Safari Rally Kenya 2024 – Day Three Report – Sunday

The final day then for this year on the amazing roads in Kenya and the crews faced 74km’s over six stages. Gregoire Munster returned to the action and would open the road throughout the final day.

First up was the super rough SS14 Malewa 1 – 8.33 km, a stage with not just rocks but also bedrock throughout the stage, between sandy sections. Thierry was fastest from his teammate, Ott and Esapekka. Both Takamoto and Esapekka suffered punctures in the stage though. In WRC2 Gus was fastest from Oliver and Kajetan and the three remained in the top positions in the category.

Into SS15 Oserian 1 – 18.33 km, which was not only longer, but also faster. Elfyn was quickest from Ott and Thierry. Oliver was again fastest in WRC2 from Gus and Nicolas. The Brit was feeling much better today and managing his pace on the stage.

The final morning stage then, SS16 Hell’s Gate 1 – 10.53 km a well-known stage and is super-fast as well. Elfyn was fastest in the stage from Ott and Takamoto. There was drama for Thierry as he hit a very, very large rock in the stage, breaking his right-rear suspension. Once again Oliver was fastest from Gus and Nicolas in WRC2.

After the service break it was back to SS17 Malewa 2 – 8.33 km and Thierry was again fastest from his teammates Ott and Esapekka. Elfyn lost a huge amount of time but was taking it easy over the rocky roads. In WRC2 Oliver was again fastest from Gus and Charles Munster.

The second run of SS18 Oserian 2 – 18.33 km saw Ott go fastest from Thierry and Esapekka, whilst Elfyn lost a huge amount of time which was odd given that he was fastest in the stage earlier. Oliver was again fastest from Gus and Nicolas in WRC2.

Time then for the final stage, SS19 Hell’s Gate 2[Power Stage] – 10.53 km and Thierry was fastest from Ott, Esapekka, Kalle and Elfyn. It was a surprise to see Kalle set a time that ultimately put him ahead of Elfyn in the power stage points, but of course the crews do not get the split times in the cars and have not for some time. In WRC2 Oliver was fastest from Gus and Kajetan.

Let’s take a look at the top ten and hear from the drivers.

Final Overall Classification – Safari Rally Kenya

1 K. Rovanperä J. Halttunen Toyota GR Yaris Rally1 Hybrid 3:36.04.0
2 T. Katsuta A. Johnston Toyota GR Yaris Rally1 Hybrid +1:37.8
3 A. Fourmaux A. Coria Ford Puma Rally1 Hybrid +2:25.1
4 E. Evans S. Martin Toyota GR Yaris Rally1 Hybrid +4:20.2
5 T. Neuville M. Wydaeghe Hyundai i20 N Rally1 Hybrid +10:17.5
6 G. Greensmith J. Andersson Škoda Fabia RS +18:05.4
7 O. Solberg E. Edmondson Škoda Fabia RS +19:28.5
8 O. Tänak M. Järveoja Hyundai i20 N Rally1 Hybrid +21:02.0
9 J. Serderidis F. Miclotte Ford Puma Rally1 Hybrid +26:13.3
10 K. Kajetanowicz M. Szczepaniak Škoda Fabia RS +26:34.4

Toyota Gazoo Racing WRT

Kalle Rovanperä

“It’s special to be able to win the Safari for the second time. This event is so tough and it’s also a legendary one for Toyota: we have always been good here and we are still continuing that record. Like they say in Africa, the car in front is always a Toyota. A big thanks to the team, because everybody made a big effort to make the car work so well. I think we did a good job, I think you cannot do a better Safari than what we did, with no issues and clever driving. Today was difficult, having to drive the roughest stage on the calendar twice when you have a huge lead, trying to avoid everything, it’s not easy. We just needed to stick to the plan, and it worked out.”

Takamoto Katsuta

“It’s a very nice feeling to achieve this second place and to be on the podium again in Kenya. It was a tough rally like always, so we need to say a huge thanks to the team because they prepared very well, and the car was working so well. I made some mistakes yesterday and we got the punctures, but I could always trust the car. When we needed to push, we were able to push, and the times were good. Reliability is a strong point for Toyota and I’m very proud to drive this car.”

Elfyn Evans

“It’s not been an easy weekend for us. At least we could reach the end of the rally, which is a positive thing, but we wanted more from this weekend. Today we had good speed at points but there were just a few little issues, so we didn’t get as many points as we’d like. The first loop was not easy: the opening stage was extremely rough, and we were probably too conservative there compared to the others. In the Power Stage we gave it a go but already in the first half it was very difficult.”

 

Hyundai Motorsport

Thierry Neuville

“A good weekend, but for sure we could have done better. Unfortunately, we got hit by some problems but despite this, we kept fighting. Today there was an opportunity to take loads of points – we scored 11 out of 12, so we’re satisfied to be the second-best performer today. We would have loved to get more, especially after three consecutive difficult years here in Kenya. Still room for improvement but we have managed to increase the lead in the championship and got a good road position for Croatia. On to the next one!”

2024 FIA World Rally Championship Round 3,
Safari Rally Kenya 2024, 27-31 March 2024
Thierry Neuville, Martijn Wydaeghe, Hyundai i20 N Rally1 Hybrid, Action during Day 3 of WRC Safari Rally Kenya 2024
Photographer: Romain Thuillier
Worldwide copyright: Hyundai Motorsport GmbH

Ott Tänak

“Our target was always not to push to the maximum, but to aim for the podium with a clean run, so our retirement on Friday was of course frustrating. Although we had to face a number of issues in the car and on the road our troubles had nothing to do with reliability. Our pace is definitely getting closer to the others. Croatia will be a completely different rally even to Monte-Carlo, so let’s see how we do. We want to get back on track; the championship is very young, but we need to get back into our normal rhythm.”

Esapekka Lappi

“The speed this weekend was good from the beginning, even yesterday when we were opening the road, so we need to be pleased with that. All of our cars were quite competitive in terms of pace but unfortunately reliability was not with us this weekend and that is reflected in the results. At least my team-mates were able to get a lot of points from today and it was great to get that 1-2-3 in the Power Stage. I am looking forward to my next event with the team.”

 

M-Sport Ford WRT

Adrien Fourmaux

“It’s been a fantastic weekend, the team have been doing a really good job the whole time, the car has been really reliable, and we had no issues at all with the car. I was really pleased with that, so congratulations to the team, the result belongs to them as well. Ok we have been sensible, but it has been really positive. For us it’s two podiums in two rallies and a really great start to the season, we are still third in the championship so now we need to continue. We have had one podium on snow, one on gravel, so we just need one on Tarmac now!”

Jourdan Serderidis

“We have finished 9th overall, so it looks like Kenya suits me quite well! M-Sport has had a very positive event for the whole team across Rally1 and Rally2, it’s been great to be a part of it.”

Grégoire Munster

“It’s not the result we expected, but I think we were driving carefully with a smart approach, and at the end it could have been a top five finish. Unfortunately, on Saturday morning we hit a rock and didn’t manage to repair the car, even though we really gave it our best. A bit disappointing but at least we were able to come back on Sunday to do the kilometres, grab the experience and take a couple of points for the championship. Even though it’s not the result we wanted, I think there’s still some positives to take home and we are already looking forward to Croatia and being back on Tarmac.”

 

Oliver Solberg

“I have to be happy with this result,” said the 22-year-old Oliver. “Of course, I am a little bit disappointed. I came here to win, but this rally is a big, big challenge and to come away with points for second and the championship lead is good.

“The chance to win was lost on the first day, when we got two punctures on two stages on Friday. But we said all of the time that this rally, the Safari Rally has some surprises and some excitement and that’s part of the appeal – it’s part of the challenge of this place.

“I absolutely love the rally; I love the people and the atmosphere around here. It’s just fantastic, every time you get out of the car you are surrounded by people smiling, wanting a selfie everybody is just happy and pleased to see you. It’s a very cool place and very cool rally and I’m already looking forward to coming back!”

“Like we said at the start of the year, we need to be strategic about the programme. I really want to win this title this season, it’s what everything is geared towards. So, that makes this event a success. We have points and the championship lead – and some fastest times which is nice.

“Once again, Elliott did a fantastic job on this event, he’s the best! And the team and everybody around me, I can’t thank them enough for the help and support in what we do. To come here and drive this car on these roads – it’s a pure pleasure.”

Summary

Kalle and Jonne have repeated their victory in this event after last winning in 2022. Takamoto took second place to repeat the feat from 2021 when the round returned to the championship. Finally, Adrien took a brilliant third place, his second ever podium as well. It was a clever and controlled drive from the Frenchman which delivered this result for him, Alex and M-Sport Ford team. Well, what an amazing rally and a very strong result for Toyota, taking another win.

Next up is Rally Croatia over the weekend of the 18th to 21 of April, when the crews get to tackle the first full asphalt rally of the season.

 

Here’s the points standings.

 

2024 FIA World Rally Championship for Drivers’ Standings
After round three

1 T. Neuville 67
2 E. Evans 61
3 A. Fourmaux 46
4 O. Tänak 33
5 K. Rovanperä 31
6 T. Katsuta 30
8 E. Lappi 23
9 O. Solberg 12
10 A. Mikkelsen 6

 

 

2024 FIA World Rally Championship for Manufacturers’ Standings
After round three

1 Toyota Gazoo Racing World Rally Team 131
2 Hyundai Shell Mobis World Rally Team 127
3 M-Sport Ford World Rally Team 72

Safari Rally Kenya 2024 – Day Two Report – Saturday

Saturday saw the crews face 160km’s over six stages. Esapekka and Ott both returned to the action with the Finn opening the road.

The first stage, SS8 Soysambu 1 – 29.32 km saw Takamoto set the fastest time from Esapekka and Kalle. Ott was the first to have a problem, with his bonnet clip on the right-hand side not having been fully engaged and leading to around a minute lost as the Estonian had to stop to secure it again. The crew had been doing some work in the engine bay leading to this problem. Meanwhile Elfyn also had to stop after getting a puncture in the stage, dropping down from second overall to fifth. The drivers that benefitted with this were Takamoto, Thierry and Adrien, moving into second, third and fourth respectively. Also having trouble was Gregoire who damaged his suspension In WRC2, Oliver was fastest from Gus and Diego. The young Swede was on the move in the category, now holding second overall and three minutes from category leader Gus.

Into SS9 Elmenteita 1 – 15.08 km, so named because of the lake nearby and Thierry was fastest in this one, from teammate EP and Kalle. Gregoire did not make the stage, having not been able to repair his rear suspension and would retire for the day. Kalle now held a lead of 58.3 seconds over teammate Takamoto. In WRC2 Gus was fastest from Oliver and Kajetan. The Brit was feeling a little better as well.

