All roads lead to Rome: the 2020 FIA European Rally Championship starts in Italy

The long-awaited start of the 2020 FIA European Rally Championship is just around the corner. The drastic changes in the racing calendar due to the pandemic have thoroughly reshuffled the approved order of rally rounds. As a result, the Italian Rally di Roma Capitale has the privilege of opening the rally season for the first time.

Initially, the racers were supposed to go to the Azores, but the rally was postponed in March, and the right to host the first round was transferred to the Canary Islands. But this race also “took a break” and was postponed in the calendar to the end of November. The organizers and sports teams looked at Latvia with hope, but it also gave way to antiviral events, shifting the championship race to August. Then it was the turn of the Rally Poland to be the opening round, but the Polish organizers did not find an opportunity to hold the race at all this year and postponed it until 2021.

Thus, none of the 2020 European title challenger drivers have any idea if all the events scheduled in the calendar take place, and all the racers are waiting when technical preparation for a particular rally can become wasted time.

This weekend, the season begins with an asphalt challenge in the vicinity of the Eternal City, and then rally tracks will quickly replace each other: the high-speed roads around Liepaja in Latvia, the volcanic landscape of the Azores in Portugal, the stone-strewn special stages of Cyprus, the asphalt lottery of Hungary, and the smooth Mediterranean bends of the Canary Islands roads will be a tough test for everyone involved in the Series.

In 2020, Alexey Lukyanuk will continue his performance in the FIA European Rally Championship, the Russian will spend the second season in a Citroen C3 R5 from the Saintéloc team, with the support of Citroen Racing and Total. This season Lukyanuk will participate together with the new co-driver Dmitry Eremeev. This is a new challenge for the driver. For successful performance, it is necessary to find interaction in the crew, work together with new technical specialists and adapt to the usual tyre partner Pirelli, who replaced last year’s Michelin.

The rally in Italy began with pre-start routine in Fiuggi, but antiviral restrictions for mass events have changed the way the Italian rally is going. This year, it became impossible for racers and fans to visit the seaside town of Ostia for the traditional pair race at the spectator special stage. The organizers of the Automobile Club d’Italia also adopted new rules in an effort to reduce costs and allowed to use the popular asphalt special stages located northwest of Fiuggi three times (not twice as it was before). Thus, the amount of unique roads was reduced to six sections or 82 kilometers of non-repeatable race distance. The total distance of the rally is 813.57 kilometers. On the first day, 26 July, there are 97 competitive kilometers of the narrow and bumpy special stages. And on Sunday the crews will be offered another 100 kilometers of racing tracks.

Alexey Lukyanuk, driver, “We are finally at the race! It was preceded by an incredibly long period of uncertainty, preparation to nothing, and expectation. Two weeks before the planned departure, we had no confidence that we would be able to participate for financial reasons. But, fortunately, literally the last moment good people were found, and now we are at the place of the race!

During the tests we finally saw how we cope with the updated car, how we interact with Dmitry in competitive conditions. We prepared a lot – there was a lot of work with on-board video recordings and notes of the past years. But the real tests added a lot of valuable information to this experience. We used our entire test mileage limit – we drove about 70 kilometers; unfortunately we didn’t have time to try everything we would like to, so we’re not sure yet that we’ve found the optimal settings, but it should be better than last year.

Almost all road sections are repeated – they are familiar and shortened compared to last year; some special stages are used three times, so the mileage for recce has been reduced. This is a kind of very easy mode. The notes fit well, we are using the old ones for the first time; we had to edit them quite a lot – this is a new experience.

I fell well in general, despite the eight-month break – I practically haven’t been sitting behind the wheel of a racing car since the rally in Hungary. I drove a little during the tests, working as a coach, but this is a completely different level. Nevertheless, I’m in good physical shape, the preparation during the period of self-isolation was quite intense and effective. I would like to check how it will show itself in real conditions”.

On Friday morning, the crews will have to pass the free races and the qualifying section. The first 15 crews of the lucky ones who have successfully classified will choose the starting positions for the first racing day; and starting from 5 pm, the rally Ceremonial start and the parade of participants will take place under the walls of the Castel Sant’Angelo in Rome.