29 December 2014

EVENT PREVIEW: 2015 FIA European Rally Championship, round one of 10 Internationale Jännerrallye powered by GaGa Energy, 4-6 January 2015
AUSTRIAN WINTER SPECTACULAR TO OPEN NEW ERC SEASON

The waiting will soon be over and the high-speed action will begin. A little more than 50 days since Esapekka Lappi secured the 2014 FIA European Rally Championship, the race for ERC success in 2015 starts with the Internationale Jännerrallye powered by GaGa Energy from 4-6 January.

Having hosted round one of the ERC for the last three seasons, the Austrian event offers a tough test for drivers and their teams, with the high possibility of ice and snow adding to the challenge and placing a large onus on car set-up and tyre choice. As such studded covers are permitted in accordance with the event regulations.

Unusually, the 2015 Jännerrallye will start on a Sunday and finish on a Tuesday to take into account the Austrian Bank Holiday weekend, which helps to ensure huge numbers of fans will visit the fast and undulating asphalt stages in the spectacular Mühlviertel region.

The last two editions of the Jännerrallye have been decided by final-stage showdowns to underline the ERC’s ‘Serious Competition Ahead’ strapline. After former ERC champion Jan Kopecký claimed a dramatic victory in 2013, ex-Formula One racer Robert Kubica famously came out on top in 2014 for his first major international rally win. And plenty of star performers will be aiming to emulate the Pole’s achievement.

They include his compatriot Kajetan Kajetanowicz, Ireland’s Craig Breen, Robert Consani and Jean-Michel Raoux from France, Russia’s Alexey Lukyanuk, Czech aces Václav Pech, Jaromír Tarabus and Antonín Tlusťák, promising Swiss newcomer Jonathan Hirschi, rising Austrian star Hermann Neubauer, plus ERC Junior champion Stéphane Lefebvre.

Based in Freistadt, 40 kilometres north of Linz in Upper Austria, the Jännerrallye will mark the start of an exciting new era for the ERC, details of which can be found below. And as well as counting for ERC points, the event is the opening round of the Austrian championship, won for a record- extending 12th time in 2014 by Raimund Baumschlager, who will contest the national section of the Jännerrallye.

ERC 2015: all you need know
Several exciting changes have been introduced for the 2015 ERC season. These include the renaming of the various categories to ERC (R5, Super 2000 and Regional Rally Cars), ERC2 (R4 – previously titled N4 – production cars) and ERC3 (for R1, R2 and R3), a registration system and a round-by-round prize fund for privateers. Tyre quantities and event distances have also been reduced, while drivers will count their best seven scores from the 10 rounds. The changes are explained in full at Fiaerc.com.

New prize fund for ERC privateers
ERC promoter Eurosport Events has created a prize fund totalling 200,000 Euros in partnership with several key stakeholders to assist drivers without manufacturer support competing in the ERC. It is the first time in recent history that a major international rally championship has offered a season-long prize fund and is another example of how Eurosport Events is assisting drivers and teams contesting the ERC, having previously introduced a number of measures to reduce the cost of competition. The round-by-round prize fund of 20,000 Euros will be allocated to the seven highest-placed eligible drivers according to the final official classification: first position: €7000; second position: €5000; third position: €3000; fourth position: €2000; fifth position: €1000; sixth position: €1000; seventh position: €1000.

To be eligible, drivers must register for the ERC, receive no manufacturer support*, use tyres from one of the three ERC partner companies (Michelin, Pirelli and Yokohama) and not compete in a Regional Rally Car. *Eurosport Events will determine privateer status in consultation with the manufacturer in question.

More TV for ERC in 2015
Eurosport will increase its coverage of the FIA European Rally Championship in 2015 with an exciting new preview show aired the day before every round. This new 13-minute slot is in addition to the 26-minute highlights programme at the end of each full day of an ERC event, plus the popular Inside ERC magazine show, which is broadcast for 26 minutes on the Tuesday evening after every round. The rising stars of the ERC Junior Championship will be among those to benefit from the expanded television package. As well as the current 15 minutes dedicated broadcast time on Eurosport, there will be additional coverage of ERC Junior in the new preview programme.

