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ERC season starts with Azores Airlines Rallye


ERC - 2017 Azores Airlines Rallye - Preview

FIA, Motorsport, Mobility, Road Safety, F1, WRC, WEC, WTCC, World RX

*Opening round of eight-event 2017 season and the start of an exciting new era with the restructured ERC Junior Championship and its two categories based on age and car performance getting underway
*Twenty-eight top-of-the-range R5 cars feature on 56-car entry, an Azores Airlines Rallye record
*Revamped European Rally Championship for Teams begins with 18 squads battling for points, including Peugeot Rally Academy, which is returning to the ERC for 2017, and Opel’s ERC Junior U27 outfit
*Fourteen nationalities represented with Czech and German ASNs actively involved (Estonian and Spanish ASNs are also operating ERC-based programmes)

*Ten drivers will chase ERC Junior Under 27 success in Pirelli-equipped R2 cars as the race for the 100,000-euro career-development fund begins
*ERC Junior Under 28 for drivers in R5 cars gets nine runners, meaning a total of 19 contenders across the two divisions. A World Rally Car prize drive awaits the eventual champion
*While his programme remains unconfirmed, Kajetan Kajetanowicz, who tops the entry list, could make history in 2017: no driver has won the ERC title for three years consecutively, although his season-long nemesis from 2016, Alexey Lukyanuk, is back and will bid to become Russia’s first ERC champion
*Newcomer Sergey Remennik, the 2016 Russian N4 champion, and Zelindo Melegari, whose ERC experience dates back to 2002, head the ERC2 contingent
*ERC Ladies’ Trophy line-up includes Red Bull-backed Tamara Molinaro and reigning champion Catie Munnings, part of the ERC Junior Experience training programme
*New format means drivers count their best six scores from a possible eight to ensure a more consistent fight for honours with more drivers battling together more often

*New Lagoa stage one of several to be streamed live, the iconic Sete Cidades stage runs twice on Friday (31 March), while the forest-based Tronqueira stage closes the action on Saturday (1 April). The Grupo Marques superspecial will once again be among the highlights
*Non-competitive City Show runs for the fifth time on the streets of Ponta Delgada on Wednesday evening
*Monday test to provide unofficial form guide for challenging gravel event
*The life of the legendary Horácio Franco will be remembered during the event: the eight-time Azorean champion, whose last appearance on the Azores Rallye came in 2008, passed away at the start of March
*As well as counting for ERC points, the Azores Rallye is a qualifying round of the Portuguese and Azorean championships with the local series attracting eight crews on top of the 56 contesting the main event

*Jan Černý, a favourite for ERC Junior U28 success, begins his title bid in a ŠKODA Fabia hired from the Spanish ARVidal team. That’s because he’s using his regular car on the Czech championship Valašská Rally this weekend and all cars and equipment for the Azores Rallye were shipped to São Miguel island from the Portuguese mainland on 22 March
*ERC Junior champion Marijan Griebel warmed up for the Azores with a run on the Rebenland Rallye in Austria, where he was running third until turbo failure put him out three stages from home
*Aleks Zawada, who announced his ERC Junior U27 campaign earlier this week, will begin the season in a Peugeot 208 before switching to his family-run MSZ Racing Opel ADAM R2
*Nicolay Gryazin, the 19-year-old highly-rated driver from Russia who partners Ralfs Sirmacis at Sports Racing Technologies, has been keeping busy in the run-up to the new ERC season: the Azores Rallye will be his fifth competitive event of the year
*Jari Huttunen has also been a regular on the stages of late with class wins on rallies in Finland and Germany. The Finn, one of team-mate Chris Ingram’s rivals for ERC Junior U27 honours, is making his European championship debut as his prize for winning the ADAC Opel Rallye Cup in Germany last season
*Pepe López, the French Volant Peugeot champion from 2016, a title won by Sébastien Ogier 10 years ago, graduates to the ERC with the Peugeot Rally Academy. The Spaniard will be hoping for a change of fortune, however, having retired from the two rallies he’s started so far in 2017
*It’s a big season for Castrol Ford Team Turkey, which is stepping up to ERC1 with a Fiesta R5 for Murat Bostanci, son of multiple Turkish champion and squad boss Serdar Bostanci
*Josh Moffett makes his second Azores start fresh from winning the West Cork Rally in his native Ireland
*Ex-GT driver Albert von Thurn und Taxis from Germany, whose family invented the postal system in Europe, makes his ERC debut, while Max Rendina takes his first ERC start since a one-off in 2012
*Former Polish champion Łukasz Habaj and compatriot Tomasz Kasperczyk are also in action

*When it comes to Azores Airlines Rallye success look no further than Fernando Peres, the event’s record-holding seven-time winner
*While Ricardo Moura has nine Azorean championship titles to his name, his Azores Rallye triumph in 2016 was his first on his home round of the ERC
*Other winners include WRC stars past and present, such as Kris Meeke, Andreas Mikkelsen, Juha Kankkunen, Markko Märtin and Bruno Thiry
*The Azores archipelago is located roughly equidistant between Lisbon and New York and is made up of nine islands. The fertile soil is perfect for a variety of crops and grazing for livestock
*A typical Azorean meal is cozido das fumas stew, cooked in the ground using one pot only

