A weekend of symmetrical results. ŠKODA customer teams secured second and third in Hungary, Paraguay, and France.
So near yet so far for Norbert Herczig at the Eger Rally
Amidst fine spring weather and big crowds, both the Hungarian and Slovak Rally Championships got underway last weekend at the Eger Rally. And spectators were treated to a real spectacle as all the drivers performed at their best in the near perfect conditions to create one of the closest Eger Rally editions for many a year.
And it was the ŠKODA Fabia R5 teams which were the standout performers with Norbert Herczig and Igor Bacigál, driving for the ŠKODA Rally Team Hungaria, particularly impressing. They won the classification of Hungarian championship by a hugely impressive margin of more than 27 seconds, as the reigning champions showed they did not plan to give up their crown without a fight.
Their result placed them second overall, just 0.5 seconds behind the eventual winner, and speaking afterwards Herczig was over the moon with the performance, despite an unfortunate incident costing them a likely victory.
“I am so glad that everything went well,” said Norbert Herczig. “Unfortunately, we had a puncture and we lost about 10-15 seconds, that’s why we were only second overall. But okay, this is part of the ‘game’, so we are really satisfied and happy.”
For the Energy Oil Motorsport team, Pavel Valoušek, along with his co-driver Veronika Havelková, also finished a highly credible third overall, and second in the Slovak championship, just a few seconds further back.
Speaking after what was his very first rally in a Fabia R5, Pavel Valoušek lavished praise on the durability and entertainment value of his car: “The performance I got out of the car felt great. We’re going in the right direction already. The rally was great and we really enjoyed it. Rallying with the new Fabia is really good fun and I am looking forward to our next fight.”
And his co-driver Veronika Havelková added: “I must also acknowledge the words of Jan Kopecký when he stressed how well built the Fabia R5 is. I don’t know how many big blows the bottom of our car took during this event, but it emerged unscathed!”
Meanwhile, Tomáš Kukučka and co-driver Radovan Mozner Jr, driving for the KL Racing Team, also completed the event as the ninth placed in the Slovak Championship standings. “I am very pleased that we are at the finish. It was an incredibly demanding event, and we had some great challenges, but we finished the rally and that’s important,” said Tomáš Kukučka. “We have learned a great deal, and we know where we made mistakes, so it is now up to us to avoid them in following events.”
The next round of the Slovak Rally Championship is the Rally Prešov which takes place on the 6th and 7th May, while the next Hungarian event is the Miskolc Rallye, which is on the 29th and 30th April.
Matthieu Margaillan and Julien Maurin on the podium at the Rallye Terre des Causses
The first round of the French Gravel Championship got underway this weekend too, and again it was an impressive start from all those in a ŠKODA Fabia R5 cars. With the WRC cars allowed in the championship along with some experienced drivers, it was expected to be a tough season for the R5 cars, but all three ŠKODA driving teams found themselves fighting at the top end of the field.
Particularly impressive were both Matthieu and Mathilde Margaillan, gravel specialists, and Julien Maurin and co-driver Olivier Ural, who battled hard with each other before ending up second and third overall, and first and second in class, respectively.
Maurin, driving for the 2C Competition team in only his second rally in a ŠKODA Fabia R5, explained afterwards how he had to learn the car whilst also coping with wet and challenging conditions.
“I had to get my bearings in the wet and slippery, which was very hard work, but rewarding. We were competitive despite everything and it gave us good lines of work for the future,” said Julien Maurin. “On the second day we made some changes to the settings, and I had had more time to adapt to the car and Olivier, with whom I had not driven since 2012. The weekend was constructive and everything we’ve seen here will be very useful for the future.”
Meanwhile Ghislain de Mévius, driving alongside Johan Jalet for the BMA team, came home just a couple of minutes further back in sixth place overall in his first ever event in a 4WD vehicle.
“We had a great first rally in the ŠKODA Fabia R5. The car is amazing and showed great pace, although I still need to get used to its capabilities. I am really looking forward to the WRC Rally Portugal now,” said Ghislain de Mévius after the rally.
Rally Trans-Itapúa sees Marcos Ligato and Didier Arias impress in second and third
The Rally Trans-Itapúa which took place in the south-east of Paraguay over the weekend, was the third event out of three to see ŠKODA Fabia R5s finish in second and third places.
