The European Rally Championship has arrived in Italy for the Rally di Roma Capitale, making its ERC calendar debut in its fifth year since inception in 2013.
Though the ceremonial start and opening superspecial will take place in the historic centre of Rome, at the famed Circo Massimo, the rally is based southeast of the capital city in the Frosinone province. For the most part only the local entrants have past experience on the sealed surface stages, with ERC regulars facing the Lazio roads for the first time.
With the playing field levelled, the trio of title protagonists – Kajetan Kajetanowicz, Bruno Magalhães and Alexey Lukyanuk – are free to resume their battle for dominance in the overall championship. Notably absent is recently crowned ERC Junior U28 champion Marijan Griebel, who wrapped up his season immediately after clinching the support category title to focus on his plans for 2018.
Lukyanuk is the form driver this season, keeping himself in the title hunt despite missing two rounds through injury following a testing crash. With 20 stage wins this season – more than anyone else – he has been more than a match for reigning champion Kajetanowicz, and took advantage of the dominant Czech contingent at Barum Rally Zlin last month to close the gap to both the Pole and Magalhães.
Unfortunately for the home crowd, two-time rally winner in 2015 and 2016 Umberto Scandola is not present on the ERC entry list – registered only for the Italian national championship – leaving a sole Italian in the R5 category. World Rally Championship 2 regular Simone Tempestini does have Italian heritage though, and the Romanian driver has entered his regular Citroën DS3 for the event. Porsche factory driver Romain Dumas is also back for a second ERC appearance this year in an RGT specification 997 GT3.
Every support category is in action this weekend, and Zelindo Melegari has the opportunity to use his home rally as a victory lap in ERC-2. With a convincing performance this weekend, he would put the class title almost definitely out of reach from Tibor Érdi.
ERC-3 is becoming a wide open title race with the absence of the consistently scoring Bugra Banaz this weekend. Banaz aside, the remaining front-runners in the category are also battling it out for ERC Junior U27 honours. Aleks Zawada moved into the lead of the latter with victory at Rally Zlin last time out, but the Opel Rallye Junior Team pair of Chris Ingram and Jari Huttunen are desperate to bounce back after problems for both in the Czech Republic.
Ingram’s recovery task this weekend has been made harder still by the withdrawal of regular co-driver Elliott Edmondson following Barum Rally Zlin, with British Rally Championship regular Ross Whittock taking his place for the rest of the ERC season.
“After two tough rallies at Rzeszów and Zlín we are aiming to get back on track at Rally Roma,” said Ingram.
“As always the goal will be to go for the podium in the hotly contested FIA ERC Junior U27 together with my new co-driver Ross Whittock. I’m excited to say Ross will be partnering me for the final ERC rounds in the battle for the U27 title.
“The Whittock name has great rallying pedigree and I’m confident Ross has the passion and talent to navigate me to the title. With two wins under our belts we are still in a good position.”
Ingram’s highly rated Finnish team-mate Huttunen rolled his Opel Adam out of the Barum Rally, and made clear he was willing to throw caution to the wind in the quest for a now somewhat unlikely Junior U27 championship title.
“After our unfortunate off at the Barum Rally our initial position for the remainder of the season is crystal clear: if we want to clinch the title in the FIA ERC Junior U27 we have to go maximum attack in the last two rounds and, in the best case, win each of them.”
The rally kicks off at 16:45 local time on Friday afternoon for the opening superspecial, with two full legs of stages on Saturday and Sunday totalling 199 kilometres.