Rally Barbórka 2021 review

The Barbórka Rally is a legendary event for motorsport enthusiasts from Poland and beyond. The name of this event comes from the name Barbara and is always organized around Barbara’s name day. This year’s edition was the 59th in Polish motorsport history. After a two-year break (in 2020, the rally took place in a virtual version), the cars returned to the streets of Warsaw and the surrounding area, and their engines warmed fans who were waiting for emotions.

Credit: Albert Radomski/ThePitCrewOnline

The rally started on Friday, December 3rd with a stage in Pruszków which was a new addicion to this event. The stage itself was distinguished by the entrance to the roof of the shopping center. The first stage of the Barbórka rally was won by Kajetan Kajetanowicz and Maciej Szczepaniak (Skoda Fabia Rally Evo2), building an 8-second advantage over the second team.

Top 5 after the first stage:

  1. K. Kajetanowicz / M. Szczepaniak (Skoda Fabia Rally2)
  2. M. Marczyk / Sz. Gospodarczyk (Skoda Fabia Rally2) +8.40 s
  3. W. Chuchała / S. Rozwadowski (Skoda Fabia Rally2) +9.89 s
  4. J. Szeja / M. Sheya (Hyundai i20 Rally2) +12.18 sec
  5. M. Ratajczyk / J. Szcześniak (Skoda Fabia Rally2) +13.06 s
Credit: Julia Paradowska/ThePitCrewOnline

Saturday morning began with an episode organized on Autodrom Słomczyn. The stage consisted of two laps – on stadium and on stadium-gravel stage. The stage itself caused problems for the drivers – especially the two jumps entering the second lap. This episode was another prey for the LOTOS Rally Team, at the helm of which was Kajetan Kajetanowicz. The leader of the rally table left Słomczyn with an advantage of 11.64 seconds.

Top 5 after two stages at Autodrom Słomczyn:

  1. K. Kajetanowicz / M. Szczepaniak (Skoda Fabia Rally2)
  2. M. Marczyk / Sz. Gospodarczyk (Skoda Fabia Rally2) +11.64 s
  3. W. Chuchała / S. Rozwadowski (Skoda Fabia Rally2) +17.89 s
  4. M. Ratajczyk / J. Szcześniak (Skoda Fabia Rally2) +19.05 s
  5. J. Szeja / M. Sheya (Hyundai i20 Rally2) +20.89 sec
Credit: Albert Radomski/ThePitCrewOnline

After two stages, the Barbórka Rally has come to Warsaw. The third stage, which consisted of two laps, was located on the Służewiec horse racing track. This stage was won by Kajetanowicz and Szczepaniak, who added a few precious seconds to the advantage over the second team in the field, which included Miko Marczyk and Szymon Gospodarczyk (ORLEN Team).

Top 5 after a stage on the Służewiec horse racing track

  1. K. Kajetanowicz / M. Szczepaniak (Skoda Fabia Rally2)
  2. M. Marczyk / Sz. Gospodarczyk (Skoda Fabia Rally2) +20.31 sec
  3. M. Ratajczyk / J. Szcześniak (Skoda Fabia Rally2) +35.58 s
  4. W. Chuchała / S. Rozwadowski (Skoda Fabia Rally2) +39.33 s
  5. J. Szeja / M. Sheya (Hyundai i20 Rally2) +39.35 s

The last stage, which was included in the general classification of the rally, took place on the Bemowo track. Kajetan Kajetanowicz and Maciej Szczepaniak were second to none and strengthened their advantage by adding a second, which contributed to the victory in the Barbórka Rally. For Kajetanowicz there is 8th victory in Rally Barbórka in his career and as well 8th consecutive (first in 2013).

Final classification of the 59th Rally Barbórka:

  1. K. Kajetanowicz / M. Szczepaniak (Skoda Fabia Rally2)
  2. M. Marczyk / Sz. Gospodarczyk (Skoda Fabia Rally2) +21.09 sec
  3. M. Ratajczyk / J. Szcześniak (Skoda Fabia Rally2) +39.76 s
  4. W. Chuchała / S. Rozwadowski (Skoda Fabia Rally2) +41.37 s
  5. J. Szeja / M. Sheya (Hyundai i20 Rally2) +42.10 p
Credit: Julia Paradowska/ThePitCrewOnline

From Bemowo, the rally moved to the center of Warsaw to Karowa Street. The Barbórka Rally ended with a stage that was not included in the general classification. It was a separate competition. For many fans, this stage is the most iconic and is the quintessence of the Barbórka Rally, which could be seen in the full stands. Low temperatures did not prevent the fans from watching the competition live on Karowa Street. The start of the stage was preceded by an impressive drifting show. This episode was also captured by Kajetan Kajetanowicz and Maciej Szczepaniak. For Kajetanowicz it is the 9th victory in the special stage at Karowa street.

Rally Monza Day Three Report – Seb and Julien take victory!

The final day then and just three stages on and around the Temple of Speed. The startlist looked like this – Fourmaux, Rovanperä, Greensmith, Suninen, Katsuta, Solberg, Neuville, Sordo, Evans, Ogier.

The first stage then, SS14 Grand Prix 2 – 10.29 km, and Thierry was fastest from Seb and Elfyn. The Toyota duo had in fact set the same time and this meant that the gap remained half a second between them. In fact, there were no changes in any positions in the leaderboard. Seb did have a scare on this one though after clipping a chicane block with the right-hand side wheel, but somehow avoided smashing up that corner of his Yaris.

Thierry made it two in a row, winning SS14 Grand Prix 2 – 10.29 km from Dani and Teemu. An all-Hyundai top three! The Finn’s pace took him ahead of Takamoto and back into sixth place. Of course, this happened after the Japanese driver had a huge moment after losing the rear of his Yaris and clipped a concrete block, the result being that his suspension and wheel on the front-left getting broken really badly. He limped to the end of the stage and completed it a full minute and five seconds slower than Thierry. He was now 15 seconds behind Teemu and 3.7 ahead of Gus. There was also drama for Elfyn, who had a couple of moments where his car seemed to stall and cut out. The gap that Seb had over Elfyn was suddenly 7.6 seconds!

Well, then the final stage of the event, year, and of these incredible cars. The starting list was changed a little before SS16 Serraglio 2 [Power Stage] – 14.62 km – Huttunen (WRC2), Gryazin (WRC2), Fourmaux, Rovanperä, Greensmith, Katsuta, Suninen, Solberg, Neuville, Sordo, Evans, Ogier. Thierry was fastest from Takamoto, Dani third, Elfyn fourth and the new world champion Seb fifth in the stage.

At the stop line we saw incredible scenes as Seb and Julien climbed onto the top of their car and celebrated their eighth world championship. They are true greats of the sport now having won titles with Volkswagen, M-Sport Ford and now Toyota!

Let’s take a look at the final standings.

Final Overall Classification –Rally Monza

1 S. Ogier J. Ingrassia Toyota Yaris WRC 2:39:08.6
2 E. Evans S. Martin Toyota Yaris WRC +7.3
3 D. Sordo C. Carrera Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC +21.3
4 T. Neuville M. Wydaeghe Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC +32.0
5 O. Solberg E. Edmondson Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC +1:32.0
6 T. Suninen M. Markkula Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC +2:22.6
7 T. Katsuta A. Johnston Toyota Yaris WRC +2:34.5
8 G. Greensmith J. Andersson Ford Fiesta WRC +2:50.2
9 K. Rovanperä J. Halttunen Toyota Yaris WRC +4:49.6
10 A. Crugnola P. Ometto Hyundai i20 N Rally2 +9:06.9
2021 FIA World Rally Championship / Round 12 / ACI Rally Monza / 18th-21st November 2021 // Worldwide Copyright: Toyota Gazoo Racing WRT

Let’s hear from the drivers.

Toyota Gazoo Racing WRT

Sébastien Ogier (1st)

“It’s so hard to describe these kind of emotions. Somehow you feel empty because it’s been such an exhausting season like always, where you need to put so much into it to win the championship. But we do it for moments like this. A big thanks to all the team members: Without them we are nothing and today we are all world champions, so let’s celebrate this. It’s pretty remarkable what Toyota has achieved, and the team deserves it because they’ve put a lot of effort into it. The emotion is even stronger knowing it’s the end of my journey with Julien. We could never have dreamed of a better way for it to end it. We knew we still had a lot to do this weekend and that it was not over yet. We didn’t have to beat Elfyn, but we couldn’t afford to relax and then drop positions, and to win in the end is just perfect.”

