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Sat 10 Jun 2023

The vital role Liepāja has played in the history of Junior ERC

As Tet Rally Liepāja director Raimonds Strokšs has pointed out recently, the 17-strong FIA Junior ERC Championship entry assembled for next week’s fast-paced gravel contest in Latvia is a “true indication that the future of the sport is in good hands”.

While the success of the category – now in its 10th season and its first with Hankook as the official tyre partner – is down to many people, Strokšs and his Rally Liepāja colleagues were present when the championship began in February 2014 (above) and have actively supported the young driver series ever since.

Here’s a reminder of the vital role Rally Liepāja has performed during Junior ERC’s first decade.

It all started in 2014: Rally Liepāja hosted the first Junior ERC round in February 2014. Jan Černý (below) made history as the championship’s maiden event winner in the Latvian snow and ice ahead of Risto Immonen and Petter Kristiansen.

Bergkvist starts as he means to go on: Swede Emil Bergkvist (below) was the driver to beat at the start of the 2015 Junior ERC season, which he would go on to complete as the first Opel-powered champion.

Big reward in store for Griebel: After being crowned the third Junior ERC champion on Rally Liepāja in 2016 – rescheduled to September due to unseasonal weather preventing it from taking place in February as planned – Marijan Griebel (below) was handed the keys to a Škoda Fabia R5 for the Cyprus Rally season finale. And the German took full advantage of his prize drive by finishing second overall.

Sesks emerges: The 2016 Rally Liepāja also marked hometown hero Mārtiṇš Sesks’ full FIA European Rally Championship debut. He finished fourth among the Junior ERC contenders. He's pictured below celebrating his 2018 title trumph.

Ingram on top after four-way title battle: The 2017 Junior ERC title came down to a four-way decider on Rally Liepāja. Filip Mareš topped the standings by two points ahead of Chris Ingram prior to the Latvian showdown with Jari Huttunen and Aleks Zawada 11 and 18 points behind Mareš respectively. But it was Ingram (below) who would go on to claim the crown for Opel after two days of epic competition.

Kristensson great, Sesks ever greater: After making his Junior ERC debut on the 2017 Liepāja finale, Tom Kristensson (below) stormed to the category victory 12 months later ahead of local ace Mārtiṇš Sesks, who would take the coveted title.

Torn’s Mayday call: With Rally Liepāja running in the May of 2019, Ken Torn (below) was the driver to beat with eventual champion Efrén Llarena finishing fifth.

Franceschi wins after Sesks finishes first: Mārtiṇš Sesks’ victory celebrations were short-lived when Rally Liepāja formed round two of the 2021 Junior ERC season in the July of that year. Having moved in front when overnight leader Sami Pajari rolled, Sesks, competing on a one-off basis, was excluded from the results after his Ford Fiesta Rally4 failed post-event technical checks. Jean-Baptiste Franceschi, the eventual champion, inherited the win, despite the Frenchman (below) picking up a 1min 10sec penalty for an early check-in on the opening leg.

Torn again: Armed with a Ford Fiesta Rally4 from M-Sport Poland, Torn (below) would also take top Junior ERC honours on Rally Liepāja in 2020 after the event was pushed back to August in response to the COVID-19 global health pandemic.

Palomo’s promotion: The leader from the third stage of the event after Laurent Pellier rolled, Óscar Palomo’s victory last season was his first in Junior ERC at only this third attempt. Impressive stuff from the young Spaniard (below).

Tet Rally Liepāja takes place from 16 - 18 June as round two of the Hankook-equipped 2023 FIA Junior ERC Championship.