World Rally Championship 2020 Calendar Changes

We had some exciting news reported this afternoon! There has been an announcement with changes made to the calendar after the loss of many rounds through the summer period.

2020 FIA World Rally Championship
Rallye Monte-Carlo 2020
22-26 January 2020
Thierry Neuville, Nicolas Gilsoul, Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC
Photographer: Helena El Mokni
Worldwide copyright: Hyundai Motorsport GmbH

Making its championship debut at the start of September is Rally Estonia, long rumoured during this lockdown period to be joining the calendar. Taking place during the first weekend of September, this becomes the 33rd country to host a full world rally championship event. It will be a gravel round, and I can imagine that Ott Tänak and his co-driver Martin Järveoja will be very excited about competing on home soil!

2020 FIA World Rally Championship / Round 02 / Swedish Rally / February 13-16, 2020 // Worldwide Copyright: Toyota Gazoo Racing WRT

Following up is the scheduled Rally Turkey, over the weekend of the 24th to 27th of September, then Rally Germany, the all tarmac round from the 15th to the 18th of October. Following those two events is the rescheduled Rally Italia Sardegna which takes place over the final weekend of October, 29th October to the 1st of November, that would have seen Wales Rally GB take place. The season will conclude in Japan in November over the weekend of the 19th to 22nd.

FIA World Rally Championship 2019 / Round 03 / Rally Mexico / March 7th-10th, 2019 // Worldwide Copyright: Toyota Gazoo Racing WRC

Here’s the full updated calendar for you!

Monte-Carlo 23rd to 26th January

Rally Sweden 13th to 16th February

Rally Mexico 12th to 15th March (this finished early on the 14th of course)

Rally Estonia 4th to 6th September

Rally Turkey 24th to 27th September

Rally Germany 15th to 18th October

Rally Italia Sardegna 29th October to 1st November

Rally Japan 19th to 22nd November

 

There also may be the addition of Ypres Rally in Belgium which could take place over the weekend of the 2nd to the 4th of October and Croatia with a date yet to be confirmed as other options.

 

Here’s a reminder of the current championship standings.

 

2020 FIA World Rally Championship for Drivers’ Standings
After round 3

1 S. Ogier 62
2 E. Evans 54
3 T. Neuville 42
4 K. Rovanperä 40
5 O. Tänak 38
6 T. Suninen 26
7 E. Lappi 24
8 S.Loeb 8
9 T. Katsuta 8

 

2020 FIA World Rally Championship for Manufacturers’ Standings
After round 3

1 Toyota Gazoo Racing World Rally Team 110
2 Hyundai Shell Mobis World Rally Team 89
3 M-Sport Ford World Rally Team 65

 

Well, we are hopefully set for an exciting remainder of this season’s championship.

Rally Mexico 2020 Review – Seb and Julien take victory for Toyota!

As ever this event started on Thursday evening with two short street stages. Thierry Neuville won both of them, whilst Elfyn Evans second fastest behind him on both, and in sharing third fastest times were Teemu Suninen in the first run, and Ott Tanak in the second run. Overall top three at this point were Thierry, Elfyn and Ott.

Friday

With ten stages covering 132.86 km’s ahead of the crews, it would be a challenging day out there, particularly as the temperature began to rise. The start list looked like this – 1. Evans 2. Neuville 3. Ogier 4. Rovanperä 5. Lappi 6. Tänak 7. Suninen 8. Greensmith 9. Sordo.

 

The reigning world champion set the fastest time in SS3 El Chocolate 1 – 31.45 km, making the most of his good starting position and took the lead. His closest challengers were Teemu Suninen and Seb Ogier. Championship leaders, Elfyn Evans and Thierry Neuville held seventh and fourth respectively.

 

Into SS4 Ortega 1 – 17.24 km, saw a very good time from Seb Ogier, who won the stage from Dani Sordo and Esapekka Lappi, whilst Ott Tanak lost 45 seconds and dropped from the lead down to eighth place, having damaged the rear of his car. Top three was now Seb, Teemu and Thierry.

