Kajetanowicz goes for ERC homecoming glory on new event
Written by ERC    Thursday, 04 August 2016 20:35   

Defending champion is star attraction on ERC’s return to Poland
*Bouffier could upset local heroes with his fifth win on asphalt test 
*Chuchała bids to resume production masterclass with Subaru Poland


The FIA European Rally Championship returns to Poland this week (4-6 August) for the first time in three years with the series debut of Rally Rzeszow, where the reigning champion Kajetan Kajetanowicz will aim for a victorious homecoming.

Although a consistent showing so far in 2016 has given LOTOS Rally Team driver Kajetanowicz a strong lead in the ERC standings, he is yet to win this season. That is a statistic he will want to put right on Rally Rzeszow, an asphalt encounter he has won twice in the past. It was on the championship’s last visit to his home nation in 2013 when he propelled himself towards ERC glory by winning Rally Poland. It will be far from easy for him however, particularly with the presence of fast Frenchman Bryan Bouffier, who has won the event more times than anybody else.                                                                                                                 

The challenge                               
Though it is new to the ERC, Rally Rzeszow will be celebrating its 25th edition on its ERC debut, having already been part of the Polish and Slovakian championships for many years. It is based in the city from which it takes its name in southeast Poland and runs over asphalt roads in the foothills of the Carpathian Mountains. The stages are narrow and winding with steep climbs and difficult descents. Following the 3.17-kilometre Qualifying Stage on Thursday 4 August, the rally begins the same evening with a city stage in Rzeszow itself. There will be 13 stages in all, totalling 214.5 kilometres.

The contenders
Kajetan Kajetanowicz (LOTOS Rally Team Ford Fiesta R5): Has a 37-point advantage in the standings after four podiums from five starts, but faces pressure to take a win on an event he knows well and claimed in 2012 and 2013 before stepping up to the ERC.

Bryan Bouffier (Gemini Clinic Rally Team Citroën DS3 R5): France’s three-time Polish champion trumps the local drivers in Rzezsow with a record four wins. Famed for his victories in Monte Carlo and Corsica, his rapid asphalt exploits continued when he led in Ypres in June.

Łukasz Habaj (Rallytechnology Ford Fiesta R5): The reigning Polish champion proved his asphalt skills when he dominated ERC3 in the Canary Islands in March and was quick too on his top-level debut in Estonia last time out.

Jarosław Kołtun (C-Rally Ford Fiesta R5): With three top-six finishes in 2016 and his best ERC result yet of fifth in Estonia, don’t be surprised if Kołtun improves again on home ground with the benefit of past experience on the Rzeszow stages.

Dávid Botka (Botka Rally Team Citroën DS3 R5): Like many from outside Poland, this will be Hungarian Botka’s first time on Rally Rzeszow, but last year’s ERC2 champion has shown he is quick when things come together, finishing fourth in the Azores.

The challengers
With M-Sport running its ERC effort out of its Poland base, there will be a total of six Ford Fiesta R5s being driven by local drivers. Grzegorz Grzb (Rufa Sport), who currently leads the Polish championship, is a four-time Slovakian champion and won Rally Rzeszow in 2008 and 2009. Regular ERC competitor Tomasz Kasperczyk (Tiger Energy Drink Rally Team) will hope his local knowledge pays dividends, while Jakub Brzeziński makes his ERC debut on home soil. Raul Jeets (Sports Racing Technologies ŠKODA Fabia R5) makes the trip to Poland after his second fourth-place of the season on home ground in Estonia. János Puskadi appears for the first time since the season-opener on Gran Canaria in his Eurosol Racing Team Hungary Fabia R5, having already taken part in Rally Rzeszow 12 months ago. Antonín Tlusťák is poised to return in his Tlusťák Racing Fabia R5 after a rare absence from Estonia.                                                            

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 six-round ERC Junior Championship for drivers born in 1989 or later, competing in R2 machinery on Pirelli tyres, will resume on Barum Czech Rally Zlín.       