The last stage before service, SS10 Sleeping Warrior 1 – 36.08 km, called this due to the nearby mountain which looks like a sleeping Masai Warrior, and Kalle was fastest from Thierry and Elfyn. The Belgian’s pace took him ahead of Takamoto into second overall, although Kalle now held an increased lead of almost a minute and a half. Both Takamoto and Elfyn unfortunately suffered punctures in this one, but at least the Welshman did not drop anymore positions on the leaderboard. In WRC2, Oliver was fastest from Gus by a huge 41.5 seconds and cut the gap to the category leader to two minutes and twenty-two seconds. Kajetan was third fastest and remained in third position.

After the lunch and service break, which saw a very big rainstorm come over the service park and we saw the fitting of the snorkel to the Hyundai as well came SS11 Soysambu 2 – 29.32 km. Takamoto again claimed this stage from Elfyn and Kalle. The Japanese driver regained second place overall and Adrien was now third after Thierry suffered a mechanical problem with his fuel pump and having stopped a number of times in the stage and ended up losing two minutes and thirty-eight seconds. His closest competitor was Elfyn who was twenty seconds ahead now. In WRC2 Oliver was fastest again by five and a half seconds over category leader Gus, the Brit lead now reduced to two minutes and sixteen seconds. No big drama for the Brit.

At last, Elfyn was fastest in SS12 Elmenteita 2 – 15.08 km even though he had yet another puncture. Ott and Adrien were second and third. Thierry continued to suffer with problems and lost a further one minute and fifty-eight seconds, although remained in fifth overall due to the lead he held over WRC2 leader Gus. The Brit remained firmly in charge of the support category actually winning the stage from Oliver and Kajetan.

Finally, the last stage of the day, SS13 Sleeping Warrior 2 – 36.08 km and the clouds built up, but the rain did not really arrive as many had thought it would. There was drama however for some. EP had to pull over for some cars to pass him as he suffered a smashed windscreen which was on his side of the car from an early point in the stage. The reason I hear you ask? The wildlife was the reason, as two birds was hit on the stage, but not at the same time. Two drivers also suffered punctures with Elfyn (yes again) and Adrien both having problems. Quite astonishing really, but given the rocks on the road, in a way not surprising. Ott was fastest from Takamoto and Kalle.

Let’s take a look at the top positions and hear from the drivers.

Classification after Day Two

1 K. Rovanperä J. Halttunen Toyota GR Yaris Rally1 Hybrid 2:48.50.2
2 E. Evans S. Martin Toyota GR Yaris Rally1 Hybrid +2:08.9
3 A. Fourmaux A. Coria Ford Puma Rally1 Hybrid +3:13.3
4 T. Katsuta A. Johnston Toyota GR Yaris Rally1 Hybrid +5:35.6
5 T. Neuville M. Wydaeghe Hyundai i20 N Rally1 Hybrid +11:48.6
6 G. Greensmith J. Andersson Škoda Fabia RS +15:02.0
7 O. Solberg E. Edmondson Škoda Fabia RS +16:57.0
8 K. Kajetanowicz M. Szczepaniak Škoda Fabia RS +21:15.7
9 J. Serderidis F. Miclotte Ford Puma Rally1 Hybrid +21:56.4
10 O. Tänak M. Järveoja Hyundai i20 N Rally1 Hybrid +21:58.1

Toyota Gazoo Racing

Kalle Rovanperä

“It’s nice to end today with a good lead. This morning we had the plan to just take it quite carefully with a steady pace and make no mistakes. Our time on Sleeping Warrior was good: everyone had some issues and I felt I could manage the pace quite well. I was just trying to manage the risk, to not push so hard in the rough or tricky places, and you also need a bit of luck that everything goes well. It’s not always so enjoyable driving like that, just trying to go around every single rock, but it has paid off so far. Tomorrow is still a tough day, and we will try to finish the job.”

Takamoto Katsuta

“Today started very well with a fastest time: the car felt good, it was not a big push but still the time was good, so I was quite happy. We expected Sleeping Warrior would be tough, especially as the new section at the end was full of random rocks that you can’t see because they’re hidden in the grass. Unfortunately, we hit a big one, which felt very disappointing because I was trying to avoid problems, but almost everybody had trouble there. In the end, I’m very happy with what I have done so far. Tomorrow the main priority is to bring the car to the finish, and maybe there is a possibility to gain some points for the team as well.”

Elfyn Evans

“It’s not been a good day for us. There were some good moments: I felt a bit better in the car than yesterday and the pace was OK at points. But to have three punctures during the day really set us back. The outcome was not what we wanted, and it feels like a bit of a missed opportunity. We have to try and get as many points as we can from tomorrow but it’s still a long and difficult Sunday and we need to get to the finish to get any points. We just have to focus on driving and see what we can do.”

 

Hyundai Motorsport

Thierry Neuville

“I am really disappointed with the outcome from today. It’s hard when you put a lot of effort into your preparations for the day and you don’t get the reward. Despite being competitive all weekend, the car developed some issues that we couldn’t fix ourselves, and we had to continue with them for the whole loop. We kept fighting and we will keep going tomorrow – it is going to be a challenging day and we still need to get to the finish, but we will push and see what we can do.”

Ott Tänak

“It has been such a busy day; there was always something going on and we couldn’t catch a break. In the end, this is Safari Rally Kenya, and it is no surprise that anything can happen, so we have to keep ourselves motivated. Our team has put a lot of energy to get us here today after what happened yesterday, so we have no choice but to keep going. Tomorrow is a different day again and it is difficult to say what will happen, but for sure we would like to score as many points as possible – this will be crucial.”

2024 FIA World Rally Championship
Round 02, Safari Rally Kenya
27 – 31 March 2024
Ott Tanak
Photographer: Austral
Worldwide copyright: Hyundai Motorsport GmbH

Esapekka Lappi

“When things start to go wrong, they go really wrong. Today was mainly about punctures and animals crossing that prevented us from recovering as much as we could have with the good pace we have shown when we were able to. Tomorrow we have some points available, and if the speed is similar to what we had today, then hopefully we can catch some people.”

 

Škoda Motorsport (Toksport)

Oliver Solberg

“Today has been OK, it’s difficult because we are here to race and, of course, you want to push and take the best time possible. But at the same time, we are second and that would give us good championship points.

“The gap ahead is just a little bit too big to try to make a big difference with the driving and every time you are anywhere near the limit, then you are taking the big risk. We didn’t have any issues, but it was so difficult to drive at times, so many rocks around! We had a little bit of rain in the last stage, but it could have been a lot worse.

“This is an incredible place to come to compete – when you are driving down the road sections, some of the sights, the wildlife and the scenery, it’s just amazing. And, of course, the people are fantastic, so friendly and so happy to see us. The feeling is the same from us!

“Tomorrow the plan will be the same. It’s a long day, we have 74 kilometres coming – that’s more than the usual Sunday – and we want to bring home the points. Let’s see what happens.”

 

Summary

Well, what a day two! The rain came but did not affect the stages, mainly falling in the service park. Through all the problems came two-time champions Kalle and Jonne and showed why they are double world champions.

Of course, the points for 1st to 10th positions are locked in place and Elfyn somehow outscored his championship rival Thierry by a couple of points. Now, all the crews need to make it to the end of the rally to actually gain these points.

The final day will see the crews tackle 74km’s over six stages. What will the day bring?

Safari Rally Kenya 2024 – Day One Report – Friday

The first full day of the Safari Rally saw the crews tackle 132km’s over six stages and there was drama in all the stages. The first stage held on Thursday in Nairobi saw Thierry hold the lead over Ott, with Kalle in third.

Of course, heading into the Friday’s stages would be Thierry who would open the road throughout the day.

First up then was SS2 Loldia 1 – 19.17 km and Kalle was fastest from Esapekka and Ott. The Finns pace saw him move into the lead from Ott and fellow Finn EP who jumped two positions on the leader board and into third overall. Unfortunately, Elfyn suffered a puncture in this stage and could only manage the sixth best time. In WRC2 Gus was fastest from Oliver and Kajetan and these three held the last three positions in the overall top ten.

Next was SS3 Geothermal 1 – 13.12 km and the fast stage saw Thierry hit a bank on the outside of a left-hand corner, damaging his rear tyre and also the bodywork on the right-hand side. The Belgian dropped back just one place to fifth overall. Meanwhile Kalle was fastest in the stage from Esapekka and Ott. The two Hyundai drivers swapped positions as well, Esapekka now into second overall. Meanwhile in WRC2 Gus was fastest again from Kajetan and Nicolas, whilst Oliver suffered a puncture and lost a minute and fifty-one seconds and fell five positions to seventh in the category.

The last morning stage, SS4 Kedong 1 – 31.50 km and the longest stage of the day as well. The top positions were again filled by Kalle, Ott and Esapekka. Welshman, Elfyn was on the move, passing Thierry for fifth position. In WRC2 Oliver suffered a second puncture in the second stage in a row and the Swede lost a further one minute and forty-six seconds. Meanwhile Gus remained quickest from Charles Munster and Diego Dominguez.

After the lunch time service break, SS5 Loldia 2 – 19.17 km and Kalle continued his good run winning from Takamoto and Elfyn, a Toyota 1-2-3! Unfortunately, EP failed to finish the stage after suffering transmission failure. Ott now moved into second overall and Takamoto was third. In WRC2 Oliver was fastest from Gus and Kajetan. The Pole moved back into second place in the category, pushing Diego down to third.

Into SS6 Geothermal 2 – 13.12 km and Kalle was making this look easy, even though it certainly was not, winning the stage from his teammates Takamoto and Elfyn. It was a second stage disaster for the Hyundai team, with Ott crashing out after hitting a rock in the middle of a corner and damaging his steering on the right-hand side. Gus continued to set the pace in WRC2 winning the stage from Oliver and Nicolas. The Frenchman moved up one place as well and into third place.

The final stage then of the day, and Kalle completed a full six stage winning streak in SS7 Kedong 2 – 31.50 km going fastest again from Thierry and Elfyn. The Welshman’s pace moved him ahead of teammate Takamoto. In WRC2 Oliver was fastest again from Gus and Kajetan and the Swede moved into third place in the category.

Let’s hear from the drivers and take a look at the top positions.

