Impressive start for the new European Rally Championship

What a great way to start a new year! While we wait for first event of new World Rally Championship season in Monte Carlo, we were treated to quite an epic battle on alpine roads of Austria. Jännerrallye joined European Rally Championship calendar last year, and once again it served as a season opener for ERC. It was also the first event of the new ERC format, since the series merged with IRC for this season.

As I said in one of my tweets, you cannot but love rally! Winter break is so short, drivers have barely the time to spend Christmas away from stages and then it’s all action again. If you add events such as Jännerrallye to the mix, there are no gaps at all. This year Jännerrallye had quite strong lineup, too bad Juho Hänninen was not around as well – I’m sure he would be right there with Jan Kopecky and Bryan Bouffier, fighting for the win. There was not as much snow as last year, but weather played it’s part this time around as well, with rain and fog taking the lead role while snow was there just to make things even more treachorous. Just check few onboard videos and you’ll know what I mean – these narrow roads are also quite fast as tarmac is very smooth (typical Austria with superb road infrastructure in even the remotest regions), so when you add some wet snow you end up with a 180 km/h skating ring. Rally drivers would call this a worthy Christmas present!

Jan Kopecky ultimately took victory by tiniest of margins over Bryan Bouffier. There wasn’t really anything between the two pilots, although let’s be fair and say Kopecky really showed true class and used his knowledge of the event to close the gaps when it looked almost impossible. My immediate thought was “this guy should get a chance in WRC”, but that can be said about so many drivers, and ultimately if ERC becomes strong in drivers terms I see no reason why winning races and titles in new ERC should not be treated with highest of respects.

Finally, huge applause goes out to everyone involved in bringing Jännerrallye to our computers, TV screens and radio airwaves. Countless tweets (and also replies, which I really appreciate because this is what interactivity is about!), daily TV reports, video highlights of the stages published only few hours after stage finished, great live radio show… just brilliant. What ERC and Eurosport Events did in Austria just proves how dynamic and well covered rally can be. Sure, there is room for improvements – from live TV stage(s) and a more prime-time slot for TV reports, to name a few. UPDATE: After hearing from few sources and then watching one reporty myself I must agree that there is plenty of room for improvement in commentary in daily reports on Eurosport – similar to last years Monte, it was… not quite there, so to speak.

One thing does bother me, though. Even though Eurosport did great job with Jännerrallye, that is also quite a problem. Even though it may seem that everyone and their cat have access to Eurosport these days, it’s not really the case. That leaves quite a bit of audience out in the cold – only workaround is to search for “pirated” online Eurosport video streams and choke under ton of spammy ads. I do understand that this is very hard issue to solve, impossible almost without huge investments, so there’s not much to do at the moment. Perhaps there is a light at the end of the tunnel though – if ERC proves to be a winning concept with wide variety of events and strong drivers, who knows, perhaps it can become interesting to investors and with that spreads to your usual terra-firma based TV.

Austrian event is behind us, and Monte Carlo is just around the corner. Jännerrallye was great, and team behind it did great job in bringing our faith back after difficult yet spectacular 2012 WRC season. I sincerely hope Monte Carlo and new WRC will take off strong and use as many resources as possible to spread the word and present the excitement of rallying to widest of audiences. At the same time, hopes are high for ERC as well – after years of stagnation it is finally time for this series to grow into strong championship – there are many talented drivers looking for a chance to compete in higher ranks, and ERC could and should be seen as the place to be.

Now, bring on Monte!