(9.05.2023) ORLEN 79th Rally Poland – round three of 2023 FIA ERC season is about to begin in nine days (19-21 May). WRC round winners, European and Polish champions, previous winners of the event and Rally Poland outings record-holders are among competitors who entered Polish ERC counter. The names of most famous entrants have been revealed today, during pre-event press conference in Warsaw.

As many as 84 rally crews decided to tackle fast, flowing Masurian gravel stages. Competitors from 25 countries are expected to come to Mikolajki (rally HQ), including remote locations like Mexico, New Zealand, Argentina, or Japan.

47 crews announced 4×4 cars, with 35 of them to use Rally2/R5 machinery, which are the fastest cars eligible in regional rallying. 64 crews are entitled to score points in ERC, while 34 target points in Polish championship.

Michal Sikora, President of Polish Automobile and Motorcycle Federation said:

– ORLEN 79th Rally Poland is a very important event, both for Polish ASN and whole rallying community. We are ahead of fantastic rally with impressive heritage. Running this event would not be possible without our partners, including PKN ORLEN, town of Mikolajki and Warmian–Masurian Voivodeship.

– Definitely, this is a special event for PKN ORLEN. Rally Poland has its firm place among the events we proudly support. Sponsorship is an important tool to make ORLEN brand even more recognizable around the world. ORLEN 79th Rally Poland is the most important motorsport event in our country. We are glad, because it brings a lot of joy to the fans and helps to promote qualities of our country, Masurian Lake District and to reach our business goals – said Agada Pniewska, Sponsorship Executive Director, PKN ORLEN.

– We are very happy to host Rally Poland in our region once again. Star-studded field of competitors and live coverage will provide an impressive, worldwide reach for Warmian–Masurian Voivodeship. Moreover, the date of ORLEN 79th Rally Poland is a perfect beginning of summer season – said Marcin Galibarczyk, Head of Sports, and Tourism Department in marshal’s office of Warmian–Masurian Voivodeship.

– As soon as Rally Poland ends, we start our preparations to run next edition of the event. Thanks to this effort I am more than sure that Mikolajki and Masurian Lake District are ready to host competitors and rally fans – commented Piotr Jakubowski, Mayor of Mikolajki.

Numerous top-contenders

The entry list of ORLEN 79th Rally Poland is studded with drivers able to win Polish ERC counter, beginning with experienced factory drivers and WRC round winners like Hayden Paddon (co-driver John Kennard, Hyundai i20 N Rally2) and Mads Ostberg (co-driver: Patrik Barth, Citroen C3 Rally2). Paddon comes to Poland to defend his lead in FIA ERC standings. New Zealander has two Rally Poland podium finishes under his belt (2016 and 2017), achieved when the event was part of WRC calendar.

Mikolaj Marczyk and Szymon Gospodarczyk, the winners of previous edition of Rally Poland, also joined the strong field of entrants. Two-time Polish rally champions will come to Mikolajki just after Rally de Portugal (12-14 May), round five of World Rally Championship.

Another crew which proved its pace on fast Masurian gravel stages are reigning Polish rally champions – Tom Kristensson and Andreas Johansson (Citroen C3 Rally2). In 2022 season only Marczyk and Gospodarczyk were faster than Swedish duo.

There are many more champions on entry list, including Efren Llarena, who clinched FIA ERC title last year (co-driver: Sara Fernandez, Skoda Fabia RS Rally2 evo) and Pontus Tidemand (co-driver: Julia Thulin, Ford Fiesta Rally2 evo). 32-year-old Swede won Junior WRC (2013), Asian-Pacific Rally Championship (2015) and WRC2 (2017) titles.

Mikko Heikkila and Valeri Samu (Skoda Fabia Rally2 evo) are considered as top contenders as well. Finnish rally champion made an impressive, yet disappointing start to his 2023 ERC campaign. He was leading 36th Rally Serras de Fafe overall standings until the penultimate stage. A puncture on final test of the event saw Finns drop to 8th overall.

Shall we not forget the reigning British champion Osian Pryce, who will cover ORLEN 79th Rally Poland stages together with experienced Belgian co-driver Stephane Prevot (Skoda Fabia Rally2 evo).