Classification after Day One

1  K. Rovanperä  J. Halttunen Toyota GR Yaris Rally1 Hybrid 1:16.22.6
2  E. Evans  S. Martin Toyota GR Yaris Rally1 Hybrid +56.9
3  T. Katsuta  A. Johnston Toyota GR Yaris Rally1 Hybrid +1:00.8
4  T. Neuville  M. Wydaeghe Hyundai i20 N Rally1 Hybrid +1:07.3
5  A. Fourmaux  A. Coria Ford Puma Rally1 Hybrid +1:46.6
6  G. Munster  L. Louka Ford Puma Rally1 Hybrid +3:34.2
7  G. Greensmith  J. Andersson Škoda Fabia RS +6:51.3
8  J. Serderidis  F. Miclotte Ford Puma Rally1 Hybrid +9:11.7
9  K. Kajetanowicz  M. Szczepaniak Škoda Fabia RS +10:14.3
10  O. Solberg  E. Edmondson Škoda Fabia RS +10:28.8

Toyota Gazoo Racing

Kalle Rovanperä

“It has been a really good day for us. Our plan was to try and make the most of our starting place today. I felt I could manage the pace quite well. I was quite happy pushing hard when the conditions were good, and then especially this afternoon taking care of the car and the tyres in the rough places and still we could have good times. It’s still a long rally ahead and even a lead of almost one minute is not a lot here because anything can happen: if some big rain comes we know that the gaps can be huge, and you can lose a lot of time. So, we’ll just try to keep on working the same way as we did today.”

Elfyn Evans

“It’s been a tough day out there like it always is on the Safari Rally. It’s very easy to get caught out here as we’ve seen again today. We didn’t have the best morning: it was just not really flowing and working as well as I’d like, and we didn’t have the speed we wanted either. I was struggling a bit with the balance and my own rhythm and was maybe a bit too conservative in places. After making some changes in service, we made a step in the right direction this afternoon and the times were a bit better, and I enjoyed the driving a bit more. The gaps behind are still quite tight and with such a long day tomorrow with perhaps some unpredictable conditions, we can’t count too much yet.”

Takamoto Katsuta

“It’s been a pretty good day and a clean day. The stages were quite rough like we expected, but the car was working well, and I felt comfortable. I was just following my strategy to be patient and not do anything crazy. I felt good in the first two stages this afternoon, the times were good even though I was not really pushing. Then on the last one with a soft surface, you need to really push to gain the time and if you’re careful like I was, you’re easily losing time. Tomorrow is a big day where anything can happen, and I will just keep doing what I’m doing, try to stay on the road and focus on myself.”

 

Hyundai Motorsport

Thierry Neuville

“It was a challenging and exhausting day. We were fighting with a few little issues, but it was mainly the puncture which cost us time. We had a bit of a moment this afternoon where I completely lost the steering and we ended up on two wheels, but luckily we got away with it. I think we fought hard, but we would have preferred better results, so we will keep fighting tomorrow. It’s not nice to see my team-mates retire – another bad day here in Kenya for us – which also made it hard for me to attack with full confidence in the really rough sections in case I faced the same issues.”

2024 FIA World Rally Championship Round 3,
Safari Rally Kenya 2024, 27-31 March 2024
Thierry Neuville, Martijn Wydaeghe, Hyundai i20 N Rally1 Hybrid, Action during Day 1 of WRC Safari Rally Kenya 2024
Photographer: Romain Thuillier
Worldwide copyright: Hyundai Motorsport GmbH

Ott Tänak

“The incident that caused our retirement was nothing special, but I guess it’s typical of Safari Rally Kenya. The rock was kind of hidden and I couldn’t really react as the road was narrow with banks on the side. I had nowhere to go so I had to take the rock, but the rock was far too big, and it put us off the road. I hit the bank and that caused the damage to the car; there was nothing we could do to avoid it.”

Esapekka Lappi

“The day was going well until we had to retire due to a gearbox issue; first the car was front-wheel drive only after an acceleration, and ultimately I couldn’t move the car, so we had to roll back from the hairpin because we were stuck. There was no major impact or noise – of course there were plenty of impacts on the stages, but none of them should have caused this problem. It is a shame as the splits were good, as was this morning. We lost ground to Kalle, but I was very satisfied with the speed that I had in the car, and it was going well until that failure.”

 

Oliver Solberg

“The Safari Rally is never going to be an easy one and today we really had to work hard,” said the Monster Energy-backed Oliver. “The two punctures were frustrating and it’s quite random with this surface. It’s so rough in places, it’s hard to know where the punctures are coming. You come through some sections, and you feel a few impacts and you think there is going to be a problem and there’s nothing.

“The main thing is that we are back on the podium, and we have a very long way still to run in this rally. With some weather changes maybe, coming tomorrow, anything can happen – the priority now is to stay on the podium for WRC2 and survive whatever else the Safari is going to throw at us.”

 

Summary

What a Friday we were treated to then! Kalle was really on form throughout the day taking every stage win. He leads a Toyota 1-2-3 after the first full day. His teammates Elfyn and Takamoto both had mixed days but kept it clean to hold second and third positions.

At Hyundai all three of their crews suffered problems, with Ott crashing out, Esapekka suffering a mechanical failure and Thierry getting a puncture but at least being able to continue. The three will be back tomorrow and Thierry will hope he can gain some positions and maybe get ahead of Elfyn.

It was a solid day for the M-Sport team, with Adrien and Gregoire delivering good pace and the pair are holding fifth and sixth overall. Let’s see what Saturday’s action brings.

 

Saturday will have 160km’s over six stages. Maybe there will be some rain that will come and change the conditions in the stages?

Safari Rally Kenya 2024 Preview

Time for the third round of the season and the championship moves to East Africa and this iconic event. The extra challenge of this round is that it is much earlier this year than previous years and held at the more traditional time of Easter.

This brings the added challenge of much more tricky weather conditions and heavy rain which has made the recce days very tricky. More rain is predicted throughout the three day’s of competition, which will make the 367km’s over the 19 stages certainly a challenge.

The longest day of the rally will be Saturday with 160km’s over six stages. Friday features 132km’s over six stages as well, with Sunday featuring 74km’s over four stages.

Let’s hear from the drivers then.

Hyundai Motorsport

Thierry Neuville

What are the main challenges you expect to face on the Safari Rally? “This year it should be the weather conditions. With the rally moving to March, it’s the rain period in Kenya, and it’s the conditions we are most afraid of because there could be heavy rain which could make the driving close to impossible in some places. Other than this it’s a long and demanding event, but if the rain comes it will be a bit of a lottery.”

2024 FIA World Rally Championship
Round 02, Safari Rally Kenya
27 – 31 March 2024
Thierry Neuville
Photographer: Austral
Worldwide copyright: Hyundai Motorsport GmbH

It’s been a strong start to the 2024 season, how much confidence does this give you for Kenya? “Not more than any other year to be honest because the three times I have done this rally I have had technical issues. So, when I look back over the past results, I am not really confident. However, we have prepared as good as we can and the team has worked very hard so let’s see what is possible.”

What are the advantages and disadvantages of opening the road on leg one? “It’s hard to predict, actually. In Kenya, in normal conditions, there’s no real advantage or disadvantage because it’s not like a traditional gravel rally with its clay surface. With rainy weather, it might be a big advantage but also a disadvantage because in the case of heavy rain, if we are first on the road, we might have to empty the water puddles, especially when the rain has stopped before the stage starts. If there is continuous rain or it starts raining while the stage is running it will probably be an advantage. That’s because you might be able to get through the stage without getting hit by the rain, but the cars that run 10 or 15 minutes later might have the whole stage in full wet and we have seen that in the past. But in dry conditions it’s neither an advantage or a disadvantage.”

What do you need from your Hyundai i20 N Rally1 Hybrid to be successful on the Safari Rally? “The main thing is reliability. It doesn’t need to be the fastest car, but it needs to be strong.”

It’s a very spectacular event, where does it rank among your favourite WRC events? “I like the event, but I’ve never had any good results so it’s not my favourite for that reason. Driving-wise it’s an adventure and that’s what I like, and also because it’s different to all the other events. It can be very brutal and that’s not so nice.”

 

Toyota Gazoo Racing WRT

Elfyn Evans

“The Safari Rally is the most extreme event on the calendar so it’s always an exciting one to go to. It’s more about the adventure than the pure thrill of driving but I’m looking forward to it as always. We’ve made a decent start to the year, taking good points from the first two rounds, but the Safari can be a bit of a lottery. We have to find that balance between pushing and looking after the car and see if we can be at the finish with good points, but that’s easier said than done. We’ve seen before that when it rains it can be very difficult, and we’re potentially looking at much more difficult conditions for a greater proportion of the rally and that could make things quite challenging.”

Kalle Rovanperä

“It’s really exciting to go back to Kenya. It’s been quite a good rally for me and also for our team: we have got some really amazing results there. The atmosphere is also great so I’m really looking forward to it. It’s going to be interesting to go there at this time of the year, during the rainy season. We expect that it could be much muddier, and already in the previous years we have seen a bit of rain and it is always really tricky and slippery in those conditions. The biggest challenge will be to have reliable pace for the whole week, be consistent and stay out of trouble. Rally Sweden didn’t go as planned, so I’m really hungry to get a good result in Kenya.”

Takamoto Katsuta

“I’m of course really excited and looking forward to the Safari Rally: it’s a rally where Toyota has been really strong. But this time we will go to Kenya in a very different part of the year, so there could be more challenges in terms of the weather conditions. We have tried to prepare for all the conditions we could have, but you never know how it will really be until you get there. On this kind of rally it’s always important to have a reliable car, which I think is our strongest point. I was feeling disappointed after Sweden but I’ve been looking forward, preparing for this rally and to do my best to get a good result for the team. This is my next target and I’m feeling good.”

 

M-Sport Ford WRT

Adrien Fourmaux

“I’m really pleased to be back in Kenya! I missed it last year, but I had quite a good result in 2021. The feeling and the atmosphere of this rally, with the wildlife and the amazing people living there, is really special.

“We know it’s going to be a tough event with the rainy season, and I think we’ll see a very different Kenya than in the last few years. There are many things that can happen on this event this year, so let’s see and try to deliver a good result on this rally. We want to try to keep third in the championship, keeping close to the others, that’s the main goal for now.”

Grégoire Munster

“I’m really looking forward to Kenya because it’s a rally I really appreciate, I had the chance to do it last year in the Rally2. I also competed on the classic rally with Jourdan in historic cars recently. It’s such a challenge to drive there, you can be fast in some sections but you also need to be really cautious in others, it makes the adventure so beautiful.

“The environment in which we are driving feels a bit like a dream with the wildlife and the nature. The weather changes can happen so quickly, if it rains it is often very heavy and it alters the whole profile of the stage. That makes it a big challenge and that’s why Rally Kenya is so difficult and so enjoyable for drivers at the same time.”

Jourdan Serderidis

“Kenya is definitely one of my best memories and my best result so far in WRC, so I did not see any reason why not to enjoy the event one more time! I look forward to working close to my friend Grégoire again and with our fantastic Puma Rally1.”

WRC2

Oliver Solberg

“There’s definitely something very special about the Safari – and especially at this earlier time of the year. We have snow again here in Sweden, so going from here to the heat of Africa is so different and that variety of landscape and terrain is just what we need in the world championship.