ERC1: Alexey Lukyanuk: 
“The Azores Rallye took place in June last year but it’s earlier date will influence the road conditions. We’re anticipating spring weather: rainy and unpredictable, which is typical for the islands of course. We’ve been preparing by doing pacenote training and studying onboard cameras. The fight will be serious this year according to the list of competitors but we will fight for victory.”
ERC2: Sergey Remennik: “We evaluated our strengths, time and budget so we take part in the most prestigious European series, the ERC. Our trainer, Alexey Lukyanuk, inspires us, plus he has great experience which he eagerly shares. There is nothing like the Azores stages in the Urals where I am from so I drive several days on gravel in Latvia plus there will be the test in Azores before the rally start.”
ERC3 and ERC Ladies’ Trophy: Catie Munnings (also eligible for ERC Junior Under 27): “The ERC rallies are spectacular and especially challenging and I'm getting used to that now. The Azores Rallye has very little room for mistakes with the very narrow roads and sheer drops – it will be a rally of survival and consistency. Our goal is to be very close to the top juniors by the end of the year and, with this in mind, it is important for us to make sure we are at the finish to build our experience. The main goal is to stay on the road with a clean run so we can keep learning and improving.”
ERC Junior Under 27: Dominik Brož: “I was starting in the Azores last year – it was my first regular event in the ERC. It was a really tough rally and I was really happy that we were able to be in the finish. This time we are coming with more experience and with a brand-new Peugeot 208 R2. Unfortunately, the car was finished at the very last moment, so we didn’t have chance to do enough testing before. We will make the first kilometres during the test in the Azores on Monday.”
ERC Junior Under 28: Marijan Griebel: “The ERC is a good championship with good rallies and really good TV on Eurosport. It’s better for me to drive an R5 car in the ERC and be a
main player than go to WRC2 to drive for 16 overall. The ERC is the best place to show my skills and develop in an R5 car. The main target is the ERC Under 28 Championship and to do as many rallies as possible, and I must thank Armin Kremer for his support. My father was his mechanic when I was seven years old playing the rally games on PlayStation. As well as helping me financially, he’s giving me really good advice. It’s really good to have a friend like Armin in the background.”

Ricardo Moura won his home round of the ERC for the first time in a dramatic late twist when a loose turbo pipe cost Alexey Lukyanuk’s Ford Fiesta vital power. Having claimed the lead on the last stage of leg one, Lukyanuk was gifted a 43-second margin when Kajetan Kajetanowicz’s similar car suffered a broken driveshaft on the first test of the final day. A spin on the following stage cost Lukyanuk 22.5s, but he remained 25.3s clear of Moura going into the final loop of three stages and on course for victory on his Azores debut. However, the turbo pipe issue on SS14 put Lukyanuk 42.7s behind Moura with two stages remaining. He cut that deficit almost in half on the penultimate test, setting up a finely-poised finale. In response, Moura pushed hard and won the final stage to become the first Azorean driver to win the event since 1971, much to the delight of the home fans. Kajetanowicz, who finished third behind Lukyanuk, led much of the first leg before a mistake on the famous Sete Cidades volcano stage on Friday, and the broken driveshaft then left him with only rear-wheel drive for most of Saturday morning. He regained a place on the podium when Ralfs Sirmacis retired with a broken steering arm on his ŠKODA Fabia R5 on Saturday’s second stage. Dávid Botka climbed from sixth to fourth on the very last stage to complete by far his best performance since stepping up to a Citroën DS3 R5 for 2016 after winning the ERC2 title in 2015. Diogo Gago marked his ERC Junior return with his maiden class victory as eventual champion Marijan Griebel crashed out, while Wojciech Chuchała fought back from a puncture – and a deficit of 1m12s – to win ERC2.

Based on the archipelago’s largest island of São Miguel in the mid-Atlantic, the event turns 52 in 2017 and hosts the opening round of the new ERC season. The spectacular stages 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 Sete Cidades test along the rim of a volcanic crater lake. Changeable weather is also a factor with conditions switching from sunshine to showers and fog patches.

EVENT ESSENTIALS (all timings local and subject to change)
 14h30, Thursday 30 March, Podium, Praça Gonçalo Velho, Ponta Delgada
Finishes: 18h56, Saturday 1 April, Podium, 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 2004 restructuring): 4 (2013-2016)
Stages: 16
Stage distance: 210.20 kilometres (106.84 kilometres leg one, 103.36 kilometres leg two)
Liaison: 460.63 kilometres
Total: 670.83 kilometres
Surface: Mainly gravel but with some Tarmac sections
City Show demonstration event featuring all drivers: 19h15-21h30, Wednesday 29 March, Av. Infante D. Henrique, Ponta Delgada