Future world champion search is on as revamped ERC Junior prepares for Azores lift-off
The restructured FIA ERC Junior category, which has helped to grow the careers of 67 drivers since it was introduced in 2014, gets underway on the Azores Airlines Rallye next week (30 March-1 April) with 19 drivers chasing success – and future career progression – in two different categories based on age and car performance.
ERC Junior U27, which totals six events, is for drivers born on or after 1 January 1990 competing in R2 cars on Pirelli tyres. With the best four rounds counting, the winner will receive a career progression fund worth 100,000 euros to use in ERC Junior U28 in 2018. For many drivers ERC Junior U27 will be their first taste of international rallying.
ERC Junior U28 offers the next step on the rallying pyramid for drivers born on or after 1 January 1989. Again totalling six rounds with the best four scores counting, drivers use R5 cars with no restriction on tyre choice. The champion will get a drive on a European round of the 2018 FIA World Rally Championship as a P1 driver in a 2016-specification World Rally Car.
Both ERC Junior divisions benefit from substantial television coverage with at least three minutes per programme broadcast on Eurosport dedicated to the two young driver categories.
With 10 drivers signed up so far for ERC Junior U27 and nine registered for ERC Junior U28 with more to follow in both divisions, Jean-Baptiste Ley, the ERC Co-ordinator, expects the categories objectives – set out in line with the FIA’s rallying pyramid – to be achieved.
“As the ERC promoter, Eurosport Events put this new structure in place because it was clear there is a growing number of ERC Junior graduates and other young drivers looking to take the next step in rallying but without the financial means to run a full international campaign in an R5 car or lacking the experience required to achieve consistent success,” said Ley. “ERC Junior U28 will bridge this gap by providing a step up in performance for ERC Junior U27 graduates, albeit in a managed environment where they will come up against like-minded drivers with similar experience. And by providing a World Rally Championship prize drive to the ERC Junior U28 champion, we’re recognising the ambition of young drivers to reach the sport’s top level. For the ERC Junior U27 drivers, a 100,000-euro career-development fund will go to the eventual champion and we’re delighted by the strong interest in both categories.”
Marijan Griebel, who won the third ERC Junior title in 2016, two years after Citroën WRC star Stéphane Lefebvre won the first, said: “The ERC is a good championship with good rallies and really good TV on Eurosport. It’s better for me to drive an R5 car in the ERC and be a main player than go to WRC2 to drive for 16th overall. The ERC is the best place to show my skills and develop in an R5 car.”
Bruno Famin, Peugeot Sport Director, said: “We are extremely pleased with our association with Eurosport and delighted to confirm that the Peugeot Rally Academy’s programme in 2017 will focus on the ERC. We will be running cars for two particularly promising young Spaniards, José Suarez and Pepe López. Our aim will be to give them an opportunity to gain experience and fine-tune their professionalism without pressure as part of a high-level operation. They will both drive Peugeot 208 T16s, which is the flagship of our rally car range, so it will be a good chance for us to showcase the reliability and competitiveness of the 2017-spec car.”
Opel Motorsport Director Jörg Schrott said: “After two consecutive ERC Junior titles, the Opel Rallye Junior Team is certainly under pressure as the favourite. But we are more than happy to take on this challenge and our new team has a great mix of different driving backgrounds and different characters.”
Sports Racing Technologies’ Team Manager Joe Labuckas, who will oversee Nicolay Gryazin and Ralfs Sirmacis in ERC Junior U28, said: “We’re very pleased to continue our participation in the ERC. The championship has given our team a great platform to showcase its expertise.”
Tomáš Kunc, Vice President for Automobile Sport, AUTOKLUB Czech Republic, added: “We have been considering possible ways of supporting the growth of junior drivers for quite some time, and for this season we have decided to create a special project for young drivers and their navigators to support them in ERC Junior. This championship is an ideal platform for young drivers, as it can help them gain valuable experience and provide a springboard for their future careers.”
FIA ERC Junior Under 27 Championship
Buǧra Banaz (TUR) Age: 24 Co-driver: Burak Erdener (TUR) Car: Ford Fiesta R2
*Dominik Brož (CZE) Age: 20 Co-driver: Petr Těšínský (CZE) Car: Peugeot 208 R2
Marcos González Espino (ESP) Age: 23 Co-driver: Rogelio Lopez (ESP) Car: Peugeot 208 R2
**Jari Huttunen (FIN) Age: 23 Co-driver: Akki Linnaketo (FIN) Car: Opel ADAM R2
Chris Ingram (GBR) Age: 22 Co-driver: Elliot Edmondson (GBR) Car: Opel ADAM R2
Karel Kupec (CZE) Age: 24 Co-driver: Ondřej Krajča (CZE) Car: Peugeot 208 R2
*Filip Mareš (CZE) Age: 25 Co-driver: Jan Hloušek (CZE) Car: Peugeot 208 R2
Tamara Molinaro (ITA) Age: 19 Co-driver: Ursula Mayrhofer (AUT) Car: Opel ADAM R2
Catie Munnings (GBR) Age: 19 Co-driver: Anne Katharina Stein (DEU) Car: Peugeot 208 R2
Aleks Zawada (POL) Age: 24 Co-driver: Grzegorz Dachowski (POL) Car: Peugeot 208 R2
FIA ERC Junior Under 28 Championship
*Jan Černý (CZE) Age: 26 Co-driver: Petr Černohorský (CZE) Car: ŠKODA Fabia R5
Marijan Griebel (DEU) Age: 27 Co-driver: Stefan Kopcyzk (DEU) Car: ŠKODA Fabia R5
Nikolay Gryazin (LVA) Age: 19 Co-driver: Yaroslav Federov (RUS) Car: ŠKODA Fabia R5
Tomasz Kasperczyk (POL) Age: 24 Co-driver: Damian Syty (POL) Car: Ford Fiesta R5
Pepe López (ESP) Age: 21 Co-driver: Borja Hernández (ESP) Car: Peugeot 208 T16
Josh Moffett (IRL) Age: 24 Co-driver: James Fulton (IRL) Car: Ford Fiesta R5
Luís Miguel Rego (PRT) Age: 26 Co-driver: TBA Car: Ford Fiesta R5
José Suárez (ESP) Age: 26 Co-driver: Candido Carrera (ESP) Car: Peugeot 208 T16
Ralfs Sirmacis (LVA) Age: 22 Co-driver: Arturs Šimins (LVA) Car: ŠKODA Fabia R5
30 March-1 April: Azores Airlines Rallye (Portugal, gravel)
4-6 May: Rally Islas Canarias (Spain, asphalt)
3-5 August: Rally Rzeszow (Poland, asphalt)
25-27 August: Barum Czech Rally Zlín (Czech Republic, asphalt)
15-17 September: Rally di Roma Capitale (Italy, asphalt)
6-8 October: Rally Liepāja (Latvia, gravel)