The jury is still out with the new-look European Rally Championship. Has WRC Promoter managed to enact any real change yet to the series? It’s too early to tell. But it will need to make a big decision – and soon – as the eight-round championship is currently without a finale.
DirtFish understands that news of whatever event will replace the suspended Rally Hungary will arrive shortly – and that inevitably got us thinking. If we were Iain Campbell and were the championship manager of the ERC, where would we look to take the championship?
It’s an intriguing question that can be answered in two ways: with the head, or with the heart. Ultimately, we’ve done a bit of both, considering fairly practical options and balancing those with events we’d simply love to see added to the ERC.
Where do you think the final round of the ERC should be staged? Let us know in the comments box below.
Rally du Var
Let’s be real here – there aren’t enough ERC regulars this year to make a rally worth following with them alone. You need the local stars to liven the rally up.
Italy’s ERC round, Rally di Roma, is a great example of this at work – watching those chasing the European title trying to mix it with the likes of Giandomenico Basso and Andrea Crugnola ramps up the intensity of the battle at the sharp end.
ERC already goes to Spain, Portugal, Italy, Poland and the Czech Republic. Finland and Belgium are covered off by the WRC this year. If you want a strong national championship to combine with, there’s only one destination left that will do the job: France.
Rally du Var takes place at the end of November. Yes, it’s a long old gap after Barum Rally Zlín at the end of August – three whole months – but it’ll surely be worth the wait.
Var marks the season finale of the hotly contested French championship – and it’s known for drawing the cream of the crop of those not running full-time too.
A certain nine-time world champion has never been able to stay away for too long. After his ‘retirement’ from full-time rallying, Sébastien Loeb came back to race here in 2014, 2017 and 2019, winning twice. And it’s tempted asphalt ace Gilles Panizzi out of retirement more than once – talk about a seal of approval.
Imagine this: an ERC title battle settled on the narrow, twisty, sometimes even slippery asphalt of the Cote d’Azur, with France’s best in the mix battling hard to settle their own scores – plus the potential for a 306 Maxi or two to rock up (s’il vous plaît Séb?).
Unless those 306s go to Rallye Mont-Blanc Morzine in early September instead. Then forget Var – let’s go to the Swiss border instead. While we’re at it, can we have F2 back? Pretty please?
– Alasdair Lindsay
It always used to, so why shouldn’t the ERC go back to the Manx Rally and take in some of the most challenging asphalt stages anywhere in the world? Druidale, Tholt-y-will, Marine Drive, West Baldwin, Cringle, Ramsey, Castletown – all absolute corkers and all deserving of deciding a championship.
As a small island in the Irish Sea, the Isle of Man is only accessible from either the UK or Ireland, which to most teams and competitors is already at least one ferry trip or flight from the mainland. It therefore wouldn’t be the easiest, or the cheapest, rally for teams to get to – but the same is true for the Azores, and that’s become a staple of the ERC in recent times.
And besides, when you consider what’s on offer, the cost suddenly feels like petty cash. The undulations, fearsome fog, punishing turns and high-speed nature of the rally makes it one of the hardest to win. And the prestige of the Isle of Man TT gives the Manx Rally just that extra bit of kudos.
The only snag is that although the Manx International name is finally back after a five-year hiatus in 2022, that event is running in May so any ERC visit would have to coincide with the less catchy (but no less brilliant) Pokerstars Rally on September 30 – October 1. But running one month after Barum Rally Zlín and on asphalt, keeping the series at a 50:50 split between gravel and Tarmac, it’s an absolute win-win.
Realistically there’s next-to-no chance of it happening, but WRC Promoter and Iain Campbell you’ve read my pitch. We’re operating in a bit of a utopia with this feature, so allow me to get carried away. It’s time the world of rallying had another feverish Manx title showdown to relish.
– Luke Barry
As I said, we’re in dreamland, and no dream rally calendar is complete without Mull. It just isn’t.
I’m a bit of a contrarian. Mull is one of the most talked up rallies in the world so I wouldn’t have been making this pitch 12 months ago. But going to the event last year gave me the bug – Mull really is as good as you’ve been told.
If you’ve not been told, allow me. The changeable weather, nocturnal itinerary, daunting island roads and freedom of service all coupled to the spirit of the place combines for one of the finest rallying experiences ever.
Logistically Mull is even more of a problem than the Isle of Man, and there’d certainly need to be a way to allow more entries for the rally to avoid a large outcry from the locals if the ERC was to visit.
But it would be fantastic, wouldn’t it? Although the British Rally Championship entry was slim (to be generous) on the island last year, the prospect of the Mull experts taking on Britain’s fastest rally drivers was utterly compelling.
New clerk of the course Richard Crozier is an ambitious person, and will have the determination – and the desire – to pull something like this off if it was in any way feasible. Let’s up the ante and pitch Paul MacKinnon, John MacCrone and Daniel Harper up against Efren Llarena, Javier Pardo and Simon Wagner.
Given that the European Rally Championship already visits the mid-Atlantic for the Azores, why don’t we go one step further and bring the curtain down in Lake Superior?
Let’s dive into a classic Stateside ARA-ERC showdown in Michigan. The Great Lakes, roads a lot like home (if you call Britain your home) and, most likely, wet weather to boot. What’s not to love? Classic rallying conditions.
