ERC has never felt as exciting as this before

Luke Barry can't remember an ERC season as keenly-anticipated as 2023 is


Is it just me that puts off opening an eagerly-anticipated email until the very last minute?

Somehow it gives me a bit of a rush. Perhaps I’m just too scared to open it in fear of it not containing the contents I crave – honestly I don’t know. I’m a journalist not a psychologist.

But you join me on Monday afternoon. DirtFish has been sent an advance copy of the Rally Serras de Fafe entry list – the opening round of this year’s European Rally Championship.

David Evans, as ever, was across the story but he wanted to forward it along to the newsdesk so that we could have a peek. Right now, I’m resisting the temptation to have that peek because, if all the rumors are true, the names I should find on this spreadsheet will be utterly sensational.

You’re reading this on Tuesday, which means I (eventually) put myself out of my misery and am now well aware of who’ll be starting next weekend. But, I’m sure you’ll agree, this one was worth waiting for.

Immediately, attention turns to the top. Reigning champion Efrén Llarena, Hayden Paddon and Craig Breen are some top three, while Mads Østberg, Yoann Bonato, Tom Kristensson and co ensure it’s a magic top 10 too.

But that’s not what blew me away. I kept scrolling, and the names just kept coming.

Into the 20s and names like Erik Cais, Georg Linnamäe and even Junior WRC champion Robert Virves were cropping up. A world champion in a Rally2 Fiesta at #25 is just insane. Pontus Tidemand at #33 is mind-boggling. Reigning Finnish champion Mikko Heikilla at #38 is just incredible.

The strength in depth on the Rally Serras de Fafe entry beggars belief. And it’s not just the big names – dig into the details and drivers like Irish Forestry champion Patrick O’Brien are entering the big stage eager to impress (and very capable of doing just that).

And what about Mathieu Franceschi, the driver who won 100% of his starts in 2022? How will that searing pace on French gravel transfer to Portuguese soil? All this before we’ve even considered the Rally3 giant-killing the likes of Jon Armstrong could potentially pull off.

With an entry list this big, there are stories everywhere. And no good rally is complete without its fair share of stories. But the most important story of all could be the renaissance this championship is finally about to have.

Croatia Rally, Porec 26-28 09 2013

I’ve had a mixed relationship with the ERC over the years.

I distinctly remember following the Jänner Rally from my bedroom 10 years ago – when Eurosport Events took over the promotion of ERC after the Intercontinental Rally Challenge years – in that weird haze as the Christmas holidays from school drew to a close, and absolutely loving it.

The theme music on the TV coverage gripped me (these things matter a lot when you’re growing up) and the rally was a classic – Jan Kopecký found over 11 seconds on the last stage to beat Bryan Bouffier by just half a second.

And there have been some big events (and storylines) in the decade since. Think Breen’s quest for Circuit of Ireland success, the crazy 2019 finale in Hungary, Bouffier and Kajetan Kajetanowicz’s mental final day battle in Rome six years ago or that adrenalin-pumping powerstage from Llarena in the Azores last year – there have been genuine moments of sporting intrigue and brilliance.


But it’s all been a bit too fleeting. The ERC has never quite had enough substance to force me to commit to following it intensely for a full season.

As strange as this sounds if you don’t relate to the intro of this feature, the very fact I didn’t want to open an ERC-labeled email in 2023 speaks volumes about where we are now. The ERC has me on tenterhooks.

I don’t want to get too carried away here – round one hasn’t even happened yet so we need to wait and see if this hype can be sustained – but that horse may have already bolted. There’s a genuine buzz and excitement around the championship that I don’t think there ever has been before.

T-10 days, I simply can’t wait.