The 2020 FIA Euroepan Rally Championship is finally set to get underway this weekend with Rally di Roma Capitale – the biggest rallying event to take place so far following the COVID-19 pandemic.
This weekend was originally planned to be round four of the 2020 season before the coronavirus crisis saw a revamped calendar make the Italian the first round of a now six-event calendar.
Ahead for the 87 strong entry list – 56 of these in the ERC – lies a total of 15 stages across two days of asphalt rallying and totaling nearly 200km of stage action.
A lot has changed in eight months – when the final round of the 2019 season took place and Chris Ingram became the first British champion of the series since 1967 – although the ERC does have a familiar look to it when it comes to the entry list.
Despite Ingram not competing in Rome, picking a potential winner this weekend is anything but easy. Heading the entry this is winner here 12 months ago, Giandomenico Basso. The former ERC champion and reigning Italian national series winner is set to lead away one of the strongest entry lists in the championship for a long time.
Hoping to regain his crown in Rome is 2018 event winner and Ingram’s archrival from last season, Russian driver Alexey Lukyanuk.
The Citreon C3 driver was agonisingly close to the title win last year and if not for a pair of punctures in Hungary quite possibly would have won the championship, so will be hoping for a solid start to his 2020 campaign in Italy.
Craig Breen returns to the European series in 2020 aboard a MRF Tyres backed Hyundai i20 R5. The part-time Hyundai WRC driver is set to compete in a full ERC campaign and should be considered for a strong result if he can carry his Irish Tarmac Championship winning speed over to Italy.
Fellow Irishman Callum Devine is someone who could spring a surprise in Rome. The Billy Coleman award winner makes a full-time step up to the ERC following a podium finish in a one off appearance last season on Rally Hungary, although his lack of R5/Rally2 experience could prove a potential issue.
With the WRC on a break until September, the ERC opener has enabled both some of the series’ drivers and teams to get back into the swing of rallying competition.
These include non-other than Oliver Solberg, who make first his appearance on tarmac this weekend and M-Sport WRC2 regular Adrien Fourmaux, who won one of the last pre-lockdown events to take place – the Malcolm Wilson Rally – back in March.
Other noticeable names include both the reigning ERC1 Junior and ERC3 Junior champions, Filip Mareš and Efrén Llarena as well as triple German Rally champion Fabian Kreim, who returns to the European scene after taking a year’s hiatus last season to focus on a programme in his homeland.
Several other national champions head to Rome too, including Mikołaj Marczyk, who makes a last-minute move to the SRT team following fellow Pole’s Łukasz Habaj withdrawal from the championship and Simeone Tempestini who took the Romanian title last year.
The Rome event is set to also be the biggest rally to date where both the new R4-spec cars from Peugeot and M-Sport Ford compete.
Several entries from around Europe feature the new 208 and Fiesta based cars and is a fine addition to what is already a strong entry in the four-wheel-drive categories.
Again like above, picking a potential winner is a challenging task. Perhaps the best place to start would be looking at either Ken Torn or Dennis Rådström, both Junior WRC regulars, at potentially taking the win this weekend.
However both drivers won’t have it their own way for sure, as several ERC3 Junior drivers from last season step up to Rally4 machinery. These include Portuguese driver Pedro Antunes, Swede Adam Westlund and Miika Hokkanen.
Fans of the British Rally Championship may recognise William Creighton on the entry list, with the Irish driver opting to compete in the ERC opener following the cancellation of the remainder of the 2020 championship due to the coronavirus pandemic.
He could be set for a strong result too, if his runners up spot in the Junior series last year is anything to go by and will be wanting to prove himself against some of the drivers who regularly compete on the world scene.
The Abarth Rally Cup again features as one of the classes as part of the FIA ERC, with three registered entries in Rome. Dariusz Poloński has to be favorite for the win after his past experience of the 124 Abarth, although Roberto Gobbin and Andrea Mabellini will be both looking to impress on their home event.
The three drivers also eligible for ERC2, with Zelindo Melegari, Dmitry Feofanov and Igor Widlak also competing in the class in Italy.
Rally di Roma Capitale takes place this weekend, with daily updates from the event here on The Checkered Flag.