There will be serious competition ahead when the 2014 FIA European Rally Championship starts in Austria next month.
Headed by Formula One race winner and WRC 2 champion Robert Kubica, the 49-car entry list for the 31 Int. Jännerrallye, Oberösterreich, which was announced at a press conference in Linz yesterday, also includes ERC Production Car Cup champion Andreas Aigner, his ERC 2WD title-winning counterpart Zoltán Bessenyey, plus the national champions from Austria (Raimund Baumschlager), Czech Republic (Václav Pech) and Poland (Kajetan Kajetanowicz).
Top seed Kubica, who starred on four ERC appearances in 2013, will compete in an M-Sport-prepared Ford Fiesta RRC with fellow Pole Kajetanowicz at the wheel of a Fiesta R5. Pech will drive a MINI John Cooper Works with Baumschlager relying on ŠKODA Fabia S2000 power. Aigner, meanwhile, will compete in a Stohl Racing-run Peugeot 207 S2000, while Bessenyey will campaign his regular Honda Civic Type R for the Hungarian Eurosol outfit. Click here to view the draft entry list.
ERC aces step up for Jännerrallye
Several regulars from the FIA European Rally Championship will be taking a step up in performance when the 31 Int. Jännerrallye, Oberösterreich opens the new season from 3-5 January.
Andreas Aigner, Robert Consani and Hermann Neubauer are among the drivers sampling more advanced machinery than they used in 2013 with Aigner and Consani both competing in Peugeot 207 Super 2000s and Neubauer armed with a Subaru Impreza R4 STI for the first time.
Aigner, the ERC Production Car Cup champion, has scant experience of S2000 so will be counting on his Stohl Racing team for advice. Neubauer (pictured) will also be driving for Manfred Stohl’s Austria based team.
New Year’s Eve parties not pictured in the ERC
FIA European Rally Championship stars will be keeping their New Year’s Eve celebrations in check later this month.
With reconnaissance for the 31 Int. Jännerrallye, Oberösterreich – the opening round of the 2014 ERC season – starting on 1 January, crews contesting the winter event will be on their best behaviour.
Jarek Baran, who will co-drive Kajetan Kajetanowicz in a Ford Fiesta R5 in Austria, said: “We will spend New Year’s Eve in a rally environment. Most of the stages are the same comparing to the 2013 edition with only some cosmetic changes. The only question mark is the weather and the amount of snow during the rally.”
Satisfied Abbring prepares for big ERC chance
Kevin Abbring, who will contest a minimum of six FIA European Rally Championship rounds in a new-generation Peugeot 208 T16 next season, has spoken of a feeling of satisfaction after he landed the prize drive.
The Dutch promise won the prestigious seat after beating Stéphane Lefevbre to the 208 Rally Cup title last month. He said: “I had a fantastic season. It wasn’t easy as Stéphane gave me a run for my money right up until the last event. Overall, it’s been pretty good with five victories in seven rallies. The team and I can be proud of this as we were up against tough opposition. I’m going to be a works driver in the Peugeot Sport Academy in 2014 and I’ll drive the 208 T16. It’s a very satisfying reward.”
Abbring will partner Craig Breen in Peugeot Rally Academy’s two-strong ERC line-up in 2014.
Circuit of Ireland Rally boss welcomes capital city backing
Bobby Willis, the Circuit of Ireland Rally Director, has welcomed backing from Belfast City Council after it was confirmed that the FIA European Rally Championship round will start and finish in Northern Ireland’s capital city.
The Circuit of Ireland Rally takes place from 17-19 April 2014 with Belfast hosting the event service park, headquarters, plus the ceremonial start and finish.
“There are very few rallies in the world that get the opportunity to base themselves in a capital city,” said Willis, pictured left withCouncillor Máirtín Ó Muilleoir, the Mayor of Belfast, and rising Northern Irish rally star Daniel McKenna.“The support and interest from Belfast has beenoverwhelming. The event will generate major economic and tourism benefits for the city, both in terms of visitor numbers and in positive television images, which will be broadcast around the world through Eurosport. The Circuit of Ireland has been hailed as a ‘flagship event’ among the 12 rallies of the European Rally Championship so I’m sure Belfast is set to feature as a highlight in this top international series.”
ERC champions make ŠKODA factory visit
Jan Kopecký and Pavel Dresler used a visit to ŠKODA’s lead manufacturing plant in Mladá Boleslav recently to celebrate their FIA European Rally Championship triumph with employees from the car make.
Finns Esapekka Lappi and Janne Ferm, who will embark on a major ERC campaign in 2014, were also present along with Gaurav Gill and Glenn Macneall, the winners of the Asia-Pacific championship title.
“It was our hearts’ desire to personally thank the ŠKODA employees on behalf of all the drivers,” said Gill, who joined his colleagues in signing autographs and answering questions. “Without them, all our success would simply not be possible.”
Bessenyey confirms ERC 2WD title defence with Honda
Not content with winning the FIA ERC 2WD Championship for Drivers once, Zoltán Bessenyey will be attempting to defend his crown in 2014 when the season gets underway in Austria next month.
While the Hungarian ace has yet to finalise his precise schedule, he will start his title defence on the 31 Int. Jännerrallye, Oberösterreich from 3-5 January in a Honda Civic Type R run by the Eurosol team from his homeland and co-driven by his partner Yulianna Nyirfas.
“It’s already certain that we’ll start in Austria, but after that we don’t know as we’ve not completely finalised which rallies we’ll compete in yet,” said Bessenyey. “But to prepare ourselves for the winter rallies, over the next few days we’re heading off to practice on the snow and ice of Norway. We’re leaving nothing to chance.”
Bessenyey, who works as a TV presenter in his native Hungary when he’s not competing on ERC events, will continue to enjoy the support of Honda Motor Europe partner team JAS Motorsport. The Italian firm provides on-even technical and logistical support to Honda customers.
Bonnefis reveals recovery is on track
Germain Bonnefis, who shone for Team Renault Sport Technologies on several rounds of the 2013 FIA ERC Production Car Cup before injury cut short his season, says he is ready to get behind the wheel of a rally car once again.
The talented Frenchman hasn’t competed since he fractured a vertebra in a heavy crash on the Croatia Rally back in September. However, a period of rehabilitation means he is almost ready to return to competition.
Although Bonnefis has yet to finalise his campaign for 2014, he nevertheless expects to be competing again soon. “The injury is good, now I just wait to see what I will drive,” he said.
In the spotlight: Sepp Wiegand
A former motocross rider, the 22-year-old German sensation will embark on a major FIA European Rally Championship campaign in 2014 at the wheel of a factory ŠKODA Fabia Super 2000 with backing from ŠKODA AUTO Deutschland. Wiegand is switching to the ERC on the back of a successful WRC 2 campaign in 2013, when he also made a one-off appearance in the ERC as part of the three-strong ŠKODA factory attack on Barum Czech Rally Zlín back in late August.