ERC event preview: Rally di Roma Capitale
Having been put to the ultimate high-speed gravel test in Latvia and Poland, the FIA European Rally Championship drivers kick-off the second half of the 2019 season on the all-asphalt Rally di Roma Capitale in Italy from 19-21 July.
A new addition to the ERC roster in 2017, Rally di Roma Capitale includes a ceremonial start and driving parade which passes a number of the historic city’s famous landmarks, before crews engage in two days of high-tempo competition on 16 stages to the east and west of Rome.
With four rounds run, Łukasz Habaj tops the standings but defending champion Alexey Lukyanuk is fighting back after a troubled start to the season. The Russian’s victory in Poland slashed the gap to Habaj to 11 points ahead of an event he won in 2018 following a tense duel with Giandomenico Basso.
Basso, a double European champion and national championship leader, is one of five Italian talents with ERC priority status competing in an R5 car in Rome. Three-time ERC champion Luca Rossetti and Rally di Roma Capitale winners Simone Campedelli – who will give M-Sport’s all-new Ford Fiesta R5 its ERC debut – and Umberto Scandola – who is entered under the Hyundai Motorsport N banner – are also set for action, as is ERC Junior graduate Andrea Crugnola.
Nikolay Gryazin and Mārtiņš Sesks are taking up their prize drives for winning the 2018 ERC1 Junior and ERC3 Junior titles respectively, as Chris Ingram and Sindre Furuseth look to follow in their wheel tracks. We two rounds left they are the respective leaders of the ERC1 Junior and ERC3 Junior championships.
Zelindo Melegari joins the Abarth Rally Cup for the first time as team-mate to category pacesetter Andrea Nucita. Emma Falcón returns to defend the ERC Ladies’ Trophy title she won in 2018.
Rally di Roma Capitale in 100 words
The progression of this exciting asphalt event, organised and promoted by Max Rendina, 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.
What’s new for 2019?
With the competitive focus shifting to the Saturday and Sunday, the traditional Friday evening EUR spectator stage isn’t included on a route that’s otherwise largely unchanged from 2018, with the exception of the new Affile-Bellegra test on day two. Santopadre-Arpino and the event-closing Ostia Super Special have been adjusted for this year, with Ostia hosting a number of fan-friendly activities.
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.
*The third Rally di Roma Capitale to count for European championship points welcomes the reigning ERC1 and ERC3 Junior champions with Nikolay Gryazin and Mārtiņš Sesks taking up their first and second prize drives respectively. Sesks, who won ERC3 Junior in Rome 12 months ago, is making his first appearance on asphalt in an R5 car and his first with new co-driver Uldis Briedis, his long-term coach.
*Zelindo Melegari is a new addition to the Abarth Rally Cup ranks in Rome, the Italian swapping his Mitsubishi Lancer for an Abarth 124 rally to go up against category leader Andrea Nucita, from Italy, and Pole Dariusz Poloński. The trio are eligible for ERC2, as is Kuwait’s asphalt novice Mshari Althefiri.
*Łukasz Habaj (Sports Racing Techologies) heads to Italy with an 11-point title advantage over Saintéloc Jiunor Team’s Alexey Lukyanuk, the defending champion and last year’s Rally di Roma Capitale winner.
*This won’t be Habaj’s first visit to Italy this season, however. The Pole tackled the Italian championship-counting Rallye Sanremo in April and finished eighth overall.
*After a troubled PZM 76th Rally Poland last month, Toksport WRT’s Chris Ingram heads to Italy eager to preserve his ERC1 Junior title lead over ACCR Czech Rally Team’s advancing Filip Mareš, who topped the category for young stars in R5 cars in Poland.
*Germany’s Albert von Thurn und Taxis, a Rome resident for more than 10 years, is switching back to his more familiar ŠKODA Fabia R5 having used a Volkswagen Polo GTI R5 on the last two events.
*Rather than changing cars Simone Campedelli, who won the Italian championship section of Rally di Roma Capitale in 2017, is upgrading cars, trading his older-model Ford Fiesta R5 for the latest version of the M-Sport machine.
*Like von Thurn und Taxis, Rally di Roma Capitale is also a ‘home’ event for Brazilian Paulo Nobre, due to the fact his Fabia is run by Rome-based Motorsport Italia.
