Sun 11 Jun 2023

ERC @ 70: My favourite memory by Armin Schwarz

As title campaigns go, Armin Schwarz’s capture of the 1996 FIA European Rally Championship was pretty special.

Of the eight events the German tackled that season, he finished on the podium seven times, including on the top step on four occasions.

To mark the ERC’s 70th anniversary, Schwarz, now 59, looks back on the 1996 season and the moment that mattered most.

“The memory I have in general was every rally where I turned up I had a national hero who we had to compete against,” says Schwarz. “Even coming from the World Rally Championship as I did, those guys had a good road knowledge, they knew the rallies.

“Maybe at the beginning we thought it would be an easy deal to become European champion, but we had only a limited number of events, we needed to win them and it was really, really tough to compete on all those different rallies.”

With Frenchman Denis Giraudet (pictured left with Schwarz in Ypres) co-driving, Schwarz was armed with a Toyota Celica GT-Four. But while the machine packed a punch, it wasn’t necessarily a class above.

“That was one of the best cars you could have but [1996] was the year after Toyota was banned from the World Rally Championship and, at that time and at that point, there was not much testing or development going on. We just got the car from TTE [Toyota Team Europe] like it was at the end of 1995, although the car was competitive and we could win the championship.”

Schwarz, whose 18-year-old son Fabio is contesting next week’s Tet Rally Liepāja, switched to the ERC for 1996 as an established WRC driver and event winner. He admits there was pressure on his shoulders as a result.

“Everyone expected us to win the championship and we won,” he says, looking back. “You definitely get under pressure when everyone expects you to win, it doesn’t matter how many competitors you have or how strong competition you have, it doesn’t matter what technical advantages or disadvantages you have, it was always everyone expecting you to win and at a certain time you get some pressure, absolutely.”

Schwarz was a regular in the WRC up until the end of the 2005 season, but he did find time to tackle selected ERC events before calling time on his driving career with victory on the Semperit Rallye in Austria in 2000 his seventh and final event win in the championship he once made his own.

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