EVENT PREVIEW: 2016 FIA European Rally Championship, round three of 10
SEAJETS Acropolis Rally, 6-8 May (Greece)
*Greek gravel challenge makes long-awaited return to iconic territory
*Champion Kajetanowicz heads strong field for the season’s first loose-surface contest
One of rallying’s most formidable tests lies in wait for FIA European Rally Championship crews on next week’s SEAJETS Acropolis Rally (6-8 May).
Following the asphalt of Gran Canaria and Northern Ireland, another long-running event plays host to the first gravel round of the 2016 season. As the rally returns to the Central Greece region and the city of Lamia for the first time since 2005, last year’s winner and defending ERC champion Kajetan Kajetanowicz will be joined by the championship’s other leading regulars on an entirely different route.
First held in 1951, the Acropolis Rally has a reputation for being one of the toughest rallies in the world for both cars and drivers because of its rocky mountainous terrain. It gained notoriety as part of the ERC during the 1960s, with Paddy Hopkirk and Roger Clark the championship’s last two winners of the event prior to its return in 2014. In the intervening years, winners included Walter Röhrl, Ari Vatanen, Juha Kankkunen, Carlos Sainz, Colin McRae and Sébastien Loeb.
The move from Loutraki back to Lamia means a return to an all-gravel route made up of 12 stages lasting a combined 231.52 kilometres. Following the Qualifying Stage on Friday 6 May, the rally begins with the 25.7-kilometre SEAJETS New Gravia, one of three stages run twice on Saturday. Another loop of three is repeated on Sunday including Elatia/Karya – at 33.86km the longest and last test of the rally.
Lambros Athanassoulas (Lascaris Foundation Team Greece ŠKODA Fabia R5): Athanassoulas delighted the local fans last year when he finished third on the Acropolis, just 15 seconds off the win having led early on, and they’ll hope he can perform similar heroics this time.
Kajetan Kajetanowicz (LOTOS Rally Team Ford Fiesta R5): He leads the standings after starting his title defence with two seconds, but the Pole will want to take his first win since last October’s visit to Greece, even though he has an all-new route to master.
Alexey Lukyanuk (Ford Fiesta R5): After starting the year with victory on Rally Islas Canarias, the spectacular Russian’s Circuit of Ireland ended before it even began after a crash while testing. He can get his season back on track in Greece on his more favoured surface.
Jaromír Tarabus (T&T Czech National Team ŠKODA Fabia R5): Czech driver Tarabus almost began his 2016 campaign with a top-five in Northern Ireland before a final-stage off, but having shown his speed, he can head to Greece confident of matching or bettering his fourth place from 2015.
Dávid Botka was fifth overall on the Acropolis Rally last year, claiming a crucial ERC2 win that set him up for the class title, and he’s getting more familiar with his new Botka Rally Team Citroën DS3 R5 with each event. Sixth last year and also adapting to new machinery in 2016 is Raul Jeets, who’s joined in Greece in driving a Sports Racing Technologies-run ŠKODA Fabia R5 by 21-year-old Latvian Ralfs Sirmacis, making his top-class debut after finishing runner-up in the ERC Junior standings last year. Jarosław Kołtun will hope to make it three top-10 finishes from three events in one of two C-Rally-operated Ford Fiesta R5s, with his fellow Polish driver Tomasz Kasperczyk back with his Tiger Energy Drink Rally Team-entered machine after 10th place in Gran Canaria. ERC stalwart Antonín Tlusťák (Tlusťák Racing Fabia R5) was eighth on the Acropolis Rally last year. Federico Della Casa makes his event debut with a switch from a DS3 56 to a Peugeot 208 T16 following mechanical woes in Gran Canaria and a crash in Northern Ireland.
A total prize fund of 200,000 Euros will be on offer to competitors in the ERC again this year. A sum of 20,000 Euros will be available at each of the 10 events on the calendar and be shared between the seven highest-placed eligible drivers in the final rally classification regardless of category. This year, all drivers that have registered for the ERC will be eligible as long as they are using tyres from one of the championship’s partner suppliers (Michelin and Pirelli). In 2015, 38 ERC drivers earned prize money.