 

A good run for Dani Sordo in SS5 Las Minas 1 – 13.69 km, saw the Spaniard win the stage from Ott, with rally leader Seb third. However, Elfyn was going well too, considering he was opening the road and he’d set the fourth best time, just 5.2 slower than the stage winner.

 

It was a second stage win for Hyundai, with Thierry Neuville winning SS6 Parque Bicentenario – 2.71 km from Elfyn and Seb. The former champion still held the lead from Teemu Suninen with Thierry still in third.

 

Well, after lunchtime service Ott Tanak won SS7 El Chocolate 2 – 31.45 km, with Teemu just six tenths slower than the Estonian, and Seb in third. Sadly, it was the last stage that Esapekka Lappi completed, as their Fiesta caught fire at the rear. It was an ignominious end for a great car, as the whole car was engulfed. Esapekka and Janne made it out okay.

 

The following stage, SS8 Ortega 2 – 17.24 km was cancelled. In fact, the organisers announced that SS9 was also cancelled, but subsequently was reinstated, with a start time that was 30 minutes later.

 

Ott Tanak won SS9 Las Minas 2 – 13.69 km and moved from seventh into third place as a result. Kalle was second quickest, and Seb was third. Teemu remained in second place overall.

 

Next up was SS10 SSS Autodromo Shell V-Power 1 – 2.33 km, which had two runs. The top three in the first run was Seb, Elfyn and Ott and in the second run, Seb, Teemu and Ott.

 

The final stage of the day SS12 Street Stage León – 0.73 km was won by Kalle, with teammate Elfyn second fastest and Teemu in third. Elfyn’s good time, meant that he’d moved up into third place as well.

 

Classification after Day One

1 S. Ogier J. Ingrassia Toyota Yaris WRC 1:23:09.2
2 T. Suninen J. Lehtinen Ford Fiesta WRC +13.2
3 E. Evans S. Martin Toyota Yaris WRC +33.2
4 O. Tänak M. Järveoja Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC +33.4
5 K. Rovanperä J. Halttunen Toyota Yaris WRC +35.7
6 G. Greensmith E. Edmondson Ford Fiesta WRC +1:16.8

Let’s hear from the drivers.

Toyota Gazoo Racing WRT

Sébastien Ogier (1st)

“It’s been a good day, I’m very pleased to be in the lead tonight. This morning the times were not bad but the confidence was not at the maximum. I was still trying to get comfortable, but I made some adjustments to the setup and having some more miles in the car on this surface helped me to feel much better in the afternoon. Tomorrow will be another long day. We will have the best starting position, so we have to try to make the most out of it.”

Elfyn Evans (3rd)

“It’s been a pretty difficult day opening the road, as we knew it would be. But overall, it’s not been bad. The car was working generally very well. Both El Chocolate stages were the challenging stages to find a good feeling, but that was probably down to the road condition as the surface was very loose. In other places it went better than expected. We’ll just keep pushing as hard as we can and see what’s possible.”

Kalle Rovanperä (5th)

“It was getting better all the time today and I’m building the confidence up. It’s nice to see that I’m learning the car quite quickly. There is still some work to do, but it was a nice day. I don’t know where I got the slow puncture on the first stage this morning, but it can happen. After that I was a bit more cautious for the rest of the morning loop because we didn’t have any spare tyres, but on the second loop I tried to be a bit cleaner and faster and it went well.”

 

Hyundai Motorsport

Ott Tänak (4th)

“We’ve had a really bad day as a team. We lost a lot of time on the second stage, which dropped us back. I went wide and hit quite a big stone which damaged the rear suspension. We had some spare parts to fix it but not enough, so we had to limp to the end. Thankfully, we didn’t lose too much time, but it made for a difficult Friday. Road position is crucial for tomorrow so I am pleased we could make up some places. Everything is still possible, but it’s certainly more complicated.”

