Sun 20 Aug 2023

Returning Widłak lands Zlín ERC3 glory

Former champion Igor Widłak completed a perfect FIA European Rally Championship comeback with the ERC3 win on Barum Czech Rally Zlín today (Sunday).

Widłak, from Poland, was making his return to the series having not competed since he wrapped up the ERC3 title on this event one year ago.

With new co-driver Mateusz Pawłowski alongside, Widłak moved into first place when 2023 champion and runaway leader Jon Armstrong crashed heavily on stage six.

And with compatriot Jakub Matulka out of contention having stopped with a mechanical issue on Saturday’s first stage, Widłak was essentially assured of victory, providing he could make it through today’s 92.40 timed kilometres.

Driving a Pirelli-equipped Ford Fiesta Rally3, Widłak did just that and claimed a dominant winning margin of almost 53min over Matulka, who restarted this morning and brought his Fiesta Rally3 to the finish in second position.

“Everything was good today, it’s perfect, and with Jon everything is okay so I am happy for that,” said Widłak. “I try to get my confidence back this morning but it’s not easy on this hard rally. We had a plan today and we go with this. We can go faster but it’s hard for the first rally back. My goal on this rally was to have fun and I have had good fun. I am happy to come back to the ERC family and I want to go all season next year, that would be perfect. The car and co-driver were perfect today, I am so happy.”

Matulka, who is set to secure second place in the final ERC3 championship standings on the back of podiums in Poland, Latvia and now in Czech Republic, explained what went wrong on SS2. “The belt just broke and we didn’t have any powersteering and cooling so we had to stop and retire for the day and that’s it. We were three kilometres from the finish line of the first stage of the day so there was not a lot of driving.”

He continued: “We came back today, it was my first loop of the rally and I had to find my rhythm. At the beginning of Semetin we had a small moment and this put my confidence a bit down. Then on Pindula it was a lot better and on Halenkovice it was also good. Everything was okay this afternoon, we finished the Power Stage with a pretty good pace for us. It’s a pity we didn’t participate in yesterday’s stages, otherwise today would have been a lot better. But it was a very good feeling at the end.”

Due to the severity of his accident, Armstrong and co-driver Cameron Fair underwent medical checks and remained in hospital overnight as a further precaution.

“Both Cameron and myself are fine after our accident,” Armstrong wrote on Facebook. “We were having the most amazing stage [six] up until that point, but on high-speed braking into a [left] corner, the road surface was very slippery and I had no chance to get the control back once the car had locked up.

“Thank you to Cam, fellow competitors, spectators, marshals and the medical team for their help in a difficult situation. Thanks also to M-Sport Poland for a very strong car, that enabled us to walk away relatively unscathed.”

Timo Schulz added the FIA ERC4 category win to his FIA Junior ERC success at the wheel of his Hankook-equipped Opel Corsa with experienced Czech driver Jaromír Tarabus finishing second aboard his Peugeot 208 Rally4, which was also fitted with Hankook tyres.

Meanwhile, Norman Kreuter extended his impressive points-scoring run to seven events, despite a spin onto a grassy section on SS8 leaving him temporarily stranded. Spectators pushed him back onto the road but not before approximately 50sec had been lost. He finished eighth with Cristiana Oprea in 10th place.

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