Second win of the year for the Ford Sierra Cosworth 4x4
Karl Wagner returns to action and claims Category 3 for Porsche
Category 2 winner Valter Christian Jensen takes laudable fourth overall
Ernie Graham puts Category 1 title out of reach
The FIA European Historic Rally Championship crossed its halfway point for the 2023 season in the Hungarian town of Pécs for the 56th running of the Mecsek Rally this weekend (June 22-24).
Playing their home ground advantage to the full alongside the sort of pace that has seen them challenge on every appearance, local hero Tibor Erdi Jr and his Croatian co-driver Istvan Kerek won the event outright in their Group A Ford Sierra Sapphire Cosworth 4x4. This, their second victory of the season after triumphing on the Czech-based Historic Vltava Rallye in April, pushes Erdi and Kerek to the points lead in Category 4, the most modern class in the series.
The passionate local crowds cheered Erdi on to victory by a margin of 1min 20s from the all-Italian crew of ‘Lucky’ and his storied former World Rally Championship co-driver Fabrizia Pons in their Lancia Delta Integrale 16V. ‘Lucky’ drive well to recover time after breaking a front driveshaft on the first day, forcing the pair to change it at remote service and setting the dominant stage-winning pace thereafter as they clawed their way back up the field.
The event had to be stopped after SS3 on Friday evening due to a red alert for severe storms in the Pécs region, meaning stages 4-6 were cancelled. Thankfully, although there was flooding, no major damage was done to the area and it was declared safe to resume the event in time for the Saturday morning’s loop of three stages, although the conditions remained challenging for all the crews.
In particular, the heavy rain had made tyre choices difficult when judging how best to navigate the forest sections of the stages. Sections out in the open had dried very quickly as temperatures soared after the storm, but in the cooler climate beneath the trees there was plenty of standing water for the crews to contend with on Saturday.
Behind the two four-wheel-drive Group A cars in third place overall at the finish was the sonorous Porsche 911 3.0 SC of Austrian pairing Karl Wagner and Gerda Zauner, who thereby claimed the Category 3 win by a wide margin. The distinctive yellow Porsche benefitted from new exhaust system for the Hungarian event, with the enthusiasts agreeing that the result sounded phenomenal through the forest and mountain stages.
Norwegian pairing Valter Christian Jensen and Eric Pedersen arrived in Hungary targeting the Category 2 win with their Ford Escort Mk2 RS1800. They led from the first stage and were locked in a close battle with Italian Category 2 regulars Paolo Passuti and Giovanni Battista Campeis in their Porsche 911. The margin between the two crews seldom reached more than 20 seconds but sadly the engaging battle ended when Pasutti went out on Saturday morning with clutch failure.
The EHRC was delighted to welcome back Austrian couple Michael and Elizabeth Putz in their beautifully prepared Porsche 911. The pairing started very strongly, then did well to fight back after a spin which inflicted some light rear end body work damage, but ended up second in the Category 3 points and a deserved fifth overall.
Undoubtedly the closest and most entertaining battle lay between the two French crews of Philippe Mermet and Gerard Clerton together with Eric Guignard and Didier Meffre in their matching pair of Renault 5 Turbos. The two team-mates enjoyed a nip-and-tuck battle which ended in Mermet’s favour by just 5.8 seconds.
In Category 1 it was another husband and wife who took maximum points: Ernie and Karen Graham in their rapid Ford Escort Mk1 Twin Cam. The victory maintained Ernie’s 100% record in the class this season and his fifth win from nine events now makes him almost certainly the first Category Champion to be crowned in the 2023 season.
The action will continue on the picturesque Alpine roads of Austria on Rallye Weiz, based in the eponymous regional capital of Eastern Styria, which takes place on July 13-15.