Thierry Neuville (Rally2)

“We started the rally well, considering our starting position, and I felt we had a very good run on the opening stages. We pushed hard and got some good performance from the car. We still needed to find some rear grip, but we made some changes at lunchtime service to improve that. We were still in the podium fight after the second run through El Chocolate. The following stage was cancelled but we were still focused. Unfortunately, something happened with the car in the repeat of Las Minas, which meant we had to stop mid-stage after about 5km. A very frustrating end to a tough day for the team. We hope we can re-join on Saturday, but the team needs to assess the car first.”

Dani Sordo (Retired)

“This was not how we envisaged our Rally México to turn out. We started this morning with high expectations but already in the El Chocolate stage we hit trouble when our radiator pipe came loose. I was driving normally, but clearly it wasn’t fixed tightly enough. We made some repairs and tried to push hard on the following stages but unfortunately the damage to the engine forced us to stop in the afternoon loop. These things can happen; we are all human and we have to recover from this disappointment as a team. Of course, it’s hard to take when we had such big hopes for this event but that’s rallying sometimes.”

 

M-Sport Ford WRT

Teemu Suninen (2nd)

“It’s been a really good and trouble-free day for us. I was sending the car into the corners and driving on the limits – which is what you need to do if you want to push for the top results at this level. We will try and hold our podium place tomorrow, but at the same time I want to make sure I bring the car to the finish and will focus on myself and on continuing the good rhythm we had today.”

Teemu and Jarmo drove brilliantly all weekend. Photo credit, M-Sport Ford WRT

Gus Greensmith (6th)

“I just haven’t been able to get into my rhythm today and I’m a long way off where I wanted to be. We’ve not had the speed we were hoping for, but Teemu has proven that the car is quick so it’s all down to me! The objective now is just to focus on improvements, and bring the car home for some good points.”

Esapekka Lappi (Retired)

“On the stop line we understood that the rear of the car was on fire, but in that moment I didn’t realise how bad it was. We tried to put it out and drove on to a safer place, but when I lost the brakes I realised it was still burning quite bad – and jumped out as quickly as I could!

“I don’t know what caused it as there was no issue on the stage and it was actually a pretty good time. We were going well and fighting for the podium, so it’s a really big disappointment for us and for the whole team. But everyone is okay, and that is the most important thing right now.”

Saturday

With nine stages over 133km’s, it would be a challenging day again for the crews. The running order looked like this – 1. Neuville 2. Greensmith 3. Rovanperä 4. Evans 5. Tänak 6. Suninen 7. Ogier

 

Seb Ogier won SS13 Guanajuatito 1 – 24.96 km from Ott, who moved back into third overall, whist fast Finn Teemu set the third best time, looking to keep a charging world champion at bay.

 

Thierry showed that he could set a good time, winning SS14 Alfaro 1 – 16.99 km, from Ott and Seb. The Estonian closed the gap to Teemu a little as well who had set the same as Elfyn. The top three remained the same, and Seb had now increased his lead a further five seconds to 27.6. Sadly, Gus Greensmith stopped in this stage, losing ten minutes, before getting going again. There were some start lineup changes, with Thierry now starting the stage ahead of Ott. The Hyundai team were trying all the tricks to help their world champion get ahead of Teemu! All within the rules….

 

The top three in SS15 Derramadero 1 – 21.78 km was Ott, Elfyn and Seb. With his quick pace, Ott had closed the gap to Teemu a further 6.8 seconds in their battle for second place. Thierry overshot a junction and lost 7.1 seconds.

 

After the lunchtime service, SS16 Guanajuatito 2 – 24.96 km was next up. There was some big news however. The organisers had decided that the Sunday’s stages would be cancelled, meaning there were six stages left to decide the result of this year’s event. Covid 19 was affecting this event. The fact that the rally even started was a surprise, but the impeding travel restrictions were having their affect. The stage was won by Thierry, with Seb and Ott just behind. Teemu had a six second lead over the world champions.