2021 FIA World Rally Championship / Round 12 / ACI Rally Monza / 18th-21st November 2021 // Worldwide Copyright: Toyota Gazoo Racing WRT

Elfyn Evans (2nd)

“Of course, it’s mixed feelings for us today. Naturally you always want more. We knew the drivers’ title would be difficult but we wanted to try and win the rally. In the end we didn’t quite get it but congratulations to Seb and Julien on another fantastic title and also on a fantastic career together. I want to thank everybody in the team, they’ve been working so hard, giving us fantastic equipment but also a fantastic atmosphere to work in. It’s also a very fond farewell to the Toyota Yaris WRC, it’s been a joy to drive.”

Kalle Rovanperä (9th)

“It feels really good to help the team secure the manufacturers’ championship. It was a really nice season for us, and getting the teams’ title also feels really good for us because we were able to bring good points in many rallies. It’s a big thing for the team and it feels really nice to be a part of it. It was not so easy to do the job we did this weekend, but it was important that we did it and this feeling makes it worth it. The team has been working really hard, so big congratulations and thank you to them. It’s been a great year with an amazing car and I think we really showed how strong our team is.”

Hyundai Motorsport

Dani Sordo (3rd)

“I am honestly really happy to have secured a podium finish here in Monza, and to end this era of WRC cars with a top-three finish. It has been a relaxed final day for me, focused and just trying my best to avoid making any mistakes. I’d like to say thanks to the team for another year working together, with some good highlights. I hope next season with the new hybrid regulations will be even more fun.”

2021 FIA World Rally Championship
Round 12, Rally Monza
18-21 November 2021
X
Photographer: Vincent Thuillier
Worldwide copyright: Hyundai Motorsport GmbH

Thierry Neuville (4th)

“My focus today has been on enjoying these final stages of the season with our Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC, the last runs in this era of the WRC. I had a nice clean morning, picking up stage wins and just trying to savour the moments. We have had some incredible years with this car, and with Hyundai Motorsport; it’s been very exciting, and we’ve got a lot of special memories. I am now looking ahead to the new adventure in 2022 and adding more memorable moments together with the team.”

Teemu Suninen (6th)

“It has been a weekend in which we’ve been able to make steady improvements, learning all about the Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC in different conditions. It’s tricky to jump into a brand-new car for this rally, but I am grateful to the team for giving me the opportunity and the time to get up to speed. We’ve been able to improve our pace step-by-step, and we’ve been fast on the clean tarmac sections, which has been a good thing. We just focused on bringing the car home, which we have achieved.”

Hyundai 2C Competition

Oliver Solberg (5th)

“I want to carry on!” said Oliver at the finish. “When you have a car like the Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC, you just don’t want to stop driving it. This has been such a cool, such a fantastic week.

“The roads in the mountains which we did on Friday and Saturday morning were really, really nice. I was taking it quite steady, quite sensible to start with – there were damp patches and some fog on the top of the mountain. After I made some change to the set-up with the car and got some more grip with the rear, I was able to really push and, honestly, it was just so much fun.

“When you are driving a car like this on roads like that, it’s impossible not to smile. It’s the best feeling in the world!

“This rally is actually quite complicated because you go from driving the cars out there in the mountains and then we come to the circuit where it’s much more technical, so many more junctions and always turning and you have to really change the driving style. You have to be completely precise.

“We used some of the gravel roads in the circuit and this is also a lot of fun – this was reminding me of when I was competing in rallycross. I have to tell you; I was really sad when we came to the finish of the last stage.

“We made more progress and took more experience from this rally. Some people were asking me what was the difference between this event and the one before [Rally de España] where we were not so high up. The answer is that we went faster! I was never in Spain before, but I competed on this rally last year and I had some experience of the stages.

“I think the speed we had was good here. To be able to fight with my team-mates was more than I was expecting, to be honest.”

“It was perfect with Elliott,” said Oliver. “From the very start we were comfortable together; we did some practice before the rally and everything worked really well. He did a great job and I want to thank him.

“As well, I really want to thank everybody from Hyundai Motorsport and 2C. Andrea [Adamo, Hyundai Motorsport Team Principal] gave me the most amazing opportunity this season when I drove the i20 Coupe WRC for the first time in Arctic Rally Finland. That rally was incredible for me and this one as well.

 

2021 FIA World Rally Championship for Drivers’ Standings
After Round Twelve

1 S. Ogier 230
2 E. Evans 207
3 T. Neuville 176
4 K. Rovanperä 142
5 O. Tänak 128
6 D. Sordo 81
7 T. Katsuta 78
8 C. Breen 76
9 G. Greensmith 64
10 A. Fourmaux 42

 

2021 FIA World Rally Championship for Manufacturers’ Standings
After Round Twelve

1 Toyota Gazoo Racing World Rally Team 522
2 Hyundai Shell Mobis World Rally Team 463
3 M-Sport Ford World Rally Team 202
4 Hyundai 2C Competition 62

 

Well, what a rally! Hope you’ve enjoyed my daily reports. Look out for my final driver review in the coming week.

Rally Monza, Day Two Report – Seb and Adrien lead after Day Two

The second day then, with 108km’s over six stages. The startlist looked like this – Fourmaux, Rovanperä, Suninen, Greensmith, Katsuta, Solberg, Sordo, Neuville, Ogier, Evans.

Into stage SS8 San Fermo 1 – 14.80 km and Thierry made the best start of them all, winning the stage from Seb and Dani. Elfyn could only manage the fourth best time dropping 4.6 seconds to the fastest time and falling behind Seb again, the gap between the top two now 1.5 seconds.

The longer SS9 Selvino 1 – 24.93 km saw Elfyn take the stage win from Dani and Seb. There was drama for Thierry though right at the start of the stage. His tyres weren’t warmed up and he lost the rear of his car, with the result that he then collided with the barrier and caused some big damage to the right-hand side front of his car. The bonnet was also very loose on the right as well and flapping about, but he got the car to the end of the stage despite all of this.

Back to the shorter SS10 San Fermo 2 – 14.80 km and it was another stage win for Seb from Thierry and Teemu. Elfyn was only sixth and fell back into second place, now 1.1 behind Seb. Further back, Teemu passed former M-Sport teammate Gus Greensmith as well, showing that the Finn was getting to grips with his i20WRC.

Seb increased his lead over Elfyn in SS11 Selvino 2 – 24.93 km to 5.2 seconds after setting a time that was 4.1 seconds faster. What a time! Dani was third fastest and making third place his over his teammate. The top ten was pretty static, but it’s worth mentioning that this was the last stage on public roads that these cars were unleashed on, as the remaining stages of Rally Monza would be held in the grounds of the Monza circuit.

Elfyn hit back in SS12 Sottozero 1 – 14.39 km winning the stage from Dani and Thierry! Seb could only set the fifth best time and was now back in the lead by just three tenths of a second. Takamoto was the best of the rest, taking fourth in the stage.

The final stage of the day then, SS13 Sottozero 2 – 14.39 km and run after the sun had set. All the cars had their light pods fitted. Dani won the stage from Thierry and Seb, and we had yet another leader change with Seb going back into the lead and Elfyn was now behind by just half a second.

Classification after Day Two

1 S. Ogier J. Ingrassia Toyota Yaris WRC 2:13:27.2
2 E. Evans S. Martin Toyota Yaris WRC +0.5
3 D. Sordo C. Carrera Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC +27.4
4 T. Neuville M. Wydaeghe Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC +46.6
5 O. Solberg E. Edmondson Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC +1:21.2
6 T. Katsuta A. Johnston Toyota Yaris WRC +1:38.8
7 T. Suninen M. Markkula Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC +2:17.1
8 G. Greensmith J. Andersson Ford Fiesta WRC +2:24.8
9 K. Rovanperä J. Halttunen Toyota Yaris WRC +3:39.1

 

Lets hear from the drivers at the end of day two.

Toyota Gazoo Racing WRT

Sébastien Ogier (1st)

“It’s been super close today between Elfyn and me, with so many swaps for the lead. It’s definitely exciting for the fans. We had a good loop this morning. Those were the last proper stages with this generation of car and I really enjoyed it. Generally, on the track I’ve been taking less risks and losing a bit of time, but tonight I managed to drive cleaner, and a slightly different tyre choice maybe helped with the traction on the gravel. Tomorrow I need to keep my focus on the title; if we can win the rally too it will be the cherry on the cake.”

2021 FIA World Rally Championship / Round 12 / ACI Rally Monza / 18th-21st November 2021 // Worldwide Copyright: Toyota Gazoo Racing WRT

Elfyn Evans (2nd)

“The morning loop was enjoyable but Seb was very strong again in the mountains. I struggled on the first stages both times through, had a good run on the other stage the first time through but I’d lost the tyres a bit by the end of the second pass. I was a bit disappointed to give away that time, but we got it back again in the first one at the circuit this afternoon. Then in the dark I was too careful in a few places where the visibility was quite difficult. But it’s set up very nicely for tomorrow and we’ll keep fighting.”

