Sun 09 Apr 2023

ERC @ 70: A brief history

Throughout 2023, FIAERC.com is celebrating 70 years of the FIA European Rally Championship through a series of features, archive images and memories from selected drivers who wrote the headlines. Up first is a short history of the ERC.

In the beginning: The ERC begins with Helmut Polensky becoming the first champion in 1953, relying on both Fiat and Porsche power to take glory. His co-driver Walter Schlüter switches seats for the following season and wins the crown for the DKW marque. Countries familiar to the World Rally Championship, such as Great Britain, Italy, Monaco, Portugal and Sweden are regulars on the calendar.

German stranglehold broken: Driving a Volvo, Swede Gunnar Andersson takes the 1958 title to end a period of dominance by German drivers. Frenchman Paul Coltelloni emulates Andersson’s achievement the following year, but Walter Schock returns Germany to winning ways in 1960, becoming the ERC’s first two-time champion in a Mercedes.

Firmly established: As the sport of rallying takes off, interest in the ERC accelerates throughout the 1960s with an ever-expanding calendar, more future stars emerging and more rally-primed cars becoming available. Separate outright titles (G1, G2, G3) are established based on car performance. Famous all-rounder Vic Elford (pictured below in 1968, Photo: Porsche) is the G3 champion in 1967 driving a Porsche.

Ongoing expansion: By 1970, demand for calendar spots is such that a 22-round schedule is followed. After legendary Frenchman Jean-Claude Andruet begins the new decade by taking the title, Poland’s Sobiesław Zasada lands his third and final ERC crown in 1971.

Staying strong despite advent of world championship: Although there’s now a world title for manufacturers (1973), the fact a drivers’ award doesn’t come on stream until 1979 means interest in the ERC remains high. Champions include Sandro Munari, Walter Röhrl and Bernard Darniche, the ERC’s first back-to-back title winner (pictured top).

Forza Lancia: The 1980s and the early 1990s are dominated by Lancia with the Italian manufacturer powering nine consecutive champions. A young Miki Biasion is one of them, with the future double world champion triumphing in 1983.

Snijers supreme: After making his ERC debut in the 1970s, Belgian Patrick Snijers becomes champion in 1994. His tally of 43 wins remains a European championship record.

World Rally Cars on show: The new millennium ushers in a period of World Rally Car dominance in the ERC as more and more ex-factory WRC machines become available. Despite being spectacular to watch, expensive running costs result in limited numbers taking part.

Time for a reset: With a drop-off in interest, the ERC gets a timely reset for the 2004 season. The calendar is streamlined following the removal of the confusing coefficient system with present-day ERC events, Rally Poland and Barum Czech Rally Zlín, appearing on a compact and more accessible best of the best roster. Simon Jean-Joseph is the first champion of the ERC’s new era.

Super but not so super: The emergence of Super 2000 cars brings more interest, notably from Abarth and the next generation of Italian star drivers, such as multiple ERC champions Giandomenico Basso and Luca Rossetti (pictured below). But the creation of the Intercontinental Rally Challenge – where Peugeot and Škoda invest heavily – means the ERC is a poor third in the international rallying hierarchy, despite extensive efforts otherwise.

Promotion season: With plans to make the WRC more global and the IRC stalling in momentum, the FIA appoints Eurosport Events as ERC promoter for 2013 as the IRC is discontinued. The creation of Junior ERC in 2014, a Rally2-based Junior title in 2017 and the inclusion of top-class events such as Rally Estonia and Rally Liepāja are among the notable achievements.

Young stars emerge: More and more young stars such Craig Breen, Esapekka Lappi, Stéphane Lefebvre, Kalle Rovanperä and Oliver Solberg (pictured below) use the ERC to gain experience of international competition on their path to the WRC’s top level.

King Kajto, Prince Kalle: Co-driven by Jarek Baren, Kajetan Kajetanowicz makes ERC history in 2017 as the first driver to win the European title three years running (pictured on the Acropolis Rally). The season-deciding Rally Liepāja marks Kalle Rovanperä’s international debut.

Bouncing back: Even the COVID-19 pandemic can’t knock the ERC off its strengthening stride as Rally di Roma Capitale marks the resumption of international rallying in July 2020 following the easing of lockdown restrictions. A five-event schedule is achieved with Alexey Lukyanuk taking his second title having lost out on the 2019 honours to Chris Ingram in a thrilling final-stage decider in Hungary.

Onwards and upwards: Now benefiting from the promotional expertise of WRC Promoter, the ERC turns 70 in 2023 with the big competitor interest of recent seasons continuing, eight high-level rallies on offer, four official tyre suppliers (Hankook, Michelin, MRF and Pirelli) taking part, strong manufacturer involvement and the magnificent ERC All Live streaming service, which brings live coverage of all stages on all rallies to fans around the world.

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