Mon 11 Dec 2023

ERC Expert View with Reiner Kuhn

At the completion of another epic FIA European Rally Championship season – the 70th no less – has called on several top writers, commentators and stage-end reporters to get their expert views on what was hot and not quite so in 2023.

Reiner Kuhn, a powerhouse of Germany’s rallying media elite and best known for telling it how it is in Motorsport Aktuell, is the first to share his valuable views.  

Driver of the year: Hayden Paddon
Hayden Paddon, nobody else. It sounds easy to choose the champion, but the way the Kiwi took on the challenge against all the Europeans (and the jetlag after late fly-ins) to write history with fast, smart and clever drives in all conditions was just outstanding. What an attitude at Barum Czech Rally Zlín to fix the car, together with his ingenious co-driver John Kennard, just to get out of the stage and make it back to service for the celebrations, having clinched the title.  

Disappointment of the year: Efrén Llarena
Just one podium, which came on home ground, is definitely not what we and, I guess, he expected from a season he started as champion. When he switched back from the all-new Fabia RS to the older Evo after three rounds it showed he lost not only the connection to his faster competitors, like his team-mate Mārtiṇš Sesks, but he also lost his confidence. A season to forget for the talented Spaniard.

Moment of the year: Timo Schulz wins in Zlín
In fact, there were nine great moments. Because on just as many of the 13 stages of the tricky Barum Czech Rally Zlin, Timo Schulz (below) was the fastest man in a front-wheel-drive car. After an ambitious and, at the same time, smart drive, the young German finished with a lead of over a minute to the second-place driver and celebrated his first victory in the Junior ERC Championship in his debut season.  

Unsung heroes: Mikko Heikkilä and Miklós Csomós
I would like to mention two names. Mikko Heikkilä, who drove a fantastic rally at the season opener in Fafe, led until the final Power Stage and was thrown back to eighth place after a wheel change. I'll never forget how confidently the Finn commented on the huge disappointment: “No idea, it's easy to have a puncture, there’s so many stones out there. Even crying doesn't help. I'm happy with the rally. The Michelin tyres are nice. It is what it is", he said. It’s a shame that he was unable to build on this performance afterwards. Miklós Csomós, who after a serious accident in Gran Canaria, did everything he could to show what he was capable of. Through crowdfunding, the Hungarian raised the funds to continue with a new car and co-driver and finished on the podium in the Czech Republic after an inspiring drive. At the final home round in Hungary, he was in the lead until two stages before the end, when first a tyre puncture and then an accident knocked him out of the rally. A season could not end more unfortunately.

Biggest surprise in 2023: BAUHAUS Royal Rally of Scandinavia
To be honest it was maybe not the biggest surprise, rather the greatest. There was hardly anyone who wasn't excited about this new BAUHAUS Royal Rally of Scandinavia (below). And then the WRC-proven organisers headed by Glenn Olsson served up the hoped-for rally festival with an enthusiastic crowd, friendly marshals, challenging and spectacular stages, including the return of popular Colin's Crest. This is rallying. There's no question that events like this belong in the continent's top league.  

Who to watch in 2024: Mārtiṇš Sesks and Max McRae
Let me use this category to name two drivers who deserve to be in the spotlight. Above all Mārtiṇš Sesks. Not because he won in Poland and Latvia – his speed on fast gravel tracks is well known – so much more because he dominated his team-mates and now also made a huge step on Tarmac, as his podium finish in Hungary showed. Let’s see what kind of car/team he will be working with in 2024. The same applies to Junior ERC driver Max McRae. Despite his big name, he remains modest and has shown flashes of talent, but has all too often come away empty-handed. It would be nice to see him hang on for another season and try to work his way up to the JWRC via winning the Junior ERC title.

Wild 2024 prediction: It won’t be super-exciting (because it will!) Only one thing is clear to me: the 2024 season will be super exciting. Firstly, because the three new events will make the competition even more attractive, as the established ERC teams will no longer be able to draw on their experience and all crews have to create new pacenotes – I really like that part of rallying. On the other hand, the all-new Toyota GR Yaris Rally2 will arrive as a new customer sport model, so there will probably be some changes. We will see which crew gets on best with which car and with which tyres. In Junior ERC the situation is a bit different but I'm hoping for a few new talents which are capable of shaking up the supposed title favourites.

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