Mads Østberg is the latest ex-factory World Rally Championship driver to signal his interest in the European Rally Championship next season.
Hayden Paddon told DirtFish that the ERC was “of interest” to him in 2023 and now fellow one-time WRC winner Østberg has shared his intent as well.
“I’m working to try and find a good program for ERC next year,” Østberg told DirtFish.
“So for the moment I have no plans for WRC, at least no season. I have some plans, maybe a couple of rallies, but if I do a full program it will be ERC.”
Østberg changed direction in 2022 and didn’t contest any World Rally Championship rallies for the first time since 2005 – instead competing on events predominantly in Hungary (where he won the national title), Italy and Chile.
He does however have some previous ERC experience, doing both Rally Islas Canarias and Rally Poland in a Ford Fiesta R5 and winning Rally Hungary in 2021 with a Citroën C3 Rally2.
Asked why he preferred to do ERC than WRC2, Østberg explained that “personal reasons” were at the heart of it.
“My life situation has changed,” he said.
“I was divorced last year and I am a father, so in many ways my life situation is different.
“I want to give strong priority to my son and I’ve done WRC for a long, long time and I know what it takes, how much time, etc, and I think in many ways at this point of my life I struggle to do a priority other than giving priority to my son, basically.
“The ERC calendar fits a lot better into my life now so for me that’s the main reason why I’m not even working on a program for WRC.
“I had to make my priorities personally and it just ended this way. And I think to work towards ERC, I’m happy to do that and it still doesn’t put me in a bad situation.
“At this point I have a five-year-old and he is my life – I want to give a lot of priority to him and that’s why I try to adapt my work around him, and not the opposite.”
Østberg however does believe that both the WRC2 and ERC, under WRC Promoter’s stewardship, are increasingly becoming more attractive products.
“Also looking back at WRC2 when I started, I think the profile of WRC2 was much lower. Maybe it’s just in my eyes but I think in many ways the WRC2 championship as well has been given a bit more priority and I think it’s more visible now,” he said.
“I feel that WRC did some changes they had to do to give a bit more visibility to WRC2 and to make the championship more interesting, and obviously you need a promoter to do that but you also need profiles to do it.
“With Mikkelsen, with Suninen, with myself, with Lappi, a lot of WRC drivers over the last years have done WRC2 and it’s helped to build a championship and I think you sort of need the same thing with ERC.
“It’s also something I’ve discussed a bit with the promoter and I find the ERC championship quite interesting with new rallies that I haven’t done.
“It’s a slightly different challenge but still in a good way with good visibility from the promoter and also it opens up for some other partners.”
Of the eight rounds next year, Rally di Roma and Barum Rally Zlín are the only rallies Østberg has no prior experience of.
He has done the Fafe Rally Sprint before and driven in that region in the WRC, and contested Rally Liepāja in 2020 – finishing second overall but not registered for ERC points.