30 December 2014
WRC: 2015 ERC season opens with winter spectacular
Internationale Jännerrallye ready to kick off 2015 FIA European Rally Championship just 50 days after Esapekka Lappi secured the 2014 ERC title.
The waiting will soon be over for those anticipating the start of the 2015 FIA European Rally Championship as drivers gear up for the Internationale Jännerrallye.
A little more than 50 days after Esapekka Lappi secured the 2014 ERC title, the race for 2015 success gets underway in Austria, with the opening round of the new campaign getting underway, somewhat unusually, on Sunday and finishing on Tuesday to take into account the Austrian Bank Holiday weekend, which should help to ensure huge numbers of spectators on the fast and undulating asphalt stages in the spectacular Mühlviertel region.
Having hosted round one of the ERC for the last three seasons, competitors will know that the Jännerrallye presents a tough test for all involved, with the high possibility of ice and snow adding to the challenge and placing a large onus on car set-up and tyre choice.
The last two editions of the Jännerrallye have been decided by final-stage showdowns, with former ERC champion Jan Kopecký's dramatic victory in 2013 being followed by ex-F1 racer Robert Kubica taking a famous win in 2014 for his first major international rally success.
Kubica secured the biggest victory of his rally career in a thrilling final-stage decider. The Pole started the closing 25-kilometre stage trailing Václav Pech by 11.8s but a stunning performance, coupled with an inspired tyre choice, enabled him to get ahead. While Pech – who selected slick tyres for his MINI John Cooper Works S2000 – struggled for grip on the mud and rain-hit final test, Kubica opted for a combination of studded and winter Michelin tyres fitted in a diagonal formation, which proved ideal for the demanding conditions. Raimund Baumschlager completed the podium, with fellow Austrians Beppo Harrach and Michael Böhm claiming ERC Production Car Cup and ERC 2WD honours respectively. Kajetan Kajetanowicz had led before a jammed throttle pedal forced his exit on stage six.
Plenty of star performers will be aiming to emulate Kubica's achievement this time around, with compatriot Kajetanowicz leading a field that also includes Ireland's Craig Breen, Robert Consani and Jean-Michel Raoux from France, Russia's Alexey Lukyanuk, Czech aces Pech, Jaromír Tarabus and Antonín Tlusťák, promising Swiss newcomer Jonathan Hirschi, rising Austrian star Hermann Neubauer, plus ERC Junior champion Stéphane Lefebvre.
Almost 30 registrations have been received for the 2015 ERC and the number is set to rise considerably based on the current level of interest from drivers and teams. The new ERC2 and ERC3 categories will be closely contested on the Jännerrallye, with ERC2 participants in Austria including Hungarians Dávid Botka and Krisztian Hideg, Poland's Łukasz Kabaciński and Czech Vojtěch Štajf. Among the ERC3 contingent hoping to challenge in Austria are Kristóf Klausz (Hungary), Polish duo Slawomir Ogryzek and Grzegorz Sikorski, emerging Romanian talent Simone Tempestini and Rok Turk from Slovenia. Czech Martina Daňhelová will bid to repeat her ERC Ladies' Trophy success of twelve months ago.
ERC Junior champion Stéphane Lefebvre will step up a gear when the 2015 season gets underway in Austria. The Frenchman's title success earned him two ERC rounds in an R5 car in 2015 and his first will be in a PH Sport Citroën DS3 R5 on the Jännerrallye. The 22-year old will then make a second ERC appearance on June's Geko Ypres Rally in Belgium when he will pilot a Peugeot 208 T16 alongside Peugeot Rally Academy team-mate Breen, who will mount a nine-round ERC bid in 2015.
As well as counting for ERC points, the event is the opening round of the Austrian championship, won for a record-extending 12th time in 2014 by Baumschlager, who will contest the national section of the Jännerrallye.
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