Chuchała looks to continue ERC2 win streak at home
After leaving the last two ERC events out of his programme, Wojciech Chuchała returns to action on home ground, looking to pick up where he left off after starting his season with four straight ERC2 wins in his Subaru Poland Rally Team Impreza WRX STI. The Polish champion of 2014 will once more have his eyes on battling the top cars in the outright standings, and having previous knowledge of an event for the first time this season can only help. Tibor Érdi Jr on the other hand will be new to Poland in his Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution X, but showed strong speed on asphalt in Ypres.

Close battle in store between diverse ERC3 field 
While there might be an abundance of Polish drivers in the top category, the ERC3 entry features five drivers representing five different countries. The one local contender is Tomasz Gryc, who came third in class on Rally Islas Canarias in his Rallytechnology Peugeot 208 R2, and finished fifth on his last Rally Rzeszow start two years ago. Double Turkish champion Murat Bostanci (Castrol Ford Team Türkiye Fiesta R2T) will hope to repeat his Acropolis Rally win. ERC Junior driver Nikolay Gryazin (Sports Racing Technologies 208 R2) has added the event to his programme and the Latvian has proven speed on asphalt helped by his circuit racing background. Hungary’s László Német (Arable Racing 208 R2) has two top-five finishes in ERC3 this year, while Romania’s Alex Filip came third on his first start in his new Renault Clio R3T in Greece.

Driver quotes

Kajetan Kajetanowicz (LOTOS Rally Team Ford Fiesta R5): “Rally Rzeszow brings me nothing but positive memories – just like my first stage win ever or excellent organisation of this event. However, with hindsight I think that all stage victories and championship titles under my belt have less meaning than all things I have experienced over all these years, up until now. Thanks to hard work, commitment and persistence of the whole team not only has success "arrived", but I also met many interesting people with whom we have built valuable relationships and shared incredible emotions. Today I am a different driver and sportsman but one thing remains the same: my love for this work has not changed since I started doing this. This is why, thinking about the championship at the same time, I will drive this rally with all my heart and I am sure that my team have the same plan.”

Łukasz Habaj (Rallytechnology Ford Fiesta R5): “Rally Rzezsow has narrow, fast roads with many corners and a lot of stuff just next to the road. You can’t make even a small mistake because there is always something you will hit like a stone, concrete, a fence or something like that. For me it is an extremely difficult rally: I have finished it only once without an accident in the last six attempts. I am sure I will be more competitive than in Estonia but it is really hard to say what we can do. I have no idea how competitive my speed is in relation to ERC drivers on asphalt. Surely there are more Polish drivers who know this rally very well and will be very competitive in Rzeszow.”

Wojciech Chuchała (Subaru Poland Rally Team Impreza WRX STI): “I am very happy that such a big event will be held on our Polish rally stages. It shows that we are not only strong in football or speedway but also in motorsport. I hope that Polish rally crews will set the pace in Rzeszow and to be honest I want to attack as well. We will have a heroic job on our hands. Fighting the most advanced rally cars available with our production Subaru Impreza WRX STI will be a big challenge, so we are very motivated to pick up the gauntlet. I will keep my foot down and fight for the top positions. Fast, flowing stages with slippery, smooth Tarmac and a lot of deep cuts is Rally Rzeszow in a nutshell. I really enjoy those stages – especially a lot of flat out corners which are very fun to drive.”

EVENT ESSENTIALS (all timings local and subject to change)
 17h00, Thursday 4 August, Millenium Hall, Rzeszow
Finishes: 17h40, Saturday 6 August, Market Square, Rzeszow
Headquarters: Hotel Hilton Garden Inn Rzezow, aleja Kopisto 1, 35-315 Rzeszow
Service park: Prodpomie Sports Hall, Prodpomie, Rzeszow
ERC appearances (since the restructuring in 2004): None
Stages: 13
Stage distance: 214.51 kilometres (108.37 kilometres leg one, 106.14 kilometres leg two)
Liaison: 399.45 kilometres
Total: 613.96 kilometres
Surface: Asphalt

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Photo: FIA ERC



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