Event preview: ERC Junior gladiators aim for Capitale gains in Rome
Some of Europe’s brightest prospects for future world rallying stardom will be competing when Rally di Roma Capitale hosts the resumption of FIA European Rally Championship action from 20-22 July.
The all-asphalt counter, which features stages in and around the historic Italian city, marks the halfway point of the FIA ERC Junior Under 28 Championship for young stars in R5 cars – plus the third of six FIA ERC Junior Under 27 Championship rounds, with drivers competing in R2 machinery on Pirelli tyres.
Chris Ingram and Nikolay Gryazin have done the winning in ERC Junior Under 28 so far this season and Ingram’s inclusion on the Rally di Roma Capitale entry list – in particular – will be a significant moment for last year’s ERC Junior Under 27 champion. Illness forced him to stop early on Rally Islas Canarias and has kept him away from his Toksport WRT ŠKODA Fabia R5 until recently. Indeed, the Briton’s return to competition came on a recent practice event in Italy – Rally Internazionale del Casentino – which Russian Gryazin came close to winning, settling instead for second following a puncture in his Sports Racing Technologies Fabia.
While he’s yet to stand on the top step of the ERC Junior U28 podium, it’s ŠKODA AUTO Deutschland’s Fabian Kreim who tops the standings after a consistent start to the season by the double German champion. Sweden’s Fredrik Åhlin and his British CA1 Sport team-mate Rhys Yates have also finished on the ERC Junior U28 podium and will be contenders in Rome with Yates also learning plenty on Rally Internazionale del Casentino.
Laurent Pellier returns to ERC Junior U28 duty for PEUGEOT Rally Academy after winning ERC3 on last month’s Cyprus Rally where class rival Hubert Ptaszek was also competing, two weeks after claiming his first outright ERC podium on the EKO Acropolis Rally. Pellier got the opportunity to sample the bulk of the Rally di Roma Capitale stages in 2017 when he took part on the reconnaissance as part of the ERC Junior Experience training progamme. After engine issues ruled him out of Rally Islas Canarias, Jan Černý will make his first ERC Junior U28 start of 2018 for the ACCR Czech Team. Černý claimed category honours in Rome last year in a Fabia R5 and is now armed with a Ford Fiesta R5.
ERC Junior Under 27: Newcomers add to excitement in young driver class
Two newcomers – Sindre Furuseth from Norway and Sebastian Johansson from Sweden – will make their first appearances in ERC Junior Under 27, which is being led by Diogo Gago after the Portuguese won the opening two events of the season. Latvian Mārtiņš Sesks heads the pursuit of Gago in his ADAC Opel Rallye Junior Team-entered ADAM R2, followed by Saintéloc Junior Team’s Simon Wagner (Austria) and Rally Team Spain’s RFEDA-backed Efrén Llarena. Briton Catie Munnings, ACCR Czech Team’s Dominik Brož and Italian Mattia Vita are the only drivers among the 12-strong ERC Junior U27 entry with previous Rally di Roma Capitale experience, while Vita is the only home-grown talent in the field. Austrian Roland Stengg impressed on his debut last time out. Miika Hokkanen has recruited a new co-driver in fellow Finn Reeta Hamalainen, as the Finnish R2 champion from 2017 continues his Tarmac transition with the Saintéloc Junior Team. Tom Kristensson, who is competing in ERC Junior U27 as his prize for winning the ADAC Opel Rallye Cup in Germany last season, will also be a contender for success.
ERC1: Lukyanuk playing catch-up in title chase
Russian Rocket Alexey Lukyanuk is playing catch-up when the ERC heads to Rome for the second time next week. After dominating the season-opening events in the Azores and Gran Canaria, Lukyanuk failed to go the distance in Greece and Cyprus in his Russian Performance Motorsport Ford Fiesta R5. His difficult run has handed Bruno Magalhães the title initiative with the Portuguese 15 points in front following a win and a second place from the last two events. Cyprus Rally winner and national champion Simos Galatariotis is continuing his ERC adventure with his Roma debut where he will come up against, among others, former Polish champions Grzegorz Grzyb (Rufa Sport) and Łukasz Habaj (Rallytechnology), Toksport’s Turkish charge Orhan Avcioǧlu and Germany’s Albert von Thurn und Taxis (Baumschlager Rallye & Racing). Juuso Nordgren, the rising Finnish star backed by ŠKODA Motorsport, continues to use the ERC to build his experience of international competition having won stages on the last two events.
