We’ve seen several national rally championships get back up and running and we’ve seen World Rally Championship drivers back out testing. We’ve even seen one-off special events like Rally Sweden Lockdown. But this weekend, we will see a fully blown international rally for the first time in four months as the European Rally Championship bursts into life.
COVID-19 forced a rather substantial reshuffle of the championship calendar, meaning Rally di Roma – which was supposed to be round five – now hosts the season opener on July 24-26.
Here’s everything you need to know about this weekend’s event.
What is Rally di Roma like?
Rally di Roma first ran back in 2013 and was conquered by Italian driver Matteo Chiarcossi, known as ‘Dedo’, in a Ford Focus WRC. Since then, the rally has grown in size and stature and joined the ERC in 2017.
That year’s battle was a sensational fight between Bryan Bouffier and Kajetan Kajetanowicz, with Bouffier edging his rival by just 0.3 seconds after two hours of rallying. The rally is always close in fact, with Giandomenico Basso’s 23.3s advantage last year the first time the victory margin has exceeded 10 seconds since 2014.
The rally itself is somewhat unique. The pre-event parade is a highlight of the season, with a police escort guiding each and every crew through the historic streets of Rome, past famous landmarks such as the Colosseum. Once out onto the stages to the east of Rome, the roads become typically Italian; twisty, bumpy, narrow and flowing but with a twist.
“They are really interesting roads. What is particular about Rome is that the first day is different from the second day,” explains Hyundai Customer Racing junior Grégoire Munster.
“The second is a bit more fluent with larger roads, while the first day has some stages with bumpy sections. It was difficult to adapt your set-up between the stages. But it’s a nice experience and it’s good learning.”
What classes of car are competing at Rally di Roma?
The majority of the entries are either Rally2 or Rally4 cars in new money – R5 or R2 – as they are the main two classes in the ERC. There are 42 Rally2 cars on the start list this year, with Citroën, Hyundai, M-Sport Ford, Škoda, Volkswagen and all represented.
A total of 32 Rally4 cars will battle it out, with real interest in how the new Peugeot 208 performs against the updated 2020-spec Ford Fiesta. The 208 appears strong, having already made a winning start to life in the hands of Portuguese driver Pedro Antunes.
Alongside the main Rally di Roma competition is the ‘Rally Stars’ event, open exclusively to the latest generation of World Rally Cars. That means two Hyundai i20 Coupe WRCs – for Dani Sordo and Pierre-Louis Loubet – and a solitary Ford Fiesta WRC for Italian driver ‘Pedro’ will be out to entertain the crowds.
A gaggle of RGT cars, including a Porsche 911 GT3 and a trio of Abarth 124 Rallys, further add to the variety.
Who is competing in Rally di Roma?
Rally di Roma has attracted a star-studded entry of ERC champions, round winners and even current WRC drivers from the top and support classes.
Courtesy of his victory last year, double European champion Giandomenico Basso is the number one seed on his first event with a VW Polo GTI R5. Staying in first place will be tough, such is the quality behind.
Craig Breen and Oliver Solberg are the big name entrants and start at nine and five respectively. Solberg’s entry is a one-off as he embarks on his first pure asphalt rally start whereas Breen will complete the entire ERC season, but Solberg won on his four-wheel-drive ERC debut in Latvia last year and he’s not in Rome to mess about.
Nor is 2018 champion and Rally di Roma winner Alexey Lukyanuk. The Russian is known for his flat-out approach, while M-Sport WRC2 driver Adrien Fourmaux has entered Rome with the sole intention of making the podium.
Junior WRC runner Dennis Rådström headlines the two-wheel-drive brigade, but fellow Fiesta driver Ken Torn – who won the ERC3 class in Rome last year – while Pedro Antunes, ERC returnee Miika Hokkanen and Junior British Rally Championship regular William Creighton should cause a stir.
Head back to DirtFish on Wednesday for a full list of who to look out for.
Where can I watch Rally di Roma?
Despite original intentions of launching an app to track people attending the rally, current Italian government restrictions dictates that spectators will not be permitted to stand at the side of stages this weekend.
But there are still plenty of opportunities to watch the action. Viewers can tune into some live action with the two runs of Roccasecca – Colle San Magno on Saturday and Guarcino 1 and Rocca Santo Stefano 2 on Sunday broadcast on the ERC’s Facebook page.
ERC Radio – available on the ERC website – is the best way to keep tabs on all the action as it happens with stage-end interviews from Chris Rawes and Julian Porter.
And of course DirtFish will be a handy resource this weekend too, with a report published soon after each loop of stages has been completed.
What’s the Rally di Roma timetable?
Rally di Roma is a three-day event, with shakedown, qualifying and the ceremonial start and parade on Friday before the competitive action on Saturday and Sunday.
Saturday offers 60 miles of stages with Sunday even longer at 62, totalling 122 competitive miles on Italian asphalt.
Uniquely, three stages are run three times on Sunday to help reduce administration costs for the rally organizer. Normally FIA events allow just two passes of a single stage.
Rally di Roma itinerary
Friday July 24
Shakedown – Fumone (2.5 miles) 07:00
Qualifying – Fumone (2.5 miles) 10:30
Shakedown – Fumone (2.5 miles) 12:00
Ceremonial Start – Roma – Castel Sant’ Angelo 19:00
Saturday July 25
SS1 Pico – Greci 1 (8.32 miles) 09:13
SS2 Roccasecca – Colle San Magno 1 (8.65 miles) 10:02
SS3 Satopadre – Arpino 1 (13.15 miles) 10:52
Service A Fiuggi 13:23
SS4 Pico – Greci 2 (8.32 miles) 15:26
SS5 Roccasecca – Colle San Magno 2 (8.65 miles) 16:15
SS6 Satopadre – Arpino 2 (13.15 miles) 17:05
Service B Fiuggi 19:18
Sunday July 26
Service C Fiuggi 07:28
SS7 Rocca di Cave 1 (4.5 miles) 08:32
SS8 Rocca Santo Stefano 1 (9.07 miles) 08:49
SS9 Guarcino 1 (7.3 miles) 09:45
Service D Fiuggi 10:58
SS7 Rocca di Cave 2 (4.5 miles) 12:17
SS8 Rocca Santo Stefano 2 (9.07 miles) 12:34
SS9 Guarcino 2 (7.3 miles) 13:30
Service E Fiuggi 14:43
SS10 Rocca di Cave 3 (4.5 miles) 16:02
SS11 Rocca Santo Stefano 3 (9.07 miles) 16:09
SS12 Guarcino 3 (7.3 miles) 17:15
Ceremonial Finish Fiuggi 18:30