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The 2020 FIA European Rally Championship has just got even faster with Rally Liepāja’s high-speed, all-gravel stages next up for some of the sport’s leading drivers and top young talents. Once a winter event, Rally Liepāja has also run in late spring and early autumn but the eighth edition will be held in the sizzling summer sunshine. A strong entry has been assembled by organiser RA Events, which has worked tirelessly to not only attract a high-calibre line-up, but to manage the numerous restrictions resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic. With three former winners – Craig Breen, Nikolay Gryazin and Oliver Solberg – on the entry list along with 2018 ERC champion Alexey Lukyanuk, the 2019 national title winners from Poland (Miko Marczyk) and Romania (Simone Tempestini), plus ERC3 Junior champion Efrén Llarena, an exciting battle is in store. Other drivers in the mix are young flying Finns Emil Lindholm and Eerik Pietarinen, Motorsport Ireland Rally Academy member Callum Devine, Hyundai Junior Driver Grégoire Munster, Czech hope Erik Cais, German prospect Dominik Dinkel, Italian ASN-backed Alberto Battistolli, plus American Sean Johnston. Norway’s world championship event winner Mads Østberg is also entered but won’t chase ERC points. Double ERC2 champion Tibor Érdi Jr returns to take on category leader Zelindo Melegari, while Ken Torn will be aiming to repeat his Rally Liepāja success of 2019 when he lines-up for ERC3 and ERC3 Junior glory in M-Sport Poland’s all-new Rally4. The ERC also incorporates the Abarth Rally Cup, a one-make series for the Abarth 124 rally, which welcomes newcomer Martin Rada for the first time. He will go up against Andrea Mabellini, the class winner in Rome, and last season’s runner-up Dariusz Poloński. The ERC’s Official Fuels Partner, P1 Racing Fuels, organises the P1 Racing Fuels Podium Challenge. A busy four days await the crews in Latvia with reconnaissance of the special stages taking place on Thursday 13 and on the morning of Friday 14 August followed by Free Practice, the Qualifying Stage and shakedown that afternoon.

Nikolay Gryazin in his Skoda Fabia R5 during the 2018 Liepaja Rally.

The first stage of 10 begins from the town of Talsi at 12h20 local time on Saturday 15 August with the rally-deciding NESTE stage due to get underway at 16h15 on Sunday 16 August. The event is set to cover a competitive distance of 177.87 kilometres with all stages on gravel. Measures introduced in response to the COVID-19 pandemic means there will be no ceremonial start or finish, no public access to the service park, the planned superspecial city stages in Talsi and Liepāja won’t run, while tickets for fans to access the stages will be limited in number. All those attending the event must wash their hands regularly or use hand sanitiser, wear face coverings as required, respect social distancing, act responsibly and follow other rules on-site to ensure the safe running of Rally Liepāja. WHAT HAPPENED LAST TIME OUT? RALLY DI ROMA CAPITALE International rallying returned with a bang on Rally di Roma Capitale (24-26 July) as Russian Rocket Alexey Lukyanuk charged to victory on round one of the delayed 2020 FIA European Rally Championship. Partnered by new co-driver Dmitry Eremeev, the Saintéloc Junior Team ace led from start to finish in his Pirelli-equipped Citroën C3 R5 to claim his second win in Rome and his 10th in the ERC by 16.1s. “It’s good points for the championship and of course winning in Rome is something special,” said Lukyanuk, who hadn’t driven a rally car for 255 days prior to a test on the Tuesday before the rally got underway. “It was a long rally, very tough and very hot. It took a lot of effort to achieve the result and I’m delighted for the performance and happy for the team.” Giandomenico Basso, the two-time ERC champion who won this event 12 months ago, finished second with Oliver Solberg taking third and winning the ERC1 Junior category on his Roma debut. Zelindo Melegari claimed a richly-deserved ERC2 victory on his first start since he and co-driver Corrado Bonato were hospitalised following a crash on Barum Czech Rally Zlín 11 months ago. ERC newcomer Andrea Mabellini bagged Abarth Rally Cup honours. Ken Torn won a frenetic battle for ERC3 and ERC3 Junior glory, as his rally-long rival Pedro Antunes crashed out of first place on the final stage. Pep Bassas took second for Rallye Team Spain on his first event as the winner of Spanish federation RFEDA’s Beca Júnior R2 scholarship.

Oliver Solberg, Volkswagen Polo GTI R5, in action during the 2019 European Rally Championship ERC Liepaja Rally.

ERC3 Junior champion Efrén Llarena (Rallye Team Spain) marked his graduation to ERC1 Junior by finishing sixth overall behind fourth-placed Craig Breen (Team MRF Tyres) and Romanian champion Simone Tempestini, who came home 1.3s behind the five-time ERC winner from Ireland after a spin. Grégoire Munster held seventh ahead of the advancing ERC1 Junior champion Filip Mareš, who narrowed the Hyundai Junior Driver’s margin to 5.5s. Emil Lindholm and Miko Marczyk filled out the top 10 places. Essentials What: 2020 FIA European Rally Championship round 2 of 6* When: 14-16 August 2020 Where: Liepāja and Talsi, Latvia Stages: 10 Distance: 177.87 kilometres Surface: Gravel ERC appearances (since 2004 restructuring): 7 (2013-2019) *Also counting for: FIA ERC2, FIA ERC3, FIA ERC1 Junior, FIA ERC3 Junior, FIA European Rally Championship for Teams, Abarth Rally Cup Recent winners: 2019: Oliver Solberg/Aaron Johnston (Volkswagen Polo GTI R5) 2018: Nikolay Gryazin/Yaroslav Fedorov (Škoda Fabia R5) 2017: Nikolay Gryazin/Yaroslav Fedorov (Škoda Fabia R5) 2016: Ralfs Sirmacis/Arturs Šimins (Škoda Fabia R5) 2015: Craig Breen/Scott Martin (Peugeot 208 T16)
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