FROM 10 TO 12/03/2016
The event’s ERC return following a two-year absence is highly anticipated with the rally big on challenge and spectators. Because the stages frequently climb and descend, drivers pay close attention to corner speed and lines to ensure optimal momentum is maintained, while precise car set-up and pacenote accuracy are vital. One of the notable features of the stages is the abrasive surface, constructed partly from volcanic lava. It means grip levels are high and will remain constant if it rains, although tyre wear can increase. However, with the opportunity to take ‘cuts’ through corners limited, the roads remain relatively debris-free.
First held in 1931, the Circuit of Ireland Rally is not only one of the oldest rallies in the world, it’s also one of the most prestigious and has the honour of hosting the ERC’s first pure asphalt round of the 2015 season. Based in Belfast, the rally runs on challenging country lanes in Northern Ireland while some fan-friendly street stages in town centre locations are also set to form part of the itinerary with organisers promising a “bigger and better event” than in 2014. The rally will also welcome competitors from the Irish Tarmac and Northern Ireland Stage championships.
FROM 06 TO 08/05/2016
Greece made a successful return to the ERC in 2014 following a lengthy absence when the seaside town of Loutraki on the banks of the Gulf of Corinth hosted the 60th running of the legendary Acropolis Rally. Having last appeared on the ERC schedule in 1968, Greece’s comeback featured one day on fast asphalt roads and the second leg on more traditional rough gravel tracks. While the 2015 edition, run in partnership with the OMAE Greek motorsport federation, featured a compact all-gravel route, it was no less demanding and action-packed. Details of the 2016 event are being kept under wraps.
Based on the archipelago’s largest island of São Miguel in the mid-Atlantic, the event celebrated its half-century in 2015 as another chapter of its impressive history was written. The timed tests criss-cross breath-taking scenery and lush countryside and are characterised by their sandy surface and narrow and undulating nature. And because the stages are often no wider than the width of a car, there is simply no margin for error, particularly on the Sete Cedades test along the rim of a volcanic crater lake. Changeable weather is also a factor with conditions switching from sunshine to showers and fog patches.
One of the most popular fixtures in international rallying, the big question ahead of Ypres Rally number 52 is whether local legend Freddy Loix can make it a record-extending 11th win in light of his recent dominance of the asphalt event. Using farmland roads around the historic market town in western Belgium, the narrow sealed-surface stages are lined by drainage ditches and telegraph poles, and characterised by tight junctions that catch out the unwary. Following Free Practice, Qualifying Stage and Shakedown, the action is traditionally contained in a 30-hour window, making the rally a real test for car and crew.
An ERC newcomer for 2014, auto24 Rally Estonia was big on fast, jump-coated gravel stages. It was also big on spectator numbers, innovation and excellent organisation to the extent it scooped the coveted ERC Rally of the Year Award. Although the event’s headquarters and service park were located in the southern town of Otepää, Tartu – the second largest city in Estonia – played a significant role in the fifth running of the event in 2014 by hosting the ceremonial start and finish, plus a street stage. The event’s inclusion in ERC is provisional subject to the signing of the promoter agreement.
FROM 04 TO 06/08/2016
Rally Rzeszów’s history might date back to 1970 but its 25th edition will perhaps be its most significant moment so far with the asphalt event an ERC newcomer for 2016. A regular on the Polish and Slovakian national championship calendars, Rally Rzeszów takes place on narrow, winding sealed-surface roads in the foothills of the Carpathian Mountains in southeast Poland with steep climbs and tricky descents commonplace. Two stages through the city of Rzeszów, which is close to the Ukranian and Slovakian borders, form part of the itinerary, while reigning ERC champion Kajetan Kajetanowicz was an event regular in the past.
Ever-present in the ERC since the championship’s streamlining in 2004, Barum Czech Rally Zlín turned 45 in 2015 and once again took place around the South Moravian university city, 300 kilometres south of the Czech capital Prague. It is a Tarmac test like no other due to the bumpy and sometimes broken nature of the road surface. To add to the challenge, several stages feature high-speed blasts through forest areas and intermittent showers are always a possibility. While the weather might be hard to predict, huge numbers of fans follow the action, especially on the opening night-time Zlín superspecial stage.
Rally Liepāja, which took place for the first time in 2013 when it ran up Latvia’s Baltic coast from Liepāja to Ventspils, was due to open the 2016 ERC schedule in early February. However, higher-than-normal temperatures damaged the surface of the stages, causing concerns for safety and also for the state of roads used by the public. The new September date will effectively make for an all-new rally as crews adjust to the purely gravel stages. As well as hosting the event-closing street test, Liepāja city will stage the ceremonial start and finish at the newly-built Great Amber concert hall.
FROM 07 TO 09/10/2016
With its origins dating back to 1970, the Cyprus Rally returned to the ERC roster in 2014 for the first time since 1999 when Nicosia hosted the thrilling action. To mark the occasion, the Cypriot capital was transformed into an exciting street stage, which included a section through the United Nations-controlled buffer zone between the historic city’s Greek Cypriot and Turkish inhabited areas. The ERC’s only truly mixed-surface event also counts for FIA Middle East points and has the honour of closing the 2016 ERC season when crews will once again battle challenging stages and punishing ambient and ground temperatures.