Tue 15 Nov 2022

2022 season review: ERC

Eight rallies with seven different winners - there was action aplenty in this year’s FIA European Rally Championship. Let’s take a round-by-round look back at what happened in the top category in 2022.

Fafe: Solans supreme
A new season, a new promoter and a new driver at the top of the ERC timesheets. At Rally Serras de Fafe - Felgueiras - Cabreira e Boticas, Nil Solans stole the show. 

The 29-year-old left his rivals floundering as relentless rain, thick fog and muddy gravel tracks bombarded the season opener in northern Portugal. Having posted the fourth-fastest time in qualifying, Solans took a gamble - choosing to open the road in Saturday's opening leg. 

That gamble well and truly paid off as the Spaniard outpaced the entire field by a second per kilometre in the day's opener before racking up several more stage wins to end the day with almost two minutes in hand. 

Solans eased off on Sunday's drier gravel stages, managing his lead to perfection to claim maiden ERC triumph by 55.7sec from Georg Linnamäe's similar Volkswagen Polo with home hero Armindo Araújo third. 

Team MRF Tyres, by contrast, had a nightmare. Efrén Llarena languished in 12th overall after damaging his radiator while colleagues Simone Campedelli and Norbert Herczig both failed to finish.

Simone Tempestini, who had been on course for fifth overall, also retired after crashing heavily in the rally-ending Power Stage. 

Azores: Final stage thriller
Ponta Delgada’s Ricardo Moura wheeled out his Škoda Fabia Rally2 for its annual outing at the Azores Rallye, based in the Azorean driver’s hometown. The 43-year-old - winner of the event in 2016 - was on a mission for vengeance after a final stage roll in 2021 cost him a podium position. 

It appeared that Moura would have the last laugh as he led the mid-Atlantic event from the very first stage, fending off the Fabias of Simon Wagner and Efrén Llarena. 

But in the closing stages, Llarena turned the screw on the leader. Blitzing Moura by 7.7sec in the penultimate Sete Cidades test, only 6.1sec split the pair heading into the Power Stage. Still, that was too much, surely?

Think again. Llarena put in the drive of his life, shading his rival by 8.8sec to steal a dramatic victory by just 2.7sec. It marked the first ERC rally win for both Llarena and his MRF Tyres squad. Wagner secured third while Tempestini made amends for his Fafe shunt with fourth overall. 

Throughout all of this, Solans could do nothing but watch from the sidelines. His dream start was beginning to sour as budgetary struggles prevented him from starting the event.

Canarias: Solans back on top
Having gathered just enough funding to continue his title bid, Solans headed to Rally Islas Canarias knowing a strong result would be vital.  

However, as was the case at round two, local knowledge came to the fore. Set-up issues left Solans struggling to manage the heat in his front tyres and the Polo man couldn’t get the better of Canarian Luis Monzón, who headed him by 3.2sec heading into Saturday’s final leg. 

Asphalt veteran Monzón edged one step closer to his fourth win at the event, doubling that buffer on the first test. But disaster struck immediately afterwards when a screw-inflicted puncture sidelined the leader on the very next stage. 

Solans seized the top spot and won by 11.2sec from Llarena, who moved into the championship lead. Llarena finished the rally on identical times with Yoann Bonato, but the former took second on countback having set the fastest time over the first non-super special stage.

Poland: Magical Marczyk
With two wins from two starts, Solans was on a roll - but budgetary issues were still making things difficult. He pulled off a last-minute deal to contest ORLEN 78th Rally Poland in a Hyundai i20 N Rally2 prepared by local team Kowax Racing. 

Also making an appearance was Miko Marczyk, who finished 3rd overall in 2021 drivers’ championship. In 2022, the Pole has focused his efforts and a WRC2 campaign, although the opportunity to compete in front of local fans was an opportunity he couldn’t turn down.

A scintillating battle unfolded between the pair as they traded blows over Saturday’s superfast stages, with Solans leading the way before coming unstuck on SS7. The steering broke following a heavy compression and the Spaniard became a passenger as his car slid off into a ditch and out of the rally.

Marczyk was left lonely at the front but he’d soon bear the brunt of Poland’s deep ruts, with rough conditions late on the final day damaging his Fabia’s radiator and almost boiling the engine. 

Luckily, he was able to continue and, despite dropping time to second-placed Tom Kristensson towards the end, Marczyk won the rally by ten seconds. 