“I love the Safari. It’s really a unique event in the championship – every stage can be like a different rally, the variety across the route is huge. The roads are amazing and the chance to drive through a place where the elephants are close – but not too close – is something very, very special.

“I have done some gravel testing since Sweden, so I have this surface a little bit in my mind now, but I’m not sure the roads were like the ones in Kenya. We will do the official test on Sunday, that’s when we can take a good feeling for the set-up. Last year was so enjoyable, it’s good that Elliott and I have that experience. But this year could be a little bit different with the weather. Nobody really knows what’s coming, I think it’s just before the rainy season – will it rain? I think the one thing we can say is that it will be quite hot.

“The other thing we can say is that we’re going to have a lot of competition. There’s a really good number of cars in WRC2, which is great. For me, the priority is 100% on 25 points. To achieve that, we need a good, clean rally with a big focus on every stage.”

Summary

We are set then for a spectacular rally and with all the Rally1 cars likely to be running the key piece of equipment for this rally only, the return of the snorkel to the top cars is a nod to the likely heavy rain that will be falling on the stages throughout the weekend.

Rally Sweden 2024 – Sunday’s Report

The final day dawned then of the only snow and ice round of the world championship and could Esapekka and Janne hold on and take a very popular victory? Having been in this position at Rally Finland in 2017, they certainly knew what was needed to get their car over the line.

The other question was could Elfyn and Scott pass Adrien and Alex for second place? Of course, the points were reset to the Sunday points table and the M-Sport crew had secured second place points at the end of Saturday’s stages.

First up was SS16 Västervik 1 – 25.50 km and with the sun rising as the crews started, Kalle came through to win the stage from Elfyn and Takamoto. Adrien was sixth fastest in the stage and this meant that Elfyn passed the Frenchman for second place overall, now five seconds behind the Toyota crew. In WRC2 the top three fastest were Oliver, Roope and Sami. The young Swede continued to lead the category, now leading second placed Sami by a minute and eighteen seconds.

 

A couple of hours later the crews lined up for the second run of SS17 Västervik 2 – 25.50 km and this time it was Elfyn setting the pace from Thierry and Adrien. The Welshman jumped to the head of the standings for Sunday’s points as well, which was important to the points standings. In WRC2 Sami was fastest from Emil and Georg, whilst Oliver was still leading the category from Sami and Georg.

The final stage then, SS18 Umeå 2[Power Stage] – 10.08 km to decide the rally and Sunday’s points. Kalle set the early pace, going faster than Ott. His teammate was up on the splits as well and as Elfyn came through his Yaris bounced off one of the snowbanks and was ultimately one tenth of a second behind Kalle. Thierry was third fastest, Ott fourth and Takamoto fifth Meanwhile, EP came through finally and took his second victory. A brilliant Oliver set the fastest time in WRC2 from Georg and Roope, winning the category from Sami and Georg.

Let’s take a look at the final positions and hear from the drivers.

Final Overall Classification – Rally Sweden

1 E. Lappi J. Ferm Hyundai i20 N Rally1 Hybrid 2:33:04.9
2 E. Evans S. Martin Toyota GR Yaris Rally1 Hybrid +29.6
3 A. Fourmaux A. Coria Ford Puma Rally1 Hybrid +47.9
4 T. Neuville M. Wydaeghe Hyundai i20 N Rally1 Hybrid +1:46.3
5 O. Solberg E. Edmondson Škoda Fabia RS +5:04.2
6 S. Pajari E. Mälkönen Škoda Fabia Evo +6:23.9
7 G. Linnamäe J. Morgan Toyota GR Yaris +6:26.4
8 R. Korhonen A. Viinikka Toyota GR Yaris +6:48.1
9 M. Heikkilä K. Temonen Toyota GR Yaris +7:25.7
10 L. Bertelli S. Scattolin Toyota GR Yaris Rally1 Hybrid +7:37.7

Hyundai Motorsport

Esapekka Lappi

“This feels so good right now. I have been hunting for this second victory for quite a while. I have to say a big thanks to Cyril for keeping me in the team after a difficult second half of my 2023 season; this moment is such a huge contrast to that. A massive thank you to the team, and to my family at home as well. We are all here to win and when you achieve it, it is the best feeling in the world. It has been a brilliant rally – it could have been more entertaining with fewer retirements, but the snowbanks can be your friend or your enemy. This week they were my friend; I paid them well.”

2024 FIA World Rally Championship
Round 02, Rally Sweden
15-18 February 2024
Esapekka Lappi, Janne Ferm, Hyundai i20 N Rally1 Hybrid
Photographer: Dufour Fabien
Worldwide copyright: Hyundai Motorsport GmbH

Thierry Neuville

“It is good to get another victory for the team. It’s important even if the performance wasn’t the greatest, especially on the first passes. However, two victories in three weeks is great motivation for us – we only had two wins in the 2023 season. We had to get through without any mistakes, and I think we might have been the only crew who didn’t have any. We had to accept the situation of Friday and we hoped for a better Saturday, where we managed to climb up the rankings. I’m happy to be at the end with decent points.”

Ott Tänak

“It has been tricky this weekend to have the pace we needed to be fastest. Obviously the mistake on Friday was frustrating and afterwards even more so. We felt better in the car on Friday when the roads were a bit more slippery but when the grip improved we just weren’t comfortable. From my side, definitely too many mistakes to start the season but we know we can be a lot better. We’re looking forward to having a clean rally in Kenya.”

 

Toyota Gazoo Racing WRT

Elfyn Evans

“It’s been a very up-and-down weekend. It wasn’t looking so good on Friday when we had a difficult job with our road position. But we managed to get through it which I think was important and gave us the opportunity to climb back up the leaderboard. When conditions were suiting us, our pace was quite OK and today we managed get some good points in the end. I think we probably should have won the Power Stage but made a couple of mistakes at the end. Still, from where we were earlier in the weekend and to come out of it with a good haul of points, I think we can be reasonably happy.”

Kalle Rovanperä

“Our only goal today was to help the team to get some points and I’m pleased that we were able to do that, and we also tried to help Elfyn where we could. Of course, I’m not satisfied with our weekend because we came here to win. Sorry and thanks to the team, because everyone did a really good job in our preparation, the car was fast enough to win, and we just couldn’t bring it all together. At least we could bring some points at the finish, and we will look forward to the next opportunity.”

Takamoto Katsuta

“Today I wanted to try and take some points, but it was not easy with our road position, and the very different lines that we had to follow in the Power Stage. It has been a difficult weekend for me. We had good performance and the car had very good potential, I was just not able to take the result from it. I need to think about how I can learn from this and do better next time so that I can take these chances when they come. The next event in Kenya has been good for me before, and I just need to reset and go with the right approach for that rally.”

 

M-Sport Ford WRT

Adrien Fourmaux

“Really great to get my first podium at the top level in Sweden, my fourth rally on snow and the second of the 2024 season. We are now third in the championship, which is really positive and gives a lot of confidence and motivation to the whole team who have been working really hard. We can be really proud that we’re working all together, and it’s been working perfectly. We want now to just enjoy the podium, it’s been brilliant, and hopefully there are more podiums coming!”

Grégoire Munster

“We learned a lot here in Sweden and improved throughout the weekend. The gaps per kilometre were getting smaller and smaller, and that was the goal. Unfortunately, we made the small mistake on Saturday evening, but getting stuck in a snowbank is part of the experience of Rally Sweden! I think every driver who has done the rally has had that experience at some time. It was unfortunate as it makes extra work for the mechanics, but they fixed everything so it could go again on Sunday to give us even more experience, which I’m very glad to have had.”

William Creighton, 14th WRC2

“I’m happy to get all the kilometres in and to get to the finish. I’ve learned a lot and I just need to keep working on my side with the driving to try and get the most out of these cars. It’s not going to happen overnight, so I just need to keep working on it.

“It’s been great working with M-Sport, with the support of the Motorsport Ireland Academy, here at Rally Sweden and it has been so much fun with these conditions. The last two weekends have been very different and I’m really looking forward to the next event to try to keep on improving and see where we go.”

WRC2

Oliver Solberg

“What can I say? It’s been a fantastic event. For my first (first points scoring) WRC2 round of the season, to win with Škoda like this is something very special. Škoda Motorsport is building a very special car with the Fabia RS Rally2 and it was a big pleasure to drive it here.

“The conditions were not easy – on Friday the snow was really deep in places and then on Saturday we were having some gravel coming through and all the time you had to be thinking about the tyres and trying to protect them.

“I think we showed the good pace on the first day and it was really cool to finish third overall, that was a pretty amazing feeling for me and to share that with the home fans and so many of my family… I was stoked for that.

“Saturday and Sunday was more about driving with the control. We had a lot to lose if we pushed too hard. We were sitting in fifth overall and with the good lead [in WRC2], so we didn’t want to take any big risks.

“Congratulations to the organisers for making a rally with such a special atmosphere and I want to say a big thanks to Elliott and the whole team for helping me to make this an amazing event.”

 

2024 FIA World Rally Championship for Drivers’ Standings
After round two

1 T. Neuville 48
2 E. Evans 45
3 A. Fourmaux 29
4 S. Ogier 24
5 O. Tänak 21
6 E. Lappi 19
7 T. Katsuta 12
8 K. Rovanperä 11
9 O. Solberg 8
10 A. Mikkelsen 6

 

2024 FIA World Rally Championship for Manufacturers’ Standings
After round two

1 Hyundai Shell Mobis World Rally Team 87
2 Toyota Gazoo Racing World Rally Team 87
3 M-Sport Ford World Rally Team 47
2024 FIA World Rally Championship
Round 02, Rally Sweden
15 – 19 February 2024
Esapekka Lappi
Photographer: Austral
Worldwide copyright: Hyundai Motorsport GmbH

Summary

Well, what an amazing rally we were treated to and what a popular winner as well. Esapekka and Janne completely deserve this victory in Sweden and with it have matched the teams success from last season in terms of victories. Four stage wins for the Finns showed their pace at the front of the field.

 

For Elfyn and Scott, they recovered really well after their push to the front of the field for the last two stages on Friday. There was the 360 spin that they recovered from and took two stage wins along the way.

A first ever podium for M-Sport duo Adrien and Alex showed how far they had come since they last competed in this rally two years ago. During that rally they ran in fifth overall for quite a while before getting a penalty for being late to a time control and then having to retire with a mechanical issue. This year they set some top three times and added a stage win as well. It was a great drive from the French duo.

Finally let’s discuss the points awarded following this rally. The new points system meant that Elfyn and Scott who finished in second place actually took more points than Esapekka and Janne who of course won the rally. Now surely that can’t be right?! It’s a completely bizarre situation and I do wonder if the FIA will look again at this method of awarding points. We shall see.

Next rally on the calendar is the Safari Rally Kenya to be held from the 28th to 31st of March, much earlier this year and in its more traditional time of year near Easter. It will be spectacular!