Registrations roll in for ERC
Almost 30 registrations have been received for the 2015 ERC and the number is set to rise considerably based on the current level of interest from drivers and teams. There are several benefits to registering such as receiving priority status, being eligible for the round-by-round prize fund, having access to the ERC Village in service parks and an attractive media package. Visit Fiaerc.com for more details.

Big chance for ERC Junior champion Lefebvre
ERC Junior champion Stéphane Lefebvre will step up a gear when the 2015 season gets underway in Austria. The Frenchman’s title success earned him two ERC rounds in an R5 car in 2015 and his first will be in a PH Sport Citroën DS3 R5 on the Jännerrallye. The 22-year-old will then make a second ERC appearance on June’s Geko Ypres Rally in Belgium when he will pilot a Peugeot 208 T16 alongside Peugeot Rally Academy team-mate Craig Breen, who will mount a nine-round ERC bid in 2015.

Exciting battles expected in ERC2 and ERC3
The new ERC2 and ERC3 categories will be closely contested on the Jännerrallye. The ERC2 participants in Austria include Hungarians Dávid Botka and Krisztian Hideg, Poland’s Łukasz Kabaciński and Czech Vojtěch Štajf. Among the ERC3 contingent hoping to challenge in Austria are Kristóf Klausz (Hungary), Polish duo Slawomir Ogryzek and Grzegorz Sikorski, emerging Romanian talent Simone Tempestini and Rok Turk from Slovenia. Czech Martina Daňhelová will bid to repeat her ERC Ladies’ Trophy success of 12 months ago.

Q&A: JONATHAN HIRSCHI
The swift Swiss was the first driver to register for the 2015 ERC. An ex-circuit racer, Hirschi will make his Jännerrallye debut in a Peugeot 208 T16 having finished a career-best fourth on the penultimate round of last season’s ERC in Switzerland.

How will you prepare for the round one of the 2015 ERC season, the Jännerrallye?

“We did some tests a few weeks ago but it was really dry so maybe not suitable for the conditions of the rally. Normally I will do the test before the event in the Czech Republic and that should be good. After that it’s a bit like a casino with the weather, if it will be snow or dry Tarmac. It’s difficult to prepare for this event because if we prepare the car for the snow and it’s dry it will not be a good way so let’s see. From my part I saw some onboard camera footage just to see what the stages are like and it looks really great this rally.”

There is always the possibility of ice and snow on the Jännerrallye. How much of a concern is this for you or are you simply excited by the challenge?

“For sure I like this kind of challenge. I come from Switzerland so I have this kind of weather for three months of the year. I did some race on the ice, in the Andros Trophy, and my experience was not bad. If I can get this kind of condition, ice and snow, I will enjoy for sure. If I can get some experience in the snow for me it’s really good. I have good experience on Tarmac from the track but I don’t have experience on the gravel and snow is the first step to learning difficult conditions because it is not so different to gravel.”

What is your target for the event?

“For me I will try my best for sure but it’s a bit like before Valais. I have not so much experience and if you want to get experience you have to finish the rally and do all the mileage of the rally. This is the big target for me. If I can catch a good pace for sure I will do this. If I am a little bit far away I will try my best.”

What is your programme for the ERC in 2015?

“I will do the first three rounds because it’s a good opportunity and I am lucky to do that. Then we will reach a point and after that the target is to do 80 per cent of the season. If nothing changes I will do the first three rallies and we will see.”

You’re better known as a circuit racer. What’s proving more difficult: circuit racing or rallying?

“The main difference between the rally and the track, first of all, is we have two in the car. In track you are always alone apart from the link by radio but it’s not the same. The second thing is the rally, for me, is much more difficult right now because I don’t have a big experience compared to the track. It’s a little bit difficult when the Tarmac condition changes a lot. You can start at the beginning of the stage and it is dry and then it gets wet and then back to dry and this is what I need to learn. My line is good on the stage but there are small things I have to learn to put side by side and make good things.”

