HILL CLIMB: MERLI AND COURROYE UNBEATABLE

26.04.18

In front of a large crowd and under a summer sun – which was a marked contrast with the almost wintry weather in the 2017 edition, the famous Rechbergrennen in Austria was host to the ruthless victories, in Categories 1 and 2 respectively, of Pierre Courroye and Christian Merli.

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Fresh tarmac does not necessarily automatically lead to an improvement in performance. Increasingly bumpy over the last few years, the Rechbergrennen course had been partially resurfaced in preparation for this 2018 edition, but the fresh layer of tarmac was quite slippery in places, so much so, that the course record set in 2017 could not be beaten. The sketchy grip conditions also led to several ‘artistic’ manoeuvres, and even a few cars leaving the road. The most spectacular victim was the Czech Dan Michl, whose Lotus Silhouette spun off, before ending its race against a concrete wall. His compatriot Vladimir Vitver, also used to playing a lead role in the E2-SH category, fared hardly any better, falling foul of electronic gremlins in the engine of his Audi TT R DTM. The misfortune of Michl and Vitver was the luck of Marek Rybnicek and his 600 HP Fiesta Turbo 4x4, winners of the Group ahead of Jiri Los (Mitsubishi Lancer Evo 8) and Peter Ramler (Audi S1R).

Other drivers were facing delicate handling challenges with their car, not least of all Simone Faggioli. At the controls of a new Norma M20FC, which had an updated rear suspension and aero kit, the tenfold European Champion never even got close to his own times achieved in previous years. Even if he was able to minimise the damage, by bagging the 25 points for a win in his Group E2-SC, he lost the overall classification by nearly seven seconds to Christian Merl, overall winner for the third consecutive year in Austria.

Second in Group E2-SC and third in the overall classification, the Swiss Marcel Steiner is beginning to reap the rewards of extensive development undertaken two years ago with the original LobArt LA01 powered by a Mugen engine. Winner at home a week earlier, the Frenchman Sébastien Petit with his new Norma M20FC was barely more comfortable than Faggioli. Roused by his local support, the Austrian Christophe Lampert quickly got to grips with his new Osella FA30, and posted an excellent fourth place overall and second place in Group E2-SS. Andrea Bormolini once again comfortably dominated Group CN.

In Category 1, the McLaren MP4-12 C driven by Frenchman Pierre Courroye once again had a huge lead over Jan Milon’s McLaren GT650S and Martin Jerman’s Lamborghini Gallardo. More hotly contested was Group N, in which the key players from the first event in France – Antonino Migliuolo, Tomas Vavrinec and Peter Ambruz– had to contend with the Slovak Peter Jurena, who achieved the best times in each of the two runs.

His extremely powerful VW Golf Rallye Turbo 4x4 may not have been eligible for the European Championship (although it might be, from 2019, thanks to the “Performance Factor” regulation currently under development), but the Austrian Karl Schagerl achieved one of the most impressive performances of the weekend. Ranked 10th in the overall classification, he got in amongst the single-seaters and the prototypes, driving a wedge of over 12 seconds (over 10 kilometres) between him and the second-placed ‘closed’ car!

The competitors of the European Championship are continuing their continental odyssey in May, with the traditional visits to Portugal (in Falperra on 12 and 13 May) and Spain (in Al Fito, on 19 and 20 May). The provisional Championship classifications can be viewed via this link. A photo gallery of the Rechbergrennen is also available here.