Belgian asphalt classic provides yet another big ERC challenge
Written by ERC    Tuesday, 21 June 2016 21:13   
The 2016 FIA European Rally Championship moves on to another of the continent’s most famous and challenging events with the Kenotek by CID LINES Ypres Rally next week (23-25 June).
A number of big names have signed up for the Belgian classic, meaning that local legend Freddy Loix faces a fight to claim his 11th Ypres Rally win, and fourth in a row. There could well be an important twist in the exciting ERC title fight, with Alexey Lukyanuk aiming to steal a march on Kajetan Kajetanwicz, who hasn’t included Ypres in his 2016 campaign. The ERC Junior battle is also finely poised, with two different winners and five different podium finishers in the two rounds held so far.
The challenge
First run in 1965, the legendary Ypres Rally has been a permanent and popular fixture in the ERC since 1974. The start, finish and service area are located in Grote Markt in the centre of the historic town of Ypres, and the 17 special stages take place on fast, flat and narrow farmland roads around West Flanders. Drainage ditches and tight junctions are among the hazards that can catch the drivers out.
After a 4.79-kilometre Qualifying Stage at 19h30 on Thursday – from which the fastest 15 drivers will pick their starting positions for leg one – the 250 competitive kilometres are packed into just 30 hours, starting at 16h54 on Friday. Seven stages make up the opening day’s action before 10 more take place on Saturday, split into four loops.
The contenders
Stéphane Lefebvre (Citroën DS3 R5): In the 12 months since his last appearance, the 2014 ERC Junior champion has become a top-level WRC competitor with Citroën. Restricted to fifth last year by a puncture, he’ll look to replicate his WRC team mate Craig Breen’s Circuit of Ireland win two months ago.
Alexey Lukyanuk (Ford Fiesta R5): Unlike many others, the Russian lacks any past Ypres experience, but he’s won on his past two asphalt starts in the ERC. Just 15 points off the standings lead, he might be tempted to play for points, but that’s simply not his style. Expect thrills.
Freddy Loix (ŠKODA Fabia R5): Even against such top-class competition, Loix starts as favourite with his 10 Ypres victories, including three on the bounce. He’s unbeaten in Belgium so far in 2016, with five wins from five starts. ‘Fast Freddy’ has been a contender for years, but his speed is undiminished. 
Bryan Bouffier (Gemini Clinic Rally Team Citroën DS3 R5): The proven Frenchman returns both to the ERC and to Ypres, having finished second there in 2015. Pipped to the post on that occasion by Loix, can he go one better this time?
Jaromír Tarabus (T&T Czech National Team ŠKODA Fabia R5): Seventh on his first trip to Ypres last year, he’s shown strong pace so far this year after upgrading to R5 machinery, finishing third on the Acropolis Rally on his less favoured surface.
The challengers
A number of drivers will go to Belgium after confidence-boosting results in the Azores: Dávid Botka (Botka Rally Team Citroën DS3 R5) took fourth, one place ahead Jaroslav Orsák (Kimi Racing Ford Fiesta R5). Antonín Tlusťák (Tlusťák Racing Fabia R5) made the top 10, while Tomasz Kasperczyk (Tiger Energy Drink Rally Team Fiesta R5) will hope to get back there. Dutchman Hermen Kobus (Fabia R5) was fourth at Ypres in 2014: a position he also held on Rally Islas Canarias earlier this year. Marty McCormack showed there’s still speed in his older Fabia S2000 with his pace on April’s Circuit of Ireland and also went well in Belgium last year. Petter Kristiansen returns in another Fabia S2000. There’s a large and well-equipped Belgian contingent, led by past Ypres winners Kris Princen (Peugeot Belgium Luxembourg 208 T16), Pieter Tsjoen (Fiesta R5) and Patrick Snijers (208 T16). Third in 2015, Vincent Verschueren will be quick in a Fabia R5, as will Melissa Debackere, Ghislain De Mevius and Didier Duquesne, while Bernd Casier, Cédric Cherain, Claudie Tanghe and Davy Vanneste have Fiesta R5s. Youngsters Kevin Demaerschalk and Guillaume Dilley drive DS3 R5s, as does Belgian-based Greek Jourdan Serderidis.
The reward
A total prize fund of 200,000 Euros is on offer to competitors in the ERC again this year. A sum of 20,000 Euros is available at each of the 10 events on the calendar, shared between the seven highest-placed eligible drivers in the final rally classification regardless of category. This year, all drivers that have registered for the ERC will be eligible as long as they are using tyres from one of the championship’s partner suppliers (Michelin and Pirelli). In 2015, 38 ERC drivers earned prize money.
The class acts
The ERC is split into three categories: ERC1 for top-of-the-range R5 machinery, ERC2 for production-based models and ERC3 for two-wheel-drive cars. The ERC Junior Championship takes place on six rounds for drivers born in 1989 or later, competing in R2 machinery on Pirelli tyres.