The class acts
The ERC is split into three categories: ERC1 for top-of-the-range R5 machinery, ERC2 for production-based models and ERC3 for two-wheel-drive cars. Round two of the ERC Junior Championship – for drivers born in 1989 or later and competing in R2 machinery on Pirelli tyres – takes place on the Azores Airlines Rallye in June.
Five out to stop a Chuchała hat-trick in ERC2
Wojciech Chuchała heads to Greece after two dominant ERC2 wins in his Subaru Poland Rally Team Impreza STI, but is up against strong opposition with all six of the class regulars appearing on the Acropolis Rally, the other five all driving Mitsubishis. Unlike Chuchała, Tibor Érdi Jr has done the event before and was on course to win the production class in 2014 when he was forced to retire on his way to the finish. Though new to the ERC on Rally Islas Canarias, Juan Carlos Alonso has also done the rally before, in 2013, and the Argentine is more familiar with gravel. Giacomo Scattolon and Péter Ranga are Greece first-timers but each have a second-place finish to their name so far this year, with Topp-Cars Rally Team driver Ranga snatching that position from Scattolon on the final stage on Gran Canaria. Making his ERC debut is Jose Luis Jacquet Rios, on his first ever start outside of his native Paraguay.
An extracurricular ERC3 event for Pieniążek
After glory in the first ERC Junior round of 2016 in Northern Ireland, Łukasz Pieniążek has added the Acropolis Rally to his schedule to get some gravel practice in his Opel Adam R2 ahead of the Azores. He’ll be a strong contender for ERC3 honours, as will Eurosol Racing Team Hungary Renault Clio R3T driver Zoltán Bessenyey, who was second in class in Greece in 2014 on the way to the second of his titles in the two-wheel drive category. Murat Bostanci did the event three years ago and the Castrol Ford Team Turkiye Fiesta R2T driver has a fine record on gravel in Turkey, where he’s a double champion. Romania’s Alex Filip, who finished a place behind Bessenyey two years ago, makes his first appearance of the season following an upgrade to the latest model of Clio.
Lambros Athanassoulas (Lascaris Foundation ŠKODA Fabia R5): “We are very pleased to participate in this year's Acropolis Rally thanks again to the generous sponsorship of Lascaris Foundation. It really is especially important during this crisis that there are organisations that support the efforts of Greek athletes to be distinguished internationally. I thank them very much for giving us the opportunity to fight again under the best possible conditions. After last year's Acropolis Rally and our participation in January in the Monte Carlo Rally, we have become more familiar with the Fabia and hope for a good result.”
Kajetan Kajetanowicz (LOTOS Rally Team Ford Fiesta R5): “The thing I like the least about rallying is the waiting for the next outing. Sometimes I think that this is the toughest part of this sport! The good thing is that this year’s European Rally Championship calendar is very busy and the rounds virtually follow each other. There is little time for preparation but for us it is not difficult to work hard, day by day. It is possible when every member of LOTOS Rally Team gets passionately involved in doing what we all love to do. I am aware that before such a demanding rally we should muster up a solid dose of commitment, which is necessary to face this challenge. We need it as this year’s Acropolis Rally moves over 100 kilometres north and we will compete on route which is completely new to us, as we return to driving on gravel after a break of more than 200 days.”
Murat Bostanci (Castrol Ford Team Turkiye Fiesta R2T): “Canarias was a very special rally though a rally that I am not very used to, due to its very good quality tarmac and high level of grip, but we had a very good rally for learning our new car, the Fiesta R2T. I think it was not a bad start on a rally that I wasn’t very confident with. I feel better on gravel so I will be more confident to push in Greece. There are some R3 cars and the leader of ERC Junior Łukasz Pieniążek, but we can still push for the win. Acropolis is a very special rally which we competed in 2013. This time the location and the stages are completely different. I like rough stages, but being rough and slow at the same time is very hard on two-wheel drive cars. I don’t know these new stages but luckily the landscape is similar to Turkey. So, we won’t feel like a stranger, like we were in Canarias.”