Kalle Rovanperä (9th)

“This morning the conditions were really nice and the stages were much cleaner than yesterday, so I could be a bit faster in some sections without having to take any risks and just enjoy the driving the car on those roads. The circuit stages were nice and enjoyable too, even though we were not pushing much. It’s important for the team to do the job that we’re doing, and tomorrow we just need to finish it off.”

Hyundai Motorsport

Dani Sordo (3rd)

“Honestly, I am quite happy with how today has gone for us. We had some amazing stages in the mountains, and the circuit sections were better as well. We made some important modifications to the car at the end of Friday, which made it easier to drive and gave me more confidence. The stages were also drier, so we had a bit more grip as well. We are currently in the third-place podium position, which is great, however there is a small but tricky final day awaiting us. We will do our best to keep our advantage over Thierry.”

2021 FIA World Rally Championship
Round 12, Rally Monza
18-21 November 2021
Dani Sordo
Photographer: Austral
Worldwide copyright: Hyundai Motorsport GmbH

Thierry Neuville (4th)

“After the first day didn’t go as expected, we knew we had to push to catch back time. It worked well on the opening stage, setting the fastest time, but we wanted to improve more on the next one. Unfortunately, we had cold tyres and two corners into the stage we lost the rear, ripping off the bumper. We lost a position to Dani, and we’re still fighting to get it back. Still, I’ve been able to enjoy myself today, especially in the mountain stages; these cars are incredible, there has been a great atmosphere, lots of spectators and nice weather, it is really fantastic!”

Teemu Suninen (7th)

“I am pleased with the improvements we have made since yesterday, and especially in the first four stages. I was able to be confident in the car, and the driving was OK. I was still struggling on the gravel and muddy places in the Monza circuit stages. Still, we have taken a good step forward and that’s positive. I’m enjoying myself a lot, and it’s nice to see what the Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC can do; it seems a strong car, so we will try to improve again on the final three stages tomorrow.”

 

Sunday

The last day beckons for the 2021 season and the last time that these cars will be seen on the world championship stages. It’s also the last few stages of Seb and Adrien’s partnership. Let’s see if they can go out on top, or maybe Elfyn and Scott will deny them a final victory. There are two championships to decide as well. Let’s see what happens…. Is there a final twist to this season, or can Seb and Adrien wrap up their eighth world title?

Rally Monza – Day One Report.

Well, day one was the Elfyn and Seb day, with the pair of them fighting over the lead throughout the seven stages that made up day one. Here’s how the action came together. The crews entered in championship positions, meaning that the startlist looked like this – Ogier, Evans, Neuville, Rovanperä, Katsuta, Sordo, Greensmith, Fourmaux, Suninen, Solberg.

Into the first stage, SS1 Gerosa 1 – 10.96 km then, and there was fog and low cloud on the mountains. Seb won the stage from Elfyn and Dani. There was a large gap at the end of the stage between the two championship protagonists of 3.6 seconds, with Dani the best of the Hyundai drivers holding third place.

It was all change into SS2 Costa Valle Imagna 1 – 22.11 km, with Elfyn setting the pace from Seb who was just a tenth slower. There was a change behind them, with Thierry passing Dani and moving into third place. There was also a change further back with Teemu getting to grips with his i20 and moving ahead of fellow Finn Kalle and into ninth place.

Next up was SS3 Gerosa 2 – 10.96 km and Seb was fastest and by quite a big margin of 2.1 seconds over Elfyn, whilst Thierry remained the closest challenger, but was now 20.7 seconds behind the two Toyota crews. The stage was now without huge drama though, with Adrien rolling his Fiesta. The Frenchman was out for the day.

Into stage SS4 Costa Valle Imagna 2 – 22.11 km and it was another stage win for the championship leaders, with Elfyn keeping the leaders honest with a time just nine tenths slower. The two Hyundai crews of Dani and Thierry set the exact same time. Further back, Oliver was having a great day, holding fifth place.

Elfyn was fastest in SS5 Cinturato 1 – 14.49 km and with Seb only fifth fastest and a huge 5.7 seconds slower the gap between them was now just eight tenths of a second. Oliver was quick too, with the fourth best time and only 2.6 seconds slower than Thierry. Impressive stuff from the young Swede.

After a short break the second run of SS6 Cinturato 2 – 14.49 km and Thierry won the stage with Elfyn second fastest just 4 tenths slower, whilst Seb was third and 2.5 seconds further back. Elfyn now moved into the lead. There was a change further back, with Takamoto moving past Gus and into sixth place.

The last stage of the day then, SS7 Grand Prix 1 – 10.29 km and Dani was quickest from Takamoto and Elfyn who led the rally by just 1.4 seconds from Seb. Dani’s pace meant that he’d taken 3.7 seconds from Thierry lead over him as they continued their battle for the final podium position.

Classification after Day One

1 E. Evans S. Martin Toyota Yaris WRC 1:04:05.2
2 S. Ogier J. Ingrassia Toyota Yaris WRC +1.4
3 T. Neuville M. Wydaeghe Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC +21.6
4 D. Sordo C. Carrera Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC +24.6
5 O. Solberg E. Edmondson Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC +50.6
6 T. Katsuta A. Johnston Toyota Yaris WRC +1:05.5
7 G. Greensmith J. Andersson Ford Fiesta WRC +1:14.1
8 T. Suninen M. Markkula Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC +1:28.6
9 K. Rovanperä J. Halttunen Toyota Yaris WRC +1:57.3

 

Let’s hear from the drivers at the end of day one.

Toyota Gazoo Racing

Elfyn Evans (1st)

“It was a challenging morning with the thick fog and the grip levels were changing all the time, partly from the dampness and with the different surfaces as well, but it was really enjoyable to drive. We were losing a bit of time to Seb, I was frustrated to give a few seconds away. But we had a good afternoon. I put a lot of effort into being stronger on those stages this year. It’s good to be leading but the gap to Seb is virtually nothing; he was a bit stronger than us in the mountains so we need to look at this and try to improve for tomorrow morning.”

2021 FIA World Rally Championship / Round 12 / ACI Rally Monza / 18th-21st November 2021 // Worldwide Copyright: Toyota Gazoo Racing WRT

Sébastien Ogier (2nd)

“It’s been a good day. This morning I really enjoyed driving the stages in the mountains. The feeling was good in the car, we did a good job on the pre-event test and it was good to see the times coming. When it’s nice to drive you can be close the limit but still feel comfortable. This afternoon around the circuit I was a little bit more on the safe side, because there’s a lot of things you can hit, and we also had an issue on SS5 that cost me some time. But it’s OK, I’m happy with where I am right now and we just need to try and do the same tomorrow.”

Kalle Rovanperä (9th)

“Our plan for this rally is to be there for the manufacturers’ points. We don’t want to take any big risks, and then if something happens with our teammates, we can still secure the points. It’s a really important weekend for the team and we want to help as much as we can. It’s not so easy to drive like this, especially when the conditions are tricky like they were this morning in the mountains and you can lose quite a lot of time. The stages at Monza this afternoon were a bit more enjoyable, even though they were tricky in some sections with the gravel and mud.”

Hyundai Motorsport

Thierry Neuville (3rd)

“I would say that we are satisfied with our performance in the car today. We pushed very hard this morning, almost at the edge, and the feeling was good. I was enjoying the driving, but the times were not there. Usually in tricky conditions the car is fast, but this time we weren’t and to be honest I don’t know why. Even in Spain, in the dirty places, we were quick, but it seems like we missed something this morning. Around the track, the speed is there so we’ll have to see what happens on tomorrow’s mountain stages.”

2021 FIA World Rally Championship
Round 12, Rally Monza
18-21 November 2021
Thierry Neuville, Martijn Wydaeghe, Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC
Photographer: Dufour Fabien
Worldwide copyright: Hyundai Motorsport GmbH

Dani Sordo (4th)

“We struggled a bit with the set-up of the car, especially in the slippery places, where we lost a lot compared to our rivals. The morning loop wasn’t amazing, we just didn’t have the precision that I needed. The feeling in the afternoon was better, but no less tricky. We made a small change on my car, in the direction we had in Catalunya, and we were able to find the precision we’d been looking for all day. A small change but also a big change. I expect tomorrow’s stages to be just as demanding.”

Teemu Suninen (8th)

“It has been a challenging first day in the Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC. I’ve only had one day of testing with the car so in tricky places, I didn’t have the confidence to push hard. At the beginning, I was way too careful, but stage by stage I was happier. I was struggling a bit at times but that’s part of the learning curve and getting experience of a new car. Drivers always want to win the battles, and that’s the same with me, so if I can get a good feeling on Saturday, I will try to go for it a bit more. At the same time, it’s important to keep the car in one piece and bring it to the finish.”

