Chris Ingram is happiest of all when driving on gravel, so the Peugeot UK junior rally star heads to round three of the 2015 FIA European Junior Rally Championship, the SATA Rallye Azores (4-6 June) with high hopes of another excellent result.
The talented 20-year-old Manchester-based driver will arrive on the mid-Atlantic archipelago second in the ERC Junior standings, having taken his Peueot 208 ‘R2’ rally car to excellent points-scoring results on the snow of Rally Liepāja in Latvia and the fast Tarmac of the Circuit of Ireland Rally.
Most of Ingram’s early rallying was done in the forests of Great Britain and now, together with co-driver Gabin Moreau, he fancies his chances of taking his first ERC Junior victory in the rapid Peugeot UK, Peugeot Financial Services and TOTAL Lubricants supported 208.
Even in rallying terms, the Azores is a spectacular venue. São Miguel, nicknamed the Green Island, is a picturesque island located 930 miles west of Portugal and 2,400 miles east of North America, with a dramatic coastline, high mountains and a stunning signature stage, Sete Cidades, running around the rim of a volcanic crater. It’s a favourite event for many drivers, owing to the island’s breath-taking scenery and its challenging stages, which traverse lush countryside – with many of the stages lined by the colourful Azorean hydrangea bushes, making it one of the most beautiful events in the ERC.
Speaking ahead of Rally Azores, Chris commented: “After a snow rally in Latvia, which is a surface I don’t get to drive on very often, and an asphalt rally in Ireland, I am really looking forward to the Azores, which is the first gravel rally of the season. Having started my rally career doing rallies in the Welsh forests, I have more experience on gravel than any other surface, and consider myself a bit more of a loose surface specialist than a Tarmac one.”
“The Azores is the best rally in the ERC. You don’t get stages like it anywhere else in the world – twisty, fast, narrow, demanding and all in the most stunning scenery. And then there is Sete Cidades, for me the best stage in the whole ERC by far.”
“We finished second in Azores last year, beaten only by Stéphane Lefebvre, who went on to become ERC Junior champion, so we take a lot of confidence to this year’s event because of that. That is also my best ERC Junior finish to date, so I’d obviously like to go one better and win this time.”
“As the stages are so twisty, with a lot of uphill sections where finding traction is difficult, the average speed of Rally Azores is a lot slower than other rallies. That will suit our Peugeot 208 R2 very well, as the car has a fantastic chassis, changes direction very well and is good at finding grip.”
“I’m confident we can go to the Azores and be very competitive. We’re second in the ERC Junior championship at the moment, and if we can score a podium finish on all the remaining rounds, that will be very good for our title hopes. It’s time to push for a win.”
Based in the town of Ponta Delgada, this year’s SATA Rallye Azores is celebrating its 50th anniversary – having run for the first time in 1965 – and contains 17 special stages totalling 135 miles. Action begins on Thursday 4th June with three early evening stages, before the first full day of competition the following day. Friday’s route contains eight stages, featuring two runs over the daunting Sete Cidades test which, at 18 miles, is the longest of the event. The final day of competition takes place on Saturday 6th June and has a further six stages totalling 63 miles, before the finish in Ponta Delgada at 19.00 local time (20.00 BST).