EVENT PREVIEW: 2016 FIA European Rally Championship, round one of 10
Rally Islas Canarias El Corte Inglés, 10-12 March (Spain)
*Superstar debutant Østberg features in strong entry for opening round of 2016
*€20,000 prize fund up for grabs on stunning asphalt roads of Gran Canaria
The 2016 FIA European Rally Championship begins next week (10-12 March) on the asphalt roads of Gran Canaria for Rally Islas Canarias El Corte Inglés.
One of the world’s leading drivers has signed up for the island-based challenge with Mads Østberg making his ERC debut. The strong entry also includes reigning champion Kajetan Kajetanowicz beginning the defence of his crown on the first of 10 rounds across Europe during 2016.
Rally Islas Canarias El Corte Inglés is being run for the 40th year in 2016, and the milestone is celebrated with a highly-anticipated return to the ERC after two years away. The rally takes place on the island of Gran Canaria, where the stages undulate over the mountainous terrain. For the drivers, this means having to take care with their speed and lines through corners in order to maintain momentum.
The itinerary is made up to 13 special stages totalling 215.2 competitive kilometres. The Qualifying Stage will take place on Thursday 10 March to help determine the starting order among priority drivers, followed that evening by a superspecial stage in the island’s capital Las Palmas. Friday begins with the longest stage of the rally, the 24.73km Moya, which is the first of a loop of three tests that are repeated later in the day. The rally concludes with two runs over another three-stage loop on Saturday, including the 22.84-kilometre Ingenio.
Dávid Botka (Botka Rally Team Citroën DS3 R5): last year’s ERC2 champion steps up to compete for overall honours. He’ll be adapting to his new machinery in the Canaries but should be fast nonetheless.
Kajetan Kajetanowicz (LOTOS Rally Team Ford Fiesta R5): the Polish star returns to defend the ERC crown he won in 2015. Like many, he’s doing the rally for the first time but is looking to maintain an impressive podium streak lasting over 12 months.
Alexey Lukyanuk (Ford Fiesta R5): the Russian driver brings momentum into the opening rally of 2016 after proving his speed on asphalt with a win in Valais at the end of last season.
Luis Monzón (Auto Laca Competición Citroën DS3 R5): while most ERC regulars are new to the event, Monzón is a Las Palmas local and three-time winner of his home rally. He’s also a double Spanish champion and came third on the ERC’s last visit in 2013.
Mads Østberg (RMC Motorsport Ford Fiesta R5): M-Sport’s world championship star makes his ERC debut. Asphalt isn’t the Norwegian’s favoured surface but his class is evident, and both his co-driver Ola Fløene and his Spanish team have event knowledge.
Frequent ERC frontrunner Robert Consani returns, with the Frenchman swapping his DS3 R5 for a Peugeot 208 T16 R5. The ŠKODA Fabia R5 is likely to feature prominently in the hands of Dutchman Hermen Kobus, Hungary’s János Puskádi (Eurosol Racing Team Hungary) and Czech driver Antonín Tlusťák (Tlusťák Racing), while Polish drivers Jarosław Koltun (C-Racing) and Tomasz Kasperczyk (Tiger Energy Drink Rallye Team) rely on the Fiesta R5. Lebanon’s Gilbert Bannout contests his first European rally in a DS3 R5, which is also the car of choice for Switzerland’s Federico Della Casa, while Italian Giacomo Costenaro has upgraded to a 208 T16 R5. Those carrying Spanish hopes include Iván Ares (Peña Autocross Arteixo), now in a Fiesta R5 after several years driving Porsches, finishing runner-up in his national championship last year.
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 ERC Junior Championship begins on round two, the Circuit of Ireland Rally, with its contenders also eligible for ERC3 points.
Subaru’s Chuchała takes on the Mitsubishi men in ERC2
The 2014 Polish champion Wojciech Chuchała starts among the favourites in ERC2 after joining Subaru Poland Rally Team for a title assault. He’s up against a number of Mitsubishi drivers including Argentine Juan Carlos Alonso, who’s aiming to go one better in the ERC after finishing third and then second in the WRC’s production class. Italian Giacomo Scattolon arrives in ERC2 with promise after winning the Italian junior title in 2014. Two Hungarians will be hoping to succeed compatriot Dávid Botka as ERC2 champion: Tibor Érdi, who has pedigree in the class after winning in Ypres last year, and Péter Ranga.
Champions go head-to-head for ERC3 spoils
ERC3 is well-supported for the opening round despite it not counting towards ERC Junior. Zoltán Bessenyey makes his comeback with the goal of adding to the titles he won in the two-wheel-drive class in 2013-14, now driving a Renault Clio R3T for Eurosol Racing Team Hungary. Hoping to rival Bessenyey will be Murat Bostanci (Castrol Ford Team Türkiye Ford Fiesta R2T), who won the FIA European Rally Trophy last year and has also claimed the last two Turkish titles. Another national champion graduating to the ERC is Poland’s Łukasz Habaj, who’s joined in one of two RallyTechnology Peugeot 208 VTI R2s by Tomasz Gryc, while Aleks Humar (Oktan Sport 208 VTI R2) steps up as a four-time champion in Slovenia. Aleks Zawada (Red Opel España Adam R2) will aim for a repeat of his ERC3 win in Ypres last year, as fellow Pole Łukasz Pieniążek drives his new Adam R2 in anger for the first time. He’s preparing for an ERC Junior campaign, as is the Portuguese two-wheel-drive champion Marco Cid (208 VTI R2). Gil Antunes and Joao Correia will also fly the flag for Portugal in a pair of Clio R3Ts, while Hungary’s Szabolcs Várkonyi (Ritmus ASE 208 VTI R2) returns to build upon his 2015 appearances.
