ERC event preview: Barum Czech Rally Zlin
While the battle for the overall FIA European Rally Championship is still wide open with three events left, next week’s Barum Czech Rally Zlín takes on huge importance for five young hopefuls aiming to prove they have the talent to take title glory in the fiercely competitive ERC1 Junior and ERC3 Junior categories.
The sealed-surface event based in Zlín, the South Moravian university city, from 16-18 August marks the deciding rounds of the ERC’s two young driver divisions when two prize packages, each worth 100,000 euros, will be up for grabs.
Briton Chris Ingram and Czech Filip Mareš will face-off for the ERC1 Junior crown – the class for drivers in R5 cars aged 28 and under. As well as a prestigious FIA title, the winner will get 100,000 euros to contest the season closing ERC events in Cyprus and Hungary where they will bid for overall honours. ERC3 Junior, meanwhile, is a three-way fight for glory between Estonia’s Ken Thorn, Spaniard Efrén Llarena and Norwegian Sindre Furuseth. Drivers aged 27 and under compete in R2 cars on Pirelli tyres.
Ever-present in the ERC since the championship’s streamlining in 2004, Barum Czech Rally Zlín is a sealed-surface test like no other due to the bumpy and sometimes broken nature of the roads. To add to the challenge, several stages feature high-speed blasts through forests. 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. Taking place two weeks earlier than normal, Barum Czech Rally Zlín will also host the Czech championship decider.
Of the major route tweaks, the return of the legendary Pindula after a one-year absence leads the changes, which also include the Qualifying Stage running in reverse direction and the revival of the Kostelany test.
Once again Barum Czech Rally Zlín organisers have attracted a packed entry featuring some of the best drivers in the host country, across Europe and beyond. Fifty-seven crews with priority status appear on the list of registrations, which total 137 entries across all events.
Barum Czech Rally Zlín in 100 words
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.
What’s new for 2019?
Taking place two weeks earlier than normal, Barum Czech Rally Zlín will host the final ERC Junior rounds of the season as well as the Czech championship decider. Of the major route tweaks, the return of the legendary Pindula after a one-year absence leads changes, which also include the Qualifying Stage running in reverse direction and the revival of the Kostelany stage.
Changes to the ERC for 2019 include the renaming of the ERC Junior categories: ERC Junior Under 28 becomes ERC1 Junior, ERC Junior U27 becomes ERC3 Junior with continued support from Pirelli. R4-K and RGT cars are eligible for ERC2 points, the Abarth Rally Cup will be contested over six ERC rounds, while Rally Hungary joins the calendar for the first time as the deciding round in November.
*Defending champion Alexey Lukyanuk starts Barum Czech Rally Zlín leading the ERC standings for the first time in 2019. The Saintéloc Junior Team driver’s advantage of six points over erstwhile pacesetter Łukasz Habaj (Sports Racing Technologies) follows a low-scoring Rally di Roma Capitale for the Polish star, and a fourth-place finish for the Russian.
*Jan Kopecký, winner of the 2013 ERC title, is bidding for a fifth consecutive Barum Czech Rally Zlín victory in his factory ŠKODA Fabia R5, plus a fifth straight domestic crown (he leads the standings ahead of the Zlín-based national season finale). Kopecký is one of six drivers armed with the new Evo version of the Fabia for his home round of the European championship.
*Double ERC Junior champion Marijan Griebel also has a Fabia R5 Evo at his disposal, as do Tomáš Kostka, Simon Wagner, Albert von Thurn und Taxis and Aloísio Monteiro. See separate sections for more on Kostka’s road cycle racing exploits and Wagner’s step up in performance.
*The battle for the ERC1 Junior crown (and 100,000 euros to use for the final ERC rounds in Cyprus and Hungary) will be a straight fight between Chris Ingramand home hope Filip Mareš, who is backed by his country’s ASN, the Autoklub of the Czech Republic. Meanwhile, it’s a three-way fight in the Pirelli-supported ERC3 Junior Championship between Ken Torn, Efrén Llarena and Sindre Furuseth. The winner gets two rounds of next year’s ERC in an R5 car as his prize.
*Nikolay Gryazin is taking up his second of two prize drivers from promoter Eurosport Events for winning the ERC1 Junior Championship in 2018 with Sports Racing Technologies.
*Former ERC Junior regular Jan Černý returns to European action having finished third on the last two rounds of the Czech championship. He’s third in his domestic table, one place ahead of Václav Pech, the last driver to win in Zlín prior to Jan Kopecký starting his run of success in 2015.
*MOL Racing Team’s Norbert Herczig, the winner of four Hungarian titles, will be hoping to make amends in his Volkswagen Polo GTI R5 after crashing out in Zlín in 2018. He does so after a strong run in Italy last month. Experienced Czech Vojtĕch Štajfis also reliant on Polo power.
*Mattias Adielsson is switching from a Citroën C3 R5 to a Ford Fiesta R5 run by Orsák Rally Sport, the Sweden National Team driver taking advantage of a more affordable financial package for his limited funds as he bids to finish in the top three of the final ERC1 Junior standings.
*Japan’s Hiroki Arai once sampled the Zlín stages in the back seat of his father Toshi’s recce car before he was old enough to hold a driving licence of his own. He competes in a Yokohama-equipped Citroën.
*Both Adielsson and Arai will come up against Zlín rookie Miko Marczyk, whose ŠKODA Polska Motorsport Fabia is run by Czech rallying legend and three-time Zlín winner Roman Kresta, who is also behind the participation of Filip Mareš.
