It's 55th Azores Rallye week. Here are just some of the talking points ahead of round five of the 2021 FIA European Rally Championship.
*Andreas Mikkelsencouldn’t be happier ahead of his Azores Rallye return for the first time since his victorious outing in 2012. He describes the event as “one of my absolute favourite rallies in the world” and heads the FIA European Rally Championship standings after four rounds. Driving a Škoda Fabia Rally2 Evo for Toksport WRT, Mikkelsen has called up British co-driverElliott Edmondsonto guide him through the spectacular stages.

*Mikkelsen’s rise to the top of the ERC table was eased whenAlexey Lukyanuk(Citroen C3 Rally2) was unable to start the last round in Czech Republic following a car-wrecking testing crash. A repeat of his 2018 victory will reignite the Russian’s title ambitions, the Saintéloc Junior Team driver is currently 30 points behind Mikkelsen.

*ORLEN Team’sMiko Marczyk, the 2019 Polish champion, makes his Azores debut second in the points 19 adrift of Mikkelsen but only two ahead of Rallye Team Spain’sEfrén Llarena, who took an ERC3/ERC Junior double on the Azores Rallye two years ago.

*Norbert Herczig(Škoda Rally Team Hungaria, pictured) is fifth in the standings but equal on points with Lukyanuk and continues to show impressive form in his Fabia Rally2 Evo, also the car of choice for Azores newcomerNil Solans(Rallye Team Spain), last season’s Spanish Gravel champion.

*Erik Caiscan count on Azores experience gained from his debut in 2019, although the Czech visited São Miguel last September having already booked his flight tickets prior to the rally’s cancellation due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Cais, 22, was on course to return to the Azores an ERC winner only to crash out on the final stage of Barum Czech Rally Zlín. But having come so close to a first ERC victory on the last round, the Yacco ACCR Team driver most now show his pace on gravel aboard his Ford Fiesta Rally2.

*World Rally Championship event winnerDani Sordohas been recruited by Team MRF Tyres for its ongoing tyre development programme, which Jari Huttunen and former Azores winner Craig Breen have also contributed to in 2021. Although Sordo and Team MRF Tyres are new to the Azores Rallye,Cándido Carreraco-drove José Antonio Suárez on the event in 2011 and 2017, while Breen scored a podium for the Team MRF Tyres on the last gravel-based round of the ERC, July’s Rally Liepāja.

*Yoann Bonato(CHL Sport Auto Citroën) andUmberto Scandola(Hyundai Rally Team Italia) are preparing to sample the Azorean stages for the first time but are known quantities on loose surfaces.

*Home heroRicardo Mourais a 10-time Azorean champion and scored a memorable Azores Rallye victory in 2016.Luis Regois another rapid local driver aiming for the top, while their fellow islander,Rafael Botelho, makes his ERC debut 18 months later than originally planned following last year’s cancellation.

*Bruno Amaral,Aloísio Monteiro,Ruben Rodriguesand emerging talentPedro Antunes, an ERC3 Junior graduate who is in his first season at Rally2 level, are also flying the Portuguese flag on their home round of the ERC.

*Rachele Somaschini, one of four ERC-MICHELIN Talent Factory members in action, has described her Azores debut as a “dream come true”. As well as building her limited experience behind the wheel of her Citroën C3 Rally2, the Italian will use the event to promote #CorrerePerUnRespiro (Race for a Breath), which aims to raise awareness of cystic fibrosis, a condition from which she suffers.

*Daniel Dymurski, who co-drove Łukasz Habaj to Azores glory in 2019, returns to partner fellow PoleIgor Widłakin a Ford Fiesta Rally3.

*After scoring points on his ERC debut on ORLEN 77th Rally Poland in June,Adrian Chwietczukmakes his second start in the FIA European Rally Championship. But while the Azores is all-new for the Polish promise, co-driverJarek Baranpartnered Kajetan Kajetanowicz on four previous starts in Ponta Delgada, claiming two podium finishes.

*Luis Vilariñoclaimed top-15 finish on his last ERC appearance in Czech Republic and will look to build on that performance when he competes in the Azores for the first time.

*Having achieved success in the World Rally Championship,Benito Guerramakes his ERC debut on the Azores Rallye, the rapid Mexican set to compete in a Škoda Fabia Rally2 Evo.

*The ERC2 line-up features four drivers in Rally2 Kit cars,Victor Cartier(Toyota Yaris Rally2 Kit), plusDmitry Feofanovand Suzuki Motor Ibérica pairJavier PardoandJoan Vinyes, who will all drive the Suzuki Swift Rally2 Kit.

*Points leaderPep Bassas(Peugeot 208 Rally4) will battle Renault Clio Rally4 driversJean-Baptise FranceschiandOla Jr Norefor ERC3 honours. None of this exciting trio have competed in the Azores before making it a level playing field.
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