Thu 17 Aug 2023

Dramatic build-up as Junior ERC title chase intensifies

Barum Czech Rally Zlín is all set to host the penultimate round of the Hankook-equipped FIA Junior ERC Championship from tomorrow (Friday) following a dramatic build-up to the young driver category’s second asphalt event of the season.

While Roberto Daprà’s preparations have been free of the drama he encountered ahead of last month’s Rally di Roma Capitale, when a car-wrecking testing crash left him nursing a sore neck for the remainder of the event, which he nevertheless won, it’s been a different story for the Italian’s main title rivals.

Ola Nore Jr, who heads the provisional standings after four rounds having won the first two events of the season in a Renault Clio Rally4, has been forced to pull his Barum Czech Rally Zlín entry at the last moment due to a lack of funding.

Norbert Maior, who is seven points behind Nore having claimed four Junior ERC podiums from four starts in 2023, crashed heavily during testing in Czech Republic yesterday (Wednesday) and is due to compete in a replacement Peugeot 208 Rally4.

“I made a small mistake in a slippery turn, the car oversteered and hit an embankment, then we flipped over,” Maior said. “It was fully my mistake, it can happen when you are trying to push the limit and improve your driving. Fortunately, our team, HRT Racing, is very nice and did everything possible to bring a new car from Hungary, so we owe them our start in Zlín."

The Romanian driver continued: “It's important that we have this opportunity, especially now, and we will try to forget what happened to be able to focus solely on the rally. All we need to do is stay in the title fight, because with two races left until the end of the championship, there's not much room for errors.”

Norwegian Nore explained his Zlín absence on social media: “Unfortunately I will not be on the start list as planned. I feel very sad and it hurts a lot not having the possibility to fight to hold on to the championship victory. We have been working very hard to find economic solutions to be able to do the rally until the last minute, but we didn’t make the budget.

“It is hard times and also sponsors can, unfortunately, be prevented to make payments. I really hope to get the opportunity to continue this year and find a solution for next year. I want to be back stronger, very soon.”

Having finished on the class podium on ORLEN 79th Rally Poland and Tet Rally Liepāja, Victor Hansen has slipped out of title contention of late. He’s fourth in the table, 16 points behind ACI Team Italia’s third-placed Daprà who, like Hansen, pilots a Peugeot 208 Rally4.

Hansen’s co-driver Victor Johansson said: “The competition will be incredibly challenging. We hope that the weather is with us and that we avoid the downpours that returned frequently during last year’s rally.”

Although Daprà, Hansen and Maior have contested Barum Czech Rally Zlín before, Scot Max McRae (208 Rally4), German Timo Schulz (Opel Corsa Rally4) and Italian Mattia Zanin (208 Rally4) are all Zlín rookies, as is Ford Fiesta Rally4-driving Swede Mille Johansson.

Motorsport Ireland Rally Academy-backed Aoife Raftery is another Zlín newcomer in her 208 Rally4. But while Austrian Fabian Zeiringer has experience of the Czech stages from last season, his fellow Opel Corsa Rally4 driver Mark Škulj is contesting the event for the first time on what will be the Slovenian’s second Junior ERC start.

Barum Czech Rally Zlín consists of 13 all-asphalt stages over a timed distance of 200.43 kilometres. The action begins with a spectacular super special stage through the streets of Zlín from 21:00 CET on Friday.

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