Team MRF Tyres is back on gravel for the second round of the European Rally Championship with Craig Breen and Emil Lindholm taking on the gravel roads of Rally Liepaja this weekend.
The event, held in the region near Latvia’s west coast, will see the crews tackle 10 stages and 177 km of fast gravel roads, a different challenge from the tarmac of the opening round.
Both Team MRF Tyres crews have had an opportunity to get back behind the wheel between the opening round of the FIA ERC and this round in Latvia.
Lindholm and Korhonen came tantalisingly close to winning Italy’s Rally Città di Arezzo – Crete Senesi e Valtiberinaon for Team MRF Tyres.
The Finnish duo, running an older model Skoda Fabia R5 dominated the event, winning five of the six stages they completed, leading by 15 seconds with just one stage to go. A mechanical issue on the way to the final stage robbed them of certain victory.
However, the pace that the MRF Tyres showed on the Italian gravel provides great encouragement and momentum for the team. Meanwhile Breen and Nagle won Rally di Alba.
The Rally Liepaja roads offer the teams fast and flowing stages that fans of Scandinavian rallying will enjoy.
The action gets underway on Friday from 17:30 local time with the qualification stage and shakedown on the 4.61 km ‘Welcome to Latvia’ stage. The top 15 from that stage will then choose their starting positions for the rally proper.
Crews head north-east to Talsi for the Saturday action, which will see four stages and 90.21km of competitive action.
The first stage is a long one at 25.84 km and will be important for the drivers to push from the start in order to stay in the leading fight. The second stage is 17.45 km and will prove to be a challenge before the remote refuel in Talsi.
Bringing an end to leg one is SS3 at 21.38 km and SS4 at 25.54 km. Only four stages make up the day, but it is over half the competitive kilometres, so it will be a crucial day.
Sunday sees the final day of action and brings the crews return closer to Liepaja, this time for six stages, run in two loops. The stages are run in the same place but unlike on other rallies, they are not entirely repeated, presenting an extra challenge for the crews.
The first loop of stages (SS5, 6 and 7) will have 46.62 km of running, with SS7 being the longest at 18.11 km. The second loop is slightly shorter at 41.04 km as one stage, SS6, is cut from 12.06 km in the first loop to 6.48 km as SS9 for the second run.
The longer nature of the stages will prove an interesting test.
Rally Liepaja, this year running in the summer, was once a winter rally with Breen taking victory in 2015. However, the transition from snow and ice to warmer temperatures in the mid-to-late 20s sees gravel, meaning that experience does not translate to the 2020 Rally Liepaja event.
Though both drivers coming off good performances, the team is confident of a good result in Latvia.
But the focus, though remains on tyre development.
This is the second round in the FIA ERC for Team MRF Tyres competing as full season entries and gathering data for development of the tyres remains the crucial step.
Craig Breen (Driver, Team MRF Tyres, Hyundai i20 R5)
“We are quite happy with everything so far in testing for Rally Liepaja. We have to be on it from the first corner in Latvia with just 10 stages and the first one being so long. It has been a fair while since my last rally on gravel, so we need to go according to plan. It is obviously a very different profile road here to the last time out in Italy. I am looking forward to driving this car on gravel and to have a good weekend.”
“I am trying to pick up where we left off in Rome, to push myself, the car and the tyres. It is a completely different challenge. The roads here are very fast. The last time I was here was in 2015 when I won the winter version of this rally. This is different though and I am looking forward to it.”
“We are developing the gravel tyre and we have more development to do but I am happy with where it is and the direction it is going. We will be giving it our best this weekend.”