Opel Motorsport is set to return to the European Rally Championship with the recently launched Corsa Rally4, reviving the team that won four ERC Junior titles in a row.
Between 2015 and 2018 Opel’s works team was undefeated with Emil Bergkvist, Marijan Griebel, Chris Ingram and Mārtiņš Sesks winning the title with the now-retired Adam R2 before the team withdrew at the end of the 2019 season.
But with a direct replacement for the Adam now in production and the Opel e-Rally Cup replacing the Adam-based ADAC Opel Rallye Cup this year, the ERC’s most successful Junior squad will now rejoin the series.
“We will announce the program soon but the idea is that we will go back to the ERC also with the Corsa Rally4 with a dedicated team, with the best guys coming up from the Corsa-E,” Opel Motorsport boss Jörg Schrott told DirtFish.
“Young drivers come to us and they would like to have the chance to do the next steps in their own careers. So the idea is quite the same [as before].”
Eligible drivers from the German-based, single-make contest for the Opel Corsa-E will be given the opportunity to progress to the ERC4 Junior series, following a similar pathway to that used between 2014 and 2019.
Laurent Pellier, previously a member of the Peugeot Rally Academy program, won the e-Rally Cup title this season with Saintéloc Racing.
The first iteration of the Opel Motorsport young driver program lacked a progression option beyond R2 level, with drivers like Chris Ingram and Jari Huttunen having to find another team with which to progress to the ERC’s top level and WRC2 respectively.
While Opel hopes to be able to enter Rally2 in the long-run, should hybrid be introduced to the category in future, Schrott indicated graduates of the ERC4 Junior program would be kept in-house by other means – most likely with sister brand Citroën.
“Within the Stellantis group, there is still the chance to go for a Rally2 program,” he said.
“It’s hard for us when we had such good guys with us, Chris [Ingram] and all those guys, they were running with us but we didn’t have a chance to keep them and go with us in the R5 program. So they went to Hyundai, Škoda, etc.
“Within the Stellantis family now we have the chance to keep the juniors if they are good enough to make the next step to Rally2.
“We believe this is a good chance for our new young talent promotion program and the basis with the electric cars is the right one.”
Maciej Woda, managing director at M-Sport Poland, was pleased to hear of Opel’s return to ERC Junior but also hoped it would not mark the start of a spending war.
“It’s always great to fight with strong competition and I hope we’ll be in a position to win. For sure it should raise the game,” Woda told DirtFish.
“I hope it will not increase the cost of the Junior series for the drivers because there’s always a risk of it. Honestly speaking, with the programs we have done in Junior ERC it will be more helping them than actually trying to treat them as a business but let’s see.”
M-Sport is indirectly locked in a scrap for this season’s ERC3 Junior title with Renault, as recently crowned Junior WRC champion Sami Pajari and Jean-Baptiste Franceschi are separated by 13 points heading to the season finale in the Canary Islands.
Fiesta driver Pajari has the option of selecting either a Fiesta Rally2 prize car or a Fiesta Rally3 with five events fully paid for thanks to his Junior WRC success. But Woda indicated the shape of Pajari’s 2022 program would hinge on whether he could win the ERC3 Junior title.
“Let’s finish the European championship and we’ll see if we have a bigger package available or not,” said Woda.
“At this moment we are focusing on trying to win the Junior ERC title because I don’t think it works well when you talk about plans before you can actually materialize those plans.
“But for sure Sami is showing great talent and he’s a pure junior; he’s 19 years old. He’s got incredible speed. He had ups and downs this year for sure but overall he’s a strong driver.
“For sure we as the Junior WRC need a Junior WRC champion to progress, so let’s see how it goes in Canarias and we will make some plans if things go well.”