Photo Richard Puyane / DPPI


Just three points separate Marijan Griebel and Pepe López as the inaugural FIA ERC Under 28 Championship for young hopefuls in R5 cars reaches the halfway point on Rally Rzeszow this week (3-5 August). The category provides the final step from national to world championship level with a prize drive in a World Rally Car on offer to the champion. After two events, Germany’s Griebel and Spaniard López have a victory apiece. But with both drivers new to the demanding asphalt stages in southeast Poland, a wide-open contest is in store, with rivals including French Tarmac champion Sylvain Michel, leading Irish contender Josh Moffett and Polish hopeful Tomasz Kasperczyk adding to an intense competition.

Chris Ingram heads the ERC Junior Under 27 division, which caters for rising stars in Pirelli-equipped R2 cars, after back-to-back wins in his pursuit of the 100,000-euro career progression fund awarded to the eventual winner. Top Pole Aleks Zawada and Ingram’s factory Opel team-mate Jari Huttunen are among his rivals as the class entry increases to a season-high 13 on Rally Rzeszow.

In the battle for overall FIA European Rally Championship ERC 1 honours, Bruno Magalhães tops the table ahead of Polish hero and double ERC champion Kajetan Kajetanowicz. However, both will be braced for the return of Alexey Lukyanuk, who is back after recovering from serious injuries sustained in a testing crash in May, which occurred just days after he dominated the ERC-counting Rally Islas Canarias. Bryan Bouffier is another leading contender for victory. The Frenchman is a three-time Polish champion and four-time winner of of Rally Rzeszow, which marks world championship frontrunner Mads Østberg’s ERC return. Zelindo Melegari and Buǧra Banaz lead ERC2 and ERC3 respectively, while Castrol Ford Team Turkey is on top in the FIA European Rally Championship for Teams.

Rally Rzeszow, which covers 214.63 competitive kilometres over 11 stages, is making its second ERC appearance having joined the roster for the first time in 2016. The event uses narrow, winding sealed-surface roads in the foothills of the Carpathian Mountains in southeast Poland with steep climbs and tricky descents commonplace. Rzeszów hosts the service park, event headquarters and exciting street stage.

*A record 23 top-of-the-range R5 cars are registered for the international section of Rally Rzeszow, 11 more than in 2016 when the event formed part of the ERC schedule for the first time.
*In total 45 drivers will chase ERC points on Rally Rzeszow with 96 drivers taking part across the three counting championships, an increase of 11 cars from 2016.
*The ERC Junior Under 27 and Under 28 championships resume on Rally Rzeszow. The event is unchartered territory for most of the emerging talents and plenty of exciting battles are expected.
*World championship event winner Mads Østberg returns to the ERC and will be one of the contenders for the outright victory.
*Luca Rossetti, winner of the coveted FIA European title on three occasions, is back in the ERC driving a Toyota Motorsport GmbH-run GT86 CS-R3.
*Alexey Lukyanuk has battled back to fitness from multiple injuries sustained in a testing crash in Russia in May and will return to ERC action almost one month ahead of schedule as he attempts to get his championship challenge back on track after missing the last two events.

*Counting for ERC1, ERC2, ERC3, ERC Junior Under 28, ERC Junior Under 27 and ERC Ladies’ Trophy points, Rally Rzeszow number 26 is also a scoring round of the FIA European Rally Championship for Teams, which has been streamlined for this season with one title only up for grabs to increase competition.
*Bruno Magalhães heads ERC1 after four events, 14 points in front of Kajetan Kajetanowicz who is bidding to become the first driver to win the coveted FIA European title three years in succession.
*Zelindo Melegari made the most of Tibor Érdi Jr’s absence from the Cyprus Rally to take the ERC2 lead. Sergey Remennik languishes in fifth place after non-scoring in Greece and Cyprus but the Russian will be a big threat despite his limited Tarmac experience.
*Buǧra Banaz climbed to the top of the ERC3 standings in Cyprus and helped Castrol Ford Team Turkey extend its advantage in the FIA European Rally Championship for Teams in the process. Banaz will be hoping to capitalise on the experience he gained from competing on Rally Rzeszow last season.
*Emma Falcón, Tamara Molinaro and Catie Munnings renew their rivalry for the ERC Ladies’ Trophy having filled the class podium when they last met on Rally Islas Canarias.

*As well as counting for ERC points, Rally Rzeszow is a Polish and Central European Zone qualifier.
*Organisers of the all-asphalt contest haven’t rested on their laurels following the event’s ERC debut in 2016 with several stages revamped or new for this season.
*Friday’s route features five stages over 100.83 kilometres and concludes with a spectacular superspecial in host city Rzeszów. Six stages totalling 113.80 kilometres provide the challenge on day two.
*At 24.56 kilometres, Pstrągowa, which is run twice on day one, is the rally’s longest stage. SSS Rzeszów is 4.05 kilometres by comparison.
*Rzeszów University of Technology hosts the permanent service park. The Millenium Hall shopping complex is the venue for the ceremonial start and finish and road position selection ceremony.