ERC Junior: Ingram leads highly competitive youngsters
The ERC Junior Championship has been closely fought over the first two rounds, and a pair of second-places has been enough for Chris Ingram to lead the standings, but he’ll face tough competition in Belgium from ADAC Opel Rallye Junior Team Adam R2 counterparts Marijan Griebel and Julius Tannert, second and third in Ypres last year. Łukasz Pieniążek (Adam R2) and Diogo Gago (Peugeot 208 R2) will look to add second wins to their tally, while Steve Røkland enjoyed a promising first event in his M-Sport-run Ford Fiesta R2T in the Azores. Nikolay Gryazin and Joonas Tokee (both 208 R2) have both shown good speed, while Marco Cid (208 R2) and Dominik Brož (Fiesta R2) are gaining in experience and confidence. The field expands again for Ypres with British drivers Callum Devine (Adam R2) and Catie Munnings (208 R2) making debuts and Hungarian Kristóf Klausz (208 R2) returning.
Érdi bids for an ERC2 repeat
With Wojciech Chuchała taking a summer break after winning the ERC2 category on the first four events, there’s a good chance for Tibor Érdi Jr (Mitsubishi Lancer Evo X) to repeat his victory from 12 months ago. However, he’ll have to see off the challenge of young Italian Giacomo Scattolon (Evo IX).
Bostanci goes for the ERC3 lead 
After winning ERC3 on the Acropolis Rally, a top result against the ERC Junior drivers could give Murat Bostanci (Castrol Ford Team Turkiye Fiesta R2T) the category lead. Multiple Slovenian champion Aleks Humar switches to a Renault Clio R3T, Hungarians László Némét and Gergely Fogasy drive 208 R2s, and Belgian Polle Geusens enters a Fiesta R2T.
New Hyundai R5 challenger to make public debut
The brand new Hyundai i20 R5 will make its public debut as a zero car on the Ypres Rally. ERC graduates Kevin Abbring and his co-driver Seb Marshall will drive the car, having been instrumental in its development in their roles as Hyundai Motorsport test drivers. It will feature a new livery designed by a fan from New Zealand. Andrea Adamo, who manages Hyundai’s Customer Racing department, said: “The Ypres Rally is a pivotal weekend in the New Generation i20 R5 project. This rally is the perfect place for the car to make its public debut. The ERC is a key championship for R5 teams, where we obviously hope that our customers will be competing in future.”
New ERC Junior Experience to begin in Ypres
The brand new ERC Junior Experience training programme for young drivers will begin at the Ypres Rally. Created as a collaboration between Eurosport Events and the Future Stars Rally Academy based in Belgium, the training programme – open to drivers current competing at national level as well as current ERC Junior drivers – will take place alongside three rounds of this year’s ERC Junior Championship. In Ypres there will be workshops covering pacenotes, engineering and media.
Driver quotes
Freddy Loix (ŠKODA Fabia R5): “Rallying isn't mathematics but of course I will do anything to take that 11th victory at home. This year the level in the Belgian Championship is very high and I have no idea how the top ERC drivers who are in Ypres for the first time will drive. The atmosphere in the service area in the big square is incredible, as are the high speeds and the deep, deep cutting of the corners!”
Dávid Botka (Botka Rally Team Citroën DS3 R5): “We’ve heard a lot about the Ypres Rally as many other Hungarian drivers were there in the past few years. They talked about quick thin roads, about good organisation, and about a wonderful country. So we can’t wait to be there. The list of entrants suggests a very hard rally, and we know it is a very long rally too. So we will push not on the limit, but close to it.”
Marijan Griebel (Opel Adam R2): “Last year I was leading in Ypres until a puncture in the very last stage. So I know that my speed should be good enough to do one place better this time. Despite some bad luck again this season I’m quite confident because I was leading both ERC Junior rallies this season for many stages and I’m absolutely willing to get it to the finish now. All the ERC Junior Rallies have a really different character. Ypres is the longest of them with 250km of stages: the main challenge for me is going through the famous "cuts" without suffering a puncture this time. For me it is the nearest of all the ERC rallies, so there will also be some fans from Germany coming to Belgium. This is why I even more want to win there.”
On this event in 2015…
Freddy Loix came from almost 30 seconds behind to score a sensational 10th win on the Kenotek by CID LINES Ypres Rally, and in doing so gave the new ŠKODA Fabia R5 a victory on its FIA European Rally Championship debut. Loix was fifth and 25.8 seconds behind the leader after day one but closed the gap to the cars ahead. Victory was assured when Craig Breen retired after SS12, Stéphane Lefebvre picked up a puncture on the same stage, and erstwhile leader Bryan Bouffier had to change a puncture on SS15. Bouffier’s pace was such that even though he lost two minutes he still finished second ahead of Vincent Verschueren and Bruno Magalhães. Lefebvre lost over three minutes but finished fifth ahead of Jaroslav Orsák and Jaromír Tarabus. Tibor Érdi led from start to finish to claim an ERC2 victory in his Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution X. Aleks Zawada jumped from third in ERC Junior to score his maiden class victory on a dramatic final stage, when Marijan Griebel had a puncture and Diogo Gago’s Peugeot 208 stopped.
EVENT ESSENTIALS (all timings local and subject to change)
Starts: 16h15, Friday 24 June, Grote Markt, Ypres
Finishes: 22h33, Saturday 25 June, Grote Markt, Ypres
Headquarters: Neermarkt, 8900 Ypres, Belgium
Service park: Grote Markt, Ypres
ERC appearances (since the restructuring in 2004): 12
Stages: 17
Stage distance: 250.16 kilometres (80.36 kilometres on leg one, 168.32 on leg two)
Liaison: 248.69 kilometres
Total: 498.85 kilometres
Surface: Asphalt
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