Saturday

Day two sees 108km’s over six stages. Can Elfyn hold the lead over his teammate and championship rival? We shall find out tomorrow. Pop back at the end of the day for my day two report.

Rally Monza 2021 Preview – Championship Show Down

It’s time for the finale of this seasons World Rally Championship, with teammates Seb Ogier and Elfyn Evans both looking to win this season’s championship. Seventeen points separate them at the top of the table and assuming both drivers finish the rally, it is likely that the championship will be decided on the final stage.

Of course, there are a few driver and co-driver changes our there. First of all, Ott and Martin will not be competing at all. This means that Teemu and Mikko will be competing in the i20WRC. They were going to be in the i20 Rally2 of course, but have now been moved into the full WRC model. The other change is also within the Hyundai team, with Oliver Solberg taking a new co-driver. Elliott Edmondson, who was Gus Greensmith’s co-driver at the start of the season, will step into the seat along-side the young Swede.

Gus Greensmith also gets a new co-driver after the retirement of Chris Patterson. Jonas Andersson will step into the Fiesta. Ironically, he is Swedish as well, so we have a Swede with a British co-driver and a Brit with a Swedish co-driver!

Jonas Andersson (SWE) – Ford Fiesta RS WRC. Shakedown, 2013 Rally Sweden

Let’s take a look at the stages facing the crews.

Rally Monza opens with a shakedown on the evening of Thursday 18 November.

Friday features two passes each of Gerosa (11.09km), Costa Valle Imagna (22.17km) and Junior (14.97km) followed by an evening run of Grand Prix (10.21km) in darkness.

Saturday is the longest day of the rally, with two passes of San Fermo (14.45km) and Selvino (25.06km) in the morning proceeding back-to-back afternoon runs of Roggia (14.85km).

Sunday’s three stages only cover a competitive distance of 39.07km, as two passes of Serraglio (14.43km) follows a single run of Grand Prix. The second pass of Serraglio will be the rally’s Power Stage.

 

ACI Rally Monza itinerary:
Friday November 19
SS1 Gerosa 1 11.09km (6.89 miles) 0731
SS2 Costa Valle Imagna 1 22.17km (13.77 miles) 0816
SS3 Gerosa 2 11.09km (6.89 miles) 1016
SS4 Costa Valle Imagna 2 22.17km (13.77 miles) 1101
Service 1225
SS5 Junior 1 14.97km (9.30 miles) 1338
SS6 Junior 2 14.97km (9.30 miles) 1548
SS7 Grand Prix 1 10.21km (6.34 miles) 1820
Service 1840

Saturday November 20
SS8 San Fermo 1 14.45km (8.97 miles) 0715
SS9 Selvino 1 25.06km (15.57 miles) 0815
SS10 San Fermo 2 14.45km (8.97 miles) 1045
SS11 Selvino 2 25.06km (15.57 miles) 1145
Service 1338
SS12 Roggia 1 14.85km (9.22 miles) 1451
SS13 Roggia 2 14.85km (9.22 miles) 1701
Service 1726

Sunday November 21
SS14 Grand Prix 2 10.21km (6.34 miles) 0748
SS15 Serraglio 1 14.43km (8.96 miles) 1008
SS16 Serraglio 2 14.43km (8.96 miles) 1218
Service 1245

Friday and Saturday see stages away from the Monza race track and then the final stages will be run on parts of the Grand Prix track just like last year.

Let’s hear from the drivers –

Toyota Gazoo Racing WRT

Sébastien Ogier

“While it’s true that this rally will be the end of a sporting chapter for myself and especially for Julien, this is not something I am thinking too much about for now: I think this is the best way to approach it, so that I can give my best as always and focus on our target of winning both titles. Of course, the situation going to Monza is much more favourable than one year ago, as this time I have some points in hand in the drivers’ standings. But it is not done yet and we need to stay focused. We had a good test in Italy last week, and I hope we can start the rally with the right rhythm, perform well and fight for a top result as well as keeping the championship in mind.”

2020 FIA World Rally Championship / Round 07 / ACI Rally Monza / 3-6 November, 2020 // Worldwide Copyright: Toyota Gazoo Racing WRC

Elfyn Evans

“It’s good to be going into the final round still with a chance of taking the drivers’ title. It’s an outside chance but Scott and I will give it our best shot: The approach will be just to aim for the best result possible and see what happens. After a difficult mid-season, the last couple of rounds have been better for us, but Monza will be a completely different challenge again. The stages in the mountains have a really nice character, but the stages at the circuit are very mixed and not so flowing. It’s impossible to capture all of that in a pre-event test, but after last year we have a pretty good idea of what to expect.”

Kalle Rovanperä

“It’s going to be interesting to go back to Monza. Last year it was quite a special event with the extreme weather that we had, and I’m sure it will be another difficult rally in any case. This time we will have more stages on the proper mountain roads, which will be nice. At the circuit, you can have a bit of everything in one stage, and if it rains it will be very muddy and tricky. The plan is to fight for the best position but also to have a clean rally: With our team-mates fighting for the championship, it will be important for us to be there to secure the points for the manufacturers’ title if needed.”

Hyundai Motorsport

Thierry Neuville

“I have participated a couple of times at Rally Monza in previous years, both as a WRC event and as Monza Rally Show, so I know the roads quite well. The stages are unique with lots of chicanes and cones, which is not the traditional rally style, but this year’s there looks to be more typical Italian mountain stages. It is also a great experience to compete on the Monza circuit. As it is the last event of the season, our aim is to push hard and fight at the front.”

Dani Sordo

“Monza is always a very nice rally to drive, and of course is a special place for the team as we won the manufacturers’ championship here in 2020. I really like the format of the event, with some stages on the circuit and others in the mountains. Last year was very fun, especially with the tricky weather conditions, so I think crews and spectators both really love this rally. I will of course try my best to get the best result possible this year.”

2020 FIA World Rally Championship
Round 07 Rally Monza 03-07 December 2020
Action, Day 2, Dani Sordo, Carlos Del Barrio, Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC
Photographer: Fabien Dufour
Worldwide copyright: Hyundai Motorsport GmbH

Teemu Suninen

“Being part of the Hyundai Motorsport WRC line-up for Rally Monza is a great opportunity for us. I will follow the goals set by the team and show our speed within those limits. The Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC is a new car for me and for sure I will need some time to get used to it. After I drove it for the first time at the pre-event test, there is no doubt that it is a winning car. Monza, as an event, has a lot of variations in grip and rhythm. There is also quite a difference between the stages up in the mountains and circuit sections. What a wonderful way to end the season!”

Oliver Solberg

“I was 15 when this current generation of cars started competing in 2017. I remember the incredible excitement around that time: what would they be like? How fast would they be? And what about the downforce? How would that feel?

“To be driving one of these cars at the other end of this generation is something incredible for me. Honestly, if you had told me I would be a Hyundai Motorsport driver in an i20 Coupe WRC when this chapter closed, I would have thought you were a little bit crazy. Of course, it was always my dream, but this is something really special.

“It will be quite emotional to say goodbye to these cars. I know I didn’t drive this amazing Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC so many times like the other guys, but it’s a real privilege to be part of a group of drivers who have competed in the world’s fastest ever rally cars. And an even bigger privilege to do it with this team.

“Next year’s going to be incredible with new technology and quite the same speed and potential, but the ‘WRC Plus’ cars will always be special.

“For Monza, I can’t wait! Last year was a really cool rally. The conditions were a little bit – actually, completely – crazy with all the snow and rain. I hope it’s nicer this time. I know we have fans coming back to this great event, so it would be really nice for them to watch in the sunshine.

“It’s also exciting for me to compete with Elliott for the first time. We did a lot of practise together already and I’m sure we’re going to work well.”

M-Sport Ford WRT

Gus Greensmith

“Monza is a rally of two halves, you have the stages on the circuit which also incorporate quite a lot of gravel and grass which is something we don’t see during the year on Tarmac. Also, the actual Tarmac part of the track is very different as well, it’s more of a single venue format which is very different to what we see all year. Then we go to the stages up in the mountains, three of which are the same as last year which I know from personal experience are very tricky but we also had some very good times there last year. It’s somewhere I think we can excel at this weekend.”

Adrien Fourmaux

“I’m really excited to be going back to Monza after doing the rally last year in a Fiesta Rally2, I was happy about my pace so hopefully we have some good pace on this rally. It’s always interesting to do some stages inside a circuit and also in the really nice mountains. There are some beautiful mountain stages here too, last year was a big challenge with the weather so let’s see and hopefully the conditions will be a bit nicer. We’re happy to see the spectators back in the circuit area and we are looking forward to seeing them there! Thanks to M-Sport and all my partners for an amazing season.”

Jari Huttunen

“For me it’s really exciting to be joining M-Sport for Rally Monza in WRC2. It’s a new car and team to get to know, which will be a steep learning curve, but one I am looking forward to.

