71st Rally Motul Costa Brava opens the 2023 FIA European Historic Rally Championship season
‘ZIPPO’ CLAIMS FIA EHRC SEASON OPENER
Porsche vs. Audi vs. Ford battle for the overall podium
Intriguing battles throughout a high quality entry list
The 2023 FIA European Historic Rally Championship sprang to life in the ancient city of Girona for the 71st running of the Rally Motul Costa Brava, Spain’s oldest rally. A field of 39 historic rally cars, divided into individual categories by age and performance, gathered from across Europe, Scandinavia and the United Kingdom for three days of sinuous Spanish asphalt stages.
Lamp pods were fitted when the cars rolled across the start ramp on Thursday evening in readiness for a full night stage, the 9.86 km ‘Sanctuary of the Angels’ test. French pairing Jeff and Aline Berenguer seize the overnight lead by just 0.4 seconds in their Ford Escort RS1800 from the Porsche 911 SC of Austrians Karl Wagner and Gerda Zauner.
Friday morning’s stages were all about the yellow Porsche’s progress, however, as Wagner – celebrating his birthday in style – revelled in the road conditions to beat the Berenguers by fully 11.5 seconds on the opening stage of the day, the 15.78 km Els Angels 1.
The Austrian then further extended his lead over the 9.96 km challenge of SS3, Santa Pellaia 1, as the Berenguers began to struggle for grip. This in turn allowed the Audi Quattro of Italian pairing ‘Zippo’/Nicola Arena through into second place.
The big four-wheel-drive Audi is less well-suited to the twisting Catalan asphalt than some of its daintier rivals, but ‘Zippo’ was on a charge and on the final stage of the morning loop, the 14.76 km Salions 1, the Quattro was much more at home.
On the open, flowing roads and the rougher surface, ‘Zippo’ claimed more than a second back from the leading Porsche. In the afternoon, the same loop of three stages was repeated – as were the stage winners, with Wagner building on his advantage through the first two stages of the loop while ‘Zippo’ charged to win the final stage of the day.
Saturday’s second and final leg was another three-stage loop that the cars would complete twice. It began in much the same style as Friday, with Wagner storming to another dominant win on the opening 12.23 km Osor stage, but on the following test, the 16.71 km Collsaplana, the Porsche’s throttle stuck wide open.
Fortunately, Wagner was able to switch off immediately and bring the runaway Porsche safely to a halt, where he discovered that the connection between the cable and the pedal had worked loose. The repair was simple but cost him more than two minutes and dropped him out of the overall podium places.
“It is such a simple thing, but that is rally,” Wagner reflected. “We have to be thankful that there was no major damage and that we still take points from the event.”
This drama saw ‘Zippo’ handed the lead, although a spirited attack by the Berenguers, including a win on the loop-closing 14.21 Cladells stage, saw them close the gap to just 12 seconds before the Audi began to power away into an unassailable advantage.
“I’m sorry for Karl and Gerda, they drove a perfect rally in a car that suited the event,” said ‘Zippo’ at the finish line.
“We went as hard as we could and won the stages we could, but these roads are very tight for the Quattro. Winning is a nice surprise, we never gave up, and it is very good to lead the championship points.”
With the leading contenders having all come from Category 3 in the EHRC class structure, third place on the overall event podium would eventually fall to a car from Category 4 – the Lancia Delta Integrale 16v of ‘Lucky’ and co-driver Fabrizia Pons.
The Italian crew – who first competed together as long ago as 1979 – were in dominant form in their class throughout the event, even if the nature of the roads favoured the Category 3 cars. After a faultless rally they deservedly held off the recovering Wagner to claim the third-placed silverware overall as well as their class honours.
Second place in Category 4 would raise a huge cheer from the local fans when Spaniards Antonion Sainz and David de la Puente crossed the finish ramp in ninth overall with their Subaru Legacy. Fellow Spaniards Jordi Ventura and Josep Autet would have joined them on the podium but for penalties for non-compliant lamps and a late check-in which promoted the Opel Manta 400 of Germany’s Jürgen Geist and Czech co-driver Josef Král.
Victory in Category 2 fell to the evocative Lancia Stratos HF of Italians Antonio Fassina and Marco Verdelli. Theirs was a dominant display to finish fifth overall, two minutes and 57 seconds clear of Norwegian pairing Valter Chr. Jensen/Erik Pedersen in their Ford Escort RS1800, with the Porsche 911 Carrera 2.7 of Italians Paolo Pasutti/Giovanni Battista Campeis claiming third place in the class.
Finally in Category 1, the oldest cars competing, a nip-and-tuck battle between the 2-litre Porsche 911 of Italians Antonio Parisi/Giuseppe d’Angelo and the Ford Escort Twin Cam of Ulsterman Ernie Graham and Irish co-driver James O’Brien was measured in seconds for much of the event.
Both crews were hit with time penalties for late check-in but in the end it was the Ford which prevailed, to the great delight of its crew.
“It’s nice to have somewhere to run the car,” Graham said. “In the UK, the category has been changed to end in 1967 rather than 1968 specifically to rule out the Twin-Cam. We’re a bit faster than the Porsches downhill, but they get uphill a bit better.”
Despite the fast and furious pace, the reliability of these historic cars was been impressive.
The Group B Lancia 037 of Finland’s defending champions Ville Silvasti/Risto Pietilainen was a significant casualty, suffering an oil leak on Friday afternoon that was serious enough to prevent them from restarting for the final leg.
The Ford Sierra RS Cosworth 4x4 of former champions Tibor Érdi and István Kérek from Hungary also suffered terminal engine problems. Meanwhile the BMW E30 M3 of Frenchmen Thierry Marcobal and Vincent Carmille was excluded for a technical infringement.
The 2023 FIA European Historic Rally Championship will continue on April 20-22 at the Historic Vlatava Rallye in the Czech Republic, with the full calendar covering nine events and concluding in November on the Historic Acropolis Rally in Greece.