Kajetan Kajetanowicz (LOTOS Rally Team Ford Fiesta R5): “Defending the title in the ERC is a thrilling challenge which we can tackle only as a team. We will face this task with an unchanged line-up, together with our long-standing partners – and together with the titles we won side by side, this is a spectacular proof of a beautiful and fruitful cooperation. Right at the beginning of this year’s adventure in the ERC, for the first time we will drive on the roads which, if you want to reach the maximum grip limit, require audacity, precision and great humility at the same time. Almost 200 days have passed since our previous outing in a Tarmac round of the ERC, so you can imagine how big my hunger for competition is and how much our LOTOS Rally Team is thirsty of competition with the best European teams. For sure we will face a lot of strong opponents in the Canary Islands. Seventeen crews in top R5 cars – the largest field in the whole ERC history – already raises my heartbeat.”
Mads Østberg (RMC Motorsport Ford Fiesta R5): “It actually all came about because of a photo I put on Instagram when I was on holiday in the Canaries last year. The hotel manager where I was staying saw it, we kept in touch, and eventually we were able to put together a deal to do the rally with some local sponsors. I like the look of the roads: I think it will be typical Spanish asphalt, with high grip. I drove the R5 version of the Fiesta just once before, on a Norwegian championship rally recently, and I won by more than a minute, which was great. But that was on snow: asphalt will be a very different proposition. For the time being this is a one-off outing on the European Rally Championship, but if I find the time and the sponsorship I would like to do more.”
Zoltán Bessenyey (Eurosol Racing Team Hungary Renault Clio R3T): “I think the 2016 ERC will be one of the biggest challenges of my life. After two titles the target is simple, I would like to win again but I realise lots of very good drivers have joined this championship so it will be a clash of the titans. I think in ERC3 will be the biggest fight. Islas Canarias is a superb event, because the spectators love the rally and get really involved to support their favourites. The surface is very good, abrasive and also fast. I’m very happy to start the season there. We need to see the performance and speed of our contenders, and we need to finish the race in a good position, and then we will go by step-by-step.”
On this event in 2013…
The last time Rally Islas Canarias El Corte Inglés featured in the ERC, the focus was on Robert Kubica and the ex-Formula 1 ace’s top-line international rallying debut. The Pole lived up to his star billing and then some, building an advantage of over a minute by being quickest on every one of Friday’s eight stages. However, hopes of a dream win were ended when he damaged his Citroën DS3 against a barrier on Saturday’s second stage. ŠKODA Motorsport’s Jan Kopecký profited to pick up his third win in four years on the event, and the second victory of his ERC title-winning campaign. Craig Breen claimed second for the Peugeot Rally Academy, and when his team-mate Jérémi Ancian was forced to stop after successive punctures, local hero Luis Monzón completed the podium in his MINI, recovering from a flat tyre of his own. Andreas Aigner took the Production win in fourth ahead of Germain Bonnefis, while Gorka Antxustegi was the top two-wheel drive entry in sixth.
EVENT ESSENTIALS (all timings local and subject to change)
Starts: 20h00, Thursday 10 March, Plaza de Canarias, Las Palmas
Finishes: 16h16, Saturday 12 March, Plaza de Canarias, Las Palmas
Headquarters: Hotel AC Gran Canaria, Eduardo Benot 5, 35007, Las Palmas
Service park: Plaza de Canarias, Las Palmas
ERC appearances (since the restructuring in 2004): One (2013)
Stage distance: 215.2 kilometres (110.68 kilometres on leg one, 104.52 on leg two)
Liaison: 174.32 kilometres
Total: 278.84 kilometres
MEDIA EVENTS AND INFORMATION (all timings local)
Media accreditation/media centre: Edificio Miller, Parque Santa Catalina
Opening times: 12h00-21h00, Tuesday 8 March; 09h00-21h00, Wednesday 9 March; 09h00-23h00 Thursday 10 March; 09h00-22h00 Friday 11 March; 08h00-21h00 Saturday 12 March
Thursday 10 March
Free Practice (for priority drivers): 09h00-11h00, Cenobio Valerón (3.57 kilometres)
Qualifying Stage (for priority drivers): 11h15-11h45, Cenobio Valerón (3.57 kilometres)
Shakedown (for non-priority drivers): 12h00-14h00, Cenobio Valerón (3.57 kilometres)
Driver/co-driver portraits: 12h00-13h00 and 18h30-19h30, Eurosport office, Hotel AC Gran Canaria
Start order selection: 17h00, podium zone, Parque Santa Catalina
Pre-rally press conference: 17h30, podium zone, Parque Santa Catalina
Driver autograph session: 17h30, podium zone, Parque Santa Catalina
Group photo with ERC registered drivers: 20h00, podium zone, Parque Santa Catalina
Ceremonial start: 20h30, podium zone, Parque Santa Catalina
Saturday 12 March
Prize-giving ceremony: 16h36, podium, Parque Santa Catalina
Post-event press conference: 17h30, podium, Parque Santa Catalina
Colin McRae ERC Flat Out Trophy presentation: Immediately following the post-event press conference, Parque Santa Catalina
Event media contact: Roberto Martí, email@example.com, +34 607755541
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
Follow the ERC on Facebook and Twitter
Press enquiries: Anthony Peacock, firstname.lastname@example.org
Television enquiries: Antonios Argyropoulos, email@example.com
Drivers and teams: Jean-Baptiste_Ley@discovery.com
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