Rally Sweden 2024 – Saturday’s Report

The second full day of competitive stages in Sweden would see the crews tackle 126km’s over seven stages. Ott Tanak and Kalle Rovanperä returned to the action and the Estonian would open the road.

First up was SS9 Vännäs 1 – 15.65 km and Ott was fastest from Elfyn, who was looking to close the gap to Oliver and Adrien who held third and fourth ahead of the Welshman before the stage. Adrien passed Oliver for third overall in this one. At the front of the field, Takamoto had a small nibble of time from EP, the gap now just nine tenths of a second between the leading pair of cars. In WRC2 Oliver was fastest from Sami and Mikko and the young Swede continued to lead Georg and Sami who held second and third place respectively in the category.

Into SS10 Sarsjöliden 1 – 14.23 km, and Kalle was fastest from Ott and Elfyn was third. The Welshman’s pace took him ahead of Oliver and into third place, whilst Adrien was also on the move up and gained second place. This was due to Takamoto sadly sliding out of second place after getting stuck in a snowbank. He and Aaron tried to dig the car out, but it was to no avail. They were out for the rest of the day. EP remained in the lead and had a huge lead of a minute and a half. In WRC2 Oliver was leading and Georg remained in second with Sami still third.

Next up, SS11 Bygdsiljum 1 – 28.06 km was won by an inspired Adrien from Thierry and Elfyn. The Frenchman increased his lead over Elfyn to 16.2 seconds. Meanwhile, Thierry gained one position and was now into fifth place overall. In WRC2 Oliver was still leading, but we had a change behind the Swede, with Georg dropping from second to fourth place after the Estonian had a spin in his Yaris Rally2. Sami was now up into second place and Roope up to third.

After the lunchtime service break, SS12 Vännäs 2 – 15.65 km Elfyn was fastest from Adrien and Esapekka, whilst Thierry was also on the move, passing Oliver for fourth place. The stage was rutting up and getting quite messy and all the crews were remarking on this at the end of the stage. In WRC2 Oliver was still leading, although managing the gap over Sami who was fastest in the stage from Roope and Georg.

The second run of SS13 Sarsjöliden 2 – 14.23 km saw an even more rutted stage and Thierry was fastest by just two tenths of a second from Elfyn and Adrien third. The gap between Adrien and Elfyn was brought down to 13.2 seconds. In WRC2, Jan was fastest from Oliver and Mikko.

Onto the penultimate stage then, SS14 Bygdsiljum 2 – 28.06 km and Thierry was again fastest from Elfyn and Thierry. Meanwhile, Georg was fastest from Sami and Oliver in WRC2, and the Estonian moved back into third place in the category and seventh overall.

The final stage then of the day, SS15 Umeå 1 – 10.08 km and Thierry was again fastest from Ott and Kalle. There was drama though for both M-Sport crews. Gregoire was near the end of the stage when his Puma went straight on at a left-hand corner and into a snowbank. He and Louis jumped out and with assistance from a marshal dug their car out. However, they lost a huge amount of time, but at least they made the finish. Adrien also had a slide at the same corner and somehow managed to keep his Puma out of the snowbank, just clipping the outer edges of it. Somehow the Frenchman still ended up faster than Elfyn, as the Welshman really struggled with his tyres on the stage surface.

Let’s take a look at the top positions and hear from the drivers.

Classification after Saturday

1 E. Lappi J. Ferm Hyundai i20 N Rally1 Hybrid 2:03:52.0
2 A. Fourmaux A. Coria Ford Puma Rally1 Hybrid +1:06.3
3 E. Evans S. Martin Toyota GR Yaris Rally1 Hybrid +1:23.0
4 T. Neuville M. Wydaeghe Hyundai i20 N Rally1 Hybrid +2:22.1
5 O. Solberg E. Edmondson Škoda Fabia RS +4:01.1
6 S. Pajari E. Mälkönen Škoda Fabia Evo +5:15.1
7 G. Linnamäe J. Morgan Toyota GR Yaris +5:15.3
8 R. Korhonen A. Viinikka Toyota GR Yaris +5:35.1
9 M. Heikkilä K. Temonen Toyota GR Yaris +5:51.2
10 L. Joona J. Hussi Toyota GR Yaris +6:29.3

 

Hyundai Motorsport

Esapekka Lappi

“I am feeling satisfied, we are in the best position possible, but it has not been really enjoyable to drive in this situation. We were trying to manage the lead and not take any risks in a bid to save the tyres for the final stages, but we did it. Today was clearly very demanding for the tyres, especially the first and last stage of the loops which were very abrasive. We are not finished yet and I don’t want to celebrate too early. There are still three stages to go, and two long stages in particular where anything can happen. I am happy we are in this situation, but it isn’t over yet.”

2024 FIA World Rally Championship
Round 02, Rally Sweden
15-18 February 2024
Esapekka Lappi, Janne Ferm, Hyundai i20 N Rally1 Hybrid
Photographer: Dufour Fabien
Worldwide copyright: Hyundai Motorsport GmbH

Thierry Neuville

“Things were getting better this afternoon but there was also a lot more gravel, and I felt more comfortable in the car. We have changed a lot of settings trying to find a good compromise for tomorrow, which will be an important day. I wouldn’t say I am satisfied but I at least I found a bit more traction. Hopefully that will continue to work on the first pass tomorrow. It’s always a challenge to look after the studs on our tyres, but I’ve always been good here in Sweden on the conditions in the second pass, especially if there is a lot of gravel. Hopefully we have found the necessary feeling and speed we need for tomorrow morning.”

Ott Tänak

“Not an easy day. In winter rallies it is always a bit ‘next level’ to open the road, particularly in the second loop. It is easy to get frustrated, but this is the penalty we have for what happened yesterday, so it is fair play. In these conditions you can’t really find a rhythm, you’re always fighting to keep the car on the road and it’s hard to be smooth as you need to be to protect the tyres. Hopefully the road condition tomorrow will play to our favour because we need to take as many points as possible.”

Toyota Gazoo Racing WRT

Elfyn Evans

“This morning was going quite well until a bit of a clumsy error on one junction in the last stage of the loop, where we took on some snow in the front of the car and lost quite a bit of power. I’m a bit disappointed with that as it cost us quite dear in the fight for second place. In the afternoon it was far more difficult to claw back time. On the second pass with a lot of gravel coming through, the tyre wear is high, and you have to try and save the studs: I had no rear grip left for the last stage. Tomorrow will be a big push for the whole day to score as many points as we can.”

Kalle Rovanperä

“It was nice to restart this morning, with much nicer conditions with the sun out. It’s not always easy to come back and push again after something like what happened yesterday, but we just tried to enjoy the driving and I could have a good feeling after the first stage of the morning. Being second on the road was not optimal, especially this afternoon on the second pass. There was not much of a clean line to follow, but overall, it was quite OK. Tomorrow we will try to do our best to help the team bring some more points: that’s our goal.”

Takamoto Katsuta

“This morning we were fighting for the lead and pushing hard. We had a good first stage and got much closer to the lead, and I wanted to continue pushing to try and gain more time. Unfortunately, in one corner in SS10 I was probably carrying a bit too much speed and I lost the rear, hit the snowbank and we got stuck there. I feel very disappointed and I’m really sorry for the team, because it could have been a very good weekend. I just need to learn from this kind of thing, and we still have tomorrow to see if we can gain some points.”

Oliver Solberg

“We didn’t have the same amount of snow from yesterday, but today was still a tricky day in its own way. I’m really happy to have extended the lead in WRC2, this is the priority for me.

“It felt like the car was quite sideways at times, but that’s understandable with so much snow still around. For me, I’m in that tricky position with a good advantage and a lot to lose and not so much to gain from pushing to the maximum. Today was about driving, trying to save some tyres and making sure everything was good with the car.

“Again, it’s been amazing to see so many Swedish flags out there and so many fans at the side of the road. When the sun comes out, the place is just beautiful. The priority is to bring everything home tomorrow. Like always, me and Elliott [Edmondson, co-driver] want to do that with a smile on our faces.”

Sunday

The final day of this event will see the crews tackle 61km’s over three stages. Can EP hold on and secure what will be a popular second victory? Can Elfyn overtake Adrien and secure the points for second fastest on the final day? We shall see.

Rally Sweden 2024 – Friday’s Report

The first full day of this amazing rally and the stages, of which there were seven, with 107km’s of competitive kilometres ahead of the crews, what would this day give them in terms of challenge?

We had a short stage on Thursday evening to get things going and coming out of there, Kalle held the lead from Takamoto and Elfyn, giving Toyota a one-two-three at this point.

First up then was SS2 #42 Brattby 1 – 10.76 km, with a nod to Craig Breen who won this stage last year. Kalle was fastest from EP and Ott. The Estonian moved up a position and into third place overall, whilst Elfyn fell to fifth place. EP was also on the move gaining three positions and was into fourth place. In WRC2, Oliver Solberg held the lead from Sami and Georg.

Next up was SS3 Norrby 1 – 12.36 km and there was a full 360-degree spin for Elfyn in this one! Meanwhile, EP was fastest from Kalle and Takamoto. Of course, Thierry was opening the road and really struggling only able to hold seventh overall and now almost 26 seconds behind the leader. In WRC2, Oliver continued to take another stage win and led Sami and Georg was holding third.

The final stage of the morning loop, SS4 Floda 1 – 28.25 km and there was huge drama in this one as first Ott and then Kalle went off the stage. They were both out of the rally and would not continue. The result of this was that Takamoto, who was fastest in the stage from Elfyn and Adrien, moved into the lead, EP was now in second and Elfyn was third. In WRC2, the top three in the stage matched the top three overall with Oliver in the lead from Sami and Georg.

After the lunch break, SS5 #42 Brattby 2 – 10.76 km was next and the snow had continued falling and covered the stage in snow. Therefore, everyone was road sweeping. Fastest of the top class was EP, but even his time was beaten by five, yes, five rally2 cars, as Georg, Oliver and Mikko were the top three in the stage. Meanwhile Takamoto continued to lead, but with a reduced margin over EP of 5.3 seconds.

Into SS6 Norrby 2 – 12.36 km and with the snow still falling, EP was fastest from Georg in his Rally2 Toyota and Takamoto third. There was drama for Thierry, who said his car did not want to start, and he was late to the time control by four minutes. He was given a forty-second penalty, but crucially it meant that his closest title rival Elfyn would now open the road for the remaining stages, even though Thierry remained able to complete the road sections. With Elfyn now opening the road he lost third overall to Adrien, now 7.1 seconds behind the M-Sport driver.

