EVENT PREVIEW: 2016 FIA European Rally Championship, round two of 10
Circuit of Ireland, 7-9 April (Northern Ireland)
*Huge top-class field headed by returning Breen and ERC leaders
*Young drivers start ERC Junior season on challenging asphalt event
The FIA European Rally Championship heads to Northern Ireland next week (7-9 April) for round two of the 2016 season, the classic Circuit of Ireland.
A fantastic field of 77 cars will take to the high-speed asphalt lanes, with a remarkable 38 R5 and Super 2000 cars taking part. Top of the bill is Craig Breen, returning to the ERC for an event he won last year, but Alexey Lukyanuk and Kajetan Kajetanowicz will be out to stop him. The event also marks the start of the ERC Junior Championship for 2016, the first of six rallies in which stars of the future will do battle.
The Circuit of Ireland is one of the oldest rallies in the world, celebrating its 85th anniversary this year with a slot on the ERC calendar for a third successive season. The rally is run over challenging country roads to the north and south of the Belfast base. Crews from Britain and Ireland will also take part, adding to the depth on the start list.
This year’s event will be fought over 14 stages and 209.56 competitive kilometres. The action begins on Thursday 7 April with a 4.22-kilometre Qualifying Stage to help determine the running order for leg one among priority drivers. On Friday drivers head north from Belfast for five stages including the rally’s longest, the 31.21 kilometres of The Glens, before a short street stage in Newtownards. Saturday’s route goes to the south for a loop of four stages that’s repeated in the afternoon.
Craig Breen (Citroën DS3 R5): last year’s ERC runner-up is competing in the WRC in 2016 but couldn’t miss the chance to return to an event he achieved a life-long dream on last year by winning. The car is new to him but Breen will be expected to star all the same.
Keith Cronin (Citroën DS3 R5): a three-time British champion, Cronin is also proving to be a master of Irish asphalt in 2016. Remarkably this is his first Circuit start but he comes armed with a DS3 from the same DGM stable as Breen and could well challenge his compatriot.
Elfyn Evans (DMACK British Rally Team Ford Fiesta R5): having twice finished on a WRC podium with M-Sport, Evans has made a flying start to 2016 driving R5 machinery and leads the revived British championship. He’ll be a force to be reckoned with on his ERC debut.
Kajetan Kajetanowicz (LOTOS Rally Team Ford Fiesta R5): the popular Pole finished just 6.4 seconds behind Breen on his Circuit of Ireland debut last year, so a first win on a true asphalt ERC round is a real possibility this time around for the defending champion.
Alexey Lukyanuk (Ford Fiesta R5): a year ago Lukyanuk arrived in Northern Ireland lacking sealed-surface experience but he’s now won two such events on the trot, first in Valais at the end of 2015 and then on the season opener in Gran Canaria. What price on a hat-trick?
Local fans will cheer on Alastair Fisher (Ford Fiesta R5), who ran in the top four on his last two starts on a rally his uncle Bertie won three times. Fast Frenchman Robert Consani is back in a Citroën DS3 R5, and held third on the Circuit last year when gearbox failure struck. After strong starts to the British championship, Swede Fredrik Åhlin and Welshman Tom Cave will be ones to watch in Fiesta R5s along with Scotland’s David Bogie (ŠKODA Fabia R5). Jaromír Tarabus and Raul Jeets begin ERC campaigns in Fabia R5s looking to improve upon eighth and ninth respectively on the Circuit last year, while Jarosław Kołtun will be joined in driving a Fiesta R5 by fellow Pole Filip Nivette. Dávid Botka, Federico Della Casa (both DS3 R5) and Antonín Tlusťák (Fabia R5) will hope for better than they fared on round one. Jonny Greer (DS3 R5), Martin McCormack (ŠKODA Fabia S2000) and Robert Woodside (Fiesta R5) are further Northern Irish entries, joined by Joseph McGonigle (Fabia S2000) from south of the border and Neil Simpson (Fabia R5) from across the Irish Sea.
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. The Circuit of Ireland marks the start of the ERC Junior Championship for drivers born in 1989 or later and competing in R2 machinery on Pirelli tyres.
ERC Junior: Future stars begin campaigns on classic rally
A trio of factory-supported Opel drivers look to follow in the footsteps of Emil Bergkvist, who was the 2015 ERC Junior champion in an Adam R2. Marijan Griebel finished third in the ERC Junior standings last season and intends to go one better than his second place on this event last year. He is joined at the ADAC Opel Rallye Junior Team by fellow German Julius Tannert, who won the one-make trophy for the Adam in Germany last year. Britain’s Chris Ingram also drives an Adam R2 after taking fifth in ERC Junior last year, and led the class on his home event in 2014 before a crash. Having placed between Griebel and Ingram in 2015, Steve Røkland returns in a Peugeot 208 R2, which is also the car of choice for Nikolay Gryazin who finished a stunning sixth overall on his ERC debut in Valais last year. Łukasz Pieniążek (Adam R2) and Marco Cid (208 R2) warmed up by competing in Gran Canaria while Czech driver Dominik Brož returns in a Ford Fiesta R2 after his ERC debut on home ground last year.
