Mon 01 Jul 2024

Event preview: All-square in title chase as ERC returns to Estonia

The FIA European Rally Championship returns to Estonia this week with the race for the coveted title all-square – and a wide-open victory chase in store in the Baltics.

Delfi Rally Estonia, which takes place from 5 - 7 July between the cities of Tartu and Otepää, brings the ERC back to the country for the first time since 2016 and provides another high-speed gravel test following last month’s fast-paced BAUHAUS Royal Rally of Scandinavia.   


After three action-packed rounds, Michelin-supported Mathieu Franceschi (Škoda Fabia RS Rally2) and defending ERC champion Hayden Paddon, who pilots a Hyundai i20 N Rally2 on Pirelli tyres, are equal first on points.  


Following a challenging start to his title defence, Paddon (below) banked his first podium of the season in Sweden and is aiming for another top-three finish this weekend. “I did a couple of [Rally Estonia] stages in 2022 and also did it in 2018 so at least we have some experience there so it should be good, we should be competitive,” the BRC Racing Team driver said.

Aside from the ERC’s current top two, a host of other rapid rally drivers are getting ready to pounce. Among them are several local talents including former Junior WRC champion Robert Virves, WRC2 regular Georg Linnamaë and ERC support category graduates Gregor Jeets and Kaspar Kasari.     


A WRC2 podium finisher on ORLEN 80th Rally Poland last weekend, Virves, 23, said: “Winning is obviously something I would really like to do and straight from Poland I should be in quite okay form, straight from the car, so I definitely look for it. We can be quite quick.”  


Fresh from his Poland heroics, where he placed fifth overall on his Rally1 debut, Mārtiṇš Sesks (below) is back on ERC duty in his MRF Tyres-equipped Toyota GR Yaris Rally2. The Latvian will be fired up for Estonia success as he bids for his first ERC win of the season.

Škoda-driving Simone Tempestini (below) continues to build on the momentum generated by his V-Híd Rally Hungary victory in April, while Mads Østberg (Citroën C3 Rally2) is a double Rally Estonia winner. Nikolay Gryazin is also Citroën-powered and has won in the ERC five times.  


Mikko Heikkilä, a podium finisher in Sweden last time out, and Teemu Asunmaa are the Finnish champions from 2022 and 2023 respectively.   


Miko Marczyk is another driver to watch as are Jon Armstrong (Ford Fiesta Rally2), Frank Tore Larsen (Volkswagen Polo GTI R5) and Andrea Mabellini.   


Benjamin Korhola makes his top-level ERC debut, while former ERC3 contender Yuki Yamamoto, a Toyota Gazoo Racing WRC Challenge Program member, returns to the series but in the ERC1 class. Philip Allen and Giacomo Costenaro have ERC points-scoring potential.

For (ERC)3 read eight
No fewer than eight drivers are set to start Delfi Rally Estonia in contention for FIA ERC3 points. Igor Widłak, the 2022 champion, heads the line-up with Tristan Charpentier, Kerem Kazaz, Filip Kohn and Martin Ravenščak firmly in contention. FIA Junior WRC Championship leader Romet Jürgenson, part of the FIA Rally Star talent detection initiative, will go for ERC3 glory on his home event, as will countrymen Patrick Enok and Renault Clio Rally3-powered Joosep Ralf Nõgene – the only non-Ford Fiesta Rally3 runner on the ERC3 entry list. Charpentier, Enok, Kazaz, Kohn, Ravenščak and Widłak are eligible for the ERC Fiesta Rally3 Trophy, a new-for-2024 contest from M-Sport Poland in partnership with Pirelli and Gulf Race Fuels.

Junior ERC talents highlight sport’s bright future
While Opel-powered Mille Johansson (above) will go for a hat-trick of wins in the Hankook-supplied FIA Junior ERC category, Max McRae (Peugeot) has a points gap to close following an accident-hit BAUHAUS Royal Rally of Scandinavia. ADAC Opel Rally Junior Team’s Calle Carlberg will also be out to halt Johansson’s charge, while other contenders include Estonian pair Karl-Markus Sei and Jaspar Vaher, Motorsport Ireland Rally Academy’s Aoife Raftery, ACI Team Italia duo Davide Pesavento and Mattia Zanin, Czech Daniel Polášek, Germany’s Timo Schulz and Hungarian Patrik Herczig. Teenage Swede Adam Grahn and Finn Tuomas Väiliä make their first Junior ERC starts. Márton Bertalan is back on the ERC4 points trail after finishing runner-up in the category on V-Híd Rally Hungary. Romania’s Cristiana Oprea has endured her fair share of bad luck this season but returns for Delfi Rally Estonia when more ERC4 points and progress will be key targets.  


Fast-paced challenge Estonia-style in store
Delfi Rally Estonia might be a scaled-down version of the FIA World Rally Championship event that ran so successfully between 2020 and 2023 – 14 stages over 187.64 kilometres compared to the 21 stages over 300.42 kilometres scheduled last year – but the flat-out challenge is unaltered. Getting under way with the all-new Räbi Qualifying Stage from 12:01 local time on Friday 5 July, the ERC stars and their cars are then put through their paces on the Tartu super special stage from 19:35. Saturday’s itinerary is made up of four loops of two stages, before the all-asphalt Elva super special rounds out the day’s action from 20:00 local time. Two repeated stages provide the challenge on Sunday 7 July, including the rally-deciding Kambja Power Stage from 15:05. Tartu hosts the start and finish with the event service park based in Otepää. Details of ticket sales and other event information is available at www.rallyestonia.ee.  


How to watch?
Fans across the globe can experience the excitement and drama of the ERC with every stage of every rally broadcast Rally.tv platform. In addition, the ERC is broadcast in a number of countries around the world and fans are advised to check local listings for details.   


Delfi Rally Estonia 2024: the key numbers 
Stages: 14
Competitive distance: 187.79 kilometres 
Total distance: 757.41 kilometres

Latvia
Starts: Thursday, July 18, 2024 at 4:31:00 AM
Italy
Starts: Friday, July 26, 2024 at 7:00:00 AM
Hungary
Starts: Saturday, July 27, 2024 at 6:00:00 AM