ERC ORLEN 77th Rally Poland talking points
There’s plenty to talk about ahead of ORLEN 77th Rally Poland opening the 2021 FIA European Rally Championship next week. Here’s a summary.
*Alexey Lukyanuk was the winner when the ERC last visited Poland in 2019. He launches his title defence in a Saintéloc Junior Team Citroën C3 Rally2 co-driven by Alexey Arnautov, who is set for a full programme in 2021 after he took a mini sabbatical last term.
*Lukyanuk will be a guiding light for emerging Estonian talent Roland Poom, who makes his debut in the European championship’s top class in a second Saintéloc Citroën.
*After guiding Chris Ingram and Ross Whittock to ERC title glory in 2019, Toksport WRT returns to frontline ERC action with Škoda Fabias for Andreas Mikkelsen and Emilio Fernández. Mikkelsen won on his ERC return in Hungary last season, while Fernández, from Chile, scored on his ERC debut in 2019.
*With strong displays on world and Italian championship appearances for Hyundai this season, Craig Breen is switching his focus to the ERC and his role as part of MRF Tyres’ development programme. The five-time ERC winner’s last Rally Poland appearance was at world level in 2017.
*Simone Campedelli (pictured) partners Breen in the Team MRF Tyres attack, but with Volkswagen rather than Hyundai power like his stablemate. The Italian is an ace on gravel but a Rally Poland rookie.
*Although he remains a key part of the Rallye Team Spain structure, Efrén Llarena enters his fourth ERC season and his third Rally Poland with a new team (RaceSeven), new car (Škoda Fabia) and new tyre partner (Michelin). Sara Fernández continues to co-drive, however.
*With world championship event-winning co-driver Marc Martí by his side, Nil Solans partners Llarena as Rallye Team Spain begins the defence of the FIA entrants’ crown. Solans was rapid on his ERC debut last November and has previous Rally Poland experience to call on.
*While the world series is Nikolay Gryazin’s focus nowadays after he stepped up as the ERC1 Junior champion for the 2019 season, the Russian who competes with a Latvian licence has nevertheless found time to include a programme of ERC events on his schedule, including Rally Poland, which he won in 2018 after a close battle with Jari Huttunen.
*After coming close to beating Oliver Solberg to the ERC1 Junior crown in 2020, Grégoire Munster will continue to demonstrate his considerable potential in the European championship. As well as being a contender for outright honours, the Luxembourg-born driver will battle Llarena, Erik Cais and Miko Marczyk for the incentives offered by the ERC-MICHELIN Talent Factory.
*Like ACCR Yacco Team ace Cais, ORLEN Team driver Marczyk, the 2019 Polish champion, prepared for Rally Poland by contesting the national championship-opening Rally Žemaitija in Lithuania at the start of June. For good measure, Marczyk topped the Polish championship classification.
*Simone Tempestini is another highly-rated ERC-MICHELIN Talent Factory member and is set to start Rally Poland on the back of contesting the Romanian championship-counting, all-asphalt Catena Raliul Argeșului, which uses sections of the famous Transfagarasan Highway.
*Four-time Hungarian champion Norbert Herczig is reunited with Škoda power and joins the ToppCars team for 2021 when more strong results are expected.
*Although he’s rallied little since capturing his third German crown in 2019, Pole Promotion’s Fabian Kreim has Rally Poland pedigree after he finished fourth on the event in 2018.
*Tiger Energy Drink Rally Team talent Tomasz Kasperczyk is well known in ERC circles but has his eyes fixed on Polish championship prizes. For compatriot Grzegorz Grzyb, the event marks a welcome return to ERC action for another popular and capable driver.
*French flyer Yoann Bonato is planning to plant a tree for every stage win he records in 2021 at the wheel of his MICHELIN-equipped Citroën, a fantastic gesture by he and co-driver Benjamin Boulloud.
*Motorsport Ireland Rally Academy’s Callum Devine mounts his second ERC bid, but this time in a Ford Fiesta Rally2 supported by M-Sport. Company boss Malcolm Wilson has promised to follow the Irish youngster’s progress closely in 2021.
