Armstrong shows Rally3’s giant-killing potential in Azores

Jon Armstrong and Brian Hoy continued their eye-catching start to 2022 with an impressive European Rally Championship performance on the Azores Rally.

The Northern Irish duo set a string of stunning top ten times overall in M-Sport Poland’s Ford Fiesta Rally3. Armstrong was consistently quicker than several of ERC’s Rally2 regulars despite driving a car one tier lower than his rivals.

What Armstrong’s Rally3 Fiesta lacked in outright power was made up for in his commitment to co-driver Hoy’s pacenotes.

Damage from a water splash on Stage 3 put them out of contention for a strong overall finish but Armstrong and Hoy returned on Sunday to further showcase Rally3’s potential. Their time on Stage 8 was less than a second per kilometre slower than stage-winner and Rally2 Fiesta driver Ken Torn.

“It was a really good weekend,” reflected Armstrong. “The goal was to get more experience of the Rally3 car on tough, gravel events.

“Azores Rally is a special event and the people there are amazing as well. It was so nice to go back and have another attempt at the rally.

“To be performing so well was brilliant and I think we put on one of the best performances of the rally which is always a nice feeling.

“It was a shame about the water splash, it is another lesson learned that we need to be a bit more careful with those in the future.

“On the recce the water level was quite low but after a lot of rain earlier that morning the river stream had got very high, damaging the car.

“The M-Sport Poland team repaired the car and we were able to set more good times on Sunday.

“It was a great test event and I think we showed the pace of ourselves and the Rally3 car.”

Despite their troubles on Saturday, Armstrong and Hoy managed to win the ERC3 category, Armstrong’s second Rally3 success in ERC. He won ERC Junior on last year’s Rally Poland.

Looking back on Azores’ unique stages, the 27-year-old could see how he was able to overachieve in terms of stage-times throughout the event.

Azores’ blind corners and mix of uphill and downhill sections demanded precise pacenotes and considerable concentration through each test.

“Azores is very technical and narrow. It seemed to suit the Rally3 car. In slippery conditions the Rally3 car has less power but it feels like it has really nice traction.

“On the downhill sections we were able to make up some time but on the uphill sections it didn’t suit us so well.

“It is nice to show that the car can mix it with the higher spec Rally2 cars when you are pushing.”

Armstrong returns to World Rally Championship action in April as he bids to retain his Junior WRC Croatia Rally victory. Croatia marks Junior WRC’s second round of 2022 with Armstrong and Hoy leading the standings after winning Rally Sweden’s opener.

Croatia Rally is based in Zagreb and takes place across 20 stages on 21-24 April.

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Photos by Flatout Media Agency