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Wed 23 Mar 2022

Preview: Spectacular scenery sets backdrop for second round

The mid-Atlantic Ocean archipelago of Azores is renowned for its spectacular scenery, but any photo opportunities will be the last thing on the minds of the FIA European Rally Championship's drivers this weekend (25-27 March) as they prepare for Azores Rallye.

Azores Rallye Trailer

Ranked as one of the sport’s most spectacular events, teams and drivers have had limited time to prepare with the second round of the season coming hot on the back of Rally Serras de Fafe - Felgueiras - Cabreira e Boticas (11-13 March). For some, this has meant running repairs and chassis changes have been the order of the day to get ready for an event which promises unpredictable weather and narrow sandy stages that allow little room for error.

First run as part of the ERC back in 2013, the 2022 edition switches to a Friday-Sunday format and also forms rounds of the Azorean and Portuguese championships, plus the first event of the 2022 Clio Trophy by Toksport WRT, an entry-level category for the Renault Clio Rally5.

Portugal’s Armindo Araújo tops the 40-strong ERC entry followed by rising talents Alberto Battistolli (Italy) and Javier Pardo (Spain). All three drive Skoda’s Fabia Rally2 Evo. 

Double Junior ERC champion Ken Torn (Estonia) continues his transition to Rally2 level in a Pirelli-equipped Ford Fiesta. 

Norbert Herczig, Ricardo Moura and Simone Tempestini, multiple national champions from Hungary, Azores and Romania respectively, also appear on the entry along with Austrian hope Simon Wagner and Italians Rachele Somaschini (Citroën C3 Rally2) and Simone Campedelli. Pardo, Tempestini and Wagner have all enrolled in the ERC-Michelin Talent Factory incentive scheme for young stars in Rally2 cars.

Briton Jon Armstrong, a frontrunner in the Junior WRC, heads the ERC3 contingent in a Ford Fiesta Rally3 while Andrea Mabellini (Renault Clio Rally4) is the first of 11 ERC4 drivers set to take part. Meanwhile, Martins Sesks will be aiming to make it back-to-back ERC Open wins.

Efrén Llarena, runner-up to Andreas Mikkelsen in the 2021 ERC standings, is searching for a big haul of points following a troubled start to his title challenge in Fafe. The Spaniard is a big admirer of the mainly narrow gravel Azorean stages. 

“It’s one of the most demanding rallies because the weather can change a lot but I love this rally, it’s magical,” said Llarena, who is the eighth seed for Team MRF Tyres. “In three years we did second in Junior ERC, we won Junior ERC and last year we were third overall fighting with Mikkelsen and [Dani] Sordo.”

Bruno Magalhães is a three-time Azores winner and drives for Team Hyundai Portugal. “It’s always a pleasure to come back to Azores,” he said. “I have very good memories, I love the place. It’s a fantastic event for everybody.” 

The 56th Azores Rallye begins with the first of 14 stages over a competitive distance of 205.15 kilometres from 08h18 local time on Saturday 26 March. The 9.57-kilometre Ribeira Grand Power Stage brings the action to a close at 16h08 local time on Sunday 27 March. 

  • Full coverage from the Azores Rallye will be available on WRC+ All Live here, including every stage broadcast as it happens as well as key interviews, features and expert analysis from the service park.
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