Ypres is still nifty at 50 as ERC stars head to Belgium

Event preview: 2014 FIA European Rally Championship, round six of 11 Geko Ypres Rally, 19-21 June 2014

From the gravel of the Açores to the asphalt of Belgium, the all-action FIA European Rally Championship continues apace with the Geko Ypres Rally from 19-21 June. But this year’s running of the Tarmac showcase will be extra special as the event celebrates its 50th anniversary in 2014.

To mark the occasion, the Ypres organisers are hosting a major exhibition charting the first five decades of one of Europe’s most famous events. And there will be plenty of star names hoping to write the next chapter of Ypres Rally history when the 20-stage contest gets underway on Friday afternoon (20 June). They include the record eight-time Ypres winner Freddy Loix, current ERC leader Esapekka Lappi, triple European champion Luca Rossetti, Super 2000 world champions Craig Breen and Xevi Pons, plus multiple Belgian title winner Pieter Tsjoen, one of several drivers competing in a new-generation R5 car.

In keeping with Ypres tradition, the rapid-fire format remains with the competitive action contained within a 30-hour window. While that adds to the challenge facing car and crew, for the thousands of fans that flock to the historic market town and the surrounding countryside in northwest Belgium, it means virtually continuous entertainment with the event running late into the night on Friday and Saturday – and only a few hours of rest in between.

With a competitive distance of 294.79 kilometres, the Ypres Rally is set to be the longest of the ERC season, while the bulging entry list of 101 cars is a measure of the event’s huge popularity. Following two days of reconnaissance, the FIA and ERC priority drivers will undertake two runs of Free Practice before they tackle the Qualifying Stage on Thursday evening. The start selection ceremony begins at 13:00hrs on Friday after which the running order of leg one will be finalised.

Belgium’s WRC ace Neuville in town with Eurosport Events

Although his commitments with the Hyundai Shell World Rally Team in the WRC rule out an Ypres start for Thierry Neuville, the home hero will be attending all three days of the rally as a guest of ERC promoter Eurosport Events and will provide expert commentary and analysis on Eurosport’s coverage. He will also meet the fans during the traditional autograph signing session.

A big weekend in Belgium

In addition to the Geko Ypres Rally, the FIA World Touring Car Championship is heading to Belgium and to the Spa-Francorchamps circuit in the east of the country from 20-22 June. As well as promoting the ERC, Eurosport Events also promotes the WTCC. 

Celebrating the past…

The first Ypres Rally took place in 1965 when it was known as the Ypres 6 Hours. It included the Hollebeke and Kemmelberg runs, which exist to this day, plus the famous Reninge stage, which returns to the itinerary for the first time in 25 years. Meanwhile, the Ypres Rally Expo is open to the public from 13-22 June in the Vleeshuis in Ypres’ Neermarkt.

...and looking to the future with ERC Junior

New for 2014, the Michelin-supported FIA ERC Junior Championship boasts 15 entrants in Ypres with all six cars built to the FIA’s R2 regulations represented. Jan Černý tops the standings after winning two of the opening three rounds but he’ll face strong opposition from two rising Belgian stars, Gino Bux and Guillaume Dilley. Bux is competing on five ERC Junior events this season as his prize for winning a driver shootout organised by his country’s motorsport federation, the RACB. Indeed, Bux is one of several ERC Juniors competing with support from their national ASN.

Ypres: where cutting corners is encouraged

The practice of corner ‘cutting’ to maximise speed through the tight junctions is commonplace and vital to success in Ypres, but it creates a slippery surface as mud and debris are dragged onto the road. Hidden obstacles can also prove to be a menace, particularly when the stages are run after dark, while the drainage ditches and telegraph poles that line large chunks of the route wait to catch out the unwary.

The ERC goes border hopping

As in recent years, the Ypres Rally will include a stage just across the French border in Lincelles. Measuring 9.76 kilometres, the Lille-Eurométropole test will be used once on Saturday afternoon. But although the French stage remains, there won’t be a return to Wasquehal for the town centre test, which has resulted in a significantly more compact route.

