Efrén Llarena will have a tough fight on his hands as he bids to extend his FIA European Rally Championship (ERC) lead at Orlen 78th Rally Poland this week (11 – 12 June).
The Team MRF Tyres Škoda Fabia Rally2 Evo driver holds a five-point advantage over nearest challenger Nil Solans, who won the previous round at Rally Islas Canarias.
Solans has entered his usual Volkswagen Polo GTI R5, although it’s understood he is still trying to finalise a last-minute deal to make the start. Whatever happens, Llarena won’t have it easy.
There are a host of championship regulars threatening to upset his rhythm, plus a number of new and returning drivers also more than capable of battling for glory.
They include local hero Miko Marczyk, who finished third in last year’s championship with a Fabia, plus former FIA Junior WRC champion Tom Kristensson in a Hyundai i20 R5. Filip Mareš – the 2019 ERC1 Junior champion – is also making his first start of the season in a Škoda.
“There will be a lot of Polish drivers and they will be very fast,” mused Llarena.
“Miko Marczyk did an amazing rally last year and finished third overall, but there are also guys like Tom Kristensson and Filip Mareš who will be pushing, so I think that the fight for the podium will be very tough.
“Right now, we are not thinking too much about the championship. We’re just taking things step by step, rally by rally. For sure, we will fight, and I hope we can have the pace for the podium,” he added.
Llarena’s MRF Tyres squad will debut an expanded line-up with Javier Pardo joining Simone Campedelli and Norbert Herczig to complete a quartet of top-flight Škodas. Latvian youngster Mārtiņš Sesks will also drive for the team with an ERC Open category Fabia Rally2 Kit car.
The 52-car entry also includes series regulars Simone Tempestini, Alberto Battistolli and Grzegorz Grzyb will each pilot Škoda cars, while the ever-pacey Ken Torn returns to the series with a Ford Fiesta Rally2 after retiring from the opening two rounds.
The rally starts in Mikołajki on Friday evening ahead of two days of competition on rapid gravel roads with many tricky crests and jumps. The 14 stages cover 188.10km.