ERC season preview part one: the rallies
With the start of the FIA European Rally Championship season a two weeks away, here's a reminder of the eight events in store in 2017.
Azores Airlines Rallye, 30 March-1 April 2017
Based on the archipelago’s largest island of São Miguel in the mid-Atlantic, the event celebrated its half-century in 2015 as another chapter of its impressive history was written. The timed tests criss-cross breath-taking scenery and lush countryside and are characterised by their sandy surface and narrow and undulating nature. And because the stages are often no wider than the width of a car, there is simply no margin for error, particularly on the Sete Cidades test along the rim of a volcanic crater lake. Changeable weather is also a factor with conditions switching from sunshine to showers and fog patches.
Rally Islas Canarias, 4-6 May 2017
The ERC returned to Gran Canaria in 2016 following a two-year absence for a rally big on challenge and spectators. Because the stages climb and descend, drivers pay close attention to corner speed and lines to ensure optimal momentum is maintained, while precise car set-up and pacenote accuracy are vital. One of the notable features of the stages is the abrasive surface, constructed partly from volcanic lava. It means grip levels are high and will remain constant if it rains, although tyre wear can increase. However, with the opportunity to take ‘cuts’ through corners limited, the roads remain relatively debris-free.
SEAJETS Acropolis Rally, 2-4 June 2017
Greece made a successful return to the ERC in 2014 following a lengthy spell away when the seaside town of Loutraki on the banks of the Gulf of Corinth hosted the 60th running of the legendary event. Having last appeared on the ERC schedule in 1968, Greece’s comeback featured one day on fast asphalt roads and the second leg on more traditional rough gravel tracks. Now run in partnership with the OMAE Greek motorsport federation on gravel only, the 2016 event marked a return to Lamia after a break of 10 years, which meant the re-introduction of classic gravel stages.
Cyprus Rally, 16-18 June 2017
With its origins dating back to 1970, the Cyprus Rally returned to the ERC roster in 2014 for the first time since 1999 when Nicosia hosted the thrilling action. To mark the occasion, the Cypriot capital was transformed into an exciting street stage, which included a section through the United Nations-controlled buffer zone between the historic city’s Greek Cypriot and Turkish inhabited areas. The ERC’s only truly mixed-surface event also counts for FIA Middle East points and had the honour of closing the 2016 ERC season when crews once again battled the challenging stages and punishing ambient and ground temperatures.
Rally Rzeszow, 3-5 August 2017
Rally Rzeszow’s history might date back to 1970 but its 25th edition in 2016 was perhaps its most significant moment yet when the asphalt event made its first ERC appearance. A regular on the Polish and Slovakian national championship calendars, Rally Rzeszow takes place on narrow, winding sealed-surface roads in the foothills of the Carpathian Mountains in southeast Poland with steep climbs and tricky descents commonplace. Two stages through the city of Rzeszow, which is close to the Ukranian and Slovakian borders, form part of the itinerary, while reigning ERC champion Kajetan Kajetanowicz was an event regular in the past.
Barum Czech Rally Zlín, 25-27 August 2017
Ever-present in the ERC since the championship’s streamlining in 2004, Barum Czech Rally Zlín is based in the South Moravian university city, 300 kilometres south of the Czech capital Prague. It is a Tarmac test like no other due to the bumpy and sometimes broken nature of the road surface. To add to the challenge, several stages feature high-speed blasts through forests and intermittent showers are always possible. While the weather might be hard to predict, huge numbers of fans follow the action, especially on the opening night-time Zlín superspecial stage. The rally has a long-term ERC contract in place.
Rally di Roma Capitale, 15-17 September 2017
The progression of this exciting asphalt event has been remarkable. Having only run for the first time in 2013, Rally di Roma Capitale will make its ERC debut in 2017 when Italy returns to the European championship for the first time since 2013 when Rallye Sanremo was part of the calendar. With stages running in and around the Italian capital and with the drive and expertise of Motorsport Italia very much behind the event, Rally di Roma Capitale is set to be a popular addition to the ERC calendar when it counts for European and Italian championship points in mid-September.
Rally Liepāja, 6-8 October 2017
Rally Liepāja, which took place for the first time in 2013 when it ran up Latvia’s Baltic coast from Liepāja to Ventspils, was due to open the 2016 ERC schedule in early February. However, higher-than-normal temperatures damaged the surface of the stages, causing concerns for safety and also for the state of roads used by the public. The new autumn date effectively made for an all-new rally as crews adjusted to stages free of snow and ice. As well as hosting a street stage, Liepāja is home to the ceremonial start and finish at the impressive Great Amber concert hall.