29 May 2015

ERC SATA Rallye Açores preview: Star-studded ERC field to mark 50th SATA Rallye Açores in style

The FIA European Rally Championship is set for a big celebration next week (4-6 June) when SATA Rallye Açores takes place for the 50th time. Counting as round four of the 2015 ERC season, the popular island event has attracted a 49-car entry, while a massive 50,000 Euro privateer prize fund is up for grabs.

Portuguese drivers will turn out in force to try to ensure a home victory. But they’ll face stiff competition from an equally strong visiting ERC contingent And it will be a spectacular battle, with 18 R5 and Super 2000 cars and 14 ERC Junior Championship contenders on the entry list and all drivers vying for ERC Gravel Masters points.

Based on the archipelago’s largest island of São Miguel in the mid-Atlantic, this year’s SATA Rallye Açores features 17 special stages covering 216.61 kilometres (88 per cent gravel and 12 per cent asphalt) and will include the famous signature Sete Cidades stage, part of which runs around the rim of an extinct volcano.

A favourite event for many of the drivers, owning to the island’s breathtaking scenery and its challenging stages, this year’s rally begins with the traditional City Show demonstration event in Ponta Delgada on Wednesday evening before the competitive action begins with the 3.22-kilometre Qualifying Stage for ERC registered drivers on Thursday. The fastest 15 will then select the running order for Leg One, which begins with three stages (totalling 23.56kms) later the same day. Leg One continues the following day, with eight stages – four run in the morning and repeated in the afternoon. This includes the Sete Cidades test, which, at 28.92kms, is the longest of the event. After another 92.16kms, Leg One comes to an end on Friday evening.

Leg Two begins at 08h30 on Saturday, with a further six stages (totalling 100.89kms). This includes the 21.38km Tronqueira stages, which is lined with the island’s famous hydrangea bushes, making it one of the most beautiful stages in the ERC. The finish will take place at Praça Gonçalo Velho in Ponta Delgada from 19h00.

Breen takes slender ERC lead to Azores
Craig Breen takes a slender three point FIA European Rally Championship lead into SATA Rallye Açores, with the Peugeot Rally Academy 208 T16 driver on top form after his dream victory on the previous round, the Discover Northern Ireland Circuit of Ireland Rally. Hot on the Irishman’s heels is Kajetan Kajetanowicz, who will drive a brand new LOTOS Rally Team Ford Fiesta R5. After making a superb four-wheel drive ERC debut in Northern Ireland, Charles Martin takes to the gravel for the first time in his Peugeot Rally Academy 208 T16. Robert Consani will compete in his stunning Citroën DS3 R5, while ERC regular Giacomo Costenaro appears in his Peugeot 207 S2000. Antonín Tlusťák, Tomáš Kurka and Jaroslav Orsák all drive ŠKODA Fabia S2000s, while Jonathan Hirschi returns to the fray in his 208 T16. Jean-Michel Raoux is excited by the prospect of the “completely mad” Sete Cidades stage. The French gravel expert scored his best ERC result of his career in the Azores last year, finishing third in a 207 S2000, and returns in a H-Racing Fiesta R5. Irish brothers Josh and Sam Moffett, who finished third and fourth respectively on the Circuit of Ireland, will drive Fiesta RRCs on their first appearance on the event.

Portugal’s top drivers aim for SATA Rallye Açores victory
Several top Portuguese drivers will take on the FIA European Rally Championship regulars on SATA Rallye Açores. Two-time event winner Bruno Magalhães, who tackled selected ERC events in 2014, will contest his first rally for six months, and believes his 208 T16 is capable of giving him his third win. Seven-time Azores champion Ricardo Moura will drive an ex-Kajetanowicz Fiesta R5, while José Pedro Fontes, who has already won two rounds of this year’s Portuguese championship, appears in a Citroën DS3 R5. João Barros (Fiesta R5) will also be one to watch, as will the ŠKODA Fabia S2000s driven by Joaquim Alves and Carlos Martins. Unfortunately, Pedro Meireles hasn’t been able to repair his all-new ŠKODA Fabia R5 following a testing accident, which suffered a cracked engine block.

