Sat 16 Dec 2023

ERC Expert View with Richard Rodgers

The FIA European Rally Championship delivered action from start to finish in 2023. As the ERC’s on-event press officer, Richard Rodgers was in the privileged position of being able to attend all rounds and watch a thrilling season unfold first hand.

Given his job and the respect he has for all drivers and teams competing in the ERC, he’s tried to be as impartial as possible. But as Richard's answers below demonstrate, that’s not easy!   

Driver of the year: Norbert Maior
I’d never want to come across as favouring one driver over another and there were so many great performances from so many great drivers in 2023. But to answer the question… Norbert Maior had been knocking on the door of something special from the moment he first appeared on the ERC scene on Rally Hungary in 2019, albeit as a non-registered competitor. His capture of this season’s FIA Junior ERC title against mighty opposition was down to speed, consistency and a fantastic self-belief that he would come out on top.

Disappointment of the year: Efrén Llarena's season
Not that he was a disappointment because, like always, the Spaniard gave everything and more besides. But it was so disappointing for Llarena that results didn’t match up to his talent and determination. Switching to a 2019-spec Škoda Fabia for the final two events of the season was typical Llarena – trying everything possible to succeed in the face of aversity. When my numbers come up on EuroMillions he’d be one of the beneficiaries.  

Moment of the year: Igor Widłak’s Zlín ERC3 victory
The 2023 ERC season was packed full of great moments – the basketball stadium stage on Rally Islas Canarias, Rally Liepāja’s richly-deserved elevation to the FIA World Rally Championship for 2024, Giandomenico Basso’s Rally di Roma Capitale podium as a soon-to-be 50-year-old, Alister McRae’s emotion after landing Colin’s Crest… But having hit back from challenging personal circumstances, the elation on Igor Widłak’s face following his class win on Barum Czech Rally Zlín was particularly memorable.

Unsung hero: Norman Kreuter
Norman Kreuter (above) made it a personal mission to score points on all eight rounds of the ERC4 season, which he was undertaking as a 50th birthday present/rallying farewell. Had it not been for a mechanical failure on Rally Hungary he would have achieved his target. It was therefore gutting for the German that he fell short. Always a pleasure to interview and always enthusiastic, Kreuter underlined the ERC’s accessible and welcoming nature perfectly.

Biggest surprise in 2023: Isak Reiersen
Probably not a complete surprise given his knowledge of the BAUHAUS Royal Rally of Scandinavia terrain, but the underfunded Isak Reirsen’s (below) pace was outstanding, as was his ability to remain calm after tyre damage dropped him out of a comfortable Junior ERC lead. Given his talent, it was also not a complete surprise that he came back to win the category but it was mighty impressive nevertheless. Fabian Zeiringer’s Junior ERC podium in Zlín shouldn’t be ignored either after his early-season frustrations.

Who to watch in 2024: Jon Armstrong
Providing he can get his hands on a top-of-the-range Rally2 car and the funds to embark on a full season, Jon Armstrong has what it takes to succeed in the ERC’s top class based on his giant-killing performances in M-Sport Poland’s excellent Ford Fiesta Rally3. Mathieu Franceschi, Andrea Mabellini and Filip Mareš will also fly, while Max McRae and Timo Schulz will be among the tough drivers to beat in Junior ERC. But, then again, there really are so many talents in the championship across all categories that shouldn’t be overlooked. That’s one of the great things about the ERC and and will be covering them all in 2024.  

Wild 2024 prediction: Mixi Csomós not to become Hungary’s first ERC champion!
His car-destroying Rally Islas Canarias crash could easily have led to a life away from rallying. Instead, it made Csomós (below) faster and more determined. He was excellent in Zlín but extraordinary in Hungary. Just extremely unlucky not to have won the season finale in true ‘Mixi-style’.

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