Thu 18 May 2023

ERC stars preparing to drive flat out for Pole position

It’s foot to the floor time in the FIA European Rally Championship this week (19 - 21 May) with Poland’s high-speed gravel stages providing the latest challenge for the ERC stars and their cars.

And with the ERC turning 70 this season it’s only fitting that the second oldest rally in the world is part of the 2023 schedule, kicking off a three-event run of flat-out gravel events.

Based in the Masurian lake district town of Mikołajki, a three-hour drive north of the capital Warsaw, ORLEN 79th Rally Poland has attracted a packed entry – including 58 ERC-registered crews – with a 16-stage, 182.06-kilometre route in store. It’s also the opening round of the Hankook-equipped FIA Junior ERC Championship, which is giving 16 young talents the opportunity to build their experience for future career progression in Rally4 and Rally5 cars.

Step into the unknown for Europe’s top talents
ORLEN 79th Rally Poland will be a step into the unknown with the new Barczewo and Biskupiec stages located west of Mikołajki forming part of the Sunday route and coming complete with a “good, hard gravel surface” according to the event organisers.

Prior to Sunday’s action, the 3.46km Baranowo test hosts the Qualifying Stage from 12:30 local time on Friday with the results used to form part of Saturday’s starting order.

Following the ceremonial start in Mikołajki’s Main Square at 17:00, the focus switches to the purpose-built Mikołajki Arena super special stage located adjacent to the event service park within the grounds of the giant Hotel Gołębiewski. Crews tackle the Mikołajki Arena test in pairs with the first battle due to begin at 18:30.

Saturday’s route consists of three double-use stages, plus a return to the Mikołajki Arena to round out the day’s timed action. At 18.58km, Świętajno is the rally’s longest and gets under way at 08:45. It’s followed by tweaked versions of Markowskie (13.53km) and Wieliczki (17.35km) prior to a service stop in Mikołajki from 12:30. The repeat of Świętajno is the first of four stages in the afternoon from 14:35.

Four stages each run twice provide the challenge on Sunday’s deciding leg, which begins with westerly runs Barczewo (10.73km) from 08:05 and Biskupiec (12.30km) from 08:55. Crews head back to Mikołajki via the Gmina Mrągowo (9.14km) and Mikołajki (6.68km) stages. Mikołajki is an extensively reworked version of the Mikołajki Max stage used previously. Sunday’s morning stages are rerun in the afternoon with Gmina Mrągowo forming the points-paying Power Stage from 17:05. Mikołajki’s Main Square is the setting for the finishing ceremony from 18:15. All stages will be streamed live on the WRC+ service.

Quality and quantity: strong ERC entry is Poland bound
Fifty-eight crews will be in contention for FIA European Rally Championship points with the total 62-car main entry including 31 Rally2 cars, 16 Junior ERC drivers and the international-level debut of the all-new Renault Clio Rally3, which will go up against the Ford Fiesta Rally3 Evo from M-Sport Poland.

Other entry highlights include ERC points leader Pirelli-equipped BRC Racing Team Hyundai driver Hayden Paddon, who scored two podiums during Poland’s tenure as a round of the FIA World Rally Championship, last year’s Rally Poland winner and home hero Miko Marczyk in a Michelin-shod Škoda Fabia RS Rally2, plus defending ERC champion Efrén Llarena who drives a latest-specification Fabia for Team MRF Tyres.

British champion Osian Pryce makes his ERC debut, Tom Kristensson is the reigning Polish champion and won last season’s FIA European Rally Trophy Final, while Toyota Gazoo Racing WRT NG has entered a three-car line-up of emerging Japanese talents. Norman Kreuter tops the ERC4 list ahead of leading Junior ERC seed Roberto Daprà.

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