Thu 14 Dec 2023

ERC Expert View with Max Marriott-Smith

With so much action happening on the stages of the European Rally Championship in 2023, Max Marriott-Smith had one of the busiest jobs of all in his role as live updates editor for These are his expert views of the ERC’s 70th-anniversary season.

Driver of the year: Mārtiṇš Sesks
Having come into the season off the back of an impressive campaign in 2022, Sesks (below) took everything he did superbly last season and built on it further, with back-to-back event wins in Poland and Latvia the main achievement. In the end, it wasn’t quite enough to beat an experienced and composed Hayden Paddon to the title, but even the Kiwi conceded that Sesks had put up a strong fight against him following his championship victory at Barum Czech Rally Zlín in August. The rallying world will be watching Sesks’s next steps eagerly, after he tore up the ERC this season, on occasion, in his MRF-shod Škoda Fabia, and began to show exceptional pace on asphalt (his less favoured surface) towards the end of the season, posting a podium finish at Rally Hungary.

Disappointment of the year: Mikko Heikkilä in Fafe
An unfortunate turn of events took place in Fafe for Mikko Heikkilä as tyre damage on the Power Stage saw the first ERC event win of the year seized by eventual championship winner Hayden Paddon, who secured his maiden ERC event win whilst the 2022 Finnish champion sunk to eighth place. Having led the rally since SS7 on Saturday and with the odds looking extremely favourable for Heikkilä, the wait goes on for the Finn to claim his breakthrough ERC victory. Could 2024 be his year?  

Moment of the year: Sesks dominates Rally Liepāja 
Mārtinš Sesks proved dominant in Poland in May just before the ERC ventured across to Liepāja, the hometown of the Latvian, where the young local hero picked up from where he left off in 2022, proving omnipotent and producing some of the most jaw-dropping driving ever seen. Sesks truly took the bull by the horns and managed to quickly manoeuvre his MRF-equipped Škoda through some of the toughest stages, winning all but two tests.

Unsung hero: Mathieu Franceschi
Coming into a full ERC season off the back of winning the 2022 French gravel title, Franceschi was tipped to post decent results on the European championship’s loose-surface stages. Whilst the Frenchman (above) wasn’t quite on the ultimate pace, it was a consistent maiden year in the ERC, which saw him consistently placing around sixth or seventh on each round following a 14th-place finish in Fafe. A top 10 finish was cruelly swiped away by an engine issue on the penultimate stage at Rally Roma di Capitale, forcing the Frenchman to retire. Alongside his consistency, his light-hearted and humorous personality has gone down a treat with the ERC’s stage-end reporters and audiences alike. Franceschi rounded off the season with an 11th-place finish in Hungary but he’ll be aiming for higher finishes in 2024.  

Biggest surprise in 2023: Lauri Joona’s Scandinavia pace
Whilst only appearing in Scandinavia and Rome this year, the Finn and co-driver Janni Hussi proved pacy and exciting to watch in the former, their maiden ERC event (below). Following participation in Rally Sweden in the WRC2 this year, where he placed 17th in Umeå, Joona burst onto the Värmland event in his Pirelli-shod Škoda Fabia RS, proving one of the most consistent among the first leg contenders to end the day just outside the top six, only to rise to fifth the next day, the third-quickest time on SS14 a highlight.

Who to watch in 2024: Mikko Heikkilä
Despite his Fafe woes and lack of speed on the stages unfamiliar to him in Gran Canaria, Heikkilä (below) displayed good pace on the following events but was hampered on multiple occasions by set-up or car issues and tyre damage. Although his campaign ended with a crash at Rally di Roma Capitale, it’s important to remember the consistent timing in Fafe that saw him pilot his Michelin-shod Škoda Fabia Rally2 into a huge lead, the two stage wins in Poland and one stage win in Latvia – events that were dominated by a particularly pacy Mārtinš Sesks – and the consistent pace set throughout Scandinavia before a broken rim on SS14 saw him drop out of podium contention, having maintained third since SS9. He skipped Barum Czech Rally Zlín and Rally Hungary to focus on the upcoming 2024 ERC season.  

Wild 2024 prediction: Unstoppable Sesks to go out on asphalt
After giving us a glimpse of what we might see next year when Sesks posted a podium finish on Hungary’s asphalt stages, we’re sure the Latvian will prove that it wasn’t a one off. With the calendar for next year set at a 5:3 asphalt to gravel ratio, the Sesks of old might have needed another year to get more experience on how to compete at an asphalt event but maybe not now.

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