The 2021 European Rally Championship calendar has been updated following a change in the COVID-19 pandemic situation in Portugal, with the series’ two trips to islands in the Atlantic Ocean now bookending the season.
Rally Serras de Fafe e Felgueiras was set to make its ERC debut as the season opener on March 12-14, but the Portuguese federation has now moved the rally – previously used by Hyundai Motorsport as a warm-up for the World Rally Championship’s Rally Portugal – to September 24-26.
This means the Azores Rally is now the first event of the season, as it was in 2017-19, but the Atlantic archipelago has also had its rally postponed to a new date by the Portuguese federation.
“Despite considerable effort, preserving the planned back-to-back event configuration for Rally Serras de Fafe e Felgueiras and the 55th Azores Rally is unfortunately not possible this year, although the logistical support available for teams contesting the Azores Rally remains in place and the Azores Rally is a very worthy host for the opening event of the season,” said series coordinator Jean-Baptiste Ley.
It will now take place on May 6-8, previously the weekend the Canary Islands Rally was set to run on as round three of the season. That rally now moves to the end of the eight-round calendar, with a new date of November 18-20 for the Spanish asphalt classic.
“By taking over the original date of Rally Islas Canarias we hope to minimise disruption to drivers, teams and broadcasters,” added Ley.
“The date was also a vacant slot for Portuguese ASN, FPAK, and its national and local championships. For Rally Serras de Fafe e Felgueiras, it’s a case of good things come to those who wait.”
The other five ERC rallies retain their existing dates, and with Rally Poland (June 18-20) and Rally Liepāja (July 1-3) following Azores it now means gravel will form the basis of the championship all the way until Rally Roma di Roma on July 23-25 when the drivers will finally make it onto asphalt.
Roma held last year’s delayed season opener after the pandemic forced multiple revisions to the calendar. The movement of the Iberian rallies marks the first adjustment to the ERC’s 2021 schedule as a result of COVID-19’s impact.
Although the COVID-19 situation is improving again in both the Azores and mainland Portugal, a spike in cases through January had already prompted local reports that calendar changes were likely.
Following Roma is another asphalt rally in Czech Rally Zlin (August 27-29), then Rally Serras de Fafe e Felgueiras, the asphalt but often muddy Rally Hungary (October 22-24) and the season-ending Canary Islands Rally.
ERC Junior and the Abarth Rally Cup will not be present as ERC classes at either of the Portuguese rounds, while the new Clio Trophy by Toksport WRT for the Rally5-spec Renault Clio Rallye car misses out Latvian rally Liepāja, Serras de Fafe e Felgueiras and the Canary Islands from its inaugural calendar.
Should any of these rallies be forced into cancellation by the coronavirus pandemic, there are three spare events: the famous Rally Sanremo that last featured in the ERC in 2013 and the WRC 10 years earlier, Cyprus Rally and Belgium’s Spa Rally.