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Ace rallyist Craig Breen to lead for the brand's maiden ERC campaign
Big news coming in from the Team MRF Tyres camp: After years of success in the Asia Pacific Rally Championship that included nine titles, the brand is now set to compete in the European Rally Championship (ERC) which will start on July 24. This is the first time the Indian tyre company is competing in a full season of European rallying, with the move to the ERC itself coming in as a new challenge with the team hard at work developing tyres to compete across tarmac, gravel and snow, the usual conditions in European rallying.
Irish star Craig Breen will team up with Paul Nagle in the Team MRF Tyres Hyundai i20 R5, competing in each of the six rounds of the 2020 ERC season. Breen is no stranger to top-level rallying in Europe, with five ERC wins under his belt, as well as achieving podiums in the World Rally Championship.
Meanwhile, the Finnish duo of Emil Lindholm and Mikael Korhonen will drive the Team MRF Tyres Skoda Fabia R5 evo2 in the ERC1 category, taking a partial 2020 campaign. This arrangement will provide Team MRF Tyres with a mixture of experience and youth. Lindholm, for his part, is no rookie to the R5 machinery, as he currently leads the Finnish Championship, with two wins and a podium so far this year.
As mentioned, the 2020 ERC season will kick off with the Rally di Roma Capitale. The service park is Fiuggi, south of Rome, for a 200km blast across 15 Tarmac stages. This will be the first time MRF Tyres has competed on tarmac at the highest level of European rallying, and will have their work cut out for them, as they will face stiff competition from a whopping 87 crews signed up to rally in Rome.
The Team MRF Tyres crews will then move to Rally Liepaja (August 14-16) on the coast of Latvia for the second round. Ten gravel stages will greet the crews for 180km of rally action, with the third round, the Azores Rallye (September 17-19), taking place on the Portuguese island of Sao Miguel in the Atlantic Ocean. Round four will take the crews to another island rally, this time the rough gravel roads in Cyprus (October 16-18). MRF Tyres competed in this rally in 2019, achieving a podium with Mikko Hirvonen as the team prepared for 2020.
The final two rounds of the Championship are scheduled to take place in November. Rally Hungary will take place on the first weekend (November 6-8) before the Spanish Rally Islas Canarias (November 26-28) will decide the champion of the 2020 European Rally Championship.
Overall, the season sees three gravel rallies and three tarmac rallies and will present a challenge for Team MRF Tyres in the ultra-competitive championship.
Talking on his experiences with the car and the team, Craig Breen, driving the Team MRF Tyres Hyundai i20 R5 said, “I am excited to get behind the wheel of the Team MRF Tyres Hyundai i20 R5. I think we can agree it is a great looking car! We started testing at the end of last year. This year, except for the lockdown, we had been testing extensively. We have done one rally in Finland for the Finnish championship and we got on the podium there. For sure, there are some exciting plans, a lot of work and a lot of testing. We hope to make the tyre better and better and prove the talent behind Team MRF Tyres and this challenge.”
Emil Lindholm, driving the Team MRF Tyres Skoda Fabia R5 evo2 added, “It’s great to be back behind the wheel after a five-month break. It’s interesting to start the summer season from tarmac rally but then again, this year has been quite extraordinary so far. I have had a chance to drive with the MRF tyre once before. It felt good considering it is on the beginning of its development. Hyundai’s Craig Breen is driving as the tyre manufacturers’ driver in the same rallies. It’s great that a really good professional driver drives the same tyre so I can compare my speed to him. I am looking forward to getting in the car on the Italian stages.”
Speaking about Team MRF Tyres’ foray into the ERC, Arun Mammen, Vice-Chairman and MD, MRF Tyres, said, “We are happy to see MRF Tyres progress to compete at the highest level of rallying in Europe with the European Rally Championship. We know the road ahead is filled with challenges which we shall strive to overcome, but this is a start for us in this competitive arena. We, at MRF Tyres, along with our partners in this journey are committed to the development of our product and learning about our competition. After our success at the APRC level with our nine titles, it is natural for MRF Tyres to aim higher with the European Rally Championship. These are the next steps for us as India’s motorsport pioneers. I wish the team the best of luck for the 2020 season.”