European Rally Championship - 49th SATA Rallye Açores Preview
Tue 13.05.14, 10:10AM
Live television coverage, spectacular stages through stunning countryside, plus an entry list brimming with ace drivers and rising stars will combine to make SATA Rallye Açores one of the highlights of the all-action FIA European Rally Championship season.
Based on the archipelago’s largest island of São Miguel in the mid-Atlantic, the event takes place for a 49th time from 15-17 May and counts as round five of the ERC plus round three of the new-for-2014 ERC Junior Championship.
Covering a distance of 216.64 kilometres, the rally’s 17 timed tests criss-cross breath-taking scenery and lush countryside, and are characterised by their sandy surface and narrow and undulating nature. And because the stages are often no wider than the width of a car, there is simply no margin for error, particularly on the sensational Sete Cidades stage in the northwest of the island, which includes a charge along the rim of a volcanic crater lake.
Changeable weather is also a factor due to the ocean climate with conditions switching from sunshine to showers and patches of fog thrown in for good measure.
Let the (City) Show begin
Before the competitive action gets underway, all drivers will take part in the popular City Show on Ponta Delgada’s main promenade. The City Show uses on all-asphalt stage but is purely for fun, with the ERC stars encouraged to put on a spectacle for the thousands of fans who line the route.
ERC aces go for ‘pole’ position
Twelve drivers will have ERC or FIA priority status for SATA Rallye Açores, which is decided according to their event results. As on all rounds of the ERC, the priority drivers will take part in two runs of Free Practice before getting one shot at the Qualifying Stage. The results of the Qualifying Stage will be used to determine the starting order for leg one, with the fastest driver earning the right to choose his starting position first followed by the next fastest driver and so on until all priority drivers have made their selection. The Free Practice and Qualifying Stage will use a 3.22-kilometre course, Remédios-Lagoa. Free Practice begins at 09:00hrs local time on Thursday 15 May with the Qualifying Stage getting underway at 11:05hrs. The start selection ceremony is scheduled for 12:45hrs at the Portas do Mar in Ponta Delgada.
ERC stars out in force
With ERC title leader Esapekka Lappi not including SATA Rallye Açores on his event schedule for 2014, Irishman Craig Breen will be bidding to reduce the Finn’s championship advantage at the wheel of his Peugeot Rally Academy 208T16. Breen, winner of the Acropolis Rally in March, trails Lappi by 29 points and will be gunning for a top score. However, team-mate Kevin Abbring will also have his sights set firmly on victory having suffered misfortune on the previous two rounds.
Vasily Gryazin and Kajetan Kajetanowicz are both podium finishers in their Ford Fiestas and are set to impress, while Bruno Magalhães makes his second start of the ERC in 2014 on the rally he won in dramatic fashion in 2010. The multiple Portuguese champion had been due to switch to a 208T16 but will stick with the Peugeot 207 S2000. Jaroslav Orsák and fellow ŠKODA Fabia driver Antonín Tlusťák will fly the flag for the Czech Republic, while Robert Consani and Jean-Michel Raoux will do likewise for France. Following his ERC debut in Greece earlier this season, Giacomo Costenaro returns in his 207 S2000.
Local heroes target island glory
Azorean Ricardo Moura is armed with a Ford Fiesta R5 for the first time as he aims to emulate his SATA Rallye Açores podium of 2013. The experienced local ace showed last year how quickly he can adapt to new machinery after claiming third place in his ŠKODA Fabia Super 2000 first time out. Bernardo Sousa, who hails from the island of Madeira, was in the fight for a podium finish last year only to crash out. He’ll be one to watch in his Fiesta Regional Rally Car.
Breen is the ERC Gravel Master
The European championship top spot might no longer be his – for now at least – but Craig Breen will start SATA Rallye Açores as the leader of the ERC Gravel Masters, a new initiative from ERC promoter Eurosport Events for 2014 to reward surface specialists competing in the ERC. After the first scoring opportunity of the year on leg two of the Acropolis Rally in Greece in late March, Breen has earned 48 points, which is one more than Bryan Bouffier and 20 more than Kajetan Kajetanowicz. ERC title leader Esapekka Lappi is fourth on 16 points with Jaromír Tarabus next up on 10 points. Sepp Wiegand, Vasily Gryazin, Bruno Magalhães and Robert Consani also feature in the standings. All 17 stages in the Açores will count towards the ERC Gravel Masters classification and Breen will carry a special ERC Gravel Masters decal on the sides of his Peugeot 208T16 to differentiate him as the current ERC Gravel Master. As well as the ERC Gravel Master accolade, there is a separate ERC Asphalt Master award, while the ERC Ice Master prize went to Robert Kubica earlier this season.
A fine ERC Production
While there will be serious competition ahead in the battle for outright victory, there will also be a close fight for ERC Production Car Cup success with championship leader Vitaliy Pushkar a hot favourite for honours in his Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution X R4. The Ukrainian claimed a last-gasp class win in Greece in late March and will again face opposition from rapid Czech Martin Hudec, currently 12 points behind in the title chase. A number of local drivers will also be in contention for honours including Adruzilo Lopes and Ricardo Teodósio.
ERC Juniors on a charge
Eleven FIA ERC Junior Championship competitors will be hoping to build their experience and showcase their talents on SATA Rallye Açores. They include category newcomers Fabio Andolfi and Guillaume Dilley, title pacesetter Jan Černý, podium finishers Risto Immonen and Alex Parpottas, stage winners Andrea Crugnola, Chris Ingram, Aleks Zawada and Stéphane Lefebvre plus promising RACB National Team driver Gino Bux and Napoca Rally Academy’s Florin Tincescu. ERC Junior is a new initiative for 2014 and drivers must be born on or after 1 January 1989 to be eligible. They must also use R2-specification cars and Michelin control tyres. All ERC Juniors will be eligible for the ERC 2WD Championship, which has 27 drivers competing in Açores. They include Henrique Moniz and ERC Ladies’ Trophy contender Ekaterina Stratieva. A file containing pre-event quotes from all ERC Junior drivers will be available at Fiaerc.com.
*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.
*Ricardo Moura might be a multiple Azorean champion but he’s never won his home event, which ran for the first time in 1965 and takes place for a 49th time this season.
*The same can’t be said for Fernando Peres, whose tally of wins is a record. However, when it comes to the record number of starts he trails Franco Horacio, who has taken part 23 times.
*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.
EVENT ESSENTIALS (all timings local)
Starts: 15:30hrs, Thursday 15 May, Praça Gonçalo Velho
Finishes: 19:14hrs, Saturday 17 May, Praça Gonçalo Velho
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): One (2013)
Stage distance: 216.64 kilometres (116.89 kilometres leg one, 99.75 kilometres leg two)