Event preview: Kopecký, Sordo set standard for ERC Junior aces in Zlín
The most successful driver in Barum Czech Rally Zlín history and unbeaten at home in 22 events, former European champion Jan Kopecký will serve as the ultimate benchmark for the ERC Junior drivers aiming for the top when the 2018 FIA European Rally Championship resumes on the hugely demanding sealed-surface roads in south-eastern Moravia from 24-26 August.
Part of the famous factory ŠKODA Motorsport line-up, Kopecký is renowned as an asphalt master and rarely falters in the heat of battle, making him the driver to beat when Barum Czech Rally Zlín turns 48 this year. While Kopecký’s threat won’t be lost on Alexey Lukyanuk – the ERC title leader after five all-action rounds – it provides further motivation for the young stars in R5 cars competing in the FIA ERC Junior Under 28 Championship.
They include Czech talents Jan Černý and Filip Mareš, who are backed by the Autoklub of the Czech Republic under the ACCR Czech Rally Team banner. Černý is already a winner in the category, while Mareš is embarking on his first season in R5 machinery having excelled in ERC Junior U27 in 2017.
Mareš can count on the guidance of Czech rallying legend Roman Kresta, who has 20 Barum Czech Rally Zlín starts – and three wins – to his name and has successfully transferred his skills as a driver into team management via his Kresta Racing concern. The team from Luhačovice will run a second ŠKODA Fabia R5 for Briton Rhys Yates, who is making his Barum Czech Rally Zlín debut.
ŠKODA AUTO Deutschland’s Fabian Kreim, who extended his ERC Junior U28 lead with his maiden category win on the previous round in Rome, will make his second Barum Czech Rally Zlín start one week after contesting his home round of the world championship. Latvia-based Russian Nikolay Gryazin revved up for Zlín with a winning run on Rally Rzeszow in Poland and has the pace to chase the outright victory in his Sports Racing Technologies Fabia.
Laurent Pellier got a taste of the Barum Czech Rally Zlín when he completed the recce in 2017 as part of the ERC Junior Experience training programme. And after a non-finish in Italy, the PEUGEOT Rally Academy star from France will be aiming to bounce back in Czech Republic. Briton Chris Ingram, the reigning ERC Junior U27 champion, was on the podium in Rome as he bids for back-to-back titles with Toksport WRT. Poland’s Aleks Zawada, another ERC Junior U27 graduate, won his class in Zlín last season and is entered by his family-run MSZ Racing team.
World rally winner Sordo set for ERC debut in Zlín
Dani Sordo will make his FIA European Rally Championship debut on Barum Czech Rally Zlín, driving a Hyundai i20 R5. Sordo, a one-time winner in the world championship, is renowned for his Tarmac-driving prowess and has been called on to demonstrate the capabilities of the Korean machine to potential customers. “Barum Czech Rally Zlín is a major event in a country with a very strong rallying culture,” said Hyundai Motorsport Customer Racing Deputy General Manager Andrea Adamo. “As one of the key rounds of the FIA European Rally Championship it is one of the biggest rallies, in one of the most influential and competitive series for the R5 category. Because of this it is very important for us, as a manufacturer with a customer rallying programme to be represented in the ERC. The opportunity to have Dani Sordo in a Hyundai i20 R5 is a great chance to have another of the leading Tarmac rally drivers show the capabilities of the car. We know the rally entry will be rich with local drivers and teams, but we are confident that the combination of Dani and the car can compete for the victory.” Spaniard Sordo, who will compete in the Czech Republic one week after contesting Germany’s round of the world championship in a Hyundai i20 Coupe World Rally Car, said: “Barum Czech Rally Zlín is a very special event and I know it will be tough for me as I will compete there for the first time. There will be some very fast drivers that are used to race there, but we are up for the challenge and to do our best.”
ERC Junior Under 27: Fast rivals bid to catch flying Sesks
Mārtiņš Sesks, from Latvia, might hold the title advantage following his maiden win on Rally di Roma Capitale, but a host of rivals have what it takes to triumph in the Pirelli-supported category for R2 cars. Austrian Simon Wagner (Saintéloc Junior Team) finished on the ERC Junior U27 podium in Zlín 12 months ago and is a regular on events in the Czech Republic. ACCR Czech Rally Team’s Dominik Brož continues to improve in his family-run PEUGEOT 208 R2 and is overdue a strong result. Swede Tom Kristensson, who partners Sesks at ADAC Opel Rallye Junior Team, will use momentum gained on his ADAC Rallye Deutschland outing to push for a second consecutive podium, while Sindre Furuseth underlined his potential by challenging for the class win on Rally di Roma Capitale only for a mechanical failure to force his exit. The Norwegian can count on previous Barum Czech Rally Zlín experience, as can Great Britain’s Catie Munnings and Hungary’s Kristóf Klausz, who makes his first ERC Junior U27 start of 2018. Rally Team Spain’s RFEDA-backed Efrén Llarena is a Zlín rookie but has podium promise. The event is also unchartered territory for Finland’s Miika Hokkanen, Roland Stengg from Austria and Mattia Vita, the ex-circuit racer from Italy. Grégoire Munster, the son of ERC legend Bernard, makes his ERC Junior debut on the back of a promising season made up of events in Belgium and Luxembourg.