ERC2 title rivals face stiff opposition from series newcomers
The close battle for the ERC2 title will intensify further on SATA Rallye Açores, as two rapid drivers make their first appearance of the season. Vojtěch Štajf arrives in the Azores leading ERC2 after regaining the series lead by scoring top points in Northern Ireland, after Krisztián Hideg was excluded. This will be Štajf’s 173rd rally, but his first on gravel, so he’s planning a cautious outing in his Subaru Duck Czech National Team Impreza WRX STI. Dávid Botka led ERC2 after Rally Liepāja in his Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution IX and is now only seven points behind Štajf, so will been keen to swap positions again. Botka has even driven his team’s service truck from Hungary to Portugal himself, to help ensure the safe passage of the precious cargo! Dominykas Butvilas was super-fast in his Subaru Poland Rally Team Impreza in Latvia, and will be looking for his first win of the season. Adding to the fight will be last year’s SATA Rallye Açores ERC Production Car Cup winner Luis Rego (Lancer), while Hungary’s Peter Ranga also makes his first appearance of the season in his Topp-Cars Rallye Team Mitsubishi.

After snow and asphalt, ERC Juniors set for gritty battle on gravel
Emil Bergkvist is aiming for a straight hat-trick of ERC Junior wins in the Azores, but the ADAC Opel Rallye Junior Team driver might not necessarily arrive as pre-event favourite. The Swede has never done the event before, and he’ll be up against Chris Ingram – a driver who finished second in Azores last year, beaten only by eventual ERC Junior champion, Stéphane Lefebvre. The Peugeot UK driver has, like Bergkvist, enjoyed a good pre-event test programme this time, his 208 R2 is an equal to the Adam R2 on tight and twisty sections and the British driver, who lies second in the standings, has identified SATA Rallye Açores as one of his best changes to score maximum points. Ralfs Sirmacis’s pace on snow and asphalt has put him third in the series, and the Latvian will surely fly in his 208 R2 – as indeed will his Sport Racing Technologies team-mate Vasily Gryazin, who came close to an overall podium in the Azores last year. Portugal’s Diogo Gago will be aiming for a good performance on his home round of the ERC in his Peugeot Rally Academy R2, while rising Romanian star Florin Tincescu returns to “one of the most beautiful rallies I have ever done” in his Napoca Rally Academy 208. Steve Røkland is back on his favoured surface and match-fit after rallies in his native Norway, while Azores is a new adventure for fellow rapid Peugeot drivers Jon Armstrong and Mattias Adielsson. Gino Bux finished on the podium in the Azores last year, on what was his first gravel rally. That will give Marijan Griebel some optimism, as the German ADAC Opel Rallye Junior Team driver will land in the Azores with one previous gravel rally under his belt. Since the Circuit of Ireland, Łukasz Pieniążek has contested two rounds of the Polish championship, finishing on the class 4 podium both times. Meanwhile, Aleks Zawada has been getting some pre-event advice from Krzysztof Hołowczyc, who was ERC champion in 1997 – when Zawada was just five years old. Emīls Blūms is the latest driver to register for ERC Junior, and the talented Latvian will make his first rally start outside the Baltics in a Fiesta R2.

Pita returns in battle for non-Junior ERC3 honours
ERC stalwart Renato Pita returns to the battle for honours for ERC3 drivers outside the ERC Junior category in his colourful Peugeot, and faces a tough fight with fellow Portuguese drivers Henrique Moniz and Paulo Neto, both driving Citroën DS3 R3Ts, and Wilson Aguiar (208 R2). The only non-Portuguese driver in the line-up, Romanian Alex Filip, will make his first ERC appearance of 2015 in a Renault Clio R3 Maxi Plus.

50,000 Euros up for grabs in ERC privateer prize fund
To mark the 50th running of SATA Rallye Açores, ERC promoter Eurosport Events has increased its privateer prize fund from 20,000 to 50,000 Euros. In addition to the top-placed privateer finisher receiving a larger cheque for 10,000 Euros, the top three privateer ERC Junior finishers will also share 12,000 Euros – with the leading Junior privateer receiving 6,000 Euros. Eurosport Events has already given away 60,000 Euros in prize money to the most successful private crews on the first three rounds of the ERC – with 20,000 Euros awarded at the opening Internationale Jännerrallye powered by GaGa Energy in Austria, Rally Liepāja in Latvia and at the Discover Northern Ireland Circuit of Ireland Rally. To be eligible for ERC privateer prize money 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.

