Sun 17 Dec 2023

ERC Expert View with Niccolò Budoia

For the last seven days has been looking back on the 2023 FIA European Rally Championship by asking writers, commentators and stage-end reporters to answer some of the key questions raised during the ERC’s 70th-anniversary season.

Niccolò Budoia, a highly respected journalist from Italian website, is the final expert to give his views on another epic year of ERC action. Find out his thoughts below.  

Driver of the year: Andrea Mabellini
There were many and for sure the first name you think of is Hayden Paddon, because of the title, the first non-European winner of the ERC. I will be patriotic, and I will say Andrea Mabellini. But it’s because of his great improvement during the season, for his results, not just because he is Italian! Maybe there were some mistakes, but this was the season when we understood how good he is. It was his first season in Rally2, so it was incredible. We spent a lot of time together in Fafe, the first race. He didn’t know how to behave against Paddon, Breen, Østberg and so on. He started with the number 36 and was seventh until his retirement, so it was a huge race. That moment he probably understood he could do a good season.

Disappointment of the year: Mads Østberg
I will say maybe Mads Østberg because of his lack of results. Okay, he won in Hungary, but he seemed to find it hard to find the right feeling. Many of us thought he could have done more because of his big talent. One win is still impressive, but for him I am sure he was expecting more.  

Moment of the year: Craig Breen’s Power Stage win in Fafe
The Power Stage win of Craig Breen in Fafe (below) was the most beautiful for many of us. It was his last one in the ERC and a month later he died. It was a bitter-sweet memory and I want to preserve the sweet part of it.

Unsung hero: Andrea Crugnola
I will be Italian to the end and say Andrea Crugnola! In 2021 he gained a world championship point in Monza and then won with dominance Rally di Roma Capitale this year (below). But, despite this, he can’t find a way to compete all the time in an international championship next year, which is a shame for him. The Italian people were not surprised by his victory in Rome, but the way he gained it was really, really great after the huge fight with Giandomenico Basso and Yoann Bonato, who had the puncture, and with Hayden Paddon, who made a mistake and lost a minute. Andrea didn’t make any mistake and won in such an impressive way.  

Biggest surprise in 2023: Mārtiṇš Sesks
A lot of people thought he could win in Latvia but the great speed he showed in Poland was something really, really remarkable. If he will be able to improve on Tarmac next season it will be tough for the others to beat him.

Who to watch in 2024: Timo Schulz
Maybe I answered it above! It will be tough next year with five new races in Junior ERC and there is a lot of Tarmac, so it could be hard for the northern European drivers. So I will say Timo Schulz (below). In my heart I hope Mattia Zanin will do his best, if he will be in Junior ERC, I hope, but Schulz showed something really incredible on Tarmac in Zlín so he has a really good chance.   

Wild 2024 prediction: Toyota to win the ERC!
Because of the great hype they have created with this car, the images we have seen from Rallye National Hivernal du Dévoluy in France… we don’t know which drivers will drive this car, but I am sure Toyota have done a very good job with the development. I don’t know if it will be possible but if Toyota wins it will be something like Ferrari at Le Mans, 50 years without Le Mans, they come back and they win. It will be a great story to tell.

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