The 2023 European Rally Championship season has hit its quarter-distance, with two very different rounds in Portugal and the Canary Islands.
But for round three, and indeed the rest of the season, the championship returns to the mainland with Rally Poland kickstarting a run of three high-speed gravel events.
One of the oldest rallies in the world which formerly had a place on the World Rally Championship calendar, Rally Poland certainly has plenty of history.
But there’s plenty to look forward to, too!
Here are five storylines to follow this weekend:
After a strong showing on Rally Serras de Fafe, Rally Islas Canarias became a disaster for Mads Østberg when he lost a front driveshaft aboard his Citroën C3 Rally2.
That left the Norwegian unable to claim points from round two, as championship rival Hayden Paddon added second place points to his victory in Fafe to streak clear at the top.
Dropped scores are allowed in the ERC, but nonetheless Østberg will be looking for a response to his former WRC rival this weekend – and don’t bet against him delivering as Østberg has always been fast on high-speed stages.
Can the champion keep his momentum?
Reigning ERC champion Efrén Llarena led Rally Islas Canarias early on, before slotting into third place. The point was, he was on form.
But that wasn’t the case on the opening round where the Spaniard openly struggled to get on top of his Škoda Fabia RS Rally2.
The Rally Serras de Fafe stages are very different in character to what lies ahead in Poland, but the question has to be whether Llarena will continue his momentum from the Canaries or stall like he did in Portugal?
If he has any hope of retaining his title he’ll need to, given the strength of the competition in ERC this term.
Potential wildcard wonders
Hayden Paddon and Mads Østberg are obvious, big-name contenders for victory given their WRC prowess. But the beauty of ERC is the ability for local experts to spring a surprise and dethrone the establishment.
Among the favorites to do just that must be WRC2 driver Miko Marczyk, who won his home event 12 months ago and returns to defend that win.
Mārtiņš Sesks is known for his speed on this kind of event, while 2020 Junior WRC champion Tom Kristensson went incredibly well last year as he finished second overall – and won last year’s Polish championship!
Then you need to consider Mathieu Franceschi – the Frenchman who won every single rally he started in 2022, and most of them on gravel.
And what about Mikko Heikkilä? The Finn starred on round one, and the Polish stages should be more like home than anything he’s taken on so far this year.
Fiesta vs Clio Rally3
The ERC3 entry may consist of just four cars, but tantalizingly it offers the world the first chance to see a battle between manufacturers in the Rally3 division.
Fresh from homologation at the end of last month, Renault’s Clio Rally3 will make its ERC debut in the hands of Argentina driver Paulo Soria, and thus will square off against M-Sport Poland’s updated Fiesta Rally3 Evo with Jon Armstrong once again at the controls.
It’s important not to read too much into the contest though as it is just one rally, so one kind of surface, and Armstrong is the more accomplished of the two drivers.
But there’ll still be plenty for not just us to read into this match-up, but potential customers too as the strengths and weaknesses of the Fiesta and Clio will begin to emerge.
Junior ERC begins
If the Junior WRC drivers are known as the stars of tomorrow, then this lot are tomorrow’s stars of tomorrow.
Mid-May is a late start to the season, but finally the Junior ERC gets underway in Poland with an impressive 16-car entry. And unlike Junior WRC, it’s an open-car formula (although all crews have a control tire supplier in Hankook).
Peugeot, Ford, Opel and Renault will all be represented with drivers from 11 different countries and three different continents!
Keep an eye on these guys as they fight tooth and nail to steal an early march in this season’s title race. Whoever wins will receive a subsidised drive into Junior WRC, just like Laurent Pellier has this year.