentially runs to an all-new format with the traditional forestry stages on the east of São Miguel now running on the opening leg rather than the closing leg. It means the westerly stages now take place on the final day with the Sete Cidades volcano stage deciding the outcome of the ERC gravel spectacular. The rally also conforms to the FIA’s requirement to contain events within a four-day window. As a result, the traditional Thursday afternoon stages disappear with all the stage action contained over two days. COVID-19 restrictions mean the City Show on Ponta Delgada’s seafront won’t run this year.

The route in short:
Thursday September 16: Following the completion of reconnaissance on Thursday morning, the focus quickly switches to Free Practice from 13h00 local time (CET -2) and then the Qualifying Stage from 15h18 when the ERC priority drivers will be in action on the 3.12-kilometre Lagoa run east of Ponta Delgada.

Friday September 17: The morning loop takes crews to the far east of São Miguel for the jungle-like Tronqueira stage via the rally’s longest test, Graminhais, which measures 24.03 kilometres in length. There’s a single visit to Lagoa de São Brás on the journey back to mid-leg service in Ponta Delgada. Then it’s returns to Graminhais and Tronqueira in the afternoon with the Grupo Marques two-by-two superspecial north of Ponta Delgada rounding out day one, which covers 111.90 competitive kilometres.

Saturday September 18: Saturday’s deciding leg runs over a timed distance of 89.84 kilometres and begins with a trip north from Ponta Delgada to Coroa da Mata followed by a journey west to Feteiras ahead of the first charge through the iconic Sete Cidades volcano stage. There’s a return to the Grupo Marques superspecial prior to service in the capital, Ponta Delgada. Coroa da Mata and Feteiras are repeated in the afternoon with the rerun of Sete Cidades deciding the outcome of the 55th Azores Rallye from 15h53 local time live on Facebook and YouTube.

OVERVIEW
Part two of the all-action 2021 FIA European Rally Championship is go from September 16-18 as the ever-spectacular Azores Rallye returns with a talent-packed entry and a vastly altered route.

After four ERC rounds, Andreas Mikkelsen holds top spot in the race to win the coveted FIA title having capitalised on Alexey Lukyanuk’s non-start on Barum Czech Rally Zlín following a crash in testing.  Norwegian Mikkelsen’s runner-up placing in Zlín means he’s 30 points ahead of his Russian rival with both drivers aiming to add a second Azores Rallye victory to their impressive CVs.

But it’s not only Lukyunak that Mikkelsen will be aiming to beat. Miko Marczyk, Efrén Llarena and Norbert Herczig have been scoring strong points consistently this season, while a trio of Azores rookies – Yoann Bonato, Umberto Scandola and Nil Solans – all have what it takes to shine on gravel.

Ricardo Moura, the 10-time Azorean champion and 2016 Azores winner, remains a huge threat. Erik Cais will be aiming to hit back from his final-stage exit in Zlín when a first ERC victory was in his sights, while Dani Sordo adds World Rally Championship event-winning pedigree to the mix.

ERC3 Junior graduate Pedro Antunes will also be one to watch on his first ERC event in a Rally2 car, while Rachele Somaschini joins Cais, Llarena and Marczyk in chasing ERC-MICHELIN Talent Factory incentives. Like Somaschini, Mexican ERC newcomer Benito Guerra makes his Azores debut.

After consecutive events on gravel in Poland and Latvia, the ERC switched to Tarmac for rounds three and four, Rally di Roma Capitale and Barum Czech Rally Zlín. But it’s back to mainly gravel roads when the 55th Azores Rallye provides another intense test for the ERC stars and their FIA rally category cars.

The Azores Rallye has been part of the ERC roster since Eurosport Events was appointed promoter by the FIA in 2013, its COVID-enforced cancellation of 2020 aside. As well as the 21 crews chasing success in Rally2 cars, the ERC2 division is an all-Rally2 Kit affair, while ERC3 will be a battle between Rally4 cars from Peugeot and Renault. Polish driver Igor Widłak brings a Rally3-specificaiton Ford Fiesta from M-Sport Poland to the Azores for the first time.