ERC brings 13 million Euros to the Azores
The Algarve University carried out an economic impact study of the SATA Rallye Açores, showing that last year’s FIA European Rally Championship event generated revenues of more than 13 million Euros – a return 13.5 times higher than the investment. Vitor Fraga, the Azorean Regional Secretary of Tourism and Transport, added that for the Government of the Azores, SATA Rallye Açores continues to be one of the biggest and best events that promotes the Azores globally, thanks to its partnership with Eurosport Events. He said that the Azorean Government will continue to support the rally, as the economic results demonstrate that the investment continues to be beneficial for all.

Ponta Delgada City Show stage back by popular demand
The City Show on Ponta Delgada’s main promenade is back by popular demand. Run purely for fun, rally cars will blast along an all-asphalt stage on Wednesday evening, with the ERC stars encouraged to put on a spectacle for the thousands of fans who line the route. The City Show stage does not count towards the final results.

Q&A: BRUNO MAGALHÃES
Bruno Magalhães has on SATA Rallye Açores twice, and the Portuguese star believes his victory in 2010 was the most important of his career. This year he returns in a Peugeot 208 T16 – a car he feels has the potential to carry him to a hat-trick of wins. What better driver to ask then about his home round of the FIA European Rally Championship.

What makes Rallye Açores such a special event?
“It’s a fantastic event with a great history in motorsport, one of the most beautiful rallies in the world due to the quality of the stages and the beautiful scenery. It’s a different event in which all drivers love to take part, as they are always impressed when they drive these roads for the first time.”

What is the key to success on Rallye Açores?
“This rally is difficult for those who participate in it for the first time, because the roads are quite narrow in some places and very slippery. It’s a rally where the sections are not so long, so it is always done at maximum attack, and a small mistake can ruin everything because it is harder to recover. Usually the differences between the drivers is small, so the key to success is to do all the rally attacking and not make mistakes.”

You have won Rallye Açores twice before, can you make it three wins this year?
“The most important victory of my career was in 2010 in the IRC. It was a rally to the tenth of a second, against fantastic drivers like Kris Meeke, Juho Hänninen, Andreas Mikkelsen and Jan Kopecký, all with very similar cars in terms of competitiveness, so to win was a dream come true. I would love to be able to win for the third time and I feel that this year I have a better chance than in previous years because I have a more competitive and current car. So for the first time in three or four years, I feel that I can return to fight for the top position. But winning will be really difficult, because there are many very fast drivers with good experience of the event.”

Which drivers do you feel are likely to be your main rivals for victory?
I would say that the most serious candidates to win the rally are Craig Breen and Kajto [Kajetan Kajetanowicz], because both are very fast and with very strong and large teams to support them. I think some Portuguese drivers will be very fast, like Ricardo Moura, who is from the Azores and knows 100 per cent the roads, and José Pedro Fontes, who has been very fast in the Portuguese championship. I think Robert Consani will also be very strong, because he knows the rally from previous years, so there are many drivers capable of scoring a great result.”

This is your 14th year driving with Peugeot. How does the 208 T16 compare to the other Peugeots you have rallied over the years?
“I have a long association with the Peugeot brand and I am very proud of it, being quite rare that this happens these days. All my titles were achieved at the wheel of a Peugeot, so the connection is quite strong. As we know the cars evolve very quickly, so every car that I drove was better than the previous one. The car that most impressed me was the 207 S2000 because I was champion for the first time in my career, but I want to get good results also with the 208 T16 and believe a lot in its potential. The Peugeot has a long history in the automotive sport, always with many victories and with excellent cars, so I believe I will have good results once again with the new 208.”

For the many crews contesting Rallye Açores for the first time this year, especially the ERC Junior drivers, what advice would you give them?
“The rally is very special, with a difficult and treacherous route for those who participate in it for the first time. It is important to get very precise pace notes and a car with good traction because the surface is slippery, and very narrow areas that do not allow any error. However, I am sure that all the ERC Junior drivers will enjoy the rally and will get very excited about the sections and the island’s landscape. To all of them, I wish them good luck.”

FIVE SATA RALLYE AÇORES FACTS
*This year’s SATA Rallye Açores takes on added significance as the 50th running of the popular island event. The winners back in 1965 were Luís Toste Rego and Zeca Toste in a Fiat 1500.

*Despite winning seven Azorean championships, local legend Ricardo Moura has never won SATA Rallye Açores. The same can’t be said for Fernando Peres, whose tally of seven wins is a record. However, when it comes to the record number of starts he trails Franco Horacio, who has taken part 23 times.

