ERC glory chase heads to Romania for the Sibiu Rally

Event Preview of Sibiu Rally (Romania), round seven of twelve.

There’s no time to rest in the all-action FIA European Rally Championship. Less than a month after Belgium’s Geko Ypres Rally brought the curtain down on the first half of the season, the chase for on-stage success resumes with the Sibiu Rally in Romania from 25-27 July.

A new addition to the ERC for 2013, the Sibiu Rally is a truly spectacular affair with a mixture of gravel and asphalt stages, including some run at night. And to underline the popularity of the Transylvania event and the ERC, organisers were one entry short of reaching full capacity.
A host city full of history
Sibiu, located in the centre of Romania, oozes history and culture. Records of its existence date back to 1191, while it was designated European Capital of Culture in 2007. It makes for one of the most scenic service parks in international rallying with quaint historic buildings lining the Piața Mare, a large square in Sibiu where it’s located.
Champions and former winners abound
The near-capacity Sibiu Rally entry is awash with national champions and former event winners. Jan Kopecký, the European championship leader and current Czech title-holder, heads the list of registrations in a factory ŠKODA Fabia Super 2000. He will face opposition from former French and multiple Polish champion Bryan Bouffier and current Romanian champion François Delecour. Like Bouffier, Delecour will line up in a Peugeot 207 S2000. Jean-Michel Raoux, the IRC 2WD champion of 2011, will also rely on Peugeot power, while Yuan-Hu Lin holds the Taiwan rally crown and will compete in a Romanian-built Dacia Logan. 
Of the former event winners in action, Marco Tempestini steps up from his regular Subaru Impreza to a Fabia for his home round of the ERC. Gergo Szabo and Bogdan Marisca, who have also triumphed in Sibiu in the past, will be among the contenders for ERC Production Car Cup glory where their rivals will include double Production Car world champion Toshi Arai, who will jet in from Japan to drive an Impreza R4 STI for the occasion, and Vitaliy Pushkar, the production class winner in Sibiu last season in a Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution X.
Early battle for supremacy
The competition starts in earnest with the Qualifying Stage from 10:00hrs local time on Thursday 25 July. Following two runs of Free Practice at Sibiu’s rallycross circuit from 08:00hrs, priority drivers get one run over the 3.42-kilometre course to set their best time. The fastest driver will then get to choose their starting position for leg one first with the second fastest driver next to make their selection and so on until all priority drivers have made their choice. Road position can be pivotal to the outcome of dry gravel rallies as drivers will be eager to run further down the order to benefit from a ‘clean’ and stable stage surface that’s been ‘swept’ clear of loose gravel.
Night fever in Romania
There will be night fever in Romania with two tests – Paltiniş and Şanta – run under the cover of darkness on Friday’s leg (26 July), which features seven stages over a competitive distance of 101.80 kilometres. To increase the challenge facing drivers and the spectacle for the fans, the 10 kilometres of Paltiniş is on asphalt, which drivers will tackle with gravel tyres and settings.
Saturday’s route includes two more Tarmac stages, plus the monster Gâtu Berbecului, which at 30 kilometres is the longest of the 14-stage event and is run twice.
Top ERC Ladies’ Trophy contenders in action 
Ekaterina Stratieva and Molly Taylor, currently first and second in the ERC Ladies’ Trophy standings, will be competing in Sibiu – and for the first time. Stratieva heads the scores by four points from Taylor but admits her lack of gravel experience could be a hindrance.
It’s a team game in the ERC
Three outfits will be chasing points for the respective ERC Teams’ championships. The GPD Mit Metal Racing Team is in contention for overall honours with Czech drivers Antonín Tlusťák and Jaroslav Orsák both aiming to strike big in Romania. The Napoca Rally Academy has five drivers targeting points in the ERC Production Car Cup for Teams with its best two finishers eligible for points. Meanwhile, Zoltán Bessenyey, the current ERC 2WD Championship leader for Honda, will be hoping to add to Eurosol Racing Team Hungary’s tally in the two-wheel-drive division.
Local heroes out to shine
As well as counting as round seven of the 12-event ERC season, the Sibiu Rally is a round of the Romanian championship. That means a number of local heroes will be aiming to make an impact, while securing valuable domestic points. They include Edwin Keleti, Valentin Porcisteanu, Dan Girtofan and Alex Filip, who will bid for ERC 2WD success in a Renault Clio R3. Several Hungarian drivers will also be competing. They include Kornél Lukács, Janós Puskádi and Gergo Szabo.
Meanwhile, former rallycross star Łukasz Kabaciński is travelling from Poland to take part.
*With stages on gravel and asphalt, the Sibiu Rally is the only true mixed-surface round of the 2013 ERC.
*Until 1941 the majority of Sibiu’s population was ethnic German. Although many returned to Germany from the 1950s onwards, about 2000 remain including Klaus Johannis, the city’s mayor.
*Tocaniță, a meat stew seasoned with onions, sarmale, picked cabbage leaves stuffed with a mix of minced meats, rice and spices, and mititei, small skinless grilled sausages, are among popular entrees served in Romania.
*Transylvania is Dracula country and author Bram Stoker’s fictional Count’s castle is located in Brasov, 143 kilometres from Sibiu.
*Another major local attraction is Transfăgărășan national road, 90 kilometres of dramatic twists and turns through the Southern Carpathians as featured on the BBC Top Gear television show.
Starts: 20:30hrs, Thursday 25 July, Piața Mică, Sibiu
Finishes: 19:00hrs, Saturday 27 July, Piața Mică, Sibiu
Headquarters: Piața Mică, 550178, Sibiu
Service park: Piața Mare, 550178, Sibiu
Facts and figures:
Entries received: 69
ERC appearances: None
Stages: 14
Stage distance: 216.34 kilometres (95.84 kilometres leg one, 120.50 kilometres leg two)
Liaison: 323.51 kilometres
Total: 539.85 kilometres
Surface: Gravel (approximately 80 per cent), asphalt (approximately 20 per cent)