*Umberto Scandola crashed into a pond on his first ERC appearance outside his homeland on the Ypres Rally back in 2006. He’s written headlines for all the right reasons since with the 2013 Italian title a notable highlight. Rally Poland marks the start of a full-season ERC campaign with Hyundai Rally Team Italia.
*Alberto Battistolli is another Italian talent in a Rally2 car with a penchant for driving fast on gravel.
*Former ERC3 Junior prospect Gregor Jeets makes his first ERC appearance in a Rally2 car, while Kacper Wróblewski, once a protégé of former ERC frontrunner Łukasz Habaj, brings promise and backing from event sponsor ORLEN to the mix.
*Adrian Chwietczuk, co-driven by three-time ERC champion Jarek Baran, makes his ERC debut for Hołowczyz Racing, the team founded by Krzysztof Hołowczyc, the 1997 European champion.
*Rakan Al-Rashed and Aloísio Monteiro are welcome additions to the ERC entry, as is Luis Vilariño, whose last championship appearance was 20 years ago.
*Nabila Tejpar has previous Rally Poland knowledge and has recruited double British champion driver Matt Edwardsto co-drive her Proton Iriz R5, a car untried at ERC level.
*Wojciech Chuchała took the ERC2 title in 2016, two years after winning the Polish title, while compatriots Łukasz Kotarba and Jarosław Szeja are co-driven by their brothers Tomasz and Marcin respectively.
*Like Lukyanuk, Tibor Érdi Jr starts ORLEN 77th Rally Poland defending his European title, the ERC2 version specifically. The Hungarian faces opposition from six crews including Polish ERC2 newcomer, Michał Pryczek, whose Subaru Historic Rally Team-entered Impreza is co-driven by his father Jacek.
*Suzuki Motor Iberica is embarking on its first ERC2 campaign with two Rally2 Kit-specification Swift R4lly S for Javier Pardo and marque stalwart Joan Vinyes. Category regular Dmitry Feofanov is swapping Mitsubishi for Suzuki machinery. Victor Cartier begins his first ERC adventure in Poland in a self-built Toyota Yaris Rally2 Kit. Top Polish driver Dariusz Poloński adds more variety with his Abarth 124 rally.
*ERC3/ERC3 Junior champion Ken Torn steps up to four-wheel-drive performance in the all-new, Pirelli-equipped Ford Fiesta Rally3 from M-Sport Poland. ERC returnee Jon Armstrong will battle Torn for glory and the WRC3 Junior prize drive on offer to the eventual champion.
*Another four examples of the Krakow-built Fiesta Rally3 are entered with ORLEN 77th Rally Poland the car’s full international debut.
*Rallye Team Spain-backed Pep Bassas, Fabian Bernardi and Mathieu Franceschi are ones to watch in ERC3, along with Łukasz Lewandowski, who brings the first Opel Corsa Rally4 to the ERC.
*Franceschi is the younger brother of Jean-Baptiste Franceschi, who joins Bernardi in giving Renault’s Clio Rally4 its ERC debut.
*Jean-Baptiste Franceschi is also eligible for ERC3 Junior points along with 11 rivals. They include his Toksport WRT team-mate Ola Jr Nore and category podium finisher Amaury Molle.
*Double ERC3 champion Zoltán Bessenyey, who has been confined to a wheelchair since he was injured while co-driving during a test session in 2016, has turned team manager to Martin László, an ERC3 Junior newcomer for 2021.
*Nikolai Landa and Norbert Maior both made ERC3 Junior appearances last year and showed potential.
*Other ERC3 Junior newcomers include Rallye Team Spain scholarship winner Alejandro Cachón, Junior world championship contender Sami Pajari, Giovanni Baruffa, Kaspar Kasari, Nick Loof and Daniel Polášek, an ex-champion finswimmer. An ERC Junior preview will be available from June 14.
*The Clio Trophy by Toksport WRT drivers are Yigit Alparslan Timur (Turkey), Bastien Bergounhe (France), Andrea Mabellini (Italy), Ghjuvanni Rossi (France), Paulo Soria (Argentina).