On this event in 2015…
Kajetan Kajetanowicz claimed a narrow rally win over Craig Breen and put the ERC title out of his rival’s reach with one round still remaining. Staged in October, the event was affected by extreme weather conditions, with heavy rain and thunderstorms making the stages very muddy and causing the final three tests to be cancelled. Breen had led by over half a minute before the bonnet on his Peugeot Rally Academy 208 T16 flew open and dropped him 10 seconds behind Ford Fiesta R5 driver Kajetanowicz, on what turned out to be the final stage. Lambros Athanassoulas led his home event after the opening day’s two stages and claimed a podium finish in his first time in a ŠKODA Fabia R5, just 15.3 seconds away from the winner. Jaromír Tarabus (Fabia S2000) finished fourth ahead of Dávid Botka (Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution IX), who claimed the ERC2 points lead with a class win ahead of Dominykas Butvilas (Subaru Poland Rally Team Impreza WRX STI), who was seventh overall behind MM-Motorsport Fiesta R5 driver Raul Jeets. Alexey Lukyanuk retired out of fourth on SS4 when he broke his Fiesta R5’s suspension. Bruno Magalhães was also forced out by broken suspension on his 208 T16 on SS1, with Robert Consani (Citroën DS3 R5) and Charles Martin (208 T16) also eliminated early on.
EVENT ESSENTIALS (all timings local and subject to change)
Starts: 18h30, Friday 6 May, Leonidas Monument, Thermopyles
Finishes: 16h00, Sunday 8 May, Service Park, Lamia
Headquarters: Building A, Service Park, Lamia National Trade Fair, Filias, Lamia
Service park: Lamia National Trade Fair, Filias, Lamia
ERC appearances (since the restructuring in 2004): Two (2014, 2015)
Stage distance: 231.52 kilometres (104.84 kilometres on leg one, 126.68 on leg two)
Liaison: 454.95 kilometres
Total: 686.47 kilometres
MEDIA EVENTS AND INFORMATION (all timings local)
Media accreditation/media centre: Building A, Service Park, Lamia National Trade Fair, Filias, Lamia
Opening times: 12h00-19h00 Wednesday 4 May; 10h00-19h00 Thursday 5 May; 08h15-21h00 Friday 6 May; 08h15-23h00 Saturday 7 May, 07h30-23h00 Sunday 8 May
Friday 6 May
Free Practice (for priority drivers): 08h30-10h30, Lamia (3.7 kilometres)
Qualifying Stage (for priority drivers): 11h23, Lamia (3.7 kilometres)
Shakedown (for non-priority drivers): 13h00-14h30, Lamia (3.7 kilometres)
Start order selection: 14h00, Service Park, Lamia
Driver autograph session: 14h30, Service Park, Lamia
Pre-rally press conference: 15h30, Media Centre, Service Park, Lamia
ERC driver/co-driver family photograph: 18h00, Leonidas Monument, Thermopyles
Ceremonial start: 18h30, Leonidas Monument, Thermopyles
Sunday 8 May
Prize-giving ceremony: 16h25, Service Park, Lamia
Post-event press conference: 16h50, Media Centre, Service Park, Lamia
Colin McRae ERC Flat Out Trophy presentation: Immediately following the post-event press conference, Service Park, Lamia
Event media contact: Helen Xenakis, +30 6974 362 362, email@example.com
Television coverage: A preview show, daily highlights and the post-event Inside ERC magazine programme will be broadcast on Eurosport
ERC Rally Radio: Live throughout the event at Fiaerc.com or through the ERC app
Results, standings, live timing and text commentary: www.fiaerc.com
Rights-free images: Register media.fiaerc.com
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