“I know that the Fiesta Rally2 is very competitive on Tarmac so I am looking forward to seeing what we can do together. Ok, Rally Monza has extra challenges that come with the circuit stages, but I still cannot wait to line up on the start line of the event with a prestigious team like M-Sport. I would like to thank M-Sport for making this happen at short notice.”

Summary

It could be a really special weekend Elfyn, Scott and their fans. It could just as equally be a special weekend for Seb and Adrien, given that this will be their last rally together before they end their partnership. One of these crews will be victorious and whoever is will completely deserve their success. Hopefully it will a good straight fight between them to the end of the rally with no reliability problems.

Anyone could stand on the podium come the end of the rally. Dani Sordo took third place behind his teammate Ott last year. Could he go one better? Of course, Seb took victory, but Elfyn was thereabouts with his pace before sliding off the road in stage eleven. The weather reports look much more stable in terms of no snow forecast, but we’ll have to see how things go on each day.

Enjoy! The action starts with shakedown on Thursday evening.

Rally Spain 2021 – My Thoughts

We saw another incredible rally in Spain. Let’s take a look and the performances of the crews.

2021 FIA World Rally Championship
Round 11, Rally de Espana
14-17 October 2021
Thierry Neuville
Photographer: Austral
Worldwide copyright: Hyundai Motorsport GmbH

We have to start with the drive from Thierry and Martijn. Once they took the lead from Elfyn and Scott, they didn’t look back. Nine stage wins gave him a good lead and a repeat win as well after winning in 2019. It was a typically strong drive from the Belgian duo, and the kind that you’d expect from Thierry.

Elfyn and Scott, competing for the first time in Spain in the Toyota Yaris surprised everyone with their pace on the first stage and I’m not sure why. The Welshman has always shown very good pace on tarmac over the years, and with him getting the car to his liking, it was just a matter of time when he’d be quick. He still had some struggles as the roads got messy with the gravel being pulled out and the car not giving him the feeling that he wanted, but their performance was good enough to net second place, and also with the good finish to the power stage they closed the championship lead down a bit more to just seventeen points.

2021 FIA World Rally Championship / Round 11 / Rally Catalunya/Spain / 14-17 October 2021 // Worldwide Copyright: Toyota Gazoo Racing WRT

Dani and Candido had a great event, driving to their first podium together. They passed Seb on the final day for third place, taking four stage wins, including the power stage as well. It was a really good drive and has kept Hyundai’s hopes of retaining their manufacturers title just a bit longer.

2021 FIA World Rally Championship
Round 11, Rally de España
14-17 October 2021
Dani Sordo, Candido Carrera, Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC
Photographer: Dufour Fabien
Worldwide copyright: Hyundai Motorsport GmbH

Looking beyond the podium Seb and Julien were the only other crew to take some stage wins, with two on Saturday. It wasn’t enough though to help them hold onto the podium position though and means that they go to Rally Monza with a useful but not big lead over their teammates. It is likely that the championship will be decided on the final stage, should both crews still be running on the final day.

2021 FIA World Rally Championship / Round 11 / Rally Catalunya/Spain / 14-17 October 2021 // Worldwide Copyright: Toyota Gazoo Racing WRT

Kalle and Jonne had a good rally, with consistent times in the stages. They’d not competed in the Yaris on these roads before, and showed good pace out there. When we return next year, we can expect some good pace from the young Finn’s.

2021 FIA World Rally Championship / Round 11 / Rally Catalunya/Spain / 14-17 October 2021 // Worldwide Copyright: Toyota Gazoo Racing WRT

At M-Sport we saw good drives from both crews. Adrien and new co-driver Alex did pretty well and set some good times including a second fastest time. There was a mistake that cost them time, but that does not detract from a very good drive from the French duo.

For Gus and Chris, it was a really good drive to sixth place. Chris Patterson’s final ever co-drive in a World Rally Car brought them both a good result, the kind that we have got used to since the change for Gus earlier this year.

 

Oliver and Craig drove to an excellent seventh overall, gaining good experience for the future. Learning the stages that they will return to, including the unique nature of the way to drive these cars in the road conditions that face them.

Finally, Ott and Martin had a rally to forget. After struggling with understeer throughout Friday morning, they went off the road, colliding with some trees causing too much damage to his i20 and leading to retirement from the event. A big shame for the crew who won their world title on this rally in 2019. They will return next year with a new car and hope for a better result. Who knows, they may even be fighting for another world championship.

2021 FIA World Rally Championship
Round 11, Rally de España
14-17 October 2021
Ott Tanak, Martin Jarveoja, Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC
Photographer: Dufour Fabien
Worldwide copyright: Hyundai Motorsport GmbH

Well, we now head to Rally Monza which will see the championship decided for the second year in a row. Look out for my preview just before.

Rally Spain, Day Three Report – Thierry and Martijn win Rally Spain!

Well, just 50km’s over four stages remained, including the power stage of course. The start list looked like this – Katsuta, Fourmaux, Solans, Solberg, Greensmith, Rovanperä, Sordo, Ogier, Evans, Neuville.

SS14 Santa Marina 1 – 9.10 km was first up and run before sunrise as well, bringing an added dimension and difficulty to the stage. Dani set the best time, from Thierry and Elfyn. The Spaniards pace meant that he’s passed Seb for third place as well. Elfyn lost a further 1.4 seconds to Thierry whose lead was now 17.1 seconds. Adrien continued to show good pace as well, setting the early pace, and ultimately being fifth fastest.

Well, into SS15 Riudecanyes 1 – 16.35 km and the dress rehearsal for the power stage. Dani was fastest again from Thierry and Seb. Adrien and Takamoto both set the same time jointly sixth fastest in the stage.

2021 FIA World Rally Championship
Round 11, Rally de España
14-17 October 2021
Dani Sordo, Candido Carrera, Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC
Photographer: Dufour Fabien
Worldwide copyright: Hyundai Motorsport GmbH

After a short break the run of SS16 Santa Marina 2 – 9.10 km saw Dani take yet another stage win, seven tenths faster than Seb and the Spaniard was now 2.3 seconds ahead of the world champion, and not looking unfazed at all in their battle. Adrien continued good form in this one, with the fourth best time, equal with Thierry. Elfyn cruised through, three seconds of the front runners’ pace, likely looking ahead to the power stage.

Finally, to SS17 Riudecanyes 2 [Power Stage] – 16.35 km, and there was some drama for Thierry and Martijn as well. A video emerged of Martijn push starting their i20 and then flames and smoke coming out of the exhaust suddenly! They were having problems with the starter motor on their car and getting the car started because of this. Never-the-less, they did make it to the stage on time. Then there was further drama, with rain falling in the stage as well. The startlist was changed once again – Gryazin, Camilli, Katsuta, Fourmaux, Solans, Solberg, Greensmith, Rovanperä, Ogier, Sordo, Evans, Neuville. Nikolay was first to come across the rain at around 13.5km into the stage. As each crew completed, we had a new fastest time. The rain then eased off, but of course the road was still wet and greasy at the end. Dani set the fastest time, taking the maximum points with Thierry second and Elfyn third. It was a good time from the Welshman, eclipsing his title rivals time by three tenths of a second, and nicking another point out of Seb’s lead.

Final Overall Classification –Rally de España

1 T. Neuville M. Wydaeghe Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC 2:34:11.8
2 E. Evans S. Martin Toyota Yaris WRC +24.1
3 D. Sordo C. Carrera Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC +35.3
4 S. Ogier J. Ingrassia Toyota Yaris WRC +42.1
5 K. Rovanperä J. Halttunen Toyota Yaris WRC +1:31.8
6 G. Greensmith C. Patterson Ford Fiesta WRC +4:17.3
7 O. Solberg C. Drew Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC +4:26.7
8 N. Solans M. Martí Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC +4:34.9
9 E. Camilli M. Vilmot Citroën C2 Rally2 +9:49.4
10 N. Gryazin K. Aleksandrov Škoda Fabia Evo +10:05.9
2021 FIA World Rally Championship
Round 11, Rally de Espana
14-17 October 2021
Thierry Neuville
Photographer: Austral
Worldwide copyright: Hyundai Motorsport GmbH

Let’s here from the drivers then!

Hyundai Motorsport

Thierry Neuville (1st)

“I am relieved to get to the end of this rally, to be honest. It has been a tough weekend, and not without its challenges. We have fought incredibly hard across all stages, taking a lot of fastest times, and gradually extending our advantage. The result itself probably doesn’t show how much we’ve had to work. We had a good clean run until the final stage; everything was working perfectly up to that point. Unfortunately, we had a lot of stress before the Power Stage with an engine starter motor issue. That was the only disappointing aspect of an otherwise positive rally. Thanks to Martijn for another good job, and our second win together, as well as to Dani and Cándido for their podium result.”