*Norbert Herczigcontinues his ERC campaign in a MOL Racing Team Polo, the multiple Hungarian champion still searching for a first podium of 2019.
*Niki Mayr-Melnhof, Vojtĕch Štajf and Lars Stugemo continue their ERC campaigns having skipped the last two events in Latvia and Poland. Double ERC2 champion Tibor Érdi Jr also returns to European duty.
*Former ERC champions Giandomenico Bassoand Luca Rossettiare the men to beat in this year’s Italian championship. After five rounds, Basso, runner-up in Rome last season, is on top by three points.
*Double Rally di Roma Capitale winner Umberto Scandola will try his Hyundai Motorsport N-entered i20 R5 on asphalt for the first time having focused on gravel events so far in 2019.
*Andrea Crugnola, who battled Stéphane Lefebvre for the inaugural ERC Junior title in 2014, steps up to the European championship’s top tier for the first time armed with a Fabia R5.
*FPAK Portugal Team ERC can once again count on its full quota of drivers with Pedro Antunes and Aloísio Monteiro both in action for the squad.
*Having contested the last two gravel-based rounds, Japan’s Hiroki Arai gets to show his skills on asphalt in his Team STARD Citroën. However, with regular co-driver Ilka Minor unavailable, Arai links up with another Austrian, Jürgen Heigl, who has worked as STARD’s team co-ordinator of late.
*Emma Falcón, Catie Munnings and Romanian newcomer Cristiana Oprea will battle for ERC Ladies’ Trophy points in what is Falcón’s second start in ERC1 Junior following her debut on Rally Islas Canarias in early May. Munnings, meanwhile, is back in her Peugeot Rally Academy entry after missing Poland.
*Having completed his first proper gravel rally in Poland, Florian Bernardi returns to his favoured asphalt in a Renault Clio R3T. The Frenchman is aiming to build on his ERC3 class win on Rally Islas Canarias and banish the memories of a troubled Rally di Roma Capitale debut last season.
*Sindre Furseth, who heads the Pirelli-supported ERC3 Junior category standings after four rounds,was also frustrated in Rome in 2018 and is overdue his first category win this year after several podiums.
*Close rival Efrén Llarena has been in a race against time to ready a replacement Peugeot 208 R2 after his original Rallye Team Spain entry was badly damaged in a dramatic crash in Poland, from which Llarena and co-driving mechanic Sara Fernández were lucky to escape unharmed.
*Ken Torn is bidding for a third consecutive ERC3 Junior win but admits his lack of asphalt experience could hold him back in his Ford Fiesta R2T. Gregor Jeets lines up in a second Estonian Autosport Junior Team entry, while Briton James Williams makes his ERC3 Junior debut reliant on Fiesta power.
*ADAC Opel Rallye Junior Team twins Elias Lundberg and Grégoire Munster start Rally di Roma Capitale for the first time hoping for a change of fortune after they retired on the same stage in Poland. Erik Cais and fellow ACCR Czech Rally Team driver Jan Talaš are back on their preferred Tarmac in Italy, as is Roman Schwedt, who is reunited with former co-driver Henry Wichura on the back of his career-best fourth in class in Poland. A full ERC Junior preview will be issued on 15 July.
*Unable to secure the funding to continue in ERC1, Orhan Avcioglu steps down to ERC3 in Rome for the first of a planned four-event campaign in a Toksport Peugeot 208 R2.
Head to head: Basso v Rossetti
Two of the big guns of Italian rallying are also two of the ERC’s most decorated drivers with five European titles and 30 event wins between them. The Italian championship is their focus right now (Basso heads Rossetti by three points) but both would relish winning outright in their capital city.
Form guide: Filip Mareš
The Czech federation-backed promise was already a known quantity on asphalt in an R5 car but his breakthrough ERC1 Junior success on gravel in Poland underlined his star quality, while firing him into outside title contention with two rounds remaining.
Starts: 19h00, 19 July, Castel Sant’Angelo, Rome
Finishes: 20h30, 21 July, Lido di Ostia
Headquarters: Best Western Hotel Fiuggi Terme Resort & Spa, Via Capo i Prati 9, 03014 Fiuggi
ERC appearances (since 2004 restructuring): 2 (2017, 2018)
Stage distance: 203.34 kilometres
Liaison distance: 740.67 kilometres
Total distance: 944.01 kilometres
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 23 July. 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 email@example.com