 

The battle for second place continued between them into SS17 Alfaro 2 – 16.99 km, with Ott winning the stage from Thierry and Teemu. The Finn was just 3.1 ahead of a charging world champion. Seb was still leading by a huge 28.1 seconds.

 

The Estonian crew in their Hyundai were on a charge, winning SS18 Derramadero 2 – 21.78 km and moving ahead of Teemu who lost 9.4 seconds. Thierry and Seb were second and third fastest. The French pairing held a 27.4 second lead now with just three stages left.

 

SS19 SSS Autodromo Shell V-Power 3 was won by Thierry with Ott and Elfyn second and third fastest. The gap between Ott and Teemu widened a bit more. The Hyundai crew were making second place theirs.

 

The second run of SS20 SSS Autodromo Shell V-Power 4 – 2.33 km would see Thierry and Ott first and second again, with Seb their closest challenger.

 

The final stage then, SS21 Rock & Rally León – 1.62 km, and the top three was Thierry, Seb and Ott. Seb’s winning margin was a dominant 27.8 seconds. The French pairing had taken their first victory for Toyota. Ott had driven incredibly well to take second place, and Teemu took third, after a very good drive, much like Elfyn last year.

Final Overall Classification – Rally México

1 S. Ogier J. Ingrassia Toyota Yaris WRC 2:47:47.6
2 O. Tänak M. Järveoja Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC +27.8
3 T. Suninen J. Lehtinen Ford Fiesta WRC +37.9
3 E. Evans S. Martin Toyota Yaris WRC +1:13.4
5 K. Rovanperä J. Halttunen Toyota Yaris WRC +2:20.5
6 P. Tidemand P. Barth Škoda Fabia R5 +10:29.3
7 N. Gryazin Y. Fedorov Hyundai i20 R5 +12:27.0
8 M. Bulacia G. Bernacchini Citroën C3 R5 +13:37.5
9 G. Greensmith E. Edmondson Ford Fiesta WRC +13:56.5
10 O.C. Veiby J. Andersson Hyundai i20 R5 +15:32.2

 

Let’s hear from the drivers!

Toyota Gazoo Racing WRT

Sébastien Ogier (1st)

“It’s been a good weekend. We had a good feeling straight from the start and we took our chance to take the lead on Friday morning. Today we had a better starting position and we pushed straight away and increased the gap, and then we tried to control it until the end. It’s a strange victory and it’s hard to celebrate in these circumstances. But thank you to the team, they’ve done a fantastic job this weekend. The car has been faultless all weekend. It’s been really reliable and fast, and these are good points for the championship.”

Elfyn Evans (4th)

“It’s not been an easy weekend for us, but I felt like we drove pretty well. This morning I think we maximised everything we could, but with the road positions it didn’t work out. This afternoon we made a few little errors and we picked up some little issues along the way, so we weren’t able to challenge. So, I’m a little bit disappointed in one way, but at the same time, fourth place after opening the road on the first day in Mexico is not so bad. All three Yaris WRCs are here at the finish, so it’s a testament to the team and the strength of the car.”

2020 FIA World Rally Championship / Round 03 / Rally Mexico / March 12-15, 2020 // Worldwide Copyright: Toyota Gazoo Racing WRT

Kalle Rovanperä (6th)

“I’m quite happy overall. It was not the best weekend, but we had a few unlucky moments, and it was nice to see that when we tried to push, we had a good pace. It’s not so easy to have good speed on the first time here, so I can be happy. Today was mostly sweeping the road, and so we went for a safe pace just to keep our position while also learning about the road cleaning. It’s been a really good beginning to the season for me: It’s nice to have had clean rallies without any big mistakes and some proper pace sometimes.”