2021 FIA World Rally Championship
Round 11, Rally de Espana
14-17 October 2021
Thierry Neuville, Martijn Wydaeghe, WRC, Action during Day 3 of Rally de Espana 2021
Photographer: Vincent Thuillier
Worldwide copyright: Hyundai Motorsport GmbH

Dani Sordo (3rd)

“Honestly you can’t imagine how happy I am, not only for myself but also for Cándido, as it’s our first podium working together. He has been working really hard to get us to this level. We couldn’t have done any more, we have pushed in every stage. Thanks to all my family and the supporters, who have been cheering us on this weekend. We have been involved in a fantastic battle with Sébastien and it has been a pleasure to drive here. Thanks to the team for giving me such a competitive car that has allowed us to fight, and for supporting me always. I am so happy.”

Oliver Solberg (7th)

“I knew what I had to do this week. I had to come here and drive really sensibly to make the finish, make the miles and to keep Andrea happy.

“I have to say, the conditions were, in places, tougher than I expected. You can watch the onboards and see the cars sliding on some of the gravel and mud pulled to the stage by the cars ahead, but until you are in that car and feeling it slide beneath you in sixth gear, you don’t have the experience.

“Sometimes I have been really surprised by how much the cars are off the road and cutting, but this is why I was here – I had to learn and see this for myself. Now I understand much better this rally and what it takes to make everything work here.

“We had one small problem with the clutch in the Salou stage on Saturday night. I knew I couldn’t stall the car and that was probably the worst stage to drive like that – it was so tight, so narrow and so twisty. Fortunately, it was very short and we could make it through.”

Toyota Gazoo Racing WRT

Elfyn Evans (2nd)

“Second place is a positive result but it’s not so easy to be happy when we made such a good start to the weekend. Unfortunately, it faded away a little bit and I didn’t feel completely at one with everything. There was perhaps a little bit more to gain from this weekend. The good thing from the weekend is that we managed to close the points gap and that the championship is still open. Realistically it’s a big gap to close in one round, but as we experienced last year, anything can still happen and we’ll try our best once again at Monza.”

2021 FIA World Rally Championship / Round 11 / Rally Catalunya/Spain / 14-17 October 2021 // Worldwide Copyright: Toyota Gazoo Racing WRT

Sébastien Ogier (4th)

“Coming here I was targeting more than fourth position, but it is still good points towards the championship. It was a close fight today and we definitely tried in the first three stages; then the rain on the last one did not help with my strategy of not taking risks, and I was definitely on the safe side there. But overall, we have to remember that this weekend is another positive step for the championship and that’s what matters the most. It’s not over yet though, so we’ll have to be good at Monza and try to repeat the success we had there last year.”

Kalle Rovanperä (5th)

“Overall, it has been quite a good weekend for us. There was a lot of learning, especially on Friday, but it got better with the setup and with my driving as the weekend went on. Today we were aiming for the Power Stage but the conditions were tricky and it was drying for the guys behind us on the road, so we didn’t have the chance to fight for more. We didn’t quite find the perfect feeling and not the pace that we wanted, but we tried our best and it was a solid weekend.”

2021 FIA World Rally Championship for Drivers’ Standings
After Round Eleven

1 S. Ogier 204
2 E. Evans 187
3 T. Neuville 159
4 K. Rovanperä 140
5 O. Tänak 128
6 C. Breen 76
7 T. Katsuta 68
8 D. Sordo 63
9 G. Greensmith 60
10 A. Fourmaux 42

 

2021 FIA World Rally Championship for Manufacturers’ Standings
After Round Eleven

1 Toyota Gazoo Racing World Rally Team 474
2 Hyundai Shell Mobis World Rally Team 427
3 M-Sport Ford World Rally Team 187
4 Hyundai 2C Competition 52

Well, we head now to the final round in Rally Monza from the 19th to 21st of November and a battle for both championships as well. Stay turned for my thoughts on the crews’ performances in the next few days.

Rally Spain Day Two Report – Thierry and Martijn pull away for Hyundai Motorsport

The second day then, and the crews had 117km seven stages ahead of them. The startlist looked like this – Katsuta, Solans, Solberg, Greensmith, Fourmaux, Rovanperä, Sordo, Ogier, Evans, Neuville. Now the interesting thing is that coming through the stages last would mean that the conditions for the leaders would be tricky with the corner cuts bringing gravel onto the road.

 

First up was SS7 Savallà 1 – 14.08 km and there was fog and mist in the stage, which kept moving.  The top three was Thierry, Elfyn and Kalle. The Belgian was 1.7 seconds faster and his lead was now up to 2.4 seconds. It was a good stage from the Hyundai driver, and perhaps the type of stage with it longer flowing and faster corners suited the i20 WRC more than the nimble Yaris, which seems to go better on the twisty stuff. Dani lost a little bit of time to Seb, as he looked to move into third, the gap between them now 6.3 seconds. Takamoto was back of course, and looking to build some confidence again on the stages, and did quite well to be just seven tenths behind Gus.

Into the longer SS8 Querol – Les Pobles 1 – 19.17 km and for a little while it looked like Adrien would take the fastest time, but he was denied by Thierry, whilst Dani set the third best time. Elfyn was only fifth fastest and 4.3 seconds down on Thierry’s time, so the gap now had grown to 6.7 seconds.

The final stage then of the morning loop, SS9 El Montmell 1 – 24.40 km and Thierry made it a clean sweep of the morning stage wins, from Dani and Elfyn. The Spainard who was six seconds faster than Seb, had now reduced the gap in their battle for third overall to just three tenths of a second now. It was game on for the final podium spot. Gus suffered a puncture in this one, and decided not to stop and change, but to complete, losing just over a minute. He’d have lost a lot more if he’d stopped, so it was the right choice. The M-Sport crew dropped two places to ninth overall as a result, with Olver and Nil Solans benefitting.

After the lunchtime break came SS10 Savallà 2 – 14.08 km and Thierry was fastest again from Seb who was 1.4 slower and then Elfyn third fastest a further seven tenths behind. The positions were pretty static to be honest, with no changes of places up and down the field. Sadly, Jari Huttunen retired after having an engine problem in his i20 Rally2.

There was a hint of some rain around an hour before SS11 Querol – Les Pobles 2 – 19.17 km, with some rain actually falling, but it soon stopped and didn’t change the surface of the road at all. Seb and Thierry shared the best time in this one, with Elfyn 1.6 slower. The Belgian was doing just enough to grow his lead over Elfyn. There was drama for Adrien though, as he hit a barrier on the left side and damaged his front wheel. He got it changed and limped to the end. A real shame for the Frenchman who’d been second fastest in the first running of the stage earlier.

The last long stage then of the day, SS12 El Montmell 2 – 24.40 km, and Seb finally broke Thierry’s stranglehold winning the stage from Thierry and Dani. Takamoto was fifth fastest, which was a good result for the Japanese driver, as he gained good experience for the future.

2021 FIA World Rally Championship / Round 11 / Rally Catalunya/Spain / 14-17 October 2021 // Worldwide Copyright: Toyota Gazoo Racing WRT

The last stage then of the day, SS13 Salou – 2.15 km, and Thierry was fastest again, but to be honest there was drama for Seb who lost a huge chunk of time after a stall and only being 16th fastest. Dani was now just 1.2 seconds behind the champion in their battle for third place. There was good drama for Mads who placed his C3 Rally2 fourth fastest in the stage with a sideways display in the stage.

Classification after Day Two

1 T. Neuville M. Wydaeghe Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC 2:03:45.7
2 E. Evans S. Martin Toyota Yaris WRC +16.4
3 S. Ogier J. Ingrassia Toyota Yaris WRC +38.7
4 D. Sordo C. Carrera Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC +39.9
5 K. Rovanperä J. Halttunen Toyota Yaris WRC +1:12.3
6 G. Greensmith C. Patterson Ford Fiesta WRC +3:45.2
7 O. Solberg C. Drew Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC +3:45.9
8 N. Solans M. Martí Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC +3:53.8

 

Let’s hear from the drivers then after Saturday’s stages.

Hyundai Motorsport

Thierry Neuville (1st)

“We have had a good day and it’s obviously a very nice feeling to be leading the rally going into the final day. It wasn’t easy; we had some fog early on and the roads were very dirty, so I relied a lot on information from the road note crew. We have taken a clever approach, trying to avoid the sharp cuts, and not risking any punctures. We made an important set-up change yesterday that allowed us to take more out of the car, but there are still things we could have done to go even quicker. I still felt comfortable, and we set six fastest times out of the seven stages, so it wasn’t too bad! It’s always nice to be in front but there are some challenging stages yet to come. Nothing is guaranteed but we keep believing.”

