Sat 26 Nov 2022

My Top 5: Tommi Meadows

Capping off a week of reviews from those who covered the ERC in 2022, we finish with the man who wrote more words than anyone else in the championship - FIAERC.com editor Tommi Meadows.

I've always kept an eye on what's been going on in the ERC, as any rally fan should. But it wasn't until this season, the championship's first under WRC Promoter's management, that I really got to see what it was all about.

We’ve got a clubman series back home in the UK - it’s called the BTRDA and it goes under the strap line of ‘Serious Fun’. Now, don’t think for a second that I’m comparing the two championships - of course, they’re two very different things.

But I do think the same mantra applies to the ERC. 

This is a serious proving ground for the next generation of drivers and co-drivers, a stepping stone to the WRC. As hot as the pace is on the stages, though, we’ve got some real characters here. 

Once the helmets come off, the service park feels like one big family. And that’s an atmosphere you’d be hard-pushed to find in some other top-level motorsport series.  

Anyway, it’s time to look back on what has been a fantastic 2022 season and choose my top five moments.

Whittling these down to just five wasn’t an easy task, mind. Regrettably, I’ve had to leave out the ‘fish fresh’ of Rally Islas Canarias and the Super Bock of Rally Serras de Fafe - settling, after much deliberation, on the below.

‘Mad Max’ Battistolli 
Rally drivers are a different breed. Need proof? Look no further than Alberto Battistolli on the Azores Rallye Power Stage (sorry Alberto!). 

The popular Italian had enjoyed a solid run on the mid-Atlantic island but came unstuck within striking distance of the finish, cutting a hairpin bend an inch or two too tightly resulting in him tipping his Škoda Fabia Rally2 on its lid. 

The car now resembled something out of Mad Max - displaying heavy panel damage with the front right suspension strut poking its way all the way through the bonnet. 

No matter for Battistolli, though. Passionate fans quickly came to his aid and he manhandled the car - completely sideways - to the finish, still achieving a top-10 result. 

It’s never nice to see a crash, nor can anybody take pleasure from another crew’s misfortune. Luckily, in this case, the Fabia was back to full health within a fortnight and ready for Rally Islas Canarias. 

Alberto and co-driver Simone Scattolin have maintained that same level of determination throughout this year, making continuous improvements whilst coping admirably with a number of setbacks. Looking back now, I’m sure they laugh about this ‘little’ mishap. 

MRF’s breakthrough
I’m shamelessly sticking with the Azores Rallye Power Stage theme here - even though it seems to have been universally covered by my peers!

Yes, Efrén Llarena and Sara Fernández’s last-gasp attack to steal victory - their first in the ERC - did provide us with some incredible entertainment. 

For me, though, it was the result’s importance to Team MRF Tyres - for which it was also a maiden ERC triumph - that really made it special. 

Previous seasons have seen the likes of Dani Sordo and Craig Breen both come close to glory in MRF-shod machinery. Finally, around two years on from the squad's ERC debut, those years of blood, sweat and tears paid off. 

It’s rumoured that team representative Vivek Ponnusamy scooped up some Azorean gravel from the stage and it now takes pride of place, in a frame, at his home. Can you blame him?

You could feel the passion oozing from the big red tent in the service park of every rally this year. Long may that continue.

Young talent
I think the ERC does a really great job of providing aspiring drivers with a platform to prove themselves on the international stage. This year, again, there’s been no shortage of young talent. 

Laurent Pellier, Óscar Palomo and Andrea Mabellini - to name just a few - have all displayed their prowess with some amazing performances. One driver who particularly impressed me, however, was Toni Herranen. 

Herranen, aged just 18 at the time, debuted at Orlen 78th Rally Poland. He came excruciatingly close to taking the win but a brief excursion in the Power Stage meant he missed out on the top spot by 10.1sec. 

Driving a, dare I say, slightly less-developed Ford Fiesta Rally4, he’s one of few drivers to have given Pellier a real run for his money at any rally this year. 

If you go looking for Herranen’s team in the service park, you’ll not be greeted by a big fancy arctic truck. Instead, you’ll find a modest tent, a long wheelbase van and a group of laid-back, friendly Finns. This is a proper family effort.

Monzón’s masterclass
A stepping stone to the WRC it may be, but the ERC also remains a platform for all-comers to compete in an international environment. There are no barriers. 

We’ve had seven different winners from eight rallies in 2022 - several of them being local experts simply out for a good time on their home roads. I think it’s great. 

And I can’t lie, I was quietly rooting for Luis Monzón at Rally Islas Canarias. 

The image of the 56-year-old hopping out of his car that Friday night, Rolex on his wrist, grinning from ear to ear after keeping Europe’s best drivers at bay is something I often smile about. The guy is as cool as a cucumber. 

Sadly for Monzón, a final-day puncture denied him that fairytale victory. Still - he proved his pace.

Marczyk and the Polish fans
I’m agreeing with Becs on this one. The local fans really rallied around Miko Marczyk in Poland and their support was like nothing I’ve ever seen before - even compared with some WRC events. 

Marczyk was a celebrity in Mikołajki. Everywhere you looked, there he was; on the posters, on the flags, in the programmes. 

Despite his hero status, Marczyk kept his cool to secure a well-deserved win - even if it did involve a little bit of last-minute drama!

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