Ken Torn banished all memories of his rocky start to the year with third and Llarena extended his points lead with fourth overall. Tempestini was fifth and moved up to third in the championship.

Latvia: Sesks on fire
With one eye on both the driver’ and teams’ titles, Team MRF Tyres expanded its line-up and fielded four identical Fabia Rally2 Evos at Tet Rally Liepāja. Llarena, Herczig and Javier Pardo were joined by hometown kid Mārtiņš Sesks.

Sesks, stepping up from ERC Open to the ERC’s main category, repaid that faith by leading from start to finish. 

Armed with a brand-new tyre from the Indian rubber giant, the 22-year-old was in a league of his own and won all 12 stages to head a dream 1-2 with Llarena - who made another major gain in his title bid - finishing second. 

The result wasn’t just impressive - it was history-making. Sesks became the first-ever driver to win every stage of an ERC rally.

Solans finished a lowly 12th overall after picking up two puncture aboard his i20. He still remained second in the standings but, trailing Llarena by 46 points, decided to end his campaign soon afterwards.

Rome: Italy’s finest
Italian drivers dominated Rally di Roma Capitale, which took place on relentless asphalt roads around Fiuggi. The event got underway with a super special stage around Rome’s famous Colosseum - a first for the ERC. 

Local specialist Damiano De Tommaso led for the first five stages but relinquished the top spot late on Saturday when fellow Italian Andrea Crugnola mounted an attack to go into the lead by more than 10 seconds heading into the final leg. 

Glory seemed almost guaranteed for Crugnola until Rocca di Cave - Subiaco 1 - the longest stage of the rally at 32.30km - provided a brutal sting in the tail and the pendulum swung back in De Tommaso’s favour.

An unresponsive throttle left Crugnola’s Citroën C3 Rally2 severely down on power and he spluttered through the morning’s last pair of stages, haemorrhaging time. De Tommaso swooped back in front to steal victory on home soil, with MRF star Campedelli bagging the runner-up spot ahead of Yoann Bonato.

Llarena settled four fourth - missing out on a podium by just three-tenths of a second to Bonato. Most importantly, his championship lead was extended to 58 points over Tempestini, who wrapped up ERC-Michelin Talent Factory honours. 

Barum: Llarena and Fernández seal the deal
Tempestini's late withdrawal from Barum Czech Rally Zlín left Llarena and co-driver Sara Fernández with an unassailable points lead - confirming the Spanish pairing as champions without even turning a wheel at the penultimate round. 

The celebrations were cut short for Llarena and Fernández in the third stage of the event, however, as a huge head-on shunt ended their rally instantly. 

Topping the timesheets throughout was a dominant Jan Kopecký, driving a Škoda. Having duly earned himself a hefty 34.6sec advantage early on, the Czech ace’s approach switched to lead preservation on Sunday. He took fewer risks, made no mistakes and, despite failing to win any of the day's stages, still pulled further away from his rivals.

Kopecký’s clinical performance was rewarded as he ended 37.5sec clear at the top - winning his home rally for a record-breaking 10th time. Filip Mareš proved his pace with second overall while Wagner completed the podium. 

Spain: Bonato’s breakthrough
Capping off the year was a new event: RallyRACC Catalunya - Costa Daurada. Based in sunny Salou, the rally marked the ERC’s return to Catalunya for the first time since 1990. 

Bonato, starting his fourth rally of the season, got the better of recently-crowned champion Llarena to secure the honours at the final round.

Although Llarena drew first blood by setting the pace on the opening stage on Friday morning, once Bonato settled into his stride, there was no stopping him. The Frenchman posted the fastest time on seven of the event’s 12 speed tests, with two cancelled due to red flag stoppages further up the order.

After pacing himself through the points-paying El Montmell 2 Power Stage – the longest of the rally at 24.18km – Bonato ultimately wound up 13.8sec clear of Llarena, the duo comfortably the class of the field as the ERC celebrated a seventh different winner from eight events in 2022. 

Not only that, but the Citröen ace’s breakthrough triumph and hefty points haul was sufficient to vault him from ninth in the championship standings up to third – an impressive performance, having only entered half of the season’s events.

Latvia
Starts: Thursday, July 18, 2024 at 4:31:00 AM
Italy
Starts: Friday, July 26, 2024 at 7:00:00 AM
Hungary
Starts: Saturday, July 27, 2024 at 6:00:00 AM