Two months after the Circuit of Ireland Rally the 2015 FIA European Rally Championship family will regroup for round four of the series, the SATA Rallye Açores. The event is one of the most popular rallies on the calendar and will see crews negotiate some of the most picturesque stages in Europe.
Irishman Craig Breen comes into the event looking for his third win on the trot and his first win in the Azores. The Peugeot Rally Academy driver has a mixed history on the popular island event retiring with electrical trouble last year and taking second place in 2013 but Breen says he is gunning for victory this year.
“We are going to the Azores with only a win in our sights. I really enjoy this rally and the challenge it offers, it will be a great opportunity to extend our championship lead.” said the Irishman speaking before the event.
Kajetan Kajetanowicz is three points behind Breen in the ERC standings and the Polish driver comes to the Azores with a brand new Ford Fiesta R5. The LOTOS Rally Team driver is the defending ERC Gravel Master and will be keen to retake the lead in the series. Kajetanowicz competed here in 2014 for the first time but failed to make the finish.
“The stages in Açores are beautiful and demanding at the same time. The route is very narrow and the grip levels change so often that we are not able to mark each difference in our pace notes,” said the Polish driver. “This is why creativity and ability to adapt quickly, or even to improvise behind the steering wheel, becomes so crucial in this rally. It is really hard to maintain the highest level of concentration, not only because of breathtaking views but also due to changeable rhythm on the stages.”
Russian driver Alexey Lukyanuk will miss the event due to financial issues. Lukyanuk, who is currently third in the drivers standings is hoping to be in Belgium for the next round but admits it is more probable it will be Estonia before he returns to the series.
French driver Robert Consani is back in his Citroen DS3 R5. Consani debuted the car in Northern Ireland but retired with engine trouble. The Frenchman finished fourth in the Azores last year and will be hoping for better luck on his second appearance in the DS3 R5 in 2015.
ERC regular Giacomo Costenaro will compete in his Peugeot 207 S2000. Antonín Tlusťák, Tomáš Kurka and Jaroslav Orsák all drive ŠKODA Fabia S2000s, while Jonathan Hirschi returns to the fray in his Peugeot 208 T16.
Charles Martin takes to the gravel for the first time in his Peugeot Rally Academy 208 T16 while Jean-Michel Raoux is back in his H-Racing Ford Fiesta R5 to try and repeat his third place here last year.
Combilift Rallying will make their second appearance in the ERC this weekend also. Brothers Sam and Josh Moffett make up the two car team and finished third and fourth respectively on the Circuit of Ireland Rally in April in their Ford Fiesta RRCs. The team will be looking for more good pace in the Azores.
In ERC 2 Vojtech Stajf heads into the fourth round of the series leading the category after Krisztian Hideg exclusion in Northern Ireland helped him to victory. Stajf is an experienced driver but this will be his first event on gravel. He leads the ERC2 category by seven points from Hungarian David Botka.
Based on the archipelago’s largest island of São Miguel in the mid-Atlantic, this year’s SATA Rallye Açores features 17 special stages covering 216.61 kilometres and will include the famous signature Sete Cidades stage, part of which runs around the rim of an extinct volcano.
The Checkered Flag will be reporting daily from round four of the European Rally Championship as the battle for glory continues.