Dani Sordo (4th)

“Honestly, I am quite happy with our performance today, and particularly on the El Montmell stage. I would have preferred to be fighting for the win, of course, but I have been pushing hard to keep up with Sébastien for third. This morning, we were in a nice fight but in the afternoon, he was always a step ahead, setting some strong times. It was difficult for us to make up much ground. We have done the maximum we could, and we’ve been close to his pace. We will try to push for the podium tomorrow, but we know it will be difficult. We have to stay focused and do our best.”

2021 FIA World Rally Championship
Round 11, Rally de Espana
14-17 October 2021
Dani Sordo
Photographer: Austral
Worldwide copyright: Hyundai Motorsport GmbH

Toyota Gazoo Racing WRT

Elfyn Evans (2nd)

“We didn’t have a such a great day today and not what we wanted. The times were OK but not as good as yesterday obviously. We tried to improve the car in certain areas, like in the dirty places where we were struggling yesterday afternoon – and also this morning when we were running further back on the road. To an extent we managed to improve that, but in the process, we affected the overall balance of the car. We had to try something but it didn’t work out: I never really found the sweet spot and never felt as comfortable as yesterday. Here you have to be very confident, and I wasn’t at my very best today and it showed in the times. But tomorrow we’ll keep trying.”

Sébastien Ogier (3rd)

“This morning some things had been improved: I was more happy with the balance and I could enjoy driving the car more in the clean sections at least. Still, the times were not so great. But we continued to work on the car setup and after service it was starting to feel better and the times were coming and we had a great afternoon. Unfortunately, the engine stalled on a hairpin in the final stage so it is close again behind, but the positive is that the car is suiting me and the pace is there so I’m still very confident going into tomorrow.”

Kalle Rovanperä (5th)

“The pace was much better today and we could do good times without taking maximum risk. We made some more setup changes last night and already the first stage this morning was really nice in quite tricky conditions with a bit of fog and some damp places. We had a slow puncture on the second stage and then a big moment on the third one, but overall, it was quite a good morning and I was happy with the car. The afternoon was again quite tricky with a lot of gravel from the cuts, but we were not in a big fight anymore so we took it steady without big risks, and I’m learning all the time. Tomorrow the target is to finish the rally safely but also try to push for points on the Power Stage.”

2021 FIA World Rally Championship / Round 11 / Rally Catalunya/Spain / 14-17 October 2021 // Worldwide Copyright: Toyota Gazoo Racing WRT

Sunday

Now we have 50km’s over four stages remain and it’s looking like Thierry will take victory. Can Elfyn deny his push, or will the Belgian take his second win of the season? We will find out tomorrow!

Rally Spain – Day One Report. Thierry leads for Hyundai

Well, into day one then and the startlist looked like this – Ogier, Evans, Neuville, Rovanperä, Tänak, Katsuta, Greensmith, Sordo, Fourmaux, Solberg, Solans. The crews had six stages ahead of them, with a lunchtime service break.

Well, it was Elfyn who flew through SS1 Vilaplana 1 – 20.00 km, going a full five seconds faster than Thierry and Seb. It was a big statement of intent, and certainly surprised many in the service park. The Hyundai crews were struggling with understeer our there on the stages which had quite long corners and they were just having to stay off the throttle just a bit longer than they wanted.

Into SS2 La Granadella 1 – 21.80 km and Thierry and Elfyn set the exact same time, with Seb third again. Ott who was fourth coming into this one dropped two places as Dani and Kalle both moved past the Estonian after he went for a spin in the stage. There was even bigger drama though for Takamoto and Aaron. He ran wide on the exit of a corner and hit the armco smashing the left front side of his Yaris up. He crawled to the end of the stage, but it really was over for them today.

Elfyn won SS3 Riba-roja 1 – 14.21 km from Seb and Dani, with Thierry only sixth fastest and 2.8 behind the Welshman who took a 7.9 second lead into the break. There was a good battle as well in the WRC2 and WRC3 categories. Mads was quickest in the stage and reduced the gap to former M-Sport teammate Eric Camilli to just four tenths of a second. Kajetan was doing a similar thing winning the category and jumping ahead into second place in the category.

Into the afternoon stages then with SS4 Vilaplana 2 – 20.00 km and Thierry was fastest from Elfyn and the gap came down just three tenths. Seb remained third fastest and had a good gap to Dani who was fourth. We lost Ott on this one after he lost control in a tree-lined section and after spinning he hit a tree. They were out for the day.

There was a big change in SS5 La Granadella 2 – 21.80 km with Thierry flying through the stage and Elfyn having a big moment as well, the Belgian moved into the lead by just three tenths of a second. Seb remained 18 seconds from the lead.

So, to the last stage SS6 Riba-roja 2 – 14.21 km and Thierry made it two in a row going through four tenths quicker than Elfyn with Dani finding some speed and going third fastest, just three tenths faster than Seb. It meant that the Belgian took a lead of just seven tenths into the overnight halt.

 

Classification after Day One

1 T. Neuville M. Wydaeghe Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC 1:01:26.6
2 E. Evans S. Martin Toyota Yaris WRC +0.7
3 S. Ogier J. Ingrassia Toyota Yaris WRC +19.4
4 D. Sordo C. Carrera Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC +24.8
5 K. Rovanperä J. Halttunen Toyota Yaris WRC +38.0
6 A. Fourmaux A. Coria Ford Fiesta WRC +1:10.2
7 G. Greensmith C. Patterson Ford Fiesta WRC +1:28.9
8 O. Solberg C. Drew Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC +1:55.6
9 N. Solans M. Martí Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC +2:30.5

Let’s hear from the drivers after day one.

Hyundai Motorsport

Thierry Neuville (1st)

“I am feeling more comfortable in the car this afternoon. We experienced a lot of understeer on the morning loop, and I felt that I was pushing the car through rather than driving it. On the twisty roads, I felt I could have gone faster but I wasn’t able to get the car to turn in. Tomorrow, we have a different profile of stages, more flowing and I hope they will suit us better. We are going to do all we can to stay in the fight with Elfyn, who had a great start to the rally. It acted as a wake-up call for us, but now we’re back in the game.”

2021 FIA World Rally Championship
Round 11, Rally de España
14-17 October 2021
Thierry Neuville, Martijn Wydaeghe, Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC
Photographer: Dufour Fabien
Worldwide copyright: Hyundai Motorsport GmbH

Dani Sordo (4th)

“I have pushed my hardest since the very start of the day. It is so good to be back here in Spain, competing in our home event. We are back to a full tarmac event, and I think we’ve had a decent Friday. We took a slightly different strategy in the afternoon loop with two spare tyres. That meant we were carrying more weight on the stages but had some better tyre performance in the final stage. I had hoped the time would be better but honestly it was difficult to get any closer. The guys in front are fast. We’ll keep pushing for the podium.”

Ott Tänak (DNF)

“It has been a day of unpleasant surprises. This morning, in SS2, we had quite an impressive spin, and then at the start of the afternoon loop we went off and had to retire the car. We hit a tree stump which caused damage to the car that is unfortunately irreparable. It was quite an impact, so we were probably carrying too much speed into the corner. We locked the wheel a bit, and together with the dirt, we couldn’t save it. Martin and I are both fine; we weren’t really over the limit, so it came a bit out of the blue.”

Toyota Gazoo Racing WRT

Elfyn Evans (2nd)

“This morning was very good for us. The feeling in the car was good and we got into a pretty nice rhythm, but I was surprised to have such a strong time in the first stage. The afternoon loop was OK for the most part, it was just the middle stage where it was a bit more dirty that seemed to be a bit difficult for us. We had a big moment and hit the rear fairly hard on a kerb, but we got away with it. It’s very close now between the top two positions and it’s all to play for going into another tricky day tomorrow.”

2021 FIA World Rally Championship / Round 11 / Rally Catalunya/Spain / 14-17 October 2021 // Worldwide Copyright: Toyota Gazoo Racing WRT

Sébastien Ogier (3rd)

“It’s been an OK day for us today. It was not as good as we wanted, as we came here wanting to fight for the victory and at the moment, we didn’t have the rhythm for that. This morning was not a bad loop, but Elfyn had a really good start. This afternoon there were some really dirty sections, and I struggled a bit on those, not wanting to take full risk. Nineteen seconds is a bit too much of a gap tonight but we’ll keep working to improve and we’re still in a position to fight for big points, so let’s see what tomorrow brings.”

Kalle Rovanperä (5th)

“Overall, it was quite an OK day for us. The morning was quite tricky and we struggled a bit too much. But in service we made some changes to the car which actually helped quite a lot, and it was more enjoyable this afternoon. It was good learning and we gained a lot of experience today that we didn’t have before with this car. Tomorrow could also be quite tricky with stages that our rivals know quite well with World Rally Cars, but we will keep trying to improve.”