In the runners-up spot was Argentine Marcos Ligato, who along with countryman and co-driver Ruben Garcia, finished just 15 seconds off the eventual winner, having also incurred a 10 second penalty.
It was the veteran’s, former WRC driver’s first outing in a Fabia R5 and he showed all his experience to take the vehicle round a tough course in such a competitive time.
“I am very happy for the opportunity to drive such a great car,” said Maros Ligato after the event. “The ŠKODA Fabia R5 is the most spectacular car I’ve driven in recent years and I do not rule out driving it again in another event in the South American Championship.”
A further 17 seconds back were Didier Arias and co-driver Hector Nunes, who built on their victory in the previous round of the Paraguayan championship to finish third overall and second in the Paraguayan standings.
The look to be strong contenders for the Paraguayan title this year as other challengers, including reigning champions Gustavo Saba and Leonardo Suaya, who again failed to finish this rally after hitting a road cut, breaking one of their engine bearings and consequently also the electrical wiring, already have plenty of catching up to do.
The look to be strong contenders for the Paraguayan title this year as other challengers, including reigning champions Gustavo Saba and Leonardo Suaya who again failed to finish after hitting a road cut and breaking one of their engine arms, already have plenty of catching up to do.
Rally Circuit of Ireland brings together the best of Europe, Britain and Ireland
This coming weekend sees the Rally Circuit of Ireland, a hugely popular and historic event which is a mainstay on the calendars of no fewer than four important championships. The event will mark the second round of European Rally Championship (ERC), the second round of British Rally Championship (BRC), and also the third round of Irish Tarmac Rally Championship (ITRC). It is also on the Northern Ireland Rally Championship calendar as well.
It first took place in 1931 and is thought to be the third oldest rally in the world. This year the event is mostly taking place in the picturesque Mournes Region of Northern Ireland, starting in Downpatrick and passing through Newry, Mourne and Down Districts.
There will be a significant number of ŠKODA Fabia R5s taking part in this year’s event. David Bogie and co-driver Kevin Rae will be on the start line for the CA1 Sport Team in the BRC. Despite his experience, this will be Bogie’s first time driving in this event and having already given the Fabia R5 its first wins in both Britain and Ireland, will be hoping a similarly positive result this time round.
“We started the last Irish event with the ŠKODA Motorsport settings for bumpy tarmac, and we fine-tuned them as the event went on to suit the characteristics of Irish tarmac. Everything just got better and better, and it was great to win the rally,” described David Bogie. “I’m now going into my very first Circuit of Ireland. I’ve not got a great knowledge of the roads, but I hope the experience I’ve gained so far will set us up ready for the next round of the BRC.”
In the ERC, Czech driver Jaromír Tarabus and co-driver Daniel Trunkát will be taking part for the T&T Czech National Team. They finished eight here last year, despite coming off the road at one point.
Speaking before the event Jaromír Tarabus told the FIA ERC Official website: “Last year we enjoyed it a lot but we made one mistake and we lost a lot of time. This year it will be a big challenge for us. We’ll do our best and hope it’ll be a good result for us.”
The Sports Racing Technologies team will be represented in the event by the Estonian driving team of Raul Jeets and Andrus Toom. Jeets finished 9th here last year and after a strong class finish in his first event in a Fabia R5, the Rallijs Sarma in Estonia, will be hoping to challenge at the top of the field again.
Meanwhile Antonín Tlusťák will be driving a ŠKODA Fabia R5 in the colours of his own Tlusťák Racing team. Alongside co-driver Ladislav Kučera, he has putting in practice in a rented Fabia R5 at the GPD Rally Cup at Czechring near Hradec Králové in an effort to be ready for this event. “Our preparation to Ireland is going according to schedule,“ said Antonín Tlusťák ahead of the event. “At the beginning of the week we also have one test directly in Ireland. I am looking forward to our comparison with local drivers, but it will not be easy as the entry list is very strong.“
Neil Simpson, who drives for Simpsons ŠKODA Motorsport alongside co-driver Elliot Edmondson, is also a relative novice in this event, despite his years of experience in rallying. His only outing here so far was in 2014, and in what was his first year back in rallying after a 12-year long sabatical, he achieved a fantastic fifth placed finish in the ŠKODA Fabia S2000. He will be hoping to do even better this year, despite expressing more modest ambitions before the event.