 

Hyundai Motorsport

Ott Tänak (2nd)

“I am pleased to add another second place to my results for Hyundai Motorsport. I feel that I have pushed as hard as I could this weekend, my first proper gravel rally with the team and in the Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC. We had the performance to win this weekend; the incident on Friday morning was my mistake, and I accept full blame for that. We then just tried to get the most out of the rest of the event, and could slowly, slowly make up time and positions. It’s been a demanding event for many reasons, and mentally quite tough, but we have another podium to our name, which is good.”

2020 FIA World Rally Championship
Round 03, Rally Mexico
12-15 March 2020
Ott Tanak, Martin Jarveoja, Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC
Photographer: Helena El Mokni
Worldwide copyright: Hyundai Motorsport GmbH

Thierry Neuville (16th)

“In general, it has been a difficult weekend for Hyundai Motorsport. Unfortunately, we were caught out by some technical issues on the first proper day of the rally and that put us on the backfoot. It’s tough to take but it’s also part of the game in motorsport. On a positive note, we have shown that the speed is there to fight for the victory. After our troubles yesterday we wanted to come back fighting, and we did just that with a strong Saturday overall. We had some competitive runs, including two more stage wins. I tried to push as hard as possible. Together, as a team, we are going to work hard to avoid the sort of problems we’ve had this weekend, and to come back stronger than ever.”

 

M-Sport Ford WRT

Teemu Suninen (3rd)

“I’m really happy with what I was able to do here this weekend, and really proud to bring this good result home for the team. After Sweden it wasn’t looking too good and the bosses were asking for some more pace! Then I switched the switch and was able to come back a stronger man – back on the good pace, and back challenging for the top results.

“I think it was a good drive from me this weekend and we were able to be really consistent which was important. Of course, it would have been nice to have taken the second position, but Ott was driving really fast and we had some brake issues that we had to manage. Still I think we have shown that the potential is there, so let’s see what we can do in the next rallies.”

Gus Greensmith (9th)

“It’s not been the weekend we wanted. Going into the rally we felt really good, but I just haven’t had the feeling and made too many mistakes. I would drive one good kilometre, and then one bad kilometre, and that time just adds up. But things were getting better and I really started to enjoy myself this afternoon. I’ve still got lots to learn, but we’ll get there – we’ve just got to keep at it.”

Summary

It was a very good drive from Seb and Julien to victory, their sixth in this event. It was Toyota’s first though, since their return to the championship in 2017. Last year, showed the progress they’d made, finishing at the time in second place with Ott. All three cars made it to the finish inside the top six as well. Elfyn and Scott took the opportunity to learn, as they opened the road for the first time in their careers, and it was not a perfect drive by any means, by their own admission, but none-the-less, a drive that has kept them near the top of the championship standings. Kalle was once more showing the quality that he and Jonne have shown previously, which had earnt them the drive at Tommi’s team, with a strong drive to sixth position.

 

At Hyundai, Ott Tänak confirmed that he was getting a really good handle on his new car, with a strong drive to second. Thierry and Dani suffered with reliability problems, which had hit their hopes both as a team, and as individuals with their own wishes for a good result. The team used some loopholes to put Thierry Neuville in front of Ott Tänak.

 

M-Sport showed why they are such a great team. With Teemu driving really well, he held off a charging Ott Tänak until almost the very end. Third place was a worthy result. Disaster struck Esapekka however, and a car that Elfyn Evans drove last year was completely destroyed. Gus Greensmith lacked consistency, after holding sixth coming into Saturday, he slumped to ninth place.

Well, we just don’t know now when we’ll see the next event, after Rally Argentina was postponed. The following rounds in Portugal and Sardegna may also go the same way. It all depends on the ease of travel. Once it gets back underway, we will see a big battle for this year’s crown.