ON THIS RALLY IN 2014…
Robert Kubica, a race winner in Formula One, secured the biggest victory of his rally career in a thrilling final-stage decider. The Pole started the closing 25.00-kilometre stage trailing Václav Pech by 11.8s. But a stunning performance, coupled with an inspired tyre choice, enabled him to get ahead. While Pech – who selected slick tyres for his MINI John Cooper Works S2000 – struggled for grip on the mud and rain-hit final test, Kubica opted for a combination of studded and winter Michelin tyres fitted in a diagonal formation, which proved ideal for the demanding conditions. Raimund Baumschlager completed the podium, with fellow Austrians Beppo Harrach and Michael Böhm claiming ERC Production Car Cup and ERC 2WD honours respectively. Kajetan Kajetanowicz had led before a jammed throttle pedal forced his exit on stage six.

FIVE FACTS
*The first Jännerrallye took place in 1969 but a lack of finance meant there was no event between 1986 and 2001. The event didn’t run in 2010 due to a permit issue. *History was made on the 1981 Jännerrallye when a four-wheel-drive car was used in competition for the first time. Driving an Audi Quattro, Franz Wittmann won by more than 20 minutes.

*Apple strudel and Wiener schnitzel are two popular Austrian dishes. In Upper Austria, dumplings are a favourite, while the Linzer Torte is a cake made from ground nuts and raspberry jam. *Matteo Chiarcossi, who will co-drive young Romanian driver Simone Tempestini, is ERC royalty having partnered Luca Rossetti to three European championship titles in the past.

*The anticipated cold weather will be no barrier to the Jännerrallye organisers when it comes to the ceremonial start and finish. Both events will take place inside the giant Messehalle, which is located in the grounds of the service park in Freistadt.

EVENT ESSENTIALS (all timings local)

Starts: 19h30, Sunday 4 January, Messehalle, Stieranger 8, 4240 Freistadt, Austria
Finishes: 17h43, Tuesday 6 January, Messehalle, Freistadt
Headquarters: Messehalle, Freistadt
Service park: Stieranger, Freistadt

ERC appearances (since the restructuring in 2004): Three (2012, 2013, 2014)
Stages: 18
Stage distance: 237.80 kilometres (138.40 kilometres leg one, 99.40 kilometres leg two)
Liaison: 587.34 kilometres
Total: 825.14 kilometres
Surface: Asphalt (chance of ice and snow)

MEDIA EVENTS AND INFORMATION (all timings local)

Media accreditation and media centre: ÖTB-Halle (entrance via Linzerstrasse-Stifterplatz), Stieranger 1, 4240 Freistadt (new location for 2015)
Opening times: 16h00-19h00, Saturday 3 January; 07h30-22h00, Sunday 4 January; 06h30- 22h00 Monday 5 and Tuesday 6 January

Sunday 4 January

Free Practice (Priority drivers): 09h30-10h27, Freistadt/Trölsberg (1.99 kilometres)
Qualifying Stage (for FIA/ERC priority drivers): 10h30-11h00, Freistadt/Trölsberg
Shakedown (for all drivers): 11h00-15h00, Freistadt/Trölsberg
Presentation of the rally drivers and co-drivers: 16h00-17h00, Stadtplatz, Freistadt
Start order selection: 16h00-17h00, Stadtplatz, Freistadt

FIA Action for Road Safety photo: 16h45 approx, Stadtplatz, Freistadt
Pre-rally press conference: 17h15, ÖTB-Halle, Freistadt
ERC registered drivers photo: 19h00, Messehalle, Freistadt
Ceremonial start: 19h30, Messehalle, Freistadt

Tuesday 6 January

Post-event press conference: 19h00, Messehalle, Freistadt. Top three drivers and co-drivers and leading Austrian crew in attendance
Colin McRae ERC Flat Out Trophy presentation: Immediately following the post-event press conference, Messehalle, Freistadt

Event media contact: Armin Holenia, +43 6642012700, sportpressedienst@holenia.at
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: Fiaerc.com

Rights-free images: Register at the media lounge section of Fiaerc.com

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