*While Rally Rzeszow is very much chartered territory for Bryan Bouffier, Grzegorz Grzyb and Kajetan Kajetanowicz, of the other top-10 seeds all seven have never competed on the event previously.
*Bryan Bouffier, whose CV includes three Polish titles and four Rzeszow victories, is one of several championship-winning drivers in action. Others include double European champion and home hero Kajetan Kajetanowicz, triple ERC title winner Luca Rossetti, Mads Østberg, a two-time Norwegian champion and world championship event winner, three-time Portuguese champion Bruno Magalhães, French Tarmac champion Sylvain Michel, double Turkish champion and 2015 FIA European Rally Trophy winner Murat Bostanci, plus Łukasz Habaj and Grzegorz Grzyb, the winners of the Polish championship in 2015 and 2016 respectively.
*Former ERC2 champion Dávid Botka switches to a ŠKODA Fabia R5 having started the season in a Citroën DS3 R5.
*Marijan Griebel makes his Rally Rzeszow debut boosted by his victory on Rallye Lëtzebuerg in Luxembourg, where he headed Pepe López in an ERC Junior Under 28 one-two.
*The ERC Junior U27 ranks, which have risen to 13 cars for Rally Rzeszow, include newcomers Radomír Kupec and Simon Wagner, plus Kristóf Klausz, who makes his first start of the season.
*Jari Huttunen and Tamara Molinaro prepared for Rally Rzeszow with an outing on the recent Austrian championship Rallye Weiz, with Huttunen winning his class in seventh overall.
*ERC Junior U28 contender Nikolay Gryazin was also competing in Austria – on the back of an outing on a French Tarmac event – but crashed out of second place on stage two.
*Jan Černý has also been keeping busy rallying in his native Czech Republic, with third place on Rally Bohemia the highlight for the ACCR Czech Team driver.
*Meanwhile, Peugeot Rally Academy member José Antonio Suárez took a Spanish gravel championship win during the break between Rally Islas Canarias and Rally Rzeszow.
*Albert von Thurn und Taxis continues his ERC initiation in Poland. The German is an ex-GT racer and scored a career high fourth in Cyprus.
*Ex-Polish champion Łukasz Habaj is armed with a replacement Ford Fiesta R5 for Rally Rzeszow after a frustrating start to his ERC campaign. A retirement in the Azores due to a mechanical failure was followed by a non-start on Rally Islas Canarias after a crash in Free Practice.
*Polish brothers Jarek and Marcin Szeja make their ERC debuts in Rally Rzeszow. Hailing from double ERC champion Kajetan Kajetanowicz’s hometown of Ustron, the Szejas will use the same Orsák Rally Sport Ford Fiesta R5 they campaign in the Czech championship.
*Subaru Poland Rally Team drivers Miko Marczyk and Marcin Słobodzian will battle for ERC2 points on Rally Rzeszow. And the squad has form in ERC2 with Wojciech Chuchała winning the class title for the organisation last season.
*Dariusz Polónski makes his second ERC3 start after scoring points on his Rally Islas Canarias debut.
*Luca Bottarelli is the first of three young Italian drivers to build their experience of international competition in the ERC as part of his national federation’s ACI Team Italia training initiative. He will pilot a Toyota GT86 CS-R3 run by Motorsport Italia, the outfit behind Max Rendina’s ERC1 entry.

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1: With four wins to his name, Bryan Bouffier is Rally Rzeszow’s most successful driver. Kajetan Kajetanowicz, who had two previous victories to his name, claimed his third Rally Rzeszow triumph when the event achieved ERC status for 2016.
2: Kajetanowicz and fellow Polish Ford Fiesta R5 driver Jarek Szeja both hail from Ustron in the far south of the country, while Szeja’s co-driving brother Marcin lives in the same apartment block as Kajetanowicz.
3: ERC Junior Under 28 contender Tomasz Kaspercyk’s spectacular Rally Islas Canarias crash attracted 1,476,041 views on the championship’s official YouTube channel. The dramatic footage can be found here.
4: Aleks Zawada took on the combined role of team manager and ERC Radio reporter when the ERC visited his native Poland last season. But he’s swapped those duties for his MSZ Racing-run Opel ADAM R2 as he continues his quest for ERC Junior Under 27 success.
5: Apart from the ERC counter, motorsport fans living in Rzeszów have their own speedway team to support. Stal Rzeszów is also the name of the city’s football club, which currently play in Poland’s third tier.