Rally Mexico 2020 Podium. Photo credit, M-Sport Ford WRT

2020 FIA World Rally Championship for Drivers’ Standings
After round 3

1 S. Ogier 62
2 E. Evans 54
3 T. Neuville 42
4 K. Rovanperä 40
5 O. Tänak 38
6 T. Suninen 26
7 E. Lappi 24
8 S.Loeb 8
9 T. Katsuta 8

 

 

2020 FIA World Rally Championship for Manufacturers’ Standings
After round 3

1 Toyota Gazoo Racing World Rally Team 110
2 Hyundai Shell Mobis World Rally Team 89
3 M-Sport Ford World Rally Team 65

Rally Mexico 2020 Preview – Heat and Height bring a tricky combination

It’s time for the first round of the year on gravel, and Elfyn Evans with co-driver Scott Martin head to Mexico as leaders of the World Championship for the first time in their careers, just like Ott Tanak and Martin Jarveoja last year. This brings them a whole new challenge. Opening the road on day one, with lots of road cleaning is going give them a whole new learning curve. The one thing that could allow them to stay in the hunt for a win would be if it rains. If that doesn’t happen, the best they can hope for is finishing on the podium.

 

Throwback to 2019

Twelve months ago, Seb and Julien took a strong victory winning four stages. Ott Tanak and Martin Jarveoja took five stage wins, and finished in second position, 30 seconds behind the French duo. Welsh wizard Elfyn Evans and Scott Martin took their first podium of the year as well at the time, despite not winning any stages, with a really good consistent run, which kept them in second place until Sunday.

Now, who will be in the fight for victory? It’s hard to look past Seb Ogier, Ott Tanak and Thierry Neuville battling for this one, but can either of M-Sport Ford’s Finns come through to challenge? Elfyn took a very good podium last year for his former team, so the car has good pace on gravel.

 

12 March

10:01     —                Llano Grande [Shakedown]                         5.51 km

 

Leg 1 — 135.10 km

12 March

20:08     SS1         Monster Energy Street Stage GTO 1          1.12 km

20:31     SS2         Monster Energy Street Stage GTO 2          1.12 km

13 March

9:08        SS3         El Chocolate 1                                                    31.45 km

10:16      SS4         Ortega 1                                                                 17.24 km

11:14       SS5         Las Minas 1                                                          13.69 km

12:12      SS6         Parque Bicentenario                                          2.71 km

15:35     SS7         El Chocolate 2                                                    31.45 km

16:43     SS8         Ortega 2                                                                17.24 km

17:41      SS9         Las Minas 2                                                          13.69 km

19:21     SS10       SSS Autodromo Shell V-Power 1                 2.33 km

19:26     SS11       SSS Autodromo Shell V-Power 2                 2.33 km

19:26     SS12       Street Stage León                                              0.73 km

 

Leg 2 — 133.74 km

14 March

8:58       SS13       Guanajuatito 1                                                    24.96 km

10:01      SS14       Alfaro 1                                                                  16.99 km

11:08      SS15       Derramadero 1                                                    21.78 km

14:56     SS16       Guanajuatito 2                                                   24.96 km

15:59     SS17       Alfaro 2                                                                   16.99 km

17:08     SS18       Derramadero 2                                                    21.78 km

18:38     SS19       SSS Autodromo Shell V-Power 3                 2.33 km

18:43     SS20       SSS Autodromo Shell V-Power 4                 2.33 km

19:26     SS21       Rock & Rally León                                                  1.62 km

 

Leg 3 — 56.01 km

15 March

8:38        SS22       Otates                                                                   33.61 km

9:56        SS23       San Diego                                                            12.76 km

11:18        SS24       El Brinco [Power Stage]                                 9.64 km

 

Let’s hear from the drivers!

Toyota Gazoo Racing WRT

Elfyn Evans

“It’s obviously been a great start to the year with the team, and I’m looking forward now to the first gravel event of the season. In a way, Mexico is quite like the first two rallies of the year, in that it has its own specific challenges that we have to try and adapt to. And this year, it’s another new surface for us to get used to with a new car. But we found a good feeling in the first two rounds, and we hope to do the same in Mexico. Leading the championship does mean we will be opening on the road on Friday, which will not make it easy for us, but we almost have to forget about that and just focus on the job in hand.”

