No joke but a dream: ex-mountain bike champion Cais steps up to ERC1 Junior
Erik Cais will step up to Rally2 (formerly R5) level in the FIA European Rally Championship – three years after injury forced him to call time on his hugely successful downhill mountain bike racing career.
Cais, 20, is swapping the Ford Fiesta R2T he drove to second place in ERC3 and fourth position in Pirelli-supported ERC3 Junior in 2019 for a top-of-the-range Ford Fiesta R5 MkII, prepared by his existing team Orsák Rallysport. It will be run under the Yacco ACCR Team banner, in deference to his main partners, Yacco and the Autoclub of the Czech Republic. Jindřiška Žáková will continue to co-drive.
All roads lead to Zlín for ERC1 Junior contender Cais
Cais will begin his ERC1 Junior campaign on the Azores Rallye from 26-28 March and contest the remaining five ERC1 Junior rounds, including the deciding Barum Czech Rally Zlín, his home event, from 28-30 August.
“It’s really great to be in an R5 car in the European championship as soon as possible to learn and grow,” said Cais. “The R2 was really great for the first step but R5 is what we need to know for the next years. But if you asked me on my 18th birthday, when I was in hospital with a broken collarbone after a bike crash, if I would be sitting in a rally car, I would say you are joking. Now, three years later, I am in the ERC in an R5 car and it’s absolutely a dream. It’s something I never expected after three seasons in rallying. It’s impossible for my head but now it’s going on so I have to focus.
“For now, ERC1 Junior is the priority and we will see how the season goes before we decide about the final two rounds in Cyprus and Hungary.”
Rally2 trials prompt pacenote upgrade
Cais took part on seven ERC3/ERC3 Junior events in 2019 but was forced to miss Rally Islas Canarias while he sat his final school exams. That clash allowed what was, at the time, a one-off step up to R5 on the Vančík Rallysprint Kopná, with Žáková partnering him to second place overall. And he built on that impressive debut by finishing P10 in the R5 class and P11 overall on Rallye du Var last November.
“I knew the Kopná stages so I could drive really fast,” Cais explained. “But Rallye du Var was something new for me and I learned a lot of things, including changes to my pacenotes. I don’t change the full pacenotes but in some corners the apex is different between R2 and R5 so I need to change the pacenotes a bit. The first races of this season will be almost new. I know the Azores from last year but not so much. I know it will be really difficult but I will try to be on the limit as much as I can and do the best I can to use as much as possible the potential of this car.”
Continuity cheers Cais
Cais admits the continuity factor made possible by extending his partnership with Orsák Rallysport and Jindřiška Žáková will help him to acclimatise to the ERC’s top tier. “It’s really important because Jindřiška knows the rhythm of what I want in the car and everybody at the team knows each other so we can grow.”
Hard to compare two- and four-wheel achievements
Cais, who began downhill mountain bike racing aged seven, was a factory rider at World Cup level. However, while training for the 2017 season, he crashed and broke a collarbone in four places. After a lengthy recovery period, Cais decided to call time on two-wheel competition and switch to four, following his father Miroslav into rallying in 2018. It was an inspired move and only a late puncture denied Cais the 2WD category win on Barum Czech Rally Zlín against strong international opposition.
Asked if success in the ERC would top his achievements on the saddle, Cais said: “It’s really difficult to compare the mountain bike to the rally car because in mountain bike you only have one stage around three kilometres in length but with 400 people wanting to beat you. In rallying you have 20 or 30 people in your category wanting to beat you and you have to fight for two days, which is really difficult. I still need to learn about how much power I can do on the first stage compared to the end of the day, where you can go absolutely flat out and where you can only set the time. On the bicycle, you have only flat out and if you do a mistake you know it’s impossible to take it back. In rallying you can try to push and I really want to try and do my best to make our partners proud.”
Yacco, GPD, Autoclub of the Czech Republic, Cais, VP Racing, Pirelli, A-Team, P1 and Hothess will support Cais’s ERC1 Junior Championship bid.
Did you know?
Like his role model Colin McRae, Erik Cais was also born on 5 August, albeit four years after the rallying legend’s world championship triumph. With McRae a childhood hero and Cais’s father Miroslav among the Czech Republic’s best 10 drivers between 1997 and 2008, it was no surprise when Cais Jr took up the sport and in impressive fashion to boot.
Where to watch Erik Cais in 2020
Azores Rallye, 26-28 March; Rally Islas Canarias, 7-9 May; Rally Liepāja (Latvia), 29-31 May; 77th Rally Poland, 26-28 June; Rally di Roma Capitale (Italy), 24-26 July; Barum Czech Rally Zlín, 28-30 August. Plus additional rallies to be confirmed.