As the summer draws to a close, the battle for the 2015 FIA European Rally Championship honours is really heating up as crews prepare for the demanding Barum Czech Rally. With just four rounds to go, the event, which is based in southern Moravia in the Czech Republic, is crucial to the championship aspirations of the top drivers including Polish driver Kajetan Kajetanowicz and Irishman Craig Breen.
The tarmac event will favour Breen as he bids to retake the championship lead, the Peugeot Academy driver is leading the ERC Asphalt Masters by 77 points and he will also be determined to make amends for his fortune here last year when an accident put him out of the rally. It is no secret that tarmac is not Kajetanowicz’ favourite surface but he impressed on the Circuit of Ireland earlier in the year in which he was narrowly beaten to the win by his Irish rival. He finished sixth here last year and is always one to watch.
Alexey Lukyanuk is back in a Ford Fiesta R5 and will be keen to continue his good form after a fantastic victory last time out in Estonia in a Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution X. Tarmac isn’t a surface he has a lot of experience on and he hasn’t driven R5 machinery since April so it remains to be seen if he can challenge for the win.
Robert Consani finished fifth on the recent Madeira Rally and will be looking to regain his third position in the series in the Citroën DS3 R5. French 208 Rally Cup champion Charles Martin will drive a Peugeot Rally Academy 208 T16, having already finished fifth this year on the Circuit of Ireland and ninth on the SATA Rallye Açores. Austria’s Hermann Neubauer was fourth before an oil leak stopped him on the Jännerrallye and after a recent third-place finish on Rallye Weiz in his native Austria, he returns to the ERC with renewed confidence in his Ford Fiesta S2000.
Skoda Motorsport will also take he start line with Jan Kopecky taking the wheel of the new Skoda Fabia R5. The local driver won the WRC2 rally on the ADAC Rallye Deutschland last weekend and will be one of the favourites for victory this weekend.
Vojtěch Štajf has a great opportunity to stamp his authority on the ERC2 battle as he enters his home round of the series with a 19-point lead. With four remaining rounds, and only two on his favourite Tarmac surface, Štajf will be aiming for nothing less than maximum points in his Subaru Czech National Team Impreza WRX STI. Equally determined will be his Hungarian rival Dávid Botka, who also brings a lot of asphalt experience and speed with him in his Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution IX.
With the championship wrapped up in the 2015 ERC Junior series, attention turns to the runner up spot and there are a number of contenders challenging on the final round of the championship. Latvian driver Ralf Sirmacis holds second place presently after an impressive season in the Peugeot 208 R2. Victory in Estonia put him eight points ahead of Steve Rokland. The Norwegian has had a good season with second in Latvia is best result. Britain’s Chris Ingram holds fourth one point behind Rokland. A victory on the Azores has been the highlight of his season so far but bad results in Belgium and Estonia ruled him out of the championship. The Peugeot UK driver will be even more determined to win this weekend. Marijan Griebel is still in search of his first win of the season and will be looking to secure it this weekend in a bid to claim the runner up spot in the championship.
The rally will run on fast, narrow and often bumpy Tarmac roads, made all the more demanding by changeable grip levels and unpredictable weather. Qualifying gets the 45th edition of Barum Czech Rally Zlín underway with ERC-registered drivers tackling the 4.71km Pohořelice stage on Friday, with the top 15 fastest selecting their starting positions for leg one. The ceremonial start takes place later in the day in Zlín’s bustling city square at 17h00, before the traditional opening stage of the event three laps of the Zlín city superspecial stage and around the Bata factory, starting at 21h15, with cars running in reserve order.
The Checkered Flag will be reporting on the event throughout the weekend.