Based on the mid-Atlantic archipelago’s largest island of São Miguel from 2-4 June, the rally possesses a rich history and an exciting future with a new name for this year to reflect renewed title sponsorship from national carrier and long-term partner Azores Airlines.
While the event name might have been altered, the challenge of the stunning stages remains undiminished, with 16 timed tests criss-crossing the breath-taking scenery and lush countryside over the next three days and covering a competitive distance of 215.53 kilometres.
Characterised by their sandy surface and narrow and undulating nature, the stages are often no wider than the width of a car, meaning there is simply no margin for error, particularly on the sensational Sete Cidades stage in the northwest of the island, which includes a charge along the rim of a volcanic crater lake. Changeable weather is also a factor due to the ocean climate with conditions switching from sunshine to showers and fog thrown in for good measure. While the event is ranked as a gravel contest, 11 per cent of the competitive route uses asphalt roads.
First run in 1965, the event was first included on the ERC schedule in 1992 before returning to the roster in 2013. This year’s running, the 51st, includes no fewer than 27 top-of-the-range R5 cars, plus a strong contingent from the FIA ERC Junior Championship, of which the Azores Airlines Rallye counts as the second event of the season.
Following Wednesday’s spectacular City Show, a demonstration event along the Ponta Delgada promenade, the competitive action begins at 10h03 local time on Thursday 2 June with the Qualifying Stage when the fastest 15 drivers will choose their starting position for the opening four-stage leg from 15h00 on Thursday.
Friday’s route is made up of six stages, including two runs of Sete Cidades. The action draws to a close on Saturday evening following a further six stages with the finish podium set for 19h10.
Kajetan Kajetanowicz (reigning ERC champion): “I have an affection for many rallies, I like a lot of rallies very much, but I miss driving in the Azores not just after coming back to Poland, but already when we cross the ceremonial finish ramp at the end of this event. If you want to see this sport in a nutshell and learn as much as possible during a single rally, you should visit or compete in the Azores. On this small but picturesque island of Sao Miguel we face changeable grip levels on volcanic gravel, we check the precision of driving on narrow roads, we experience the capricious weather and test the accuracy of our pace notes, required when we drive at high speed into thick fog. This is when long hours of training and litres of sweat in the gym pay off – I need such preparation, so that my body could work fast and hard, and my brain could maintain focus on the highest revs. Fierce competition in these conditions is a very tasty feast for the fans. It is great that thanks to the efforts of partners and members of the LOTOS Rally Team I can fight for victory in the amazing scenery of the Azores. Together with other competitors we create a spectacular advertisement of the sport which I love so much.”
1 Kajetan Kajetanowicz (POL)/Jaroslaw Baran (POL) Ford Fiesta R5
2 Alexey Lukyanuk (RUS)/Alexey Arnautov (RUS) Ford Fiesta R5
3 Ralfs Sirmacis (LVA)/Arturs Simins (LVA) Skoda Fabia R5
4 Jaroslaw Koltun (POL)/Ireneusz Pleskot (POL) Ford Fiesta R5
5 Raul Jeets (EST)/Andrus Toom (EST) Skoda Fabia R5
6 Robert Consani (FRA)/Renaud Jamoul (BEL) Citroen DS3 R5
7 Tomasz Kasperczyk (POL)/Damian Syty (POL) Ford Fiesta R5
8 Antonin Tlustak (CZE)/Ladislav Kucera (CZE) Skoda Fabia R5
9 Giacomo Costenaro (ITA)/Justin Bardini (ITA) Peugeot 208 T16
10 David Botka (HUN)/Peter Szeles (HUN) Citroen DS3 R5
Top Portuguese entrants
14 Jose Pedro Fontes (PRT)/Ines Ponte (PRT) Citroen DS3 R5
15 Pedro Meirelas (PRT)/Mario Castro (PRT) Skoda Fabia R5
16 Joao Barros (PRT)/Jorge Henriques (PRT) Ford Fiesta R5
17 Miguel Barbosa (PRT)/Miguel Ramalho (PRT) Skoda Fabia R5
18 Ricardo Moura (PRT)/Antonio Costa (PRT) Ford Fiesta R5
Wednesday 1 June
19h00: City Show (Ponta Delgada)
Thursday 2 June
10h00: Qualifying Stage (Remedios – Lagoa)
13h00: Start order selection (Portas do Mar)
13h25: FIA Action for Road Safety photocall (Portas do Mar)
13h30: Pre-event press conference (Media Centre)
15h00: Start of leg one
Friday 3 June
09h45: Re-start of leg one
21h00: Finish of leg one
Saturday 4 June
08h30: Start of leg two
19h10: Finish of the rally/podium ceremony (Praca Goncala Velho)
19h35: Post-event press conference
2015: Craig Breen/Scott Martin (Peugeot 208 T16)
2014: Bernardo Sousa/Hugo Magalhaes (Ford Fiesta RRC)
2013: Jan Kopecky/Pavel Dresler (Skoda Fabia S2000)
2012: Andreas Mikkelsen/Ola Floene (Skoda Fabia S2000)
2011: Juho Hanninen/Mikko Markkula (Skoda Fabia S2000)