The final proper stage of the day then, SS7 Floda 2 – 28.25 km and with Elfyn continuing to open the road, even though Thierry was still able to start the stage, the Welshman fell from fourth to sixth place. The conditions were really tricky out there with snow falling quite heavily on the stage. EP won the stage and took the lead of the rally with Takamoto falling to second place, whilst incredibly Oliver who was third in the stage, now moved up to third overall.

The final stage of the day then, SS8 Umeå Sprint 2 – 5.16 km and there was a return to a more normal top three with EP winning from Takamoto and Thierry. Elfyn was fifth fastest and gained one position into fifth overall.

Let’s take a look at the top positions and hear from the drivers.

Classification after Saturday

1 E. Lappi J. Ferm Hyundai i20 N Rally1 Hybrid 58:18.8
2 T. Katsuta A. Johnston Toyota GR Yaris Rally1 Hybrid 3.2
3 O. Solberg E. Edmondson Škoda Fabia RS +1:20.7
4 A. Fourmaux A. Coria Ford Puma Rally1 Hybrid +1:26.3
5 E. Evans S. Martin Toyota GR Yaris Rally1 Hybrid +1:50.0
6 G. Linnamäe J. Morgan Toyota GR Yaris +1:50.1
7 S. Pajari E. Mälkönen Škoda Fabia Evo +2:05.8
8 R. Korhonen A. Viinikka Toyota GR Yaris +2:08.6
9 M. Heikkilä K. Temonen Toyota GR Yaris +2:19.0
10 L. Joona J. Hussi Toyota GR Yaris +2:45.7
11 T. Neuville M. Wydaeghe Hyundai i20 N Rally1 Hybrid +2:46.0

Hyundai Motorsport

Esapekka Lappi

“This has been one of the toughest snow afternoons for me – ever! I have never driven in conditions like this, it’s pretty extreme even for a Finnish driver. So far, we have been fastest, so I am hoping for even more snow. This rally needs a completely different kind of driving style; you have to back off 35-40% just to brake easily and go front first on the corners. You can’t throw the car sideways at all, and the line you need to keep the car in at all times is very narrow. If you don’t, you’re just a passenger. We’re expecting better conditions tomorrow but once again it will be difficult to attack aggressively.”

2024 FIA World Rally Championship Round 2, Rally Sweden, 15-18 February 2024
Esapekka Lappi, Janne Ferm, Hyundai i20 N Rally1 Hybrid, Action during Day 1 of WRC Rally Sweden 2024
Photographer: Vincent Thuillier
Worldwide copyright: Hyundai Motorsport GmbH

Thierry Neuville

“Conditions have been far trickier than what we were hoping for at the beginning of the rally. Our target was to get through, but it wasn’t an easy day for us. We were fighting a bit with the car, and visibility wasn’t great this morning before our technical issue this afternoon. We managed to get the car fired up but we were four minutes late to the stage. After that, we were managing the problem for the whole loop. I just tried to get through the day and we ended it on a good note in the final stage. Now we are looking forward to a new day tomorrow, hopefully trouble-free and more enjoyable.”

Ott Tänak

“Normally the first loop is quite consistent and drivable, but we could see how much everyone was struggling today. We were feeling quite OK in the car this morning; we were definitely fast, but one pace note was perhaps a bit too optimistic. I hit the snowbank far too hard, and we spun, and that caused damage to the cooling package. We fixed it within the stage so we could drive out, and we managed to get the car back to service. It should be an easy repair and we expect to be back tomorrow.”

 

Toyota Gazoo Racing WRT

Takamoto Katsuta

“It’s been really tough today with the conditions. Even on the first pass this morning there was a lot of snow and it just got more and more during the day. This morning I just tried to find a rhythm where we felt comfortable. We avoided big risks and this paid off pretty well. Then this afternoon was very difficult as we expected, and it was hard to stay on the road sometimes. I was trying to follow the lines but sometimes there was no line at all. I had to push to not lose too much time with Esapekka being two cars behind us: in the end we couldn’t quite keep the position but we’re still pretty close to the lead with two days to go. Let’s keep pushing.”

Elfyn Evans

“The conditions have been very, very difficult today. Even this morning, the visibility was low on the first stage and then after that there was a lot of loose snow and quite low grip. We had a high-speed spin in the second stage this morning and were quite lucky to get away with that as we did. It was looking a bit better for us at the end of the morning but then the weather took a turn for the worse this afternoon. The sheer volume of snow didn’t make it easy, especially once we were opening the road on the last three stages, because when conditions are this extreme it makes a big difference. Of course, we hope for better conditions tomorrow.”

Kalle Rovanperä

“It is a big pity that our day ended so early. We were having a good start to the rally and a good chance to fight for the win. The conditions were tricky with the heavy snowfall and the grip levels were changing quite a lot. We just went a bit wide in a right-hand corner. I think some drivers in front had already touched the bank so there was a big hole in it which just kicked us into a spin. We damaged the radiator and also picked up a puncture in the same moment, and although we could make some repairs we unfortunately could not continue today. I’m sorry for the team, but there are a lot of points available on Sunday and we will try to bring them home.”

 

Oliver Solberg

“What a day! It’s been a little bit crazy with the conditions sometimes. When the snow was coming really hard, the visibility was bad – it was like driving at night. You just couldn’t see, so you had to back off a little bit. Of course, with so much snow, the grip was not so high in many places.

We just kept pushing. In some places I think I might have saved my tyres a little bit too much, but I am very happy at the end of the day. Of course, I understand the [Rally1] cars at the front are having the conditions worse and cleaning more of the snow away – but, still, I will take this place overall! It’s fantastic and so nice to be giving my home fans something to cheer for.

“It looks like the conditions can be a bit more straightforward tomorrow.”

Saturday

The second full day of competition will see the crews tackle 126km’s over seven more stages. What will the day bring? We shall see!

Rally Sweden 2024 Preview

Time for the snow and ice roads of Northern Sweden then as the championship moves to round two. Thierry and Martijn lead the drivers and co-drivers’ championship for Hyundai and will therefore be opening the road throughout Friday’s stages. Second on the road will be the 2020 winners of this event, Elfyn and Scott. They finished third in the season opener, but with Seb and Vincent not taking part they will be next on the road behind the Belgians.

Kalle and Jonne will be competing instead and took part along with their teammates, Elfyn and Scott in last weekends Artic Rally, mainly in preparation for this event. The two Toyota drivers headed the field in their Rally1 GR Yaris’ with Elfyn and Scott winning following a technical for their Finnish teammates.

Also competing this weekend in their first outing of the year is Esapekka and Janne for Hyundai and will be hoping a better result than the seventh place they scored last year. A spin followed by another incident with a snowbank tempered the speed, but he did take the power stage win.

Of course, Craig should be remembered this weekend. The Irishman made his first start back at Hyundai with James Fulton in 2023 and fought over the lead with eventual winners Ott and Martin before taking a well deserved second place, beating Thierry into third place. It was a brilliant drive.

2023 FIA World Rally Championship
Round 2, Rally Sweden
9 – 12 February 2023
Craig Breen, James Fulton
Photographer: Austral
Worldwide copyright: Hyundai Motorsport GmbH

Looking to the stages facing the crews this weekend there are 300 km’s over 18 stages. The longest day is Saturday with 125.96 km’s to challenge the crews.

Let’s hear from the drivers.

Hyundai Motorsport

Thierry Neuville

“We are expecting a lot of snow and very cold temperatures in Sweden. This was something that was manageable last year but has been a bit more difficult previously. Because of this, we will need a lot of precision and reactivity from the car to be able to throw it from one corner to the other and maximise effectiveness. Snowbanks are obviously a huge risk, especially when temperatures are higher than usual. When it’s freezing, they are a feature you can rely on to help you get a better position to go faster. Clean driving, tyre management and road positions are all factors that can make it very challenging, but from our experience last year, the first day was very equal. I have always enjoyed Rally Sweden, so we will target a strong result.”

2023 FIA World Rally Championship
Round 02, Rally Sweden, 09-12 February 2023
Thierry Neuville, Martijn Wydaeghe, Hyundai i20 N Rally1 Hybrid, Action during Day 2 of WRC Rally Sweden 2023
Photographer: Vincent Thuillier
Worldwide copyright: Hyundai Motorsport GmbH

Ott Tänak

“Sweden is a really nice rally that’s mostly about pure performance. The roads are easy and flat, so it’s no real stress to the cars and this makes it easier to maximise the pace. Previously it’s been great in Umeå, and I would like to see big snowbanks and icy roads once again. Snowbanks are more of a support than a risk in Sweden. Most of the time you can use them to your advantage to push the limit, so if the snowbank takes you, you are probably too far over the limit. The stages in complete darkness are always a bit of a challenge. You don’t see very much, sometimes just where the lights show. That, paired with driving on snow, means you can go sideways unexpectedly. On the other side, snow is quite a good reflector, so I would say it’s easier than driving in places like muddy Wales. The target is to do well. We won it last year and will try our best to be battling at the front again.”

Esapekka Lappi

“Rally Sweden is an event I definitely enjoy and a great place for me to start my season. I think if the conditions are as expected, then starting towards the back is a big advantage, as the fresh snow will be ploughed away by the first cars and the grip will be higher. However, if it’s really cold, more around minus 20, then you might have a lot of snow powder flying in the air, which makes visibility worse for those later in the running order. Another key feature of Rally Sweden is the difference between the first and second passes of the stages. On the first, the road is usually smooth, and you can approach it normally, but on the second there can be big ruts that demand you to adapt your driving style quite a lot. Our goal might change during the weekend, it depends where we are, but hopefully we are fighting for the podium.”

 

Toyota Gazoo Racing WRT

Kalle Rovanperä

“It’s exciting to be starting our season with an event like Rally Sweden. I always enjoy driving on snow and it’s one of the best feelings you can have in a rally car. It’s been cool, to get back in the car over the last week at the Arctic Rally and in our pre-event test. Sweden has been a good event for us in the past but last year we were not so strong, so this year we want to fight back. As it’s the only round on snow, it’s not easy to find the perfect car setup with only a few days of testing in those conditions. But I think we’ve found some useful things in our tests, and we’ve been going in the right direction, so I’m looking forward to the rally.”

Elfyn Evans

“Driving on snow and ice is something unique and makes Rally Sweden a very specific event. In the past I’ve had some good performance there, and we’ve been working to try and improve my feeling with the car from last year’s event. Our pre-event running in Finland has been really useful to get some time on snow before Sweden: it’s given us the chance to try a few things and I think we have managed to make some good steps. The conditions can vary quite a lot during the rally, with gravel coming through on the second pass of stages, and that’s something key to get right. Starting second on the road with fast drivers behind will not be easy but we’ll do our best like always and try to get the most out of the weekend.”