Too much? Too far? Yeah, probably.
Fair enough. Has anybody gone for the Roger Albert Clark? This is modern day Britain’s answer to a proper, old school RAC Rally. It starts somewhere, tours up country for a few days, visiting some of the world’s best woods, then comes back down the country and finishes somewhere. There are night stages, long stages, short stages, spectator stages and all done in pukka RAC weather – just ask the crews who were forced to sleep in their cars in Kielder when the snow landed last year.
But it only runs every other year. So, for me, it’s got to be the Tuscan Rewind.
Keep this between you and me, but I don’t think this event actually ran last year, but let’s not let that stand in the way.
Who wouldn’t want to see the likes of (*insert ERC regular driver’s name in here*) driving stunning roads like the one between Torrenieri and Badia Ardenga, just north of Montalcino. If this doesn’t take you back to Markku Alén in an 037 on the 1985 Sanremo (that probably should have referenced Walter Röhrl in a Quattro E2, but the German in the German machine doesn’t quite evoke the same misty-eyed fever-filled memories of Italy’s favorite Finn at the wheel of a classic Lancia) then nothing will.
The event itself is based between Siena and Florence. So, not only do you get some of the best gravel in the world winding its way through the Cypress trees, but you also get to feast on Pecorino Toscana washed down with exceptional Capannelle Chianti. And all of that in one of the most beautiful autumn settings in the world.
Enough said? Thought so.
– David Evans
OK, this is the pragmatist’s choice. I’ve got my rose-tinted glasses put away in their case and thinking business first, pleasure second. Not that Cyprus isn’t a good rally – it has character and knows how to host an international rally properly, having done so many times in the past.
My experience of following Rally Cyprus unfold as an ERC event has been drivers playing a game of chicken with the stages – do I dare push hard enough that I might get a puncture? The answer is usually no, keep it sensible and we’ll leave that for the last stage.
Admittedly that’s led to some bonkers finishes, such as 2018. The top three went into the finale covered by 11.4 seconds; local lad Simos Galatariotis won it by 0.6s as Nasser Al-Attiyah stopped to change a puncture and Bruno Magalhães was achingly close to taking a last-gasp victory.
But that rarely happens. Al-Attiyah has a knack for showing up and dominating. And as Cyprus will be the season finale of the Middle East Rally Championship, odds are he’ll be back to do the same thing again. Sigh.
On the one hand, it’s a part of the world ERC wants to spend more time in. The WRC covers plenty of Western Europe – pushing further eastward, especially with Hungary’s disappearance being what’s created the gap, is the ERC’s goal. And you can’t go much further east in Europe than Cyprus.
That said, there’s the problem of the ferry to get there. It’s an expensive event to attend on a tight budget. Without a ferry subsidy, many international crews may simply opt not to turn up. Get that sorted and it becomes a sensible box tick for the ERC calendar.
Rally du Valais
This one can perhaps be considered the plug in and play option. Although Rally du Valais hasn’t been part of the ERC for seven years now (last won by Alexey Lukyanuk in 2015) the Swiss event is a known quantity and a big international rally with a high standard of organization that would have no trouble slotting into the ERC at short notice.
Its championship history is sublime too, running as part of the ERC as early as 1980 and welcome the Intercontinental Rally Challenge for two seasons in the late 2000s as well. But the real reason to go to Valais is the stages: they’re gorgeous – narrow, challenging and deceptively fast with views that are just to die for.
Even if you don’t know you have, we’ve all seen iconic imagery (see above) of the famous crossroads jump with the snowy mountains in the background. All great rallies have their iconic spots, and this feels ready-made for the live TV production ERC offers.
As does the rally. Geographically it’s near none of the other events, taps into yet another local rallying scene and will be running at the required mileage regardless of any ERC status in 2022. ERC could do a lot worse than returning to Valais.
Rally du Condroz-Huy
With Ypres Rally being parachuted back into the World Rally Championship, the ERC has lost its footprint in Belgium – and that’s a huge shame given the popularity of rallying in the country and the superb stages and organization on offer.
Step forward Rally du Condroz-Huy: one of Belgium’s biggest and most gruelling events.
Running in early November might leave a bit of a sizable gap from the end of Barum Rally Zlín in August, but other than that this one feels like a bit of a no-brainer, provided some of the safety concerns of recent years can be ironed out.
Traditionally the final round of the Belgian season (but this year running as the penultimate event before former ERC reserve Spa Rally), Condroz-Huy is a stern challenge due to the autumnal weather. This makes it colorful too – a big tick for the ERC in the new All Live era.
The rally is also huge in Belgium, arguably just as big as Ypres. Past winners don’t just include Belgian legends Patrick Snijers, Marc Duez and Kris Princen and its former WRC stars Freddy Loix, Bruno Thiry and François Duval, but also huge WRC names like none other than Sébastien Loeb and current M-Sport driver Craig Breen.
Linking up with the Belgian championship would provide a scintillating battle too given the strength of this year’s entry including the likes of Stéphane Lefebvre, Gino Bux, Grégoire Munster and Adrian Fernémont. I’d love to see it, hopefully WRC Promoter does too.