FIA European Rally Championship reaches halfway this week when the 50th Barum Czech Rally Zlín hosts round four of another typically enthralling season with the top two drivers, Alexey Lukyanuk and Andreas Mikkelsen, separated by just one point.
After back-to-back events on gravel in Poland and Latvia, the ERC switched to Tarmac for round three, Rally di Roma Capitale, and Barum Czech Rally Zlín provides another intense sealed-surface challenge for the ERC stars and their FIA rally category cars.
Ever-present on the ERC roster since the championship’s streamlining in 2004 – its COVID-enforced cancellation of 2020 aside – the rally’s longevity owes plenty to its popularity, which is underlined by a hugely impressive 146 cars entered across the international and national events. Sixty-one crews are eligible for ERC points of which 29 are armed with top-level Rally2 machinery.
There are a record-breaking 10 ERC2 entrants including three Abarth Rally Cup runners, while 12 drivers will be in contention for ERC Junior/ERC3 Junior honours.
Of the 19 ERC3 contenders, five will bid for success in the arrive-and-drive Clio Trophy by Toksport WRT, a new initiative for 2021.
While the ERC’s focus remains on providing a clear path of progression for drivers aiming for the top of the sport, it continues to be open to all-comers with a vast array of driver age and experience – plus machinery from the FIA Rally Cars Pyramid – all in action.
Barum Czech Rally Zlín is a round of the revamped FIA ERC Junior Championship for Rally3 cars on Pirelli tyres, plus the new-for-2021 Clio Trophy by Toksport WRT for the Renault Clio Rally5 using MICHELIN tyres. MICHELIN is also providing incentives for young talents in Rally2 cars using its products via the ERC-MICHELIN Talent Factory, which has four members competing this weekend.
Administered by the FIA and promoted by Eurosport Events, the ERC is the established step-up series to the FIA World Rally Championship and is backed up by a global broadcast package, which includes extensive coverage on the various Eurosport platforms. Four stages on each event are shown live on Facebook and YouTube, while ERC Radio is on-air from all events.
The route in short:
Friday August 27: Using sections of SS Majak, the Malenovic Qualifying Stage from 09h30 local time will signal Barum Czech Rally Zlín’s long-awaited return to the international arena following its enforced absence in 2020 due to COVID-19. However, the real action begins at 21h15 when the opening stage, SSS Zlín, gets underway with crews running in reverse-seeded order.
Saturday August 28: Two loops of four stages over a competitive distance of 127.18 kilometres provide the challenge on leg one. Kicking off with the semi-circuit Březová stage, crews then venture further east of Zlín for the Hošťálková test, which formed part of SS Semetín in 2019 and Rajnochovice in 2018. However, the link road between the two is unchartered territory. Parts of Komárov last enjoyed service as the Qualifying Stage in 2018 but it’s not since 2009 that the stage was run in its 2021 configuration. While the first pass of the classic 18.95-kilometre Pindula is run in early afternoon, the repeat is after dark and will represent a huge test – even for the 14 drivers and co-drivers who live in the village of Zelechovice, which features on the route. Meanwhile, the opening forest section is being revived for this year. There a no fewer than four service halts at the Continental Barum factory in Otrkovice, while a regroup in Zlín is set to provide welcome respite.
Sunday August 29: The deciding leg covers a slightly more sedate 83.74 kilometres divided between three double-use stages run either side of service in Otrokovice. Halenkovice starts near a river, runs next to a motocross track and passes a sand quarry. Biskupice is close to the base of top team Kresta Racing, while Májová incorporates sections of several famous stages and is the rally’s longest at 25.43 kilometres.
Image: ERC 2020 - Barum Czech Rally Zlin - Efren/Llarena (Photo Eurosport Events)