A legion of Italian championship stars will also be in action and firmly in contention for ERC points. They include multiple national title-winner Paolo Andreucci, his long-term adversaries Simone Campedelli and Umberto Scandola, plus double European champion Giandomenico Basso, whose participation has been made possible after his manager at Movisport, Zelindo Melegari, withdrew his own entry in the ERC2 category. Campedelli (onece) and Scandola (twice) are former Rally di Roma Capitale winners. Marco Pollara, meanwhile, partners Andreucci in the PEUGEOT 208 T16-powered FPF Sport line-up.
ERC2: Remennik back to hold title advantage
Sergei Remennik returns to ERC2 duty on Rally di Roma Capitale leading the standings and now the recipient of a special award. Prior to the Italian event, Remennik and co-driver Mark Rozin were handed International Master of Motor Sports titles for their achievements in rallying by the FIA-affiliated Russian Motorsport Federation. Remennik heads reigning champion Tibor Érdi Jr, from Hungary, by 10 points with Argentina’s Juan Carlos Alonso third, seven points adrift of Érdi Jr, but effectively further back when the four-best-scores rule applies. Hungarian Csaba Juhász will make his ERC debut.
ERC3: Bernardi goes for win double
Frenchman Florian Bernardi will be bidding for a victory double following his debut ERC3 success in Gran Canaria. Second place in the French Clio R3T Trophy on Rallye du Rouergue Aveyron has set him up well for his maiden Rally di Roma Capitale, which ERC Ladies’ Trophy contender Emma Falcón will be tackling for a second time. Taiwan’s Dai Wei Yein is registered for ERC3 points having contested seveal European championship rounds in the past, as are the 12 ERC Junior Under 27 drivers, which include Falcón’s ERC Ladies’ Trophy rival Catie Munnings.
And in other news…
*Rally di Roma Capitale is as close as it gets to a ‘home’ event for Brazilian Paulo Nobre, whose Motorsport Italia team doubles as event organiser and promoter.
*After landing back-to-back ERC podiums, Norbert Herczig won’t be competing in his MOL Racing Team ŠKODA, the four-time Hungarian champion taking advantage of the ERC’s rule allowing drivers to count their best six scores from eight. He’ll return the next round in Czech Republic having used the break following the Cypus Rally to claim his sixth Rally Veszprem victory in his homeland.
*Aloísio Monteiro will be driving his ARC Sport ŠKODA Fabia R5 on asphalt for the first time but the Portuguese admits he has a preference for sealed-surface competition.
*ERC Junior Under 27 contender Catie Munnings will get her own TV series in her native UK in the coming months. A former winner of the ERC Ladies’ Trophy, Munnings will front Catie’s Amazing Machines on CBeebies, which is part of the BBC television network and is aimed at children aged six and under.
*Grzegorz Grzyb will be more than match fit when he lines-up for the start in Rome: he’s contesting the Enipro Rally Lueník, a round of the Slovakian championship, from 13-14 July.
*The RGT class has three entrants: Raphael Astier from France and Italians Andrea Nucita and Andrea Modanesi. All three are competing in the Abarth 124 Rally.
*Organisers have made a number of changes to the itinerary for 2018: Pico-Greci runs in an opposite direction to 2017 and is seven kilometres shorter. Roccasecca-Colle San Magno is slightly longer than last year due to its new starting location in the village of Roccasecca. Santopadre-Arpino is a new addition to the itinerary for this year.
Watch and listen
Highlights from both legs will be shown on Eurosport and available on Eurosport Player. ERC Radio will broadcast live from stage finishes and selected service park visits.