Regional Rally suffered from the impact of COVID-19 in 2020 and rally organisers around the world continue to face issues related to the pandemic this year. But thanks to swift responses and revised schedules, competition is on course for the 2021 season on all the continents despite difficulties.
In Europe, the FIA European Rally Trophy action kicked off with the first rays of the Spring sun. On March 26-28, Czech Republic hosted the 39th KOWAX Valašská Rally ValMez, the opening round of the Central Rally Trophy, with an entry of over 30 cars featuring some of Central Europe’s most talented drivers. This week, the rally engines will roar in Italy for the 68th Rally Sanremo, curtain-opener of the Alps Rally Trophy, and in Spain with the 38th Rallye Sierra Morena, round 1 of the Iberian series. Fasten your seatbelt!
FIA EUROPEAN RALLY TROPHY CENTRAL - KOWAX VALAŠSKÁ RALLY VALMEZ, CZ (ROUND 1/8)
The first round of the FIA ERT’s Central Rally Trophy took place over 140.94 competitive kilometres on the asphalt roads around Kopřivnice, east of Czech Republic. Topping the entry list, WRC2 regular and event favourite Nicolay Gryazin was joined by the country’s best drivers as well as competitors from the neighbouring Germany, Poland, Slovakia, Austria… and one crew from Ireland! In total, 17 Rally2-specification cars and five brands – Volkswagen, Škoda, Ford, Hyundai and Citroën - battled it out for the Czech laurels.
Nikolay Gryazin, who entered the Wallachian event to prepare for the upcoming Rally Croatia, round 3 of the FIA World Rally Championship, excelled at the wheel of his Volkswagen Polo Gti Rally2. Navigated by Aleksandrov Konstantin , he took the lead on the first stage and was untouchable for the rest of the rally. In the end, Gryazin won eight out of ten special stages to claim victory with a 1min10.3s lead over Dominik Stříteský/Danny Persein, a young Czech driver who made an excellent start to his first rally in a Rally2 (Škoda Fabia). Another local crew, Erik Cais/Jindřiška Žáková – a familiar pair in the FIA European Rally Championship (ERC) - completed the podium, a further 8.6s behind, with a Ford Fiesta Rally2.
Gryazin said: "We’ve won, so obviously we’re happy! It was important for us to get started before the World Championship round in Croatia. The local, fast tracks reminded us of the Barum Rally, which we have competed in several times in the past. Valašská Rally was very enjoyable, there are nice roads with fast but also narrow sections. We didn't drive many kilometres but the special stages were demanding."
With the postponement of the 48th Rallye Český Krumlov, initially scheduled in May, the Zagreb Open - 47. INA Delta Rally is now set to be round 2 of the Central Rally Trophy on June 10-12.
FIA EUROPEAN RALLY TROPHY ALPS – 68TH RALLYE SANREMO (ROUND 1/4)
Rallye Sanremo continues to live up to its legendary reputation. For its 68th edition, the Italian event welcomes a record entry of 104 crews in the FIA Alps Rally Trophy category.
Hosted without spectators due to COVID measures, it will feature eight special stages for a total of 90.93 competitive kilometres on asphalt, which will run mostly on Sunday. With the WRC’s Rally Croatia just around the corner, it will be the opportunity for some of the top competitors to whet their appetite ahead of the Zagreb event.
Hyundai’s part-time WRC drivers Craig Breen and Oliver Solberg will be there to rack up the kilometres and battle it out against Italian specialists such as Giandomenico Basso or Fabio Andolfi. 19-year old Solberg will drive a i20 Rally2 car for the first time on an all-asphalt event to further his experience on this kind of surface.
Other famous names in the WRC circus, including WRC2 regular Marco Bulacia from Bolivia or 2020 Junior WRC Champion Tom Kristensson from Sweden, will be joining the fight this weekend and will also face competition from the Frenchs, with no less than 22 crews, including Stéphane Lefebvre, Eric Mauffrey or Quentin Gilbert at the start.
In the past, when Rallye Sanremo was part of the FIA World Rally Championship, the competitors had to tackle tarmac stages near Turin and gravel stages in Tuscany, with 500km of road section in-between. In its contemporary version, the rally will be held around the city of Sanremo in the Liguarian coastal part of Italy, with stages located north and northeast of the municipality.
Outside of the main competition, guest WRC star drivers Ott Tänak and Thierry Neuville will offer the Italian fans the chance to see their driving skills on iconic asphalt stages at the wheel of two Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC cars, at the same time using the opportunity to continue their preparations for the upcoming WRC event. They will not be eligible to score points however, although national regulations allow WRC cars to enter Italian Rally Championship events as an opportunity to run in a competitive environment.
Two more WRC cars are entered by Hyundai 2C Competition for Pierre-Louis Loubet and Massimo “Pedro” Pedretti. The only non-Hyundai WRC car will be driven by the Swiss Paolo Vallivero, competing in a Ford Fiesta WRC.
FIA EUROPEAN RALLY TROPHY IBERIAN – 38. RALLYE SIERRA MORENA (ROUND 1/6)
While Italy hosts Rallye Sanremo, Spain also welcomes thrilling rally action with the 38th Rallye Sierra Morena, the opening round of the FIA ERT’s Iberian series, from 8 to 10 April.
On the start line of the Andalusian event, 22 entrants featuring national hero Jan Solans in a Citroën C3 Rally2, who will compete against his main Spanish rivals, José-Antonio Suarez (Škoda Fabia Rally2 Evo) as well as Ivan Ares and Surhayen Pernia in Hyundai i20 Rally2 cars. They will be joined by WRC3 regular Fabrizio Zaldivar from Paraguay in a Škoda Fabia Rally2 Evo and five French crews, alongside many national contenders.
The rally will start on Friday 9 April with a qualifying stage, followed by the first leg. The second leg will take place on Saturday, for a total of 151.52 competitive kilometers on asphalt roads around Córdoba.
Image: 2021 ERT - Central Rally Trophy - Valasska Rally ValMez - N. Gryazin/A. Konstantin (LSPhoto)