Impressive FIA ERC season opening

The 2024 season of the FIA European Rally Championship kicked off in an impressive style. With great drivers, brand new racing cars and a fierce competition in the first two rounds, a fantastic championship battle in the world’s oldest rally cycle is, to say the least, highly anticipated. This year’s edition will conclude in Poland, during Rally Silesia – the final round of the FIA ERC.

The competition for the Old World’s best crew title has reinitiated for the 72nd time. For the first time, the European Rally Championship was organized in the year of 1953. Over the years, an impressive number of Polish rallies has been included in the calendar of this prestigious series, with the Rally Poland out front, which is – right after the Rallye Monte Carlo – the oldest event in the world.

In 2024, the competitors will have the possibility to fight for the FIA ERC points eight times. We’re just after the first two rounds – gravel based Rally Hungary and Rally Islas Canarias, located around sharp and extremely grippy tarmac roads of Gran Canaria. The list of other rallies consists of: Royal Rally of Scandinavia (Sweden, gravel, 13-15 June), Rally Estonia ( 5-7 July), Rally di Roma Capitale (tarmac, 26-28 July), Barum Rally (Czech Republic, tarmac, 16-18 August), Rali Ceredigion (Great Britain, tarmac, 30 August – 1 September). The struggle will come to an end in Chorzów, which – who knows – will most probably also witness Grande Finale  in Rally Silesia (11-13 October) during event’s debut in the FIA European Rally Championship.

Mikko Heikkila, fot. Red Bull Content Pool

The inauguration of the season took place in Hungary, from April 12-14, on the gravel stages around the city of Veszprem and the well-known Balaton lake. 81 crews were entered, from which 52 registered in the FIA ERC.

The highest category of rally cars – R5/Rally2, enabling drivers to fight for top results, has covered a splendid number of 36 teams. Among the participants were the defending champions, the New Zealand duo Hayden Paddon and John Kennard, as well as the 2022 European champions, Efrén Llarena and Sara Fernandez from Spain. The Poles were on the start list as well. Miko Marczyk and Szymon Gospodarczyk kicked off their campaign in the FIA ERC (Skodia Fabia RS Rally2), together with Igor Widłak and Michał Marczewski (Ford Fiesta Rally3).

The rally route consisted of 13 special stages, covering a total of 192.5 km. The leaders altered six times. The most dramatic though was the second part of the rally. Initially, the leading Finns – Mikko Heikkila and Kristian Temonen (Toyota GR Yaris Rally2) dropped out of competition, leaving the first place to the Latvians – Martins Sesks and Renars Francis (Toyota GR Yaris Rally2), who lost their leading quite prematurely as well. Finally, the best ones became Romanians – Simone Tempestini and Sergiu Itu (Skoda Fabia Rally2 evo), to whom it was the first win in the FIA ERC round. The podium was completed by the French duo – Mathieu Franceschi and Andy Malfoy (Skoda Fabia Rally2 evo, +17 s) and local crew of Miklos Csomos and Attila Nagy (also Fabia Rally2 evo, +29,9 s).

Marczyk and Gospodarczyk earned the points for the sixth place (+1:59.3 s), while Widłak and Marczewski finished second in their category (+5:12.0 s).

Yoann Bonato, fot. Red Bull Content Pool

Three weeks later (2 – 4 May), in Gran Canaria, 96 rally duos were entered in the competition, with 49 vying for points in the FIA ERC. Two cars among them carried Polish flags at the rear window as being driven by Marczyk and Widłak.

Right from the start, the pace at the top was out of this world and the differences at the front within seconds. After the first day, the top ten drivers were separated by roughly 30 seconds. The battle was dominated by two French crews – Yoann Bonato with Benjamin Bolloud (Citroen C3 Rally2) and Mathieu Franceschi with Andy Malfoy (Skoda Fabia Rally2 evo). The first ones took the lead after the fifth special stage and despite the constant attacks from the rivals, they maintained their position up to the finish line. After 193 km of rallying, the winners were just 2.8 seconds ahead of the second-place team. Franceschi and Malfoy earned points for the second place. The lowest step of the podium, similarly to Hungary, was claimed by the locals – Alejandro Cachon and Borja Rozada (Toyota GR Yaris Rally2, +29.7 s).

Miko Marczyk, fot. Red Bull Content Pool

The total stage times would have given Marczyk and Gospodarczyk seventh place in the overall standings. Unfortunately, they were given two minutes penalty for a tire marking violation, dropping them to the end of the second ten.

Igor Widłak, this time with Daniel Dymurski, triumphed in the ERC3 class.

After two rounds, Franceschi and Malfoy lead the championship standings (56 points). The following positions are taken by Paddon and Kennard (35 points) and Tempestini and Itu (33 points). Marczyk and Gospodarczyk are classified in 12th place (15 points). Widłak leads the ERC3 with an 11-point advantage.

The next FIA ERC round will take place mid-June in Sweden, at the Royal Rally of Scandinavia.