The season-opening round of the FIA European Rally Championship, V-Híd Rally Hungary, was exciting until the last metres, with Simone Tempestini, Mathieu Franceschi and Miklós Csomós celebrating on the podium.

The race is over only at the finish – a golden rule that has been proven once again. But what happened on Rally Hungary held around Veszprém on gravel stages, is a rarity even by rally standard: the overall leader changed seven times in the 13 stages – and five different drivers led the race at one point.

It was a tough rally, rocky, dusty, tiring – and anyone who aspired to win had to stay focused throughout the whole race. Surely many drivers wanted to win. At the end of Saturday, two Toyotas were in the lead, but both were forced to retire on Sunday: first Mikko Heikkilä’s left front wheel blew out, and then Martins Sesks crashed out two stages before the end of the race after sliding into the bank.

Then came Simone Tempestini, who had not only never won a European Championship race, but had never been on the podium either – so he was keen to hold on to the lead. And he succeeded, which filled him with a joy beyond earth.

“This is my first ERC race with this car and we won it! It’s almost unbelievable,” said eight-time Romanian champion Tempestini happily at the finish. “It was a very difficult race, it was easy to make mistakes, but luckily things went very well for us. We stayed focused throughout and that paid off.”

Tempestini eventually won by 17 seconds ahead of Mathieu Franceschi, who had the most stage wins overall (five), but was never in real contention for victory because he rolled over and had a puncture in the second stage on Saturday and lost a minute. This second place certainly made up for the bitterness of the crash.

“We tried to hurry as much as we could while taking care of the car and the tyres. Without the roll-over we could have finished higher, but that’s part of the package – we’re very happy,” said Franceschi.

Hungarian fans’ favourite Miklós Csomós had settled with fourth place for a few seconds at the end of the final stage, but then came another unexpected twist: defending European Champion Hayden Paddon had suffered a puncture halfway down the stage, which caused him to lose so much time that he slipped back to fourth.

So Csomós could take the podium in his home race!

The fans celebrated in ecstasy.

“It was a very difficult but very good rally,” said Csomós at the finish. “We have had a varied race, which of course, we did not get through without problems, for example today I hit the back of the car in the shooting range, we were thrown off the curb in a left-hand bend and the tie-rod was bent. Fortunately, we went to the service park then, where the team did a great job. By the end we were completely out of tyres and I didn’t think we could move up, but we did, which I’m very happy about.”

With this result Csomós also took first place in the National Rally Championship standings, behind him Frigyes Turán and Martin László scored valuable points in second and third places.

The ERC series will continue in the Canary Islands on 2-4 May – Rally Islas Canarias will be the first of five asphalt races this season.


Overall classification: 1. Simone Tempestini, Sergiu Itu (Romanian, Skoda Fabia R5) 1:52:50.4, 2. Mathieu Franceschi, Andy Malfoy (French, Skoda Fabia R5) +17.0 sec, 3. Miklós Csomós, Attila Nagy (Hungarian, Skoda Fabia Evo) +29.9 sec.