Sébastien Ogier

“It’s always a great feeling every year to go to Rally Mexico. I have so many good memories there: It was my first WRC event back in 2008, when we started with a win in the Junior category, and since then we’ve had a lot of good results there. I have had the chance to do two days of testing in Spain recently, and I think the first feeling with the car on gravel is really good. After two events where we had some good pace but didn’t manage to claim a win yet, this will definitely be the target in Mexico. With more mileage in the car now, I start to feel more and more comfortable in the Yaris WRC. Being third on the road is not a bad starting position, and our plan will be to try to fight as hard as we can for the victory.”

Kalle Rovanperä

“The pre-event test in Spain was the first time for me on gravel in the Yaris WRC, but I was getting used to the feeling more and more. We tried a few different setup options and I think we found a good compromise. I competed on Rally Mexico two years ago, and the main difficulty there is the high altitude, which means you need to adapt your driving style. Sweden was of course a very nice rally for us, but I think that Mexico could be one of the trickiest events for me this year with my experience, and we will have to see how it goes.”

FIA World Rally Championship 2019 / Round 03 / Rally Mexico / March 7th-10th, 2019 // Worldwide Copyright: Toyota Gazoo Racing WRC

Hyundai Motorsport

Thierry Neuville

“Rally México is the first ‘summer’ event with hotter temperatures than we faced in Monte and Sweden, as well as high altitude and some demanding long stages. They are tough conditions, especially as one of the first cars on the road. I have great memories of Mexico, including our first podium with Hyundai Motorsport, and my first-ever WRC top-three finish the year before. It has always been one of the rallies I wanted to win; I was never quite able to achieve it, but it would be nice to change that this year.”

2019 FIA World Rally Championship
Round 03 Rally Mexico
07-10 March 2019
Day 2, Action, Thierry Neuville, Nicolas Gilsoul, Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC
Photographer: Fabien Dufour
Worldwide copyright: Hyundai Motorsport GmbH

Ott Tänak

“I was pleased to get my first podium with Hyundai Motorsport in Sweden, but Mexico will be very different – it’s a unique challenge. The heat and altitude make it a very specific event on the calendar. On the fan side, too, it’s amazing; we have a lot of people spectating and going crazy which makes it very special and emotional for us as drivers. There’s nowhere better than Mexico to come and get some sunny weather after the winter. Physically, it can be tough. At altitude we don’t have as much oxygen, so our driving style needs to be smooth and flowing, while the engine power is reduced, so we have to be efficient.”

Dani Sordo

“I am excited to be back in the Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC at Rally México, an event I enjoy a lot and where I have always had a good performance. I have stayed close to the team in the opening events of the season, and took part in Rally Serras de Fafe last weekend, so I feel fit and ready. I really want to win in Mexico and to take another victory for the team. Our road position on the first day should be advantageous but that alone is not enough. The altitude makes it a difficult event, so we have to be prepared physically and to look after the car as well. We have a lot of support and passion from the fans, which only adds to the character of this event. I can’t wait to get back behind the wheel.”

 

M-Sport Ford WRT

Esapekka Lappi

“Every time I get behind the wheel I’m learning more and fine-tuning the set-up to better suit my driving. We worked on a few things in Sweden, and continued that at the pre-event test last week. We’ve not been too far off challenging for the podium, and I think that has to be our goal in Mexico.

“I’m getting more and more confident with the Fiesta, but of course Mexico is a tricky and unique event where you really need to be clean and efficient in your driving. The altitude also means that we run with less power, so small mistakes take longer to recover. But the feeling is good, so let’s see what we can do.”

Teemu Suninen

“I’ve always enjoyed this event and the stages are really nice to drive, but the high temperatures and altitudes mean that it can also be really challenging. Even with a world rally car you can feel the lack of oxygen and we need to be prepared for that – both physically and in our driving too.

