Fri 15 Dec 2023

ERC Expert View with Jan Vaskovic has been a long-term supporter of the FIA European Rally Championship with Jan Vaskovic a key component of the coverage. An expert on all things Czech rallying, Jan’s knowledge of drivers and teams – through his eagerness to always talk to them – goes much further, making his expert views really insightful.

Driver of the year: Andrea Mabellini
It could be very easy – and it would not be a wrong answer – to say Hayden Paddon. But my choice is Andrea Mabellini (below). After stepping up from 2WD to 4WD, from the very first race he was confirming that he is belonging among the top ERC drivers. He won four stages and was able to set top times. Sure, there is still some experience needed in him and sometimes Lady Luck was not on his side to finish rallies with a good result. But he proved to be fast enough, just a shame he was not able to compete in Czech Republic and Hungary, two Tarmac rallies, and confirm his talent there.

Disappointment of the year: Efrén Llarena
To be honest, after 2022 there were higher expectations from Efrén Llarena, the reigning champion. It looks like he didn't find the common language with new Škoda Fabia RS Rally2 and he was struggling during the whole season. Trying to save budget to finish the season, he stepped back into the old Fabia R5, without a big chance to be competitive and I suppose this definitely broke his self-confidence. I'm sorry for him, but this is also how the rallysport simply can be. Other disappointments were Pontus Tidemand and Osian Pryce. Two top quality drivers, Pontus a former WRC2 world champion, Osian the reigning British champion, but both left far behind the expectations with their times and overall results. They can be much better.  

Moment of the year: Hayden Paddon in Zlín
There is no doubt about it. Hayden Paddon (below) and his accident at Barum Czech Rally Zlín. After he broke the suspension at Žlutava quarry, he was capable to repair the car and bring it back to the service park. And besides this, he was still very professional and speaking with fans around the special stage without any problem or becoming bitter. That situation really reminds me of my childhood rally heroes from the 1980s and 1990s. Not only for me, but for many fans, it was one of the main 2023 ERC season highlights.

Unsung heroes: Miklós Csomós and co-drivers
Miklós Csomós was always very fast but always often fighting with keeping the car on the road. His big crash at Rally Islas Canarias was almost the end of his career. With the amazing support from his friends and supporters he came back in the second half of the season at Rally Roma di Capitale, where he rose again like the legendary Phoenix at the end of the rally and finished in eighth place. Then his fantastic, really unexpected but well deserved second place in Zlín after the fast and very consistent performance. And after this achievement, his home event where he was very close to the victory (with six fastest stage times) until he crashed before the end of the rally. Often overlooked by the media or fans, but co-drivers, guys and girls play a crucial role in rallysport. They are not only the driver's ‘second eyes’ but they are also timekeepers, logistics managers, psychology experts and more. Their work during the rally week never finishes. And last but not least, without good pacenotes and absolute trust in your co-driver, you cannot reach the consistent results as the driver.

Biggest surprise in 2023: Hayden Paddon
The name which was already mentioned at the beginning… Hayden Paddon. The performance and consistency of Hayden Paddon, John Kennard and the whole BRC team during the season was excellent. With the reliability of their Hyundai i20 N Rally2, without major mistakes or punctures and mixed with the good speed, Hayden was able to turn this into six podiums in a row. A real masterclass. For sure, I cannot forget there were also other fast drivers with Mārtiṇš Sesks in the front, but Hayden's consistency was the right key to open the gate to the ERC 2023 title. There was still another one nice surprise at Barum Czech Rally Zlín. The performance of Timo Schulz behind the steering wheel of an Opel Corsa Rally4 during his very first attempt on fast and bumpy Tarmac roads in my home region makes me really impressed. I hope this young man is the rising star of German rallysport.  

Who to watch in 2024
First of all, let's wait to see which drivers will take part in ERC 2024. Will the key to overall success be experience or the fearless youth? From the past I really know how the pre-season predictions can risky and unpredictable, because there are so many factors affecting the game during the season. But on the other hand, this is one of the exciting parts of rallysport. How consistent will Mārtiṇš Sesks be in 2024 or Miklós Csomós, how fast will Andrea Mabellini be or Mathieu Franceschi, will Erik Cais move forward his confidence? Who knows. And of course, do not forget to follow the Junior ERC drivers. We already saw many interesting battles in 2023 and I believe the next season will bring to the ERC many new names which we will hear more in the near future.

Wild 2024 prediction: Toyota GR Yaris Rally2 will be a winner!
The new Toyota GR Yaris Rally2 (above) will win at least two ERC rallies. Sounds brave? Maybe, but I'm sure Toyota is doing its business as usually – with Japanese precision and the new car will be competitive and reliable. So I really would like to see this car as a real gamechanger. Not only in ERC, but national championships as well. Therefore, we will have at least four different winning cars in 2024. And I hope the new rallies in the calendar will be the ones which show us who really deserves the European title. So do not forget, new ERC season is coming in April 2024!

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