Takamoto Katsuta

“Rally Sweden is always an exciting rally and it’s one of my favourite events on the calendar. Driving on snow and ice is something I have really enjoyed since I started rallying in Europe with the TGR WRC Challenge Program. Last year, I had pretty good speed in Sweden so I hope we can perform well again and get a good result also. This event is always a big challenge and there will be some fast drivers including Kalle starting behind us on the road, so it will not be easy to fight for the top positions. But I will try to push hard and do the maximum that I can.”

 

M-Sport Ford WRT

Adrien Fourmaux

“The challenge in Sweden will be quite interesting for me, it’s been two years since I’ve driven on snow! We only do one rally per year on snow, which has a very different driving style and car set up. But I really like to drive the car on snow, it’s a really nice feeling that we get at these speeds and it’s quite unique. So, I’m really looking forward to it! The target will be to get our feeling back on snow, look at our pace compared to the more experienced crews, and see if we can get a good result like we did in Monte.

“We’ve done one day’s testing this week and the feeling was quite good. So, we’ll see, it’s always difficult to know on the test how the rally is going to go as the conditions can be so different.”

Grégoire Munster

“The big challenge for Sweden will be getting to know the car on this particular surface. We had the chance to drive once on snow last year with the Fiesta Rally3, but this time we will be carrying much more speed into the corners. So, there’s an additional challenge where we have to adapt the pace notes to the different speed with the Puma. We will also try not to get stuck in the snowbanks, which can happen so quickly! “We had a good pre-event test, where we tried many different things. But we want to try to keep it simple, to just get the feeling with the car, drive the kilometres and get better on this surface. We just hope to finish the rally and make progression throughout the event.”

Rally 2 class

There are a number of other crews competing this weekend in the second class of the championship. Let’s hear from a couple of these drivers.

M-Sport

William Creighton

“I’ve competed in Lima a couple of times, and I’ve always found it really beneficial to prepare before heading to Rally Sweden. I think it’s even more important this year as I step into the challenges the WRC2 category will bring with this new car, so I’m really happy to have this opportunity thanks to the MI Rally Academy. I’ve always enjoyed driving on the snow, and we had good pace in Sweden last year. The aim is to get comfortable with the car and Lima presents a great opportunity to do that.

“I’m really happy to have a full WRC2 programme planned with the support of the MI Rally Academy and to have the opportunity to work with everyone at M-Sport. Liam and I have spent a week with the team at Dovenby Hall, which has allowed us to work with the mechanics and engineers so that we are well prepared for Lima & Rally Sweden.

“Participating in Junior WRC gave me great experience to build my pace in Sweden, which makes this transition to the WRC2 category much more manageable. The competition is so strong in WRC2, so I have to focus on my own event and making the step up before I look at the others!”

Skoda Motorsport

Oliver Solberg

“The conditions are looking very, very good. OK, things can change a little bit, but it really looks like we could be in for some of the best winter rallying in a while. And, trust me, that makes me smile!

“There’s nothing quite like driving a rally car like the Škoda Fabia RS Rally2 in these perfect winter conditions. The studs are biting into the ice to give you incredible grip, and you have the snowbanks on the outside to lean on and carry more speed – sometimes even going a gear higher through some corners.

“You come through these stages flat out and you can’t help but bring this big smile to your face. I love this event.

“Basically, we want more of what we did last year. We found a rhythm quite early in the event and we were able to drive to it. The important thing is to make a nice, clean race and not take too many risks with the snowbanks – it’s so easy to get tipped into one and then you spend so long trying to dig the car out.

“It’s important to get good points on the board for WRC2. We showed we have good pace in Monte Carlo last month and that’s a nice way to come into this event. To be honest, I just want to get out there and have some fun in the snow on one of my favourite rallies of the year.”

Summary

We are set for a good fight for this rally. Ott and Martin will hope that even though they have switched back to Hyundai, that they can do what they last year and take victory. It’s fair to say that they will have a battle on their hands with the world champions competing.

Meanwhile, Elfyn and Scott will certainly be fighting near the front, despite their starting position, whilst for Thierry and Martijn it will be a real struggle out there on Friday and it will be interesting how they will deal with that.

The Rally 2 class will see a big battle and perhaps as big as the one we saw on the roads near Monte-Carlo.

Rallye Monte-Carlo 2024 – Day Three Report, Sunday

The final day then of the opening round of this iconic rally and with the new points system in place this added to the uncertainty as to how the points table would look following the final stage. Just three stages remained ahead of the crews and just a few seconds separated the top two in both the top category and also Rally2. Gregoire returned to the action and would open the road.

The third run of SS15 La Bréole / Selonnet 3 – 18.31 km saw Thierry set the fastest time from Seb and Ott. Former rally leader, Elfyn was fourth fastest and appeared to be back closer to the pace. In WRC2 there was yet another lead change with Pepe moving back ahead of Nikolay, now holding a 3.7 second lead over the C3 driver. Meanwhile, Yohan was fastest in the stage and was now just 6.7 off the new category leader.

Into SS16 Digne-les-Bains / Chaudon-Norante – 19.01 km and Thierry was fastest again from Elfyn who was just two tenths of a second from the Hyundai crew and Ott third. The stage was a little damp and frosty in places giving some a tricky time. Thierry had pulled more of a gap over Seb and was looking comfortable. In WRC2 Yohan was fastest again and also gained a position, passing Nikolay as well. Pepe was 5.8 seconds slower than Yohan and took a slender lead of just nine tenths of a second into the final stage.

The final stage then, SS17 La Bollène-Vésubie / Col de Turini[Power Stage] – 14.80 km and the top WRC2 runners went first. Yohan flew up the road beating Nikolay’s time by a huge 9.8 seconds. As category leader, Pepe would start last and although going faster than Nikolay, would ultimately drop to second place. Then the Rally 1 runners were unleashed and first in was Gregoire, who finished his first Monte in the top category. Takamoto set the early pace and Ott, Andreas, Adrien and Elfyn didn’t beat his time. Finally, Seb and Thierry came through and eclipsed Takamoto’s time. Thierry took victory and maximum points from the weekend.

Let’s take a look at the final finishing positions and hear from the drivers.

Final Overall Classification – Rallye Monte-Carlo

1 T. Neuville M. Wydaeghe Hyundai i20 N Rally1 Hybrid  3:09:30.9
2 S. Ogier V. Landais Toyota GR Yaris Rally1 Hybrid +16.1
3 E. Evans S. Martin Toyota GR Yaris Rally1 Hybrid +45.2
4 O. Tänak M. Järveoja Hyundai i20 N Rally1 Hybrid +1:59.8
5 A. Fourmaux A. Coria Ford Puma Rally1 Hybrid +3:36.9
6 A. Mikkelsen T. Eriksen Hyundai i20 N Rally1 Hybrid +5:34.6
7 T. Katsuta A. Johnston Toyota GR Yaris Rally1 Hybrid +8:28.5
8 J. Rossel A. Dunand Citroën C3 +10:29.8
9 P. Lopez D. Vazquez Škoda Fabia RS +10:33.8
10 N. Gryazin K. Aleksandrov Citroën C3 +10:45.2

Hyundai Motorsport

Thierry Neuville

“I don’t have the words to be honest. It was just so great this weekend, I felt so comfortable in the car. The team has done an amazing job and I think the whole package was working very well. It was the first time that we had the team in place like this, and I think this has been a good sign for the future. There’s always some work left so we need to continue working hard, but I’m very happy to win this rally. We were the boss this weekend. The car was amazing so I’d like to say a big thank you to the team.”

2024 FIA World Rally Championship Round 1,
Rallye Monte Carlo 2024, 24-28 January 2024
Thierry Neuville, Martijn Wydaeghe, Hyundai i20 N Rally1 Hybrid, Podium during Day 3 of WRC Rallye Monte-Carlo 2024
Photographer: Romain Thuillier
Worldwide copyright: Hyundai Motorsport GmbH

Ott Tänak

“We need to take fourth but obviously it was not an easy event. We had a lot to learn and discover about the Hyundai i20 N Rally 1 Hybrid. It hasn’t been the most consistent event but we got through the weekend, and let’s see what we can do next. We’re looking forward to Sweden and another adventure. It is coming round very quickly so we are hoping that after some pre-event testing we will be even more ready than we were this weekend.”

Andreas Mikkelsen

“We have enjoyed this weekend. Yesterday we made a good improvement in our speed, but we were cautious today because we were in the middle of no man’s land. We tried to give it a push on the Power Stage, and we were only 0.3 seconds off the pace per kilometre, so we are getting closer and closer. These cars are awesome. To use the maximum potential of them you really need to be used to how they drive, and I am still learning how quick you can go, especially in medium-high speed places where I’m not using the downforce enough. I’m just missing that extra bit of knowledge but with some more seat time, we should be good to go.”

Toyota Gazoo Racing WRT

Sébastien Ogier

“I think I can be proud of my weekend, I tried everything I could. It’s been a difficult week for me with a big rollercoaster of emotions. On Monday I had to say goodbye to someone very important to me who basically introduced me to motorsport. The start of the event was not easy for many reasons, so I’m happy that we managed to stay in the fight the whole way, and I think it was a super exciting fight for all of the fans to follow. In the end, Thierry was faster this weekend, and he deserved the win. I still managed to bring strong points to the team. It’s also my 15th Rallye Monte-Carlo and 13th time on the podium, so I can be proud of my record on such a challenging rally.”

Elfyn Evans

“We showed that the potential was there to win this weekend, but we just missed the feeling on Saturday afternoon for some reason. Today was much better. There was a real mix of conditions again, but we had to keep pushing to score some more points under the new system and it turned out OK. It’s been a solid enough weekend. We always want to win, but above all I really wanted to finish this rally with solid points, and we’ve done that. Long term we want to win rallies and we will see what’s possible on the next rally in Sweden.”

Takamoto Katsuta

“My rally changed after my mistake on Friday morning when we lost the opportunity to fight for a good result, which was a big disappointment. I’m happy that I could bring the car to the finish in seventh and also score some extra points on Sunday and in the Power Stage. The car was working very well, and I enjoyed the driving. When I felt comfortable and the risks were not so high from the conditions, I felt able to push and the times were pretty good, so that’s positive. The next rally in Sweden is one of my favourite rallies so I will try my best to get a good result there.”

 

M-Sport Ford WRT

Adrien Fourmaux

“I’m happy to be finished in fifth overall, for sure I would like to do better, but I think it’s a good start to the season. I’m quite happy how we managed it, we were just behind the top four guys, and even on Sunday we showed that we could be up there with them. It’s very positive, we are taking some good points for the championship, and we hope the results will continue to come.”

Grégoire Munster

“The goal was just to get experience on this tricky rally in Monte-Carlo, and I think we managed to do that. Unfortunately, we had to retire on Saturday and restart today, but I think we grabbed a lot of experience and showed great pace. Thanks to the RNCs and weather crews, we managed to get a third fastest time, which is our best result so far on a WRC stage. We also managed to be within 0.5s/km of Thierry on Saturday morning, while he was the fastest car on the loop, which was a real positive. We also managed to grab our first point in WRC, we could have achieved more without the mistake on Saturday, but still great learning and thanks to the team the car was working perfectly throughout the weekend.”