*Brazil’s Paulo Nobre continues his season-long ERC campaign with Motorsport Italia, but it’s a rare ERC start for a Czech contingent including Miroslav Jakeš, Roman Odložilík, Tomáš Pospíšilík, Jaromír Tarabus and Hyundai i20 R5 drivers Martin Vlček and Petr Trnovec. One-time ERC stalwart Antonín Tlusťák is also returning to European competition.
*Not one but two members of the Březík family will be competing in Zlín with Martin Březík’s son AdamBřezík also taking part. Like ERC3 Junior Erik Cais, the younger Březík is a former downhill mountain bike racer. Martin Březík runs a bakery on the outskirts of Zlín.
*Zelindo Melegari heads to the Czech Republic from his native Italy leading the ERC2 title race having switched to an Abarth 124 rally ahead of last month’s Rally di Roma Capitale. Andrea Nucita, also from Italy, and Pole Dariusz Poloński are first and second in the Abarth standings with all three eligible for ERC2 points in their Pirelli-shod machinery.
*Argentine Juan Carlos Alonsowon on his last ERC2 appearance in Poland, while Kuwait’s Mshari Althefiri makes only his second start on a sealed-surface event. Hungarian Mátyás Nagy is set for his category debut. Like Alonso and Althefiri, Nagy will compete in Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution Xs.
*Aside from ERC3 Junior title contenders Torn, Llarena and Furuseth, a number of young talents will be chasing success in the Pirelli-supported category.
*Czechfederation-backed Erik Cais led his class on his Zlín debut last season and starts the event boosted by his breakthrough podium in Italy last month.
*With his regular co-driver Ondřej Krajča committed to Martin Vlček, ACCR Rally Team’s Jan Talaš has recruited Tomáš Šmíd to navigate his Peugeot 208 R2.
*Along with ERC1 contender Aloísio Monteiro, Pedro Antuneswill represent FPAK Portugal Team ERC during his first Zlín start, while Gregor Jeets partners Torn in the Estonian Autosport Junior Team line-up.
*Jean-Baptiste Franceschi, who won on his ERC3 Junior debut on Rally Islas Canarias, returns in his now-familiar Ford Fiesta R2T.
*Having been forced to withdraw from Rally di Roma Capitale with a trapped nerve in his left arm, Elias Lundberg is back in action for his maiden Zlín appearance. The Swede’s fellow ADAC Opel Rallye Junior Team driver, Grégoire Munster, made his ERC3 Junior debut in Zlín last season and demonstrated his strong sealed-surface pace on the last round in Rome. Since the Italian event, Belgian Munster finished an impressive eighth in class on the world championship-counting Neste Rally Finland, while he’s due to contest an ADAC Opel Rallye Cup round in Germany this weekend.
*Peugeot Rally Academy-entered Frenchman Yohan Rossel will battle Renault-powered compatriot Florian Bernardi in ERC3. However, Rossel’s team-mate Catie Munnings will no longer be including the Czech contest on her 2019 schedule.
*Turkey’s Orhan Avcioglu continues to acclimatise to ERC3 competition in a Toksport WRT Peugeot 208 R2 having rallied at R5 level in 2018. Belgian Amaury Molle partners Avcioglu at Toksport as he makes his first ERC3 Junior start since 2015.
*American Sean Johnston is a Zlín newcomer, as is talented Czech teen Petr Semerád, who gets an Opel ADAM R2 for his second ERC3 Junior start.
*ERC Ladies’ Trophy contender, Nabila Tejpar, is another driver with no previous Zlín knowledge, the Briton linking up with co-driver Hugo Magalhães for the first time.
*Hungarian Kristóf Klausz has previous Zlín experience to call on, as do compatriot Miklós Csomós and Bulgarian Ekaterina Stratieva, who is set for her 11th Zlín start.
*Czechs Adam Březík, René Dohnal and Jiří Navrátil are registered for ERC3 points for the first time.
Head to head: Kopecký v Lukyanuk
The former (Jan Kopecký) and reigning (Alexey Lukyanuk) FIA European champions are expected to engage in a thrilling battle for victory on Barum Czech Rally Zlín, even though both have their own title aspirations to consider. While Kopecký is going for a fifth win in Zlín, Lukyanuk has yet to triumph but finished runner-up in 2017 and 2018 to underline his pace and potential.
Form guide: Erik Cais
Backed by his country’s national ASN, the former downhill mountain bike racer scored his maiden ERC3 Junior podium on Rally di Roma Capitale following a strong display in his Ford Fiesta R2T. He was leading his class on his Barum Czech Rally Zlín debut last season until a puncture struck. Cais, who turned 20 earlier this month, is the son of experienced driver – and Czech class title winner – Miroslav Cais.
What: FIA European Rally Championship round 6 of 8*
When: 16-18 August 2019
Where: Zlín, Czech Republic
Distance: 219.63 kilometres
ERC appearances (since 2004 restructuring): 15 (2004-2018)
How to follow?
On TV and online: Live coverage of selected stages on Facebook. Daily highlights on Eurosport, Eurosport Player. Videos on YouTube. ERC All Access on Eurosport on 20 August. Event highlights broadcast around the world.
Videos, news update and live timing: Available at FIAERC.com
ERC Radio: Live from the end of all stages and selected service park visits. Available at FIAERC.com or download the official ERC App
Social media:Follow the ERC on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter
Daily news feed: Available on request by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org