National champion headlines home prospects as ERC switches back to asphalt.
Andrea Crugnola will be hoping it’s a case of fifth time lucky on his home round of the 2023 FIA European Rally Championship, this week’s Rally di Roma Capitale (28 - 30 July).
The 34-year-old double Italian champion has tried but failed to win the all-asphalt event at his previous four attempts, although he’s twice finished on the podium and set 27 fastest stage times to underline his threat.
Having won the opening four rounds of this season’s Italian championship, Crugnola will launch his victory charge from Rome’s Colosseum on Friday evening on a confidence high, but also in no doubt of the strong opposition he’ll face aboard his Pirelli-equipped Citroën C3 Rally2.
“I need to push more than 100 per cent to compete against the fast drivers from the ERC,” said Crugnola. “It won’t be easy to decide which tactic I have to use because I must also think about the Italian championship. I need to find the right balance to push and try to control the situation with the title and the points I need.
“Every year is a pleasure to fight against the ERC drivers because, especially this year, the level is really crazy-high, so it’s always a challenge.
“I’ve always been very close to win in Rome but for some reason I have never been able to. My aim is to finish at least top two of the Italian championship drivers and if I want to finish in the top two for sure I have to push because all the other guys are very fast.”
Those “very fast” drivers chasing both Italian championship and ERC points include double European champion and two-time Roma winner Giandomenico Basso, plus Damiano De Tommaso, who scored a breakthrough victory in Rome last season.
Of the ERC frontrunners chasing success this weekend, Hayden Paddon heads the provisional standings in his Pirelli-equipped Hyundai i20 N Rally2 and can count on the expertise of leading Italian squad BRC Racing Team. He’s 34 points ahead of Mārtiṇš Sesks (Team MRF Tyres Škoda Fabia RS Rally2) with Mathieu Franceschi also well placed. The Michelin-supported driver is stepping to Škoda’s latest-generation Fabia for the first time.
Yoann Bonato, Simone Campedelli, defending ERC champion Efrén Llarena, Andrea Mabellini, Filip Mareš, Simone Tempestini, Simon Wagner and returning two-time ERC title-winner Alexey Lukyanuk will also be among the drivers capable of delivering strong performances.
All leads to and from Rome
The focus of round six of the ERC season and the second asphalt event on the calendar will be firmly on Rome on Friday afternoon. The Eternal City hosts the opening ceremony and first special stage with the Colosseum providing a stunning backdrop. There’s also a spectacular parade through the capital’s streets prior to the competitive action getting under way with crews setting off in 15-car convoys from the Bocca della Verità and passing by several famous sites. In total there are 13 stages over a competitive distance of 189.50 kilometres with the 32.30km Rocca di Cave-Subiaco test on Saturday the longest of the rally.
Armstrong set for a high-speed lap of honour
Rally di Roma Capitale will serve as a high-speed lap of honour for Jon Armstrong, who starts the event out of reach in the FIA ERC3 Championship standings aboard his M-Sport Poland Ford Fiesta Rally3.
The seventh Rally di Roma Capitale to count for the ERC is also round four of the Hankook-supported FIA Junior ERC Championship and the first of three events on Tarmac. While hopes will be high for local drivers Roberto Daprà and Mattia Zanin, Norbert Maior will be going for a fourth consecutive podium as he aims to catch current leader Ola Nore.
Wheelchair user Ciprian Lucu makes his ERC debut in a Renault Clio Rally5 fitted with special hand controls.