ERC aces head to Latvia for snow and ice spectacular
In the FIA European Rally Championship, the drivers go even faster on snow – considerably faster in fact – and will be demonstrating just how fast when the series heads to Latvia for the first time next week for Rally Liepāja-Ventspils (1-3 February).
Taking place between the cities of Liepāja (say Leepia) and Ventspils on Latvia’s Baltic coast to the west of the capital Riga, Rally Liepāja-Ventspils is a brand new event and the first designated pure snow rally to form part of the ERC schedule since the series was restructured in 2004.
And with the bulk of the stages taking place on high-speed country roads coated with snow and ice and littered with sweeping turns, jumps, dips and blind crests, the action will be sensational with extensive coverage available on Eurosport, Eurosport Player and at www.fiaerc.com.
Forty crews will be in action on 15 stages split between three legs over a competitive distance of 243.00 kilometres. However, because the distance covered on leg one does not exceed 25 per cent of the total competitive length, bonus points will only be handed out to the top seven competitors in the overall, Production Car Cup and 2WD classifications after legs two and three.
Qualifying Stage will be crucial
One of several exciting elements of Rally Liepāja-Ventspils will be the Qualifying Stage, which gets underway at 09:30hrs local time on Friday 1 February on a 5.89-kilometre course. Following a period of Free Practice, 12 priority crews get one run to go as fast as possible. At 13:00hrs local time following the pre-event press conference, the quickest driver in qualifying will select their starting position for later in the day first with the second fastest driver next to choose and so on until all drivers have made their selection. Non-priority drivers will start leg one in seeded order.
Road position can be crucial on loose-surface rallies. On snow events, the preference is to start lower down the order in the event of recent snowfall to benefit from a more compact and stable surface. However, it can also pay to start closer to the front of the field if the stage surface deteriorates with ruts forming and the gravel base beneath becoming exposed. When this occurs, the studded tyres – tyre companies Michelin and Yokohama are official ERC partners – used on winter rallies to carve through the surface snow and bite into the rock-hard ice beneath, are liable to significant damage, which leads to a loss of grip.
Glamorous entry in Latvia
While the battle for outright victory is likely to be between leading seeds Jari Ketomaa, Craig Breen and François Delecour, one driver set to attract significant attention will be Inessa Tushkanova. The 25-year-old glamour model from Ukraine will compete for FIA ERC Production Car Cup honours where her rivals will include top Russian Alexey Lukyanuk, rapid Estonian youngster Siim Plangi and talented Czech Jaroslav Orsák. All four will drive Mitsubishi Lancers.
“I don’t have any hopes and dreams about big prizes in Latvia, but I find it very important to participate in the rally for my career since the level of ERC is very high and my plans for rally do not stop after one year,” said Tushkanova.
The ERC 2WD Championship will also provide plenty of action with category leader Hannes Danzinger (Renault Clio R3) up against, among others, top Latvian Ralfs Sirmacis (Ford Fiesta R2) and Italian Elwis Chentre (ŠKODA Fabia R2). Stéphane Lefebvre, meanwhile, will be giving Peugeot’s 208 R2 its ERC debut.
As well as Peugeot 207 Super 2000 drivers Breen and Delecour and Ford Fiesta RRC-mounted Ketomaa, Jan Černý, who will pilot a Fabia S2000, is the reigning ERC 2WD champion and a future prospect, while Antonín Tlusťák is due to prepare for Rally Liepāja-Ventspils by contesting the Halls Winter Rally in Lithuania tomorrow (Saturday). Raimonds Kisiels is the highest-seeded local driver in a MINI John Cooper Works S2000.
Q&A: Craig Breen (New Saintéloc Peugeot Rally Academy signing)
You were announced as part of the new Peugeot Rally Academy recently. Has it sunk in?
“It’s incredible. After all the bad times [losing my best friend and co-driver Gareth Roberts] it’s nice to experience some good times. I’m 22 years old, not long out of karting and now I’m a factory driver with Peugeot and I’m doing eight rounds of the ERC. To be honest I’m speechless.”
Why choose the European championship?
“The European championship is the perfect place to be and to be a factory driver with Peugeot is beyond my wildest dreams. I get to compete in a very strong series in a good car and with a good team I know well. This is a big step forward for me.”
You’re already being considered a title contender. What does that mean to you?
“I’m not thinking about that. Yes, it would mean a lot, but I still need to learn, I still need to improve by proving I can go flat out for a whole rally and not make mistakes. It’s something I’ve got to do in the ERC because the level will be very high and there will be some serious competition.”
It sounds like you’re in for a busy year?
“As well as the rallies I’m going to be testing and developing the Peugeot 208 Type R5, which is a great opportunity to make this car the best in the R5 class. By doing the rallies I’ll be able to show I’m still competitive.”
What difference will your new co-driver David Moynihan make?
“Paul [Nagle] has some commitments at work so David is coming with me. I actually did one of my first rallies with David. He’s a good guy who I’ve known for quite a long time.”
* Crews on Rally Liepāja-Ventspils will make history as this is the first time the event has run.
* Liepāja is Latvia’s third largest city. Its citizens have been described as ‘tough, wise and daring’.
* Ventspils is well known as a capital of flowers and fountains with a number of floral displays decorating the city.
* Latvia is a member of the European Union although you’ll need lats, the local currency, not euros if you want to go shopping.
* Grey peas, ham and rupjmaize, a dark bread made from rye, are all popular among Latvians.
Starts: 14:45hrs, Friday 1 February, Vecā Ostmala 40, Liepāja
Finishes: 15:35hrs, Sunday 3 February, Sporta Street 7-9, Ventspils
Headquarters: Olympic Centre Ventspils, Sporta Street 7-9, LV-3601 Ventspils
Service park: From 31 January-2 February: Jelgavas/Autoru Street, LV-3401 Liepāja; from 2-3 February, Area of Olympic Centre and City Square, LV-3601 Ventspils; Remote service on 3 February: City Square 2, Kuldīga
Facts and figures:
Entries received: 40
ERC appearances: None
Stage distance: 243.00 kilometres (41.77 kilometres on leg one, 92.05 kilometres on leg two, 109.18 kilometres on leg three)
Liaison: 609.07 kilometres
Total: 852.07 kilometres
Surface: Snow and ice on gravel