Big interest in the ERC support championships

Belgians Melissa Debackere and Julie Devalet, plus current leader Ekaterina Stratieva, will chase ERC Ladies’ Trophy honours with Debackere the favourite in her Peugeot 207 Super 2000 as she looks to build on the seventh-place overall finish she recorded last season. The ERC Production Car Cup looks set to be a straight fight between title rivals Vitaliy Pushkar and Martin Hudec, although local ace Andy Lefebvre and Hungarian András Hadik will also be in contention. Elsewhere, more than 40 crews will chase ERC 2WD Championship honours, with former European champion and double Ypres winner Bruno Thiry among them.

ERC Asphalt Master honours up for grabs in Ypres too

It’s not just the title lead that will be up for grabs in Ypres. The 2014 ERC Asphalt Masters is currently a straight fight between overall championship chasers Esapekka Lappi and Craig Breen with the Finn 51 points ahead of his Irish rival. New for this season, the ERC Asphalt, Gravel and Ice Master awards recognise the performances of surface specialists competing in the ERC. The ERC Asphalt Master will be contested over six events, including this week’s visit to Ypres. After scoring opportunities on leg one of the Acropolis Rally and both days of the Discover Northern Ireland Circuit of Ireland Rally, ŠKODA Motorsport’s Lappi has 156 points with Breen on 105 for Peugeot Rally Academy. ŠKODA AUTO Deutschland’s Sepp Wiegand is third with 83 points, 23 clear of Breen’s team-mate Kevin Abbring. Points are awarded to the fastest five drivers on each stage on the basis 10-6-4-2-1.


Q&A: Freddy Loix

The eight-time Ypres Rally winner and Belgian hero is returning to try to make it win number nine on round six of the FIA European Rally Championship.

You’re an eight-time winner in Ypres. Can you make it win number nine this year?

“I think so but I know it’s not going to be easy. I have the experience but you can see how quick the R5 cars are driving – they’re very quick so that could be a problem.”

How prepared are you for what will be your 17th Ypres start?

“I feel better prepared this year than last year because I drove with the Ford Focus World Rally Car in Belgium and just for one rally I had to swap to the Super 2000 [because of the regulations]. This was not easy but this year I did already four rallies in Belgium with the ŠKODA Fabia Super 2000 so it’s a much better situation than last year.”

But you’re no longer part of the factory ŠKODA line-up. Will that be a problem?

“It’s not a factory car, it’s a car of Bernard Munster but we still have the latest evolution on it and that’s the most important thing.”

It’s the 50th anniversary of the Ypres Rally this year. What does that mean to you?

“It means the organisation have been working already 50 years on a very good level. You always see some fantastic cars and fantastic drivers on the start and this year they also have a museum. This will bring people to Ypres who want to see the pictures and the history from the last 50 years.”

In terms of a favourite Ypres moment, what stands out for you?

“For me the best moment was in 1996, the first time I won with the Toyota Celica and my first victory in Ypres. Of course I had been following the Ypres Rally since I was young and always looked at the names of the winners, like Henri Toivonen, these kinds of boys. But the first time I went there in a Group A car and won it straight away, from that moment on I knew if I can do it the first time I can do it again.”

Thierry Neuville says you can’t be beaten in Ypres. How good does that make you feel?

“It means something when drivers doing the world championship tell you I’m the favourite. I have the feeling that every year I go back, even if I have not been driving the Super 2000 car, everyone is saying Freddy is the quickest in Ypres. That gives me a good feeling.”

What keeps you coming back to Ypres each year?

“It’s always extra motivation every year that pushes me a little bit to go back to Ypres to try to win it again the next year.”

Given your experience and level of success in Ypres, is there still room for improvement or is it a case that you’re driving better than ever?

“I’m driving a bit on a different way now, more relaxed of course. Every year is a bonus and every moment I am coming back to Ypres is a bonus. I know where I can go quick and where I have to watch out sometimes. That gives me the extra power to stay calm but still fight on the right moment in the right stage.”