 

Škoda Motorsport

Oliver Solberg

“It’s always disappointing not to get through all of the stages on a rally, but it was our choice to take only one spare tyre on Saturday. If we’d had two, it would have been OK, and we could have continued – but the rules are clear, and you have to have four inflated tyres on the car. We accept this.

“I would say this event has been a little bit mixed. The first night on Thursday didn’t go perfectly for us. It was a challenge to try to find the comfort and the feeling from the car. We made some changes for Friday and the car was really nice.

“Winning those stages was good, but I still felt there was more to come from me and the car – we weren’t nearly to the limit of what we could do or what the car could do. When we came back on Sunday, there was no point to take any risks.

“We did not register for WRC2 points for Monte Carlo, so this doesn’t affect our championship season. The reason to come here was to take more experience and learn even more about this great rally – from that side of things, this week has been a success.

“I want to thank the team, Elliott, my ice note crew Eric [Camilli] and Stéphane [Prévot], my partners and, of course, Škoda Motorsport for this very cool car. From here we look towards Rally Sweden… my home event. Now, that’s a special one, like you can imagine for me.”

 

2024 FIA World Rally Championship for Drivers’ Standings
After round 1

1 T. Neuville 30
2 S. Ogier 24
3 E. Evans 21
4 O. Tänak 15
5 A. Fourmaux 11
6 T. Katsuta 9
7 A. Mikkelsen 6

2024 FIA World Rally Championship for Manufacturers’ Standings
After round 1

1 Toyota Gazoo Racing World Rally Team 46
2 Hyundai Shell Mobis World Rally Team 45
3 M-Sport Ford World Rally Team 12

 

Summary

Well, what a rally we were treated to this weekend. We had a real fight in both categories for victory and new crews fighting with some making their return to the top of the championship. Thierry and Martijn took victory with a good drive, even though there was the spin. Seb and Vincent did what they could to take victory, but ultimately took a strong second place. Elfyn and Scott set great pace early on taking two stage wins and leading up to stage nine as well.

Away from the podium positions Ott and Martin apart from their issue on Friday morning had a good rally and dealt with the engine issues well.

The two M-Sport crews had a very solid results. Adrien and Alex had a well-managed event, showing some pace when possible and then just driving through when there was nothing to fight for. They took a well-deserved fifth place. Their teammates Gregoire and Louis also had a very good debut in Rally 1 machinery in Monte-Carlo with a top three time and solid drive. The mistake that saw them exit on Saturday afternoon was just one of those things. The car was not damaged, which is a good thing.

Takamoto and Aaron in their Yaris had a good rally even excepting the mistake that saw them lose well over five minutes on Friday morning.

The WRC2 category fight was amazing with Pepe, Nikolay and Yohan all fighting for victory. Pepe took the most stage wins and ultimately took second place from Yohan with Nikolay third in his first outing in a C3 Rally2.

The next round is Rally Sweden from the 15th to 18th of February, the only round to run on snow and ice covered roads.

Rallye Monte-Carlo 2024 – Day Two Report, Saturday

The second full day of the season opener saw mixed conditions on all six stages. The first also saw frost on the roads. There were 120km’s ahead of the crews, meaning this would be the longest day of the rally. Takamoto would open the road throughout the day. Elfyn held the lead from his teammate, Seb, whilst Thierry was holding third place.

First stage then, SS9 Esparron / Oze 1 – 18.79 km and Andreas who was one of the early crews into the stage slid off the road on the frost losing a few seconds as he got his i20 turned around. Thierry was fastest from Elfyn and Gregoire, who drove really well to his first top three stage time and also moved ahead of Andreas and into sixth place. Surprisingly, Seb was quite off the pace, a full 18.8 seconds slower than the Belgian crew who now moved into second overall. Meanwhile, Elfyn actually had increased his lead by two seconds. In WRC2, Pepe was fastest from Nikolay and Yohan. Nikolay continued to lead, and the gap was just 1.1 seconds between him and Pepe.

Next up was SS10 Les Nonières / Chichilianne 1 – 20.04 km and this stage had not been used since 1997. Yep, twenty-seven years. Seb mastered the stage to go fastest from Thierry and Takamoto. Unfortunately, Elfyn could only manage the eighth best time and fell from the lead to second place with Thierry now in the lead. The top three in WRC2 was still Nikolay from Pepe and Yohan as they continued to dominate the top three positions in the category. Unfortunately, Oliver and Sami both suffered punctures in the stage and whilst Sami could continue, Oliver would have to retire as he did not have a spare after having to use that following the previous stage.

The final stage before service and the lunch break, SS11 Pellafol / Agnières-en-Dévoluy 1 – 21.37 km. Ott and Thierry shared the fastest time and Takamoto was third. The stage was damp in the shaded parts giving the crews some tricky parts to navigate. In WRC2, Yohan was fastest from Nikolay and Pepe. The Spanish crew remained in the lead of the category, just 5.9 seconds ahead of Nikolay.

After the break SS12 Esparron / Oze 2 – 18.79 km was next and Seb was fastest from Thierry and Ott. Meanwhile, Gregoire sadly slid wide on a corner and although his Puma was not damaged, the car was beached on the edge of the road against the barrier, and he could not continue. There was a change in the lead though for WRC2 as Pepe was 10.8 seconds faster than Nikolay and moved past the C3 Rally2 driver. Yohan remained in third place.

There was a change in the overall lead in SS13 Les Nonières / Chichilianne 2 – 20.04 km with Seb showing he’d mastered this stage and pushing Thierry down to second overall. Former leader Elfyn was third in the stage and remained in third place overall, the gap to fourth placed Ott a minute and fifteen seconds. There was no change in WRC2, the top three still Pepe, Nikolay and Yohan.

The final stage of the day then, SS14 Pellafol / Agnières-en-Dévoluy 2 – 21.37 km and Thierry was fastest from Seb and Ott. The Belgian crew retook the lead from Seb and Vincent. Meanwhile Nikolay was also on the move, going 4.9 seconds faster than Pepe and retook the lead of WRC2 by just two tenths of a second. What a hell of a battle we were treated to in both categories.

Let’s take a look at the top positions and hear from the drivers.

Classification after Saturday

1 T. Neuville M. Wydaeghe Hyundai i20 N Rally1 Hybrid 2:37:58.5
2 S. Ogier V. Landais Toyota GR Yaris Rally1 Hybrid +3.3
3 E. Evans S. Martin Toyota GR Yaris Rally1 Hybrid +34.9
4 O. Tänak M. Järveoja Hyundai i20 N Rally1 Hybrid +1:46.9
5 A. Fourmaux A. Coria Ford Puma Rally1 Hybrid +2:54.0
6 A. Mikkelsen T. Eriksen Hyundai i20 N Rally1 Hybrid +4:21.2
7 T. Katsuta A. Johnston Toyota GR Yaris Rally1 Hybrid +7:34.0

Hyundai Motorsport

Thierry Neuville

“It doesn’t get better than this. The final stage was pure perfection from beginning to end. I could feel the time was great, and Martijn was even telling me during the stage we should keep this rhythm until the end, so I knew it was working. We left this morning in third place with the target to close the gap, but we didn’t expect to be in front so quickly. It is testament to the car working well and the gravel crew doing a great job. They gave me a lot of trust and the opportunity to push harder in that last stage. We only have a three-second advantage so we need to drive fast tomorrow, we can’t risk everything. We need to be clever and see how many points we can get, but if we can keep first place and take the maximum points by being consistent, that would be a great result.”

2024 FIA World Rally Championship Round 1,
Rallye Monte Carlo 2024, 24-28 January 2024
Thierry Neuville, Martijn Wydaeghe, Hyundai i20 N Rally1 Hybrid, Action during Day 2 of WRC Rallye Monte-Carlo 2024
Photographer: Romain Thuillier
Worldwide copyright: Hyundai Motorsport GmbH

Ott Tänak

“A solid day, altogether not too bad. I have been struggling with my engine again, but we will see tonight what can be done, but I would say it’s definitely holding us back. When we are faster and the stage is flowing, it doesn’t have as great an effect, and we have been improving step-by-step. We have a lot of options available for our tyres, so we can adapt to the situation in the morning. In some ways, the rally starts again tomorrow; we want to score points, but you really need to follow what the others are doing – something to keep an eye on. The notes were good, and the team did a good job with the information about the stages today.”

Andreas Mikkelsen

“I think we’ve improved even more today. There is a lot of things to process as these cars are so different, and I didn’t want to push too much. It felt natural to drive like this today, which is exactly what I wanted to happen. We’re still a bit on the safe side, especially in the tricky places, but I’ve to explore the limit a bit more when the conditions were easier. Even still, there’s plenty of areas where the car can go so much faster, so we’ve still a lot to learn to be at the full potential of the car. A positive day, and I’m gradually getting back in the rhythm.”

 

Toyota Gazoo Racing WRT

Sébastien Ogier

“I think it’s been an exciting day for everyone to follow and also for us in the car, we had a lot of fun. The only negative was the first stage this morning where we were too careful and lost quite a bit of time. After that it was a good day with decent pace, we pushed as hard as we could to try and come back into the fight and we are still in this fight. With just a three-second difference I think tomorrow will also be exciting to follow, especially the first stage in the morning which will be a big challenge on the third pass. I’m looking forward to it, let’s try and make it a perfect day.”

Elfyn Evans

“It’s not been the best day for us. The morning was a bit mixed: the first stage was difficult to judge with a lot of black ice, and then in the middle stage we didn’t have the hybrid power, which was not ideal. Then this afternoon we just didn’t seem to have the pace for some reason. We need to look into why. The feeling was not where it was before, but it was also maybe not as bad as the times suggested. Anyway, with the new format tomorrow is sort of a new day and that’s how we’ll treat it, and we’ll try to be ready to fight again.”

Takamoto Katsuta

“I had a very good feeling in the car today. I was able to push more than yesterday, and the times were also looking pretty good. This afternoon there was of course more gravel and mud on the road, and I’m not so comfortable in those conditions so maybe I was not quite on the pace I really wanted. But this gives me more of an understanding of what I need to do for the first stage tomorrow morning. We got back to seventh overall today which should hopefully give us some points and we’ll carry a good feeling and confidence into tomorrow and try to push to score some more.”

Sunday

The final day sees the crews tackle three stages. It will be a different day of points allocation with the top seven being awarded extra points on top of those secured by the top ten at the end of today.

Of course, the top ten have to finish all the stages tomorrow to be awarded these. Can Seb get past Thierry and take his tenth Monte-Carlo victory?

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