Freezing conditions and snow covered roads is what awaits competitors as they head to Latvia for Rally Liepāja. The Eastern European event counts as round 2 of the 2015 FIA European Rally Championship and will also be the opening round of the ERC Junior Championship.
The event, which debuted in the championship in 2013, will be made up of 12 stages which cover over 200 kilometers all run over two days.
With the first round of the championship, the Internationale Janner Rallye, run in similar conditions the pre-event favourite has to be the round 1 winner Kajetan Kajetanowicz. The Polish driver, who is co-driven by Jaroslaw Baran, won all but one of the 18 stages in Austria and took victory by well over six minutes in his LOTOS Rally Team Ford Fiesta R5, in a dominating performance. Kajetanowicz failed to make the podium in Latvia last year however and will be looking to use the momentum from round one to improve upon his fourth place finish here in 2014.
French driver Robert Consani will be another to watch in his Peugeot 207 S2000. Consani was consistently in the top three overall classification throughout the Janner Rallye and will be looking to gain confidence from that performance and attack for the lead.
Alexey Lukyanuk comes into round 2 of the ERC with a point to prove. After losing almost five minutes in Austria after his Ford Fiesta R5 overheated the Belorussian stormed back to finish fifth and in doing so won the Colin McRae Flat Out Trophy. In a performance that saw him finish in the top three of all but two of the stages Lukyanuk knows he has the pace and he cannot be discounted.
Another driver looking to bounce back in Latvia is Irishman Craig Breen. The Peugeot Academy driver retired after a stage 1 off in Austria and will be looking to reignite his Championship bid on Rallye Liepāja. Breen comes into the event having finished on the podium twice here and that experience could prove vital.
In ERC 2 the championship leader, Vojtech Stafj, heads the entry list in his Subaru Impreza STi. He comes into the event 9 points clear of David Botka. The Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution IX driver finished over two minutes adrift of Stafj at the end of round 1. Another driver to watch is Krisztan Hideg. The Hungarian driver was leading the class for R4 production cars on the Jännerrallye when he crashed out. He set the fastest time on eights stages and certainly proved he has the pace to compete.
The first round of the ERC Junior series will see 16 crew battle it out for glory. Triple Latvian R2 champion Ralfs Sirmacis will be one of the favourites in his Sports Racing Technologies (SRT) Peugeot 208 R2, as will team-mate Vasily Gryazin. He finished second overall on Rally Liepāja last year driving a Ford Fiesta S2000 and his switch to the junior series this year could make that experience vital. Briton Chris Ingram will also be among the top contenders for victory. The Briton took second place on the Rally Azores and third in Ypres last year as well as taking the Colin McRae ERC Flat Out Trophy on the Circuit of Ireland and will be one to watch in his Peugeot Academy backed 208 R2. Steve Rokland led the ERC Junior rally last year in Latvia before crashing out and he’ll be hoping that his pace can take him to victory this time out in his Peugeot 208 R2. Germany’s Marjan Griebel and Swede Emil Bergkvist will tackle the event driving for the ADAC Opel Rallye Junior Team in their Adam R2s.
Diogo Gago won the junior section of the 208 Rally Cup in France last year and takes up his prize drive in ERC Junior, he will tackle the event in a 208 VTI. Aleks Zawada is another driver entering in an Opel Adam R2. The Pole managed two podium finishes in the series last year he will be aiming for championship glory this year. Other contenders include Łukasz Pieniążek, Rainer Rohtmets, Gino Bux, Wojciech Chuchala, Julius Tannert, Guillaume de Mevius and Jon Armstrong.
So with all the preparation done it is time for round two of the European Rally Championship to commence. The event begins on Friday evening with the ceremonial start in Rozu Square in Liepaja followed by the Qualifying stage. Crews will tackle five stages on Saturday’s first leg and a further seven tests the following day. Crews will then return to Rozu Square on Sunday evening where the winner will be crowned.