Mads Østberg has taken victory at Rally Hungary, the final round of the 2023 European Rally Championship.
Co-driven by Patrik Barth in a Pirelli-equipped Citroën C3 Rally2, Østberg was in second place when long-time leader Miklós Csomós crashed out of his home round of the ERC on the penultimate stage.
Hungarian champion Ferenc Vincze finished second in a Hankook-equipped Škoda Fabia Rally2 Evo with Mārtiṇš Sesks landing his maiden ERC podium on asphalt in third for Team MRF Tyres.
Meanwhile, the three-way battle for FIA Junior ERC Championship title glory ended in Norbert Maior’s favour, the Romanian securing a fully-funded ride in the 2024 FIA Junior WRC Championship as his reward.
Sunday’s four-stage leg began from Nyíregyháza under a threat of rain as dark clouds covered parts of the competitive route in Hungary’s Zemplén region.
By winning the opening Óhuta-Fony test, Csomós was able to extend his overnight lead to 23.5sec, only for a damaged front-right tyre on the following Sárga Borház stage causing a spin, meaning he was 21.3sec slower than stage pacesetter Sesks.
Csomós goes off while leading
It then went from bad to worse for Csomós on the next stage when he went off at high speed one kilometre into SS11.
Although Csomós and co-driver Viktor Bán were uninjured, their stunning run was at an end just as a sensational maiden ERC victory seemed a formality.
“We slid out in a left-hander, a small tree was hanging in and it overturned us,” said Csomós, who had relied on crowdfunding to kickstart his ERC season following a car-wrecking crash on Rally Islas Canarias in May. “We tried to get down the last two stages safely. I am very disappointed, and I can’t say more now.”
With Csomós out, Østberg was left with a lead of 8.9sec over Hungarian champion Ferenc Vincze to preserve through the Power Stage, which he won to secure five bonus points and win his second Rally Hungary by 12.8sec.
“It’s really amazing to be honest,” said the 35-year-old Norwegian. “It’s been a really hard season so to end the season like this is really good. We’ve enjoyed the rally so much, the car has worked well and even with the rough conditions we found here we didn’t have a lot of issues so it’s been an incredible weekend and I’m so, so happy for our rally.
“At the same time I’m very happy for Mixi [Csomós]. He was flying this time, we tried to keep pressure on him all weekend but, unfortunately, he seemed to go off the road.
“But we are happy with our race, it was a good performance and I’m very happy to end the season like this.”
Østberg secures ERC podium with victory
His success in Hungary secures third in the provisional championship standings behind Mārtiṇš Sesks and 2023 title winner Hayden Paddon.
Yoann Bonato hit back from an off on Saturday afternoon to finish fourth with 2019 Rally Hungary winner Frigyes Turán fifth and Erik Cais sixth. Cais was in fourth until tyre damage on SS10 dropped him back.
Gábor Német was seventh on his first start in the ERC in a Rally2 car. Martin László took eighth despite completing SS10 with a damaged front-right tyre, while Mathieu Franceschi and Efrén Llarena recovered from early delays to finish ninth and 10th respectively.
Norbert Michelisz, the winner of the 2019 FIA World Touring Car Cup, impressed on his rallying debut in 13th position driving a Hyundai i20 N Rally2.
ERC Rally Hungary 2023 – Results
|#||Drivers||Car||Time / Diff. to 1st|
|1.||Østberg / Barth||Citroën C3 Rally2||1:37:40.2|
|2.||Vincze / Percze||Skoda Fabia Rally2 Evo||+12.8|
|3.||Sesks / Francis||Skoda Fabia RS Rally2||+1:26.2|
|4.||Bonato / Boulloud||Citroën C3 Rally2||+1:46.0|
|5.||Turán / Farnadi||Volkswagen Polo GTI R5||+2:06.1|
|6.||Cais / Bacigál||Skoda Fabia RS Rally2||+3:06.8|
|7.||Német / Német||Hyundai i20 N Rally2||+3:30.1|
|8.||László / Berendi||Skoda Fabia Rally2 Evo||+4:44.5|
|9.||Franceschi / Manzo||Skoda Fabia RS Rally2||+5:39.0|
|10.||Llarena / Fernández||Skoda Fabia R5||+5:40.2|
ERC 2023 Drivers’ Championship – Standings after Round 8/8 [Top 10]
Photo, text: Red Bull Content Pool