Chuchała looks to shine again in ERC2
Wojciech Chuchała travels to Northern Ireland after starring in Gran Canaria, finishing fifth overall and dominating ERC2 in his Subaru Poland Rally Team Impreza STI. Having been the closest in class to Chuchała for the majority of that event, a win for Giacomo Scattolon (Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution X) would more than make up for the disappointment of losing second place on the final stage.
Humar looks to lead the ERC3 contenders
In the absence of the top three ERC3 finishers in Gran Canaria, Aleks Humar (Oktan Sport 208 R2) could move into the standings lead with a strong result against the ERC Junior contingent in Northern Ireland. The four-time Slovenian champion was fourth in ERC3 last time out, while Szabolcs Várkonyi (Ritmus ASE 208 R2) was seventh and Joao Correia (Renault Clio R3T) was eighth. László Német (Arable Racing Kft 208 R2) and Renato Pita (Fiesta R2) will be making their first starts of the season.
Craig Breen (Citroën DS3 R5): “The Circuit of Ireland is very close to my heart and I really wanted to come back and try to win it again. My friends and supporters from Waterford and beyond were also desperate for me to do the rally and it is with their help that we have been able to make it happen. I love the rally, I love its rich heritage and I love the magnificent trophy which goes to the winner – I want to bring it back to Waterford for another year.”
Alexey Lukyanuk (Ford Fiesta R5): “The Circuit of Ireland is a great rally and I have nice memories from last year, as it was my first proper Tarmac event. We learned a lot in the past year, but there’s still long way to go. So we expect a thrilling and exiting weekend with best WRC, ERC and local drivers in our class!”
Chris Ingram (Opel Rallye Junior Team Adam R2): “I feel the Circuit of Ireland will be the ideal place for my debut with Opel and to kick off this year's Junior ERC. The Circuit is a legendary event with some of the best stages in Europe, and an awesome atmosphere. I have some great memories from it, especially in 2014 when I became the youngest winner of the Colin McRae Flat Out trophy. After my first test in the incredible Adam R2 and with my new codriver Kat Becker, I’m confident we have a top package and that we can push for the title starting on the Circuit!”
On this event in 2015…
Craig Breen scored an emotional victory on an event he had dreamed of winning since he was a child. The Peugeot Rally Academy 208 T16 driver certainly didn’t have it easy, though. Breen’s fellow Irishman Robert Barrable was a surprise challenger, and won the first stage in his Ford Fiesta R5. Breen stole the lead on the next test but, suffering from a recurring problem with his car’s pop-off valve that was forcing him to lift off the throttle to reset the system, he was only 1.5 seconds clear at the end of the first leg. Barrable duly reclaimed the advantage at the start of Saturday and the pair remained nip-and-tuck until stage 16 of 18 when Barrable slid off on a left-hander and over a bank. A spin on the penultimate test cost Breen most of his lead over Kajetan Kajetanowicz but held on to win by 6.4 seconds and claim the championship lead from the LOTOS Rally Team Fiesta R5 driver. With Robert Consani retiring out of third early on in his new Citroën DS3 R5 and local favourite Alastair Fisher (Fiesta R5) crashing out, Irish brothers Josh and Sam Moffett took third and fourth in their identical Fiesta RRCs in front of 208 T16 debutant Charles Martin and ERC asphalt first-timer Alexey Lukyanuk (Fiesta R5). Emil Bergkvist picked up a second win from as many events in ERC Junior, a fine eighth overall in his ADAC Opel Rallye Junior Team Adam R2.
EVENT ESSENTIALS (all timings local and subject to change)
Starts: 18h45, Thursday 7 April, Irish Linen Museum, Lisburn
Finishes: 18h07, Saturday 9 April, Queens University, Belfast
Headquarters: King’s Hall, Lisburn Road, Balmoral, Belfast BT9 6GW
Service park: King’s Hall, Lisburn Road, Balmoral, Belfast BT9 6GW
ERC appearances (since the restructuring in 2004): Two (2013, 2014)
Stage distance: 209.56 kilometres (93.10 kilometres on leg one, 116.46 on leg two)
Liaison: 597.82 kilometres
Total: 807.38 kilometres
MEDIA EVENTS AND INFORMATION (all timings local)
Media accreditation/media centre: King’s Hall, Lisburn Road, Balmoral, Belfast BT9 6GW.
Opening times: 07h00-20h00 Thursday 7 April; 07h00-00h00 Friday 8 April; 07h00-21h00 Saturday 9 April.
Thursday 7 April
Free Practice (for priority drivers): 09h30-11h00, Tardree (4.22 kilometres)
Qualifying Stage (for priority drivers): 12h48, Tardree (4.22 kilometres)
Shakedown (for non-priority drivers): 14h30-16h00, Tardree (4.22 kilometres)
Start order selection: 19h15, Irish Linen Museum, Lisburn.
Driver autograph session: 18h30, Irish Linen Museum, Lisburn.
Ceremonial start: 18h50, Irish Linen Museum, Lisburn.
Saturday 9 April
Prize-giving ceremony: 18h07, podium, Queens University, Belfast
Post-event press conference: 19h00, media centre, King’s Hall, Belfast
Colin McRae ERC Flat Out Trophy presentation: Immediately following the post-event press conference, King’s Hall, Belfast
Event media contact: Ciara Conlon, 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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