Saturday’s stages

Saturday sees 117km over seven stages. Can Elfyn fight back and retake the lead? I think he can and it will be amazing to see the battle for the lead unfold throughout the day.

Rally Spain 2021 Preview – Back to Tarmac!

Well, we are coming to the end of this year’s championship, and for the first time since 2019 we head to Spain! Another twist is that for the first time since 2009 the event will be an all-tarmac event. This will at least mean that Seb Ogier won’t have to sweep the road clear of gravel. He and his teammate Elfyn will continue their battle for this seasons Drivers World Championship on the super smooth roads of Spain. If the Welshman wins in Spain, then he will take the fight to the finale at Rally Monza. However, if Seb scores six or more points than Elfyn, then the Frenchman will take his eighth title in his final season.

Let’s take a look at the stages facing them all. 280km over the seventeen stages. The conditions will remain pretty consistent throughout the weekend with sunny weather forecast for the whole weekend.

Rally de España opens with shakedown on the morning of Thursday 14 October, followed by the ceremonial start near the Salou-based service park.

Friday’s six-stage itinerary features two runs of Vilaplana (20.00km), La Granadella (21.80km) and Riba – roja (14.21km).

Saturday is the longest day of the rally, with two loops of Savallà (14.08km), Querol – Les Pobles (19.17km) and El Montmell (24.40km) followed by a short street stage in the heart of Salou (2.24km).

Santa Marina (9.10km) and Riudecanyes (16.35km) close the event on Sunday, with the second pass of the latter stage forming the event’s Power Stage.

RallyRACC Catalunya-Costa Daurada itinerary:
Friday October 15
SS1 Vilaplana 1 20.00km (12.42 miles) 0843
SS2 La Granadella 1 21.80km (13.38 miles) 1021
SS3 Riba-roja 1 14.21km (8.72 miles) 1142
Service Port Aventura 1317
SS4 Vilaplana 2 20.00km (12.42 miles) 1500
SS5 La Granadella 2 21.80km (13.38 miles) 1638
SS6 Riba-roja 2 14.21km (8.72 miles) 1759
Service Port Aventura 1949

Saturday October 16
SS7 Savallà 1 14.08km (8.74 miles) 0844
SS8 Querol-Les Pobles 1 19.17km (11.91 miles) 0937
SS9 El Montmell 1 24.40km (15.15 miles) 1038
Service Port Aventura 1200
SS10 Savallà 2 14.08km (8.74 miles) 1414
SS11 Querol-Les Pobles 2 19.17km (11.91 miles) 1507
SS12 El Montmell 2 24.40km (15.15 miles) 1608
SS13 Salou 2.24km (1.39 miles) 1800
Service Port Aventura 1820

Sunday October 17
SS14 Santa Marina 1 9.10km (5.65 miles) 0700
SS15 Riudecanyes 1 16.35 km (10.15 miles) 0808
Service Port Aventura 0854
SS16 Santa Marina 2 9.10km (5.65 miles) 1029
SS17 Riudecanyes 2 16.35 km (10.15 miles) 1218

 

Now, let’s hear from the drivers.

Toyota Gazoo Racing WRT

Sébastien Ogier

“I’m really looking forward to Spain and to being back on asphalt again. It will be nice to have all three days of the rally on asphalt because those roads are really fun to drive. Also, for us it will good to not be sweeping gravel on the first day of the rally like we have been doing for much of the season. We are still in a strong position for the championship. Spain will be the first realistic chance to claim the title and I know what I need to do to make it happen. When I have the chance to win, I try to fight for it, and this will be the most simple way to achieve our goal.”

2021 FIA World Rally Championship / Round 11 / Rally Catalunya/Spain / 14-17 October 2021 // Worldwide Copyright: Toyota Gazoo Racing WRT

Elfyn Evans

“The win on Rally Finland was a great result for us. The drivers’ title is still a long shot for us but once more we’ll be giving our best in Spain and trying to get the best possible result there. The asphalt roads in Spain are really fantastic to drive, so I’m looking forward to competing on an all-asphalt event this time around. So far whenever I’ve driven the Yaris WRC on asphalt, the surface has usually been quite dirty or provided very low grip, so I’m excited to drive the higher-grip roads in Spain in this car. That said, at this time of year the weather is never guaranteed to be dry even in Spain. If it does rain, as we’ve seen in previous years, it can still be quite a tricky and demanding event.”

Kalle Rovanperä

“I have driven in Spain twice before in WRC 2 and I always liked the days on asphalt there, so for me it’s a positive thing that it will be a full asphalt rally again. If the weather is good then it’s a really nice event. The roads are really fast and flowing and a bit different to the other rounds we normally do on asphalt. It’s more like circuit driving and you need to be really precise, but when you get it right then it’s really enjoyable. The characteristics were quite different in Ypres but there I had a good feeling in the car in asphalt specification, and I hope we can have that again in Spain and fight for a good result for ourselves and the team.”

Hyundai Motorsport

Thierry Neuville

“When I first participated in Rally de España it was a full tarmac event and now we are back to that profile after a few years of mixed terrain. I’m looking forward to tackling some of the famous stages we have seen in the past. It is a rally I like; the nice flowing roads are really good fun to drive with these WRC cars. It is more of a circuit-style of driving, so you need to be clean and efficient, taking care not to slide too much. You also need good pace notes to rely on to be fast, as it is difficult to make a big difference in the gaps on these types of roads.”

2021 FIA World Rally Championship
Round 11, Rally de España
14-17 October 2021
Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC
Photographer: Dufour Fabien
Worldwide copyright: Hyundai Motorsport GmbH

Ott Tänak

“It has been a while since we’ve had three days of tarmac competition at Rally de España. It is a very fast event and one that I really enjoy. The roads require pure, clean driving – the routes in the forest are quite smooth with not many cuts and the weather is consistent there, which makes it an enjoyable event for me. After two consecutive podium finishes, it would be nice to secure a hat-trick in Spain as we aim for a strong finish to this season.”

Dani Sordo

“I am really happy to be back driving in Spain after two years without a rally in my home country. I’m looking forward to the challenge of a full tarmac event; I’m hoping the weather will be nice and that we will have a lot of fans there as well. You need to have a really good car set-up and be confident – then, you enjoy the rally a lot. If you have a car that is understeering and not working very well, you won’t be happy. I can’t wait to be back at Rally de España.”

Jari Huttunen

“I’m looking forward to the return of tarmac next weekend after our victory in Ypres Rally Belgium. We were able to find a good confidence and rhythm with the Hyundai i20 N Rally2 on those roads which we hope will put us on the front foot in Spain. Finland didn’t quite go our way from the start of the rally, so the target is to perform well from the very first stage.”

Teemu Suninen

“I’m looking forward to Rally de España with the Hyundai i20 N Rally2. Spain has been one of my all-time favourite rallies. At the same time, it’s the best event to feel the balance of the new car on tarmac because of the long curves. There are a lot of new stages in the rally this year, and therefore the pace notes will play an important role next weekend.”

M-Sport Ford WRT

Gus Greensmith

“Spain’s a beautiful event with very smooth, fast and flowing Tarmac roads which is always a pleasure to drive in these cars. It’s something that seems to have always suited the Fiesta in the past so we know that it should be much stronger than in Finland and we’re hoping for a good result as a team.”

Adrien Fourmaux

“I am really happy to be back in Spain, I was there two years ago in the Fiesta Rally2 and have some good experience on this event. I really like this Tarmac event which is quite interesting with the lines you need for the corners. It’s quite a grippy event and my second event with Alex so we still want to improve our pace together.

“We want to have a good result we know the car is really good on Tarmac and want to able to fight with the rest of the guys.”

Seb Perez

“Really excited for Catalunya this weekend, it is going to be really good. My circuit knowledge should help with the gravel stuff, obviously the cuts are going to be a bit of a challenge. Hopefully I get my head around them and use them to my advantage, it’s going to be exciting as my first WRC round.

“I’ve done plenty events in the Fiesta Rally2 now so I’m looking forward to a couple of days of good rallying.”

 

Well, we are set then for an amazing Rally Spain. Elfyn and Scott do need to win this weekend to take the title battle to the final round. There can be no sitting back and hoping that second place will do the job. I don’t think that Seb and Julien can count their chickens either. It’s not a foregone conclusion that they will win either. Their teammates are very quick on tarmac. Then there’s the Hyundai challengers. Ott won the title for Toyota in 2019, but it was Thierry Neuville who took victory for Hyundai that year. Perhaps either of them could also challenge for the win and that could bring extra spice to the championship, if they are ahead of either Seb or Elfyn.

Shakedown starts in the morning, and it will be interesting to see who has dialled their car in in their pre-event test, as they may the one leading at the end of day one. Pop back on Friday for my Day One report.