Estonia’s best young rally drivers will take on the big guns from the FIA European Rally Championship when the Baltic nation hosts the fastest event of ERC 2014 from 17-19 July. With the headquarters and service park in Otepää and the ceremonial start and finish in Tartu, Estonia’s second largest city, auto24 Rally Estonia marks the beginning of part two of the all-action ERC season when drivers and co-drivers will have four opportunities left from a possible five to score championship points.
Apart from the auto24-Tartu City asphalt superspecial, all the stages use fast and flowing gravel roads, meaning high speeds are guaranteed during the course of the three-day event, which celebrates its fifth anniversary this year and makes its first appearance on the ERC schedule.
While approximately 60 per cent of the route is unchanged from 2013, there have been some tweaks, with more narrow and tricky sections added to increase the challenge for the drivers and raise the spectacle for the fans who are expected to follow the action in great numbers.
As well as counting as round seven of the ERC, auto24 Rally Estonia is the third event where drivers will chase ERC Gravel Master points, a new initiative for 2014 to reward surface specialists competing in the European championship. Points are awarded to the fastest five drivers on each gravel stage on a 10-6-4-2-1 system. The event is also a round of the FIA Historic Sporting Rally Championship and the Estonian Autorally Championship.
More than 60 crews have entered the main ERC rally, which features 15 special stages over a competitive distance of 231.55 kilometres. Following Free Practice, the Qualifying Stage and the ceremonial start on Thursday 17 July, the first of two legs gets underway on Friday morning. The podium finish is scheduled for 20:45hrs local time on Saturday 19 July.
Extensive television coverage is planned, with daily highlights plus the post-event Inside ERC magazine show broadcast on Eurosport. Estonia’s TV3 will show live coverage of the Tartu stage, while TV6 will broadcast a post-rally review programme. In addition to ERC Rally Radio, several national stations will devote extensive coverage to the event.
R5 cars to put on a show in Estonia
All three types of R5 car currently eligible for competition use will be in action on auto24 Rally Estonia. Top Estonians Ott Tänak and Timmu Kõrge – a double winner in Estonia this season – are among several drivers competing in Ford Fiesta R5s. Karl Kruuda and Siim Plangi will pilot Peugeot 208T16s, while French WRC 2 frontrunner Sébastien Chardonnet is armed with a Citroën DS3 R5 for his ERC debut.
Former ERC champion Hänninen is Estonia-bound
Juho Hänninen, the winner of the 2012 FIA European Rally Championship and now a member of the factory Hyundai team in the WRC, will be attending auto24 Rally Estonia as an expert commentator for ERC promoter Eurosport Events on its coverage of the rally. Hänninen’s Hyundai team-mate Thierry Neuville performed a similar role on last month’s Geko Ypres Rally.
Honda champions unite in ERC 2WD
Zoltán Bessenyey and Eli Evans, who both won rally titles in 2013 driving Hondas, will be competing in Civic Type Rs on auto24 Rally Estonia. Hungarian Bessenyey clinched the ERC 2WD spoils last season with Evans taking the Australian crown.
A model rally driver
Inessa Tushkanova is more than just a rally driver: the Ukraine-born Moscow resident is a world-famous glamour model and makes her second start in this year’s ERC following her class-winning outing on Rally Liepāja. Tushkanova, who turns 27 on the opening day of the event, will compete in a Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution IX.
Brothers in arms in the ERC
Home hero Karl Kruuda won’t be the only member of his family competing on auto24 Rally Estonia. His younger brother Gustav will be 16 years, three months and six days when the ERC counter gets underway with the ceremonial start in Tartu on 17 July. Kruuda Sr, a winner in WRC 2 this season and ranked as one of his country’s best rally drivers, has been training his younger sibling, who competes in a Ford Fiesta R2.
Father and son back in the ERC in Estonia
Leading Romanian drivers Marco Tempestini and his son Simone will return to ERC action in Estonia. Championship stalwart Tempestini Sr will drive his Napoca Rally Academy Ford Fiesta R5, with Tempestini Jr lining up in his Citroën DS3 R3T, as the youngster prepares for the world championship-counting Neste Oil Rally Finland two weeks later.
ERC leader Esapekka aims to Lappi up the points
ŠKODA Motorsport driver Esapekka Lappi will travel to Estonia from nearby Finland to defend his ERC title lead, which stands at 33 points over team-mate Sepp Wiegand and Peugeot Rally Academy’s Craig Breen. While Breen won’t be competing in Estonia, German driver Wiegand will start a high-speed gravel rally for the first time. Other ERC regulars to look out for are Robert Consani, Jean-Michel Raoux and Jaromír Tarabus. Meanwhile, Lappi’s fellow Finn, Kristian Sohlberg, brings WRC experience to the rally.
Class battles to thrill Estonian fans
While the battle for outright victory on auto24 Rally Estonia will provide plenty of drama, the chase for success in the ERC Production Car Cup and ERC 2WD Championship will also thrill the fans. Vitaliy Pushkar will be hoping to capitalise on title rival Martin Hudec’s absence in the ERC Production Car Cup but will be wary of the threat posed by several Baltic-based drivers, including Jānis Vorobjovs, who claimed the category laurels on the ERC-counting Rally Liepāja earlier this year, plus flying Russian Alexey Lukyanuk. In the ERC 2WD category, Estonian Sander Pärn is highly rated, while Kristóf Klausz, Max Vatanen and Acropolis Rally ERC 2WD winner Evgeny Sukhovenko are expected to impress along with the Honda drivers Bessenyey and Evans.
*With a population of just 1.3 million, Estonia is punching above its weight in terms of the number of talented rally drivers it continues to produce.
*Arguably Estonia’s best rally driver is Markko Märtin, a winner of five WRC events. Märtin now manages a successful team, MM-Motorsport, which is entering four cars on auto24 Rally Estonia.
*The main man behind auto24 Rally Estonia is Urmo Aava, who was a frontrunner in the Junior WRC before he progressed to the World Rally Car class and claimed five outright stage wins.
*Estonia is an e-country – you can even vote online. Wireless internet is available almost everywhere and it’s often always free.
*Locals describe their food as a “spoonful of Nordic with a twist”, while it’s possible to eat marinated bear in some restaurants.
EVENT ESSENTIALS (all timings local)
Starts: 20:00hrs, Thursday 17 July, Podium, Town Hall Square, Tartu
Finishes: 20:45hrs, Saturday 19 July, Podium, Town Hall Square, Tartu
Headquarters: Tehvandi Sport Center, Nüpli küla, 67408 Otepää, Estonia
Service park: Tehvandi Sport Center, Otepää
ERC appearances (since the restructuring in 2004): None
Stage distance: 231.55 kilometres (123.67 kilometres leg one, 107.88 kilometres leg two)
Liaison: 580.57 kilometres
Total: 812.12 kilometres
Surface: All gravel apart from the Tartu City Tarmac superspecial stage