ERC event preview: Azores Rallye
The 2019 FIA European Rally Championship fires up in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean from 21-23 March when the Azores Rallye hosts the opening exchanges of what is set to be another action-packed chase for on-stage glory.
What:FIA European Rally Championship round 1 of 8*
Where:Ponta Delgada, São Miguel, Azores
ERC appearances (since 2004 restructuring):6 (2013-2018)
*Also counting for:FIA ERC1 Junior Championship, FIA ERC3 Junior Championship, ERC2, ERC3, FIA European Rally Championship for Teams, ERC Nations’ Cup, ERC Ladies’ Trophy
2018:Alexey Lukyanuk/Alexey Arnautov (Ford Fiesta R5)
2017:Bruno Magalhães/Hugo Magalhães (ŠKODA Fabia R5)
2016:Ricardo Moura/António Costa (Ford Fiesta R5)
2015:Craig Breen/Scott Martin (Peugeot 208 T16)
2014:Bernardo Sousa/Hugo Magalhães (Ford Fiesta RRC)
The 2019 FIA European Rally Championship fires up in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean from 21-23 March when the Azores Rallye hosts the opening exchanges of what is set to be another action-packed chase for on-stage glory. Established stars, national champions, category stalwarts – plus a host of young prospects aiming to prove their talent in ERC Junior – will be competing on a mixture of asphalt and gravel events during an eight-round season between now and November. And they will do so in an exciting array of machinery. With several stages from the Azores broadcast live, a thrilling start to the season is in store.
Azores Rallye in 100 words
Based on São Miguel, the mid-Atlantic archipelago’s largest island, the event celebrated turning 50 in 2015 and remains one of the most spectacular on the international calendar. Gravel tests criss-cross breath-taking scenery and lush countryside, and are characterised by their sandy surface and narrow, undulating nature. And because the stages are often no wider than the width of a car, there is no margin for error, particularly on the iconic Sete Cidades, which runs along the rim of a volcanic crater lake, and where the weather can switch from sunshine to showers to fog in the blink of an eye.
What’s new for 2019?
Several changes have been made to this year's route with new and tweaked stages – including the untried Mediana Remédios test on leg one. The City Show, the non-competitive pre-rally demonstration run in Ponta Delgada on Wednesday evening, has also been revised as organisers usher in the changes.
Changes to the ERC include the renaming of the ERC Junior categories: ERC Junior Under 28 becomes ERC1 Junior, ERC Junior U27 becomes ERC3 Junior with continued support from Pirelli. Meanwhile, R4-K and RGT cars are eligible for ERC2 points, while Rally Hungary joins the calendar for the first time as the deciding round in November.
*Entry features 21 R5 cars – including examples from Citroën, Ford, Hyundai, ŠKODA and Volkswagen
*First ERC appearance for Citroën C3 R5 and Volkswagen Polo GTI R5
*Alexey Lukyanuk defends his overall FIA ERC title. Only three drivers have done so in ERC history
*Double ERC Junior champion Marijan Griebel is back and bidding for overall honours in a BRR-run Polo
*A total of 18 ERC Juniors are on the entry list including eight rookies
*National title winners from Czech Republic, Germany, Hungary, Poland, Portugal among others in action
*Five teams from national associations or federations will contest the ERC Nations’ Cup
*FIA European Rally Championship for Teams has strong support once again
*ERC2 set for a close battle between Juan Carlos Alonso, Luís Pimentel and Sergei Remennik
*Several drivers from the Portuguese championship are eligible for ERC points, including three of the last five winners, Bruno Magalhães, Ricardo Moura and Bernardo Sousa
ERC1: Alexey Lukyanuk (Russia) Saintéloc Junior Team Citroën C3 R5:“The atmosphere in the Azores is amazing and I am really anticipating my latest visit. There will be changes to the special stages, they will be different but we will be happy to explore some new roads on the island. I would not say I am 100 per cent relaxed but I am calm, I feel comfortable and confident that we can have a really good event, have fun and get a good result.”