ORLEN 79th Rally Poland will be the season-opener for a young driver with very famous name – Max McRae. The grandson of Jimmy McRae, son of Alister and Colin’s nephew have chosen to drive Opel Corsa Rally4 and to fight in ERC Junior series. It is worth to mention that no one from McRae family have ever competed in Poland before.

ORLEN 79th Rally Poland entry list will be published on Thursday, 11th of May 2023.

Two champions, different challenges

Kajetan Kajetanowicz and Maciej Wislawski, who competed together in 2007 and 2008 seasons hold five Rally Poland victories in total. This year they are going to cover the route of Rally Poland, however in two, a bit different roles.

Kajetanowicz, three-time Rally Poland winner, will run in a course car (zero car). The first driver to win three ERC titles in a row will use Skoda Fabia RS Rally2 – the latest rally machinery from Mlada Boleslav, which will later use during Rally Italia de Sardegna (2-4 June). Kajetanowicz will be co-driven by Maciej Szczepaniak, who also has a Rally Poland victory under his belt (2006).

– I have a lot of great memories from my Rally Poland outings. I won here three times, in two different cars. Masurian gravel stages are one of the most spectacular and beautiful in the world. I want to drive fast, not forgetting about our responsible duties – said Kajetanowicz.

Meanwhile Maciej Wislawski is about to make his 29th outing in Rally Poland. Wislawski, famous yet humble co-driver from Skierniewice made his maiden start in this event nearly 50 years ago (1974). During ORLEN 79th Rally Poland Wislawski will compete together with Andrzej Kalitowicz in their Toyota Celica GT-4.

– Rally Poland is a unique event for me. I entered this event for a 29th time. Thanks to this rally I jumped to the next level of my rallying career. Having clinched 2nd place with Krzysztof Holowczyc back in 1995 and winning in 1996 we opened the next chapter. It was the first win for Polish crew in 20 years. This result opened many doors for us, making our ERC and WRC campaigns possible – said Wislawski.

New stages, new challenges

New challenges await Rally Poland competitors.

– Each year we pursue new possibilities and ideas to make Rally Poland even more challenging and to raise the level of competition. This year we introduce two new stages – Barczewo and Biskupiec. These are tests with good, hard gravel surface. I am pretty sure that both fans and competitors are going to like them – said Krzysztof Maciejewski, Clerk of the Course.

Event’s itinerary comprises 16 special stages, with total length of 182,6 kilometres.

The high-speed gravel battle in round three of 2023 FIA ERC will begin before opening ceremony, scheduled on Friday, 19th May, at 17:00 in Mikolajki. Before this, qualifying stage Baranowo (3,46 km) will be held. The results of qualifying runs are crucial in gravel events, as the fastest crews earn a right to choose starting position, which allows them to avoid sweeping loose gravel during leg one of the event. The first day of ORLEN 79th Rally Poland will be concluded with spectacular Mikolajki Arena test (2,5 km), where two crews compete simultaneously.

Saturday’s itinerary comprises four special stages, with three of them run twice. Loop will begin with SS Swietajno (18,58 km). The longest test in the rally will be followed by modified versions of SS Markowskie (13,53 km) and Wieliczki (17,35 km). Later, after service break nearby Golebiewski Hotel in Mikolajki, crews will tackle all three mentioned stages once again. Mikolajki Arena superspecial will conclude second day of ORLEN 79th Rally Poland.

Sunday in Polish ERC counter is packed with new challenges, with crews heading west of Mikolajki. The organisers prepared four stages, all run twice. The day will begin with two brand new stages: Barczewo (10,73 km) and Biskupiec (12,3 km). On their way back to Mikolajki competitors will cover SS Gmina Mragowo (9,4 km) and Mikolajki (6,68 km), which is a completely changed Mikolajki Max stage, known from previous editions of the event. Additional points will be awarded to five fastest crews on second pass of Gmina Mragowo test, held as Power Stage. Finish ceremony is scheduled for 18:15 at Main Square in Mikolajki.