The Azores Rallye has been postponed, meaning the European Rally Championship will now – hopefully – kick off with Rally Poland, in June.
A statement from the series organizer said the loss of the planned opener from its original date was in response to a rise in coronavirus cases
The statement said: “In response to a request from the Regional Health Authority of the Azores islands, the 55th Azores Rallye has been postponed.
“Discussions regarding scheduling the FIA European Rally Championship event on a new date later in the year have begun and every effort is being made for this to be communicated as soon as possible.”
For even the most fervent of ERC followers, the evolution of the 2021 calendar has been… complicated.
When 2020 became 2021, the ERC was scheduled to start with Rally Serras de Fafe in Portugal. The gravel event which runs on similar roads to the WRC-counting Rally Portugal would take place from March 12-14.
With the year just over a month old, it was all change. Portugal was out of the opening slot and sliding back in the season to September.
That left Azores to open the ERC season later in March. Except it wouldn’t. The Azores was moving as well. It would now run from May 6-8. Except it won’t. And we’re not sure when it will run.
So, to Poland for a summer start and a busy second half of the season. Currently the ERC still lists eight rounds (Poland, Liepāja, Roma, Zlin, Fafe, Hungary, Canaries and Azores) for 2021, but start, finish, and headquarter details have so far only been announced for the new season opener on the June 18-20 weekend.Further detail will, of course, be added as the individual organizers confirm plans with the ERC.
Incongruous as it might sound, a June start to the European Rally Championship would actually be an improvement on last year, which didn’t start until Rally di Roma in July. This year’s opener in Poland was one of four ERC rounds lost to COVID-19 in 2020.
Russian driver Alexey Lukyanuk was crowned after a five-round ERC.
It’s difficult not to feel a degree of sympathy for Eurosport and its ERC series. While the WRC looks forward to round three in Croatia next week, the European series is still being frustrated by the pandemic.
WRC Promoter’s decision to build in a two-month ‘COVID-buffer’ looks to have been a sensible one. Monte Carlo made it by the skin of its teeth and, of course, Rally Sweden was lost but replaced more than ably by Arctic Rally Finland. With those two winter-locked events done, there’s been a pause and a deep breath before diving into a busy WRC schedule.
But WRC events are by no means exempt from coronavirus concerns. Portugal’s recent departure from the UK’s ‘red list’ of countries came as a huge relief to the British-based WRC community. Kenya remains on that list and while all involved talk in positive terms about the Safari’s return (and we’re all desperate to be back in one of the series’ most iconic locations), it’s impossible to conclusively say the series will decamp in Naivasha in June. The same can be said for any rally anywhere.
Much as we all hoped we were done with this thing, the latest news coming out of the ERC is firm and miserable proof that truth is quite different.