ERC2: Sergey Remennik (Russia) Russian Performance Motorsport Mitsubishi Lancer E10:“I had dreams about the Sete Cidades stage before my first visit. The Azores archipelago and, in particular, the São Miguel island, is an incredibly beautiful tropical world, one of the best places to live on this planet. It’s my third visit there and I will have a different co-driver. Mark Rozin is busy with his main job so I will continue my co-operation with Martin Danilova, a high-class professional.”
ERC3: SteveRøkland (Norway) Ford Fiesta R2T:“The Azores is a fantastic rally and it’s a rally I’ve done twice before. I was on the podium on my last visit in 2016 and hopefully we can do a strong result with the new Ford Fiesta. I’ve not tested the car yet, I will do that on the Monday before the rally, but it looks strong. The ERC is a really good with really great rallies and the competition is really strong as well.”
Home hero: Bruno Magalhães (Portugal) Team Hyundai Portugal i20 R5, three-time winner:“First of all you have the amazing and beautiful landscape. It’s not easy to find another place like this in the world. The stages are very specific, very challenging. The weather can change very quickly, that is also part of the challenge. To get the victory in Azores you have to be fast from the first metre, it’s a sprint rally and if you lose 20s with an issue it can be impossible to recover this time.”
Former winner: Craig Breen (2015 winner):“There’s probably no other spectacle in sport like Sete Cidades. To drive a rally car along the ridge of a volcano is an incredible experience and then you have the stages on the final day, which are like being in a jungle. It’s a really nice rally embraced by all the local fans and the road mileage is short, which is good too. It’s definitely a challenge but it’s a good experience and it’s a nice rally to win because there are a lot of famous winners. I’d love to do it again.”
Head to head: Lukyanuk v Griebel
The defending ERC champion Alexey Lukyanuk will battle double ERC Junior Marijan Griebel from the Azores Rallye onwards. Fresh from winning the German title for the first time in 2018, Griebel returns to ERC duty in an all-new Volkswagen Polo GTI R5, while Lukyanuk switches to a Saintéloc Citroën C3 R5 having rallied an H-Racing Ford Fiesta R5 in the past. Lukyanuk won on his third Azores start last year. Griebel will make his fifth Azores start in his fourth different type of car.
Form guide: Chris Ingram
Chris Ingram has form in the Azores. He topped the ERC Junior Under 27 category in 2017, won ERC Junior Under 28 in 2018 and has his sights firmly set on the overall victory – and ERC title – in 2019.
How to follow?
On TV and online:Live coverage of seven stages on RTP Açores, FIAERC.com and Facebook. Daily highlights on Eurosport and YouTube. Regular videos and news updates at FIAERC.com
ERC Radio:Live from the end of all stages and selected service park visits. Available at FIAERC.com or download the official ERC App.
Social media:Follow the ERC on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter
Seven stages, including both runs of Sete Cidades on Friday 22 March, will be broadcast live on RTP Açores, and streamed on the official ERC website, FIAERC.com, and social media channels. However, before viewers are treated to the stunning Sete Cidades, they can enjoy the battle on the streets of Ponta Delgada, where the City Show takes place on the evening of Wednesday 20 March. On Thursday 21 March, fans can then watch live the event-opening Coroa da Mata stage followed by action from the Marques superspecial, which runs through the amphitheatre of a quarry. As well as the two visits to Sete Cidades, Friday’s live programming also includes the return to the Marques superspecial. Live coverage from Tronqueira, which hosts the second stage on Saturday 23 March and the rally’s deciding test that afternoon, will be the focus of leg three’s live output, which concludes with the podium finish in Ponta Delgada in early evening.
1:When it comes to Azores Rallye success look no further than Fernando Peres, the event’s record-holding seven-time winner.
2:While Ricardo Moura has multiple Azorean championship titles to his name, his Azores Rallye triumph in 2016 was his first on his home round of the ERC.
3:Other winners include WRC stars past and present, such as Craig Breen, Kris Meeke, Andreas Mikkelsen, Juha Kankkunen, Markko Märtin and Bruno Thiry.
4:The Azores archipelago is located roughly equidistant between Lisbon and New York and is made up of nine islands. The fertile soil is perfect for a variety of crops and
grazing for livestock.
5:Ribeira Grande, on São Miguel’s north coast, is becoming established as Portugal’s surfing capital with a number of national and international events being hosted there.