Tue 12 Dec 2023

ERC Expert View with Becs Williams

Continuing FIAERC.com’s look-back on the 2023 FIA European Rally Championship with the help of several expert writers, commentators and stage-end reporters, it’s broadcaster extraordinaire Becs Williams’ turn in the hot seat. This is what the wonder from Wales has had to say.

Driver of the year: Andrea Mabellini
Driver of the year is always a difficult one. Many may think its straightforward – obviously the champion, right? Naturally, it was a stellar performance from Hayden Paddon, no denying that. But no. Sorry Hayden, there’s a consolatory fruit basket in the post! I look for the journey, what a driver has achieved in one season to the next. The growth in confidence, assurance of speed. A driver that has pushed themselves to the very limit, again and again. And that is why for me, Andrea Mabellini is the driver of the year. First full season in a Rally2 car, wins four stages across the year, fastest qualifier in Rome, confidence growing on each event. What a sensational step up into this category. Highs and lows, a proper journey.  Special shout out to Mārtiṇš Sesks who also impressed in 2023.

Disappointment of the year: Mikko Heikkilä’s Fafe final-stage woe
In contrast to the difficult driver of the year – disappointment of the year is easy as it still sits heavy on my heart when I think of it! The opening round of the ERC in Fafe, the final Power Stage and a gargantuan battle for the win between Mikko Heikillä (above) and Hayden Paddon. Heikkilä had shown us extraordinary pace throughout the weekend. We were all poised to celebrate his first ERC victory when disaster struck. A damaged tyre. Images of him changing the wheel at the side of the road were met with screams of ‘NOOooooooooo!’ from the commentary box. When he eventually reached the stage end, his face echoed everything the audience at home were feeling. Brutal disappointment. “Not even crying would help right now,” he said. Same Mikko, same.  

Moment of the year: Eyvind Brynildsen’s Power Stage commentary debut
This is quite a personal one, as only I witnessed it live. Again, the Power Stage in Fafe.  Eyvind Brynildsen (below) had joined us for the first time in commentary this season and had been utterly brilliant at it. The battle was set for a thrilling PS. We put on our headsets and the opening music of the TV show blasts out. I begin my intro but notice that Eyvind is restless. The stage starts and the restlessness intensifies, he abandons his chair and abruptly stands up. Such is the tension and nerves he is feeling ahead of a huge battle. I mute our mics and ask if he is OK – ‘Yes, I’m just TOO excited!’ he beamed back. It was pure emotion, passion and adrenaline right there. That is what our sport does on the daily. It gave me goosebumps. Definitely my moment of the year.

Unsung heroes: The mechanics
This is a broad spectrum because we have seen many feats of wonder to get cars back on road after major incidents this year. Martin László in Rome, off on the Qualifying Stage, crumpled car back like new for that evening’s superspecial. Rallytechnology changing Chris Ingram’s gearbox in record time in Zlín. Many, many more throughout the year. In all weathers, under tiny awnings, the mechanics remind us that rally is a team sport.   

Biggest surprise in 2023: Being in Karlstad without snow!
Seeing Karlstad and Sweden without snow for BAUHAUS Royal Rally of Scandinavia (below). For 20 years I have travelled to the region in winter, and to see it in summer was so very different! Colin’s Crest devoid of snow and in summer spec was something special. The stages were fantastically fast and what had been once a winter wonderland was now a summer festival of rally. A fabulous addition to the calendar.

Who to watch in 2024: Andrea Mabellini and Mathieu Franceschi
Both showed their potential this year and maybe more importantly, their hunger to improve. There were brilliant flashes of pace. Who can forget Mabellini at home winning the Qualifying Stage and four other stages during the season? I know I’ve mentioned him twice now, maybe I should be head of the fan club? Franceschi’s fierce determination and miraculous saves (below), an excitingly wild driver to watch – the two wheel moment in Sweden a highlight. I am so keen to see what they will deliver next season!  

Wild 2024 prediction: It won’t rain!
That it won’t rain on any event next year?! As if…I’ll keep packing my full wets. I can’t even say there’ll be a different winner on each event, as we almost had that this year! Seven different winners, Sesks the only driver to win more than one event. OK, so I will go with a five-way title battle come the final round of the year. Which five drivers you ask? Well, you’ll have to watch to find out! See you next year!

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