ERC1: Lukyanuk and Magalhães nine points apart in title battle
Russian Performance Motorsport’s Alexey Lukyanuk and ARC Sport’s Bruno Magalhães will be separated by just nine points in their respective bids to win the FIA European Rally Championship for the first time when Barum Czech Rally Zlín gets underway on 24 August. Both drivers have amassed significant Zlín experience in recent seasons with Lukyanuk a constant threat to Jan Kopecký in 2017 despite suffering considerable pain when braking in his Ford Fiesta R5 due to serious injuries sustained in a testing crash a few months previously. Magalhães drove his SEAJETS-backed Fabia to ninth overall last season, a result that kept alive the multiple Portuguese champion’s title challenge. Norbert Herczig, a four-time Hungarian title winner, can be a frontrunner for the MOL Racing Team, while former Polish champion Łukasz Habaj will be hoping for better luck in his Rallytechnology Fiesta. Turkey’s Orhan Avcioǧlu has impressed by overcoming his lack of event experience to score on the last three ERC rounds for Toksport WRT. Albert von Thurn und Taxis (Baumschlager Rallye & Racing) starts his second Barum Czech Rally Zlín eager for further improvement during what has been an encouraging season for the ex-FIA GT racer, while former ERC2 champion Dávid Botka is a two-time ERC stage winner in 2018. Eyvind Brynildsen is new to Barum Czech Rally Zlín but no stranger to going fast in the ERC based on his efforts in Gran Canaria and Greece. Rapid Austrian Hermann Neubauer has won two rallies in his native Austria since his last ERC appearance in Gran Canaria but has yet to record a Barum Czech Rally Zlín finish in three attempts due to mechanical issues. Several Czech championship regulars have registered for ERC points for their home event. They include two-time Zlín winner Václav Pech, Martin Březík, Miroslav Jakeš, Roman Odložilík, Tomáš Růžička, Vojtĕch Štajf, Jaromír Tarabus and Martin Vlček.
ERC2: Érdi Jr on the brink of championship double
A season-record fourth win for Tibor Érdi Jr will ensure the Hungarian claims a second straight ERC2 title subject to confirmation of the final results. He’s won three events in succession and will prove hard to beat in Czech Republic. His compatriot Csaba Juhász makes his second ERC start having been inspired to enter the championship after watching coverage of the ERC on Eurosport.
ERC3: Sibling rivalry in store as Wagner signs up
It’s not just the Pirelli-equipped ERC Junior Under 27 runners who will be in the hunt for ERC3 glory on Barum Czech Rally Zlín. Austrian Julian Wagner, the younger brother of ERC Junior U27 ace Simon, will be among the contenders along with young Czech talent Matĕj Kamenec and Hungarian newcomers Martin László and Miklós Csomós, who represents the LPWM Sport team, which has big ambitions in the ERC. Emma Falcón will battle Catie Munnings for ERC Ladies’ Trophy honours and is buoyed by carrying her favourite number, 53, on her ARC Sport Citroën.
And in other news…
*Barum Czech Rally Zlín will host the latest ERC Junior Experience training event with double ERC Junior champion Marijan Griebel on hand as a driver coach. Erik Cais, Hugo Margaillan and Grégoire Munster have recently enrolled into the comprehensive knowledge and skills-gathering programme that includes Sébastien Bedoret, Catie Munnings, Laurent Pellier and Mārtiņš Sesks among its graduates.
*Aloísio Monteiro will be driving his ARC Sport ŠKODA Fabia R5 on asphalt for only the second time but the Portuguese admits he has a preference for sealed-surface competition. Like Brazilian Paulo Nobre, Monteiro is a Barum Czech Rally Zlín rookie.
*László Német will be hoping his fourth appearance in Zlín goes better than his previous three, the Hungarian having registered a trio of retirements.
*Although she won’t be eligible for European championship points by contesting the national event, former ERC Ladies’ Trophy winner Ekaterina Stratieva will be making Barum Czech Rally Zlín start number 10, this time in a Hyundai i20 Coupe cup car.
*The FIA RGT category features six entrants, including Rally di Roma Capitale winner Raphaël Astier and world championship regular Simone Tempestini. They are among five driving the Abarth 124 Rally.