While the ERC’s focus remains on providing a clear path of progression for drivers aiming for the top of the sport, it continues to be open to all-comers with a vast array of driver age and experience.

Administered by the FIA and promoted by Eurosport Events, the ERC is the established step-up series to the FIA World Rally Championship and is backed up by a global broadcast package, which includes extensive coverage on the various Eurosport platforms. Four stages on each event are shown live on Facebook and YouTube, while ERC Radio is on-air from all events.

Provisional standings following round four of eight are available by clicking HERE.

ERC-MICHELIN TALENT FACTORY INITIATIVE SUPPORTS EMERGING STARS
FIA European Rally Championship promoter Eurosport Events is delighted to announce the creation of the ERC-MICHELIN Talent Factory for the new season. Recognising the achievements of registered ERC drivers aged 28 and under at the start of 2021 competing in the championship in Rally2 cars on MICHELIN tyres, the ERC-MICHELIN Talent Factory also offers a number of incentives, including special tyre prices on first six events of ERC 2021 with the best performing driver receiving their full tyre allocation for the final two events of the season from MICHELIN. VIP visits to MICHELIN’s Clermont-Ferrand headquarters in France for the three best performing ERC-MICHELIN Talent Factory members following the first six events of the season are also provided. Click HERE for more information.

P1 RACING FUELS PODIUM CHALLENGE REWARDS ERC DRIVERS
The P1 Racing Fuels Podium Challenge continues in 2021 and rewards the top three finishes in ERC1 and ERC2 on each round with fuel vouchers that can be exchanged for P1 XR5 race fuel at subsequent events, helping competitors to further reduce the cost of competing. Across both categories, the winning drivers receive 150 litres of fuel, while the second and third placed drivers receive 100L and 50L respectively. Click HERE for more information.

AZORES RALLYE TALKING POINTS
*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) 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.

HOW TO FOLLOW?
On TV and online:
There will be live coverage, including from the ERC’s camera in the sky, plus expert commentary and analysis from Julian Porter and Chris Rawes, on Facebook and YouTube of the following:

Pre-event press conference: 18h30 CET -2, Thursday September 16 on Facebook, YouTube

SS2: Tronqueira 1 (21.89kms) from 10h21 CET -2, Friday September 17 on Facebook, YouTube

SS5: Tronqueira 2 (21.89kms) from 15h35 CET -2, Friday September 17 on Facebook, YouTube

SS9: Sete Cidades 1 (24.01kms) from 10h54 CET -2, Saturday September 18 on Facebook, YouTube

SS13: Sete Cidades 2 (24.01kms) from 15h53 CET -2, Saturday September 18 on Facebook, YouTube

Leg one highlights: Eurosport, 22h30 CET, Friday September 17 (check local listings for details)

Leg two highlights: Eurosport, 24h00 CET, Saturday September 18 (check local listings for details)

ERC All Access: Eurosport, 22h40 CET, Tuesday September 21 (check local listings for details)

Videos, news update and live timing: Available at FIAERC.com

ERC Radio: Live from the end of stages. Available at FIAERC.com or download the official ERC App

Social media: Follow the ERC on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter

AZORES RALLYE FIVE FACTS
1: When it comes to Azores Rallye success look no further than Fernando Peres, the event’s record-holding seven-time winner.
2: While Ricardo Moura has multiple Azorean championship titles to his name, his Azores Rallye triumph in 2016 was his first on his home round of the ERC.
3: Other winners include WRC stars past and present, such as Craig Breen, Kris Meeke, Andreas Mikkelsen, Juha Kankkunen, Markko Märtin and Bruno Thiry.
4: The Azores archipelago is located roughly equidistant between Lisbon and New York and is made up of nine islands. The fertile soil is perfect for a variety of crops and grazing for livestock.
5: A typical Azorean meal is cozido das fumas stew, cooked in the ground using one pot only.