IN THE FIA EUROPEAN HISTORIC RALLY CHAMPIONSHIP
Audi Quattro ace ‘Zippo’ wins the event for a third time in a row
Italian crews dominate Categories 2, 3, 4 and overall podium
EHRC stalwart Ernie Graham makes it three wins from three in Category 1
The lush green landscape of Asturias in northern Spain welcomed 24 crews to Pravia for the third round of the FIA European Historic Rally Championship, Rally de Asturias Historic, from May 11-13.
Facing 130km of tarmac special stages over two days tested the crews from across Europe in the picturesque hills close to the rally base. Whilst the fast, bumpy and undulating roads were a test in their own right, it was the unpredictable Asturian weather that would pose some of the biggest challenges to competitors as the event began on Friday afternoon.
Not even the changeable weather could stop the hard charging Italian ace Andrea ‘Zippo’ Zivian in his stunning 4wd Audi Quattro, co-driven by fellow Italian Denis Piceno. After a total engine failure on the previous round, the Italian team worked relentlessly to completely build a new 5-cylinder engine from scratch, including sourcing a new block, head and all internal components. Incredibly, the car arrived at the event without any test, and the crew would only find out if the new engine was capable when they drove out to the first stage.
Capable it was. Zivian immediately settled in strongly, taking fastest time on the first stage and was never headed after that point. Zivian and co-driver Piceno managed their pace superbly all weekend to score a dominant overall win, their third in a row in Asturias, taking full Category 3 points in the process.
“Incredible victory – I am so happy!” said an elated Zivian at the finish in Pravia. “This result is for my team and everyone who has helped us build a completely brand new engine from scratch in less than two weeks. It would be impossible to be here without their efforts – Grazie mille!”
Chasing them home were fellow Italian crew ‘Lucky’ and legendary co-driver Fabrizia Pons in their stunning Key Sport Engineering Lancia Delta Integrale 16V. The vastly experienced crew used all their knowledge to overcome challenging weather conditions to seal a comfortable Category 4 win, taking 2nd overall in the event in doing so.
In Category 2, Norwegian regulars Valter Christian Jensen and Erik Pedersen started Friday strongly in their Ford Escort RS1800. A minor misfire in 5th gear hampered their progress through the event on the very fast sections, but they settled into a good pace and were soon locked into a battle with Italian crew Paolo Pasutti and Giovanni Campeis. Paolo used all his experience in the Porsche 911 to enjoy a very strong performance, winning Category 2 and ending up ahead of the Norwegian pair in a fine 2nd. James Calvert and Irish co-driver James O’Brien rounded off the Category 2 podium in their VW Beetle, enjoying the roads and the challenge in doing so.
As usual, the Category 3 podium was a hotly contested affair. Whilst Zippo disappeared into the distance for the win, the battle for the remaining podium places was on. Former EHRC Champions Karl Wagner and Gerda Zauner looked a good bet for 2nd in their Porsche 911. The Austrians were quickly onto a good pace in Spain, finishing day one in 2nd place ahead of the flying Frenchman Philippe Mermet in his stunning Renault 5 Turbo.
As day two dawned with more changeable weather, Wagner was caught out on the 7th stage of the rally. The Porsche had already had two ‘twitchy’ moments in the stage according to the Austrian driver, but it was third time unlucky for the crew when the car slipped off the road onto a grassy bank. Thanks for spectators, the crew rejoined without any real damage but lost over 5 minutes in the process, allowing Mermet and co-driver Gerard Clerton to take 2nd place in Category 3, with Wagner dropping to 3rd.
Category 3 also brought an influx of British crews to the event – all finishing successfully. A puncture didn’t spoil Sir Andrew McAlpine’s day, as alongside Andy Bull the pair brought their Dansport run Ferrari 308 home to net some solid EHRC points. Also enjoying the Spanish roads were brothers Tim and Steve Jones in their Talbot Sunbeam Ti. Chasing them was Scottish driver Tom Coughtrie in his stunning Ford Escort RS1800. Tom also enjoying his first visit to Asturias, with driver turned co-driver James Potter on the notes.
Unfortunately, two of the Category 3 crews failed to make the finish podium on Saturday. Hugely experienced German driver Siegfried Mayr, partnered by wife Renate was enjoying the roads in his Volvo 244. Unfortunately, their enjoyment turned to despair when the Volvo failed to negotiate a corner, hitting a wall. Despite some bruises, the pair were uninjured, but the Volvo may have seen it’s last competitive outing after extensive front end damage. French crew Eric Guignard and Didier Meffre brought their stunning Renault 5 Turbo to the event, but sadly retired after leaving Parc Ferme on Saturday morning. The beautiful Group B special had a fuel problem, meaning they were unable to drive the car to service and could go no further.
In Category 4, whilst Lucky/Pons took a clear victory, it was a close run battle for the final podium spots. Series regular Antonio Sainz brought his snarling Subaru Legacy RS to the event, and he was locked into battle with German driver Jurgen Geist in his Opel Manta 400.
Sainz was struggling on Saturday with a fever, but battled on despite not feeling 100%. Geist was enjoying a clean rally without any issues. Along with co-driver Josef Kral, the pair’s only headache during the event was tyre choice. Stages were often dry, damp and wet at the same time – making a ‘correct’ tyre choice nearly impossible in places. Sainz, with countryman Carlos Riesgo on the pace notes, would not be beaten on Spanish soil. Geist turned up the heat on the last two stages with some strong stage times, but despite his pace, he couldn’t get ahead of the Spaniard. The Subaru driver taking 2nd on the podium by just 7.7 seconds from Geist after a great battle over both days.
Elsewhere in Category 4, it was a classic Porsche 911 v BMW M3 race between Italian Sergio Ferris and Northern Ireland’s Greg McCormack. Both crews thoroughly enjoying the stages and just 11.6 seconds separated the pair at the rally finish. Spanish team Carlos Sampayo and Irene Serrano brought their Renault 11 Turbo home successfully after a trouble free rally.
In Category 1, series regular and previous champion Ernie Graham once again wheeled out his immaculate Ford Escort Twin Cam. Partnered by wife Karen, the pair secured maximum points in Category 1 with a clean run across the rally. Ernie delighted to have secured 3 wins from 3 starts in the championship after the strongest of starts to the season.
The fourth round of the 2023 FIA European Historic Rally Championship will be the Rallye du Chablais held on June 1-3 in Aigle, Switzerland. The full season calendar covers nine events and will conclude in November on the Historic Acropolis Rally in Greece.