Rhys Yates will head to the opening round of the FIA European Rally Championship this week as he makes his debut in the series, kick starting one of the biggest seasons of his rallying career at Rallye Azores (22nd – 24th March).
The remote Portuguese island event will also mark the debut of his brand new Skoda Fabia R5 which has replaced the Ford Fiesta R5 that he successfully campaigned in his 2016 and 2017 British Championship assaults.
The 25-year old Chesterfield based driver has recently upgraded to the Skoda as he looks to further develop his skills as a front running British rally driver. Throughout his career, Yates has enjoyed success at all levels of the sport and the move to the Czech machine will further enhance his prospects as he tackles his third year in a four wheel drive machine.
With the opening round of the Prestone MSA Rally Championship cancelled due to the snow and ice which swept across the country, Yates now finds himself tackling the first event of year on the mid-Atlantic island, famed for its picturesque, mountainous stages.
The Brettex backed driver has recruited the services of Elliott Edmondson for the event and Yates will start the rally at number 18 seed, an impressive feat which sees an entry list of over 35 R5’s amongst the 77 car entry.
Despite not contesting an event since the Monza Rally Show in December, Yates has used the closed season to acclimatise to the new Fabia and made the trip to Sweden with the team to sample driving on the snow covered stages to hone his skills. He now feels ready for what is one of the biggest seasons of his career so far.
“We have had a really mega response to the new car and our expanded season’s plans this year so the pressure is on a little I guess, but I really do feel prepared for this year, more so than ever before” says Yates.
“We had our ups and downs last season but it ended really well in Monza. I felt it was time to move on from the Fiesta and the support and backing from Skoda Motorsport has been fantastic. This feels like it is the season to really push on and see what we can do.”
The European Rally Championship has been dubbed as one of the most competitive series in the world in recent times and Yates is well aware of the enormity of the task ahead.
“The last two years have been a steep learning curve in the British Championship but that has given me a great grounding and means I’m more than ready to take on challenging events such as Azores.
I know I’ve only been in the sport less than five years but I want to be progressive. The European series offers the chance to see just how I fare against a significant number of other R5 competitors and that’s important. I really can’t wait to get behind the wheel of the Skoda in anger and see how we get on; I’m looking forward to this one”.
Over 200km of special stages are on offer at the Azores Airlines Rally, spread across three days on the island.
Yates is sponsored by Brettex, Michelin Motorsport, Jordan Road Surfacing, Draper Tools, Rallynuts, Rainworth Skoda, Nicky Grist Motorsport, H&F Furniture and Protyre.