“The Circuit of Ireland is one of the standout events in this year’s MSA British Rally Championship,” said Neil Simpson. “I’m really looking forward to returning to the challenging tarmac roads of Northern Ireland, and I have a good feel for the terrain and know what to expect. It will be a tough event, the competition is very strong indeed, and I’d be delighted if we could come home with a top ten result.”
Last, but by no means least, is Desi Henry, who is competing independently, with his Irish co-driver Liam Moynihan. Desi has had a very successfully pre-event test on the Circuit of Kerry Stages Rally, and with his confidence high, he is also hoping to secure points in both the BRC and ITRC.
As well as the numerous ŠKODA Fabia R5, there are some of ŠKODA Fabia S2000s taking part too. Drivers behind the wheels of these include Irishmen John Mulholland and Joseph McGonigle, and Britain Martin McCormack.
Austrian Rally Championship returns with the Lavanttal Rallye
The second round of the Austrian Rally Championship takes place on 8th and 9th April with the Lavanttal Rallye. Taking place in the south of the country, around the town of Wolfsberg, the tarmac event takes place over 12 special stages and with a competitive distance of around 175 km, it is a event particularly close to the heart of Raimund Baumschlager, who is hoping to add to his eight previous victories here with the BRR Baumschlager Rallye & Racing Team.
The addition of WRC cars to the Austrian Championship this year will make his task all the harder, but after a hard-fought second place in the opening event of the season, the Rebenland Rallye, he will be looking for similar success again alongside co-driver Thomas Zeltner.
“The Lavanttal is one of my favorite rallies,” said Raimund Baumschlager. “It is extremely challenging and has great fans too. As we had seen already in Rebenland Rallye, we have to push the limits further this season, but it is great fun for me!”
Also taking part in the ŠKODA Fabia R5 will be Fabian Kreim/Frank Christian for the ŠKODA Auto Deutschland team. The talented young driver is coming into the event off the back of victory in the opening round of German Championship, at the Saarland-Pfalz Rallye.
He placed 10th in class here last year, but will be keen to improve on that, not least to celebrate the contract he signed last week to compete for ŠKODA in the FIA Asia-Pacific Rally Championship (APRC).
Also on the start line will be Russian driver Dmitry Biryukov, who alongside co-driver Evgeniy Kalachev will be driving for the TGS Worldwide Team, owned by former WRC driver Toni Gardemeister. He finished 7th in class here last year in a Fabia S2000.
Freddy Loix looking to cement Belgian Championship lead at TAC Rally
The TAC Rally, taking place in and around the town of Tielt, will be the third round of the Belgian Rally Championship. The asphalt event, which takes place over 16 special stages and around 200 km of competitive distance, will see the dominant Belgian driver Freddy Loix, and his Dutch co-driver Johan Gitsels look to build on their victories in the ŠKODA Fabia R5 in the opening two rounds of the championship.
Loix led this event from start to finish last year in a Fabia S2000, and will be looking to similarly control the event this time round. One of the other drivers looking to stop him will be Belgian compatriot Vincent Verschueren. He and co-driver Veronique Hostens claimed one podium finish so far this year and are ready to fight for another podium finish this time again.
Rally Sanremo sees Scandola continue Italian Championship push
The Rallye Sanremo will mark the second round of the Italian Rally Championship when it takes place between the seventh and ninth of April. And for ŠKODA it will be Umberto Scandola and co-driver Guido D’Amore, who will be pushing for the podium after an agonizing fourth place finish in the opening round of the championship, the Rally del Ciocco e Valle del Serchio.
The Rallye Sanremo is taking place on asphalt over 11 special stages and around 160 competitive km, and is held around the picturesque north-western Italian coastal town of Sanremo.
“The Sanremo Rally is one of the tarmac rallies that I prefer. I have great memories of these roads from my victory in 2014. It will be as always a very tough rally because the route leaves no breathing space and the road is very narrow and winding, with fast descents. A good set-up and the right choice of tyres will be crucial and myself and the whole team feel we are ready to fight for the podium,” was Umberto Scandola upbeat about his chances.