*The Açores archipelago, which lies approximately equidistant between Lisbon and New York in the Atlantic Ocean, consists of nine islands formed from a series of volcanic eruptions. São Miguel to the southeast, where the rally is based, is the biggest at 747 km2, while Corvo, to the northwest, is the smallest at 17km2.

*Known as the Green Island due its lush and fertile landscape, São Miguel is famous for its changeable weather with sunshine one minute and rain the next.

*Azorean menus are big on fish and seafood with barnacle a particular delicacy. It wouldn’t be unheard of to start a meal with a dish of local mashed red peppers and cheese.

ON THIS EVENT IN 2014…
Portugal’s Bernardo Sousa scored his first ERC victory in a Ford Fiesta RRC, after a dramatic final-stage showdown. Sousa started the last stage just 5.1s ahead of Kevin Abbring, and in a final push won the stage by 1.1s to secure a victory margin of 6.2s. Abbring finished second in a Peugeot 208 T16, and was awarded the Colin McRae ERC Flat Out Trophy for his efforts, which included using cable ties to fashion a replacement belt to drive the alternator and powersteering after it had failed mid-way through the event. Jean-Michel Raoux (Peugeot 207 S2000) took a career-best third when Vasily Gryazin slid his Fiesta S2000 off the road into a ditch with one stage remaining. Robert Consani (Peugeot 207 S2000) battled home in fourth following punctures and broken driveshafts, while Luis Rego took a narrow ERC Production Car Cup win in fifth ahead of sixth-placed Ricardo Teodósio – both in Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution IX. Stéphane Lefebvre won the ERC Junior category in his the Peugeot Rally Academy 208 R2. There were several top retirements, including Craig Breen, whose Peugeot Rally Academy 208T16 suffered an electrical failure. A technical problem with his 207 S2000 also put two-time event winner Bruno Magalhães out, while the victory aspirations of Kajetan Kajetanowicz and Ricardo Moura were dashed when they both hit the same rock and damaged the suspension on their Fiesta R5s.

EVENT ESSENTIALS (all timings local)

Ceremonial start: 15h15, Thursday 4 June, Praça Gonçalo Velho, Ponta Delgada

Podium finish: 19h02, Saturday 6 June, Praça Gonçalo Velho, Ponta Delgada

Headquarters: Pavilhão do Mar, Portas do Mar, Av. Infante D. Henrique, 9500 Ponta Delgada

Service park: Portas do Mar

ERC appearances (since the restructuring in 2004): Two (2013, 2014)

Stages: 17

Stage distance: 226.67 kilometres (125.28 kilometres leg one, 101.39 kilometres leg two)

Liaison: 487.54 kilometres

Total: 714.21 kilometres

Surface: Mainly gravel but with some asphalt sections

MEDIA EVENTS AND INFORMATION (all timings local)

Media accreditation/media centre: Pavilhão do Mar, Portas do Mar, Av. Infante D. Henrique, 9500 Ponta Delgada

Opening times: 14h00-20h00, Monday 1 June; 14h00-20h00, Tuesday 2 June; 13h00-19h00, Wednesday 3 June; 08h00-23h30, Thursday 4 June; 08h00-22h30, Friday 5 June; 08h00-22h30, Saturday 6 June

Wednesday 3 June

City Show: 19h15-20h30, Av. Infante D. Henrique, Ponta Delgada

Thursday 4 June

Free Practice (for ERC registered drivers): 08h00-09h45, Remédios – Lagoa (3.22 kilometres)

Qualifying Stage (for ERC registered drivers): 10h00, Remédios – Lagoa (3.22 kilometres)

Shakedown (for non-priority drivers): 11h00-12h45, Remédios – Lagoa (3.22 kilometres)

Start order selection: 13h15, Portas do Mar

FIA Action for Road Safety photocall: 13h25, Portas do Mar

Pre-rally press conference: 13h30, Media Centre, Portas do Mar

Autograph signing session: 13h50-14h15, Baía dos Anjos, Portas do Mar

Saturday 6 June

Post-event press conference: 20h15, Podium, Praça Gonçalo Velho

Colin McRae ERC Flat Out Trophy presentation: Immediately following the post-event press conference, Media Centre

Event media contact: Rui Anjos, media@satarallyeacores.com, +351 296960400

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 www.fiaerc.com or through the ERC app

Results, standings, live timing and text commentary: www.fiaerc.com

Rights-free images: Register at the new media section of www.fiaerc.com

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