*No driver has won in Ypres more times than Freddy Loix. The 43-year-old has taken victory on his home round of the ERC on eight occasions

*It’s rare for drivers to win in Ypres at their first attempt. However, Luca Rossetti and Kris Meeke broke the mould when they triumphed first time out in 2007 and 2009 respectively. Rossetti, a triple European champion, is back this season

*Don’t be confused by signs to Ieper: it’s how Flemish-speaking Belgians spell Ypres

*The town of Ypres’ history dates back to Roman times but it’s not always been a happy place: during World War I it was the centre of a number of battles between German and Allied Forces

*As well as hosting a round of the ERC, Ypres is home of the Kattenstoet, or Cat Parade, a tri-annual event that involves a colourful parade of cats and witches no less


EVENT ESSENTIALS (all timings local)

Starts: 16:15hrs, Friday 20 June, Podium, Grote Markt, Ypres

Finishes: 22:00hrs, Saturday 21 June, Podium, Grote Markt, Ypres

Headquarters: Ieper Business Park, 8900 Ypres

Service park: Grote Markt, Ypres

ERC appearances (since the restructuring in 2004): 10

Stages: 20

Stage distance: 294.79 kilometres (104.77 kilometres leg one, 190.02 kilometres leg two)

Liaison: 285.79 kilometres

Total: 580.58 kilometres

Surface: Tarmac



Media accreditation/media centre: Novotel Ieper Centrum, Sint Jacobsstraat 15, B-8900 Ypres

Opening times: 14:00hrs-18:00hrs, Wednesday 18 June; 10:00hrs-12:00hrs/14:00hrs-20:00hrs, Thursday 19 June; 08:00hrs-01:00hrs, Friday 20 June; 08:00hrs-02:00hrs, Saturday 21 June

Event media contact: Hugo Van Opstal, hugo.vanopstal@ypresrally.com, +32 477376868

Television coverage: Daily highlights and the Inside ERC show 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: Fiaerc.com

Rights-free images: Register at the media lounge section of Fiaerc.com



Several media events, team functions and photo opportunities have been arranged during the course of the Geko Ypres Rally as follows:


14:30hrs: Build-up press conference with selected ERC/BRC drivers (Auris Center, Ieper Business Park)

19:00hrs: Bernd Casier Ford Fiesta R5 presentation (JB Motorsport, Zwaaikom 1, Roeselare)


17:00hrs: Driver visit to Geko Ypres Rally 50 Years Expo (Het Vleeshuis, Neermarkt, Ieper – 50 metres from the Grote Markt)

17:30hrs: Driver visit to Flanders Fields Museum including photo opportunity from the Belfort Tower overlooking Ypres and the surrounding battlefields

19:00hrs: ŠKODA teams’ presentation and autograph session (ŠKODA Garage Duran adjacent to scrutineering, Albert Dehemlaan 3, Ypres)

20:00hrs: Fiesta SportTrophy Belgium presentation (Ford Garage Devos, by scrutineering)


18:00hrs: Free Practice for FIA/ERC priority drivers (Nieuwkerke, 4.79 kilometres)

19:30hrs: Qualifying Stage for FIA/ERC priority drivers (Nieuwkerke, 4.79 kilometres)

20:15hrs-23:00hrs: Shakedown for all other drivers (Nieuwkerke, 4.79 kilometres)


10:15hrs: Thierry Neuville English language interview session (Media Centre)

10:30hrs: Ford Belgium media event (Ford Belgium hospitality unit, service park)

11:15hrs: Peugeot Belgium Luxembourg media function for invited media only (service park)

12:00hrs: ŠKODA UK Motorsport media function (service park)

12:30hrs: Frites avec mayonnaise served by ERC drivers photo opportunity (service park)

12:45hrs: ERC Junior Championship photocall (podium)

13:00hrs: Start order selection (podium)

13:10hrs: FIA Action for Road Safety photocall (podium)

13:15hrs: Driver autograph session (podium)

14:00hrs: Belgian Rally Championship press conference. Bernd Casier, Thierry Neuville and Pieter Tsjoen in attendance (Media Centre)

14:30hrs: Pre-event press conference. The following drivers will attend from 14:30hrs: Gino Bux, Martin Hudec, Ekaterina Stratieva and Bruno Thiry. And from 14:40hrs Kevin Abbring, Esapekka Lappi, Freddy Loix and Luca Rossetti will attend (Media Centre)

16:15hrs: Rally start (podium)

21:45hrs approx.: End-of-leg one press conference with top three drivers after SS7 (podium)


23:00hrs: The top three drivers and co-drivers will be in attendance, plus the winning Junior driver and co-driver (Media Centre)


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