The importance of the role performed by the FIA ERC Junior Championship in developing future champions has been underlined by confirmation that Opel Motorsport will contest the series for a fourth season running in 2017, entering a three-car line-up of rallying talents in the new ERC Junior Under 27 division for drivers in R2 cars on Pirelli tyres.
Jari Huttunen, Chris Ingram and Tamara Molinaro will contest the six-round young driver training category in ADAM R2s as the factory Opel squad aims for a third consecutive ERC Junior title following in the wheel tracks of Emil Bergkvist (2015) and Marijan Griebel (2016).
Huttunen’s drive is his prize for winning the Germany-based ADAC Opel Rallye Cup in 2016, the 22-year-old Finn taking six victories from seven starts. A protégé of double world champion Marcus Grönholm, Huttunen will compete under the ADAC Opel Rallye Junior Team banner alongside co-driver and fellow Finn Antti Linnaketo, 37.
After narrowly losing out to Griebel in the chase for last season’s ERC Junior crown, British prospect Ingram is back for a fourth season in the championship when he will be a leading contender to claim the top prize – a fund of 100,000 Euros to use for an assault on the ERC Junior U28 Championship for R5 cars in 2018. The 22-year-old claimed the FIA ERC3 title in 2016 and will extend his partnership with British co-driver Elliott Edmondson, also 22.
For Italian Molinaro, confirmation of the 19-year-old Italian’s ERC Junior U27 campaign represents another important step following a training season at the wheel of an ADAM R2 last year.
Her programme is a collaboration between Opel, Pirelli and Red Bull and will offer another opportunity for the Italian to build her competition experience. Austrian Ursula Mayrhofer, 32, will co-drive.
“After two consecutive ERC Junior Championship titles, the Opel Rallye Junior Team is certainly under pressure as the favourite,” said Opel Motorsport Director Jörg Schrott.
“But we are more than happy to take on this challenge and our new team has a great mix of different driving backgrounds and different characters.
In spite of his youth, Chris already has a lot of international experience, Jari proved his enormous talent in the ADAC Opel Rallye Cup, and Tamara is at the beginning of her rally career. It will be exciting to see what the three make of their different starting points.”
Jean-Baptiste Ley, the ERC Co-ordinator, welcomed Opel’s continued participation in ERC Junior. He said: “The involvement of a factory team in ERC Junior not only provides a benchmark for other youngsters to aim at, it’s also helping promising drivers to showcase their talents at an international level.”
The ERC Junior U27 Championship takes place over six rounds with the gravel-based Azores Airlines Rallye opening the season from 30 March-1 April. Rally Islas Canarias (4-6 May) is the first of four all-asphalt events and is followed by Rally Rzeszow (Poland, 3-5 August), Barum Czech Rally Zlín (25-27 August) and Rally di Roma Capitale (Italy, 15-17 September). The all-gravel Rally Liepāja in Latvia concludes the season from 6-8 October.