Teemu and Markko had a tricky event last year. Photo credit, M-Sport WRT

“We haven’t had the best start to the season, but I’m now fully focused on this event. We completed a pre-event test last week where we found a good set-up, and we know from previous years that the Fiesta is a fast and reliable car here. We will certainly be trying our best to score some good points next week.”

Gus Greensmith

“I’m a huge fan of Rally Mexico and it’s probably my favourite place to visit on the FIA World Rally Championship calendar. The scenery and colours of Guanajuato and the enthusiasm of the fans provide a truly special experience for everyone and I can’t wait to get back there.

“I really enjoyed my time there in 2018, but it will be a completely different challenge this year. I’ve been preparing in the heat and altitude chambers so my body is definitely feeling efficient and I’m sure that will help my performance next week, so let’s see what we can do.”

Summary

Well, we are set for a very exciting rally again from Mexico as the battle for this year’s title continues. Many questions will be answered by the end of this classic event, but we may have even more added. Can Elfyn and Scott, just like Ott and Martin last year did last year keep the championship lead by finishing on the podium? Can Seb and Julien score their first win for Toyota? Or will it be Ott and Martin on top? Shakedown will be very interesting on Thursday, and may reveal some answers. Enjoy!

Rally Sweden 2020 Review – Elfyn and Scott take their first victory together!

Elfyn Evans and Scott Martin scored an impressive and dominant victory in last weekend’s Rally Sweden, and now lead the World Rally Championship for the first time. Here’s the story about it.

The action started on Friday with three stages. The running order was in championship order 1. Neuville 2. Ogier 3. Evans 4. Lappi 5. Rovanperä 6. Suninen 7. Katsuta 8. Tänak 9. Latvala 10. Breen

 

First up was SS2 Hof-Finnskog 1 – 21.26 km. Elfyn started brilliantly, winning the stage and taking a small one second lead from Ott and Kalle in third.

 

Into SS3 Finnskogen 1 – 20.68 km and the world champion hit back, winning the stage and reducing Elfyn’s lead to just two tenths of a second. Third quickest again was young Finn Kalle, who was starting very strongly as well. Top M-Sport driver was Esapekka Lappi held fifth overall having passed championship leader Thierry.

 

Elfyn won SS4 Nyckelvattnet 1 – 18.94 km from Kalle by 2.6 seconds with Seb Ogier third fastest. Kalle’s great pace in this stage lifted him ahead of Ott Tänak and into second place. Elfyn held a 7.9 second lead over his younger teammate, and was a solid 22 seconds ahead of Thierry who was in sixth.

 

Onto the short SS5 Torsby Sprint 1 – 2.80 km to end the day, and Ott won the stage, thus deposing Kalle back into third place. Elfyn held a good lead over Ott of 8.5 seconds, whilst Seb Ogier was in fourth place 3.5 seconds behind Kalle Rovanperä.

 

Classification after Day One

1 E. Evans S. Martin Toyota Yaris WRC 30:43.7
2 O. Tänak M. Järveoja Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC +8.5
3 K. Rovanperä J. Halttunen Toyota Yaris WRC +14.3
4 S. Ogier J. Ingrassia Toyota Yaris WRC +17.8
5 E. Lappi J. Ferm Ford Fiesta WRC +20.9
6 T. Neuville N. Gilsoul Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC +23.6
7 C. Breen P. Nagle Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC +24.2
8 T. Suninen J. Lehtinen Ford Fiesta WRC +31.4
9 T. Katsuta D. Barritt Toyota Yaris WRC +49.6

 

Driver thoughts at the end of Friday.

Toyota Gazoo Racing WRT

Elfyn Evans (1st)

“It’s been a pretty good day. The feeling in the car was immediately good this morning. It was quite difficult to know exactly how hard to push on the first stage: We had quite high grip, but it looked quite aggressive on the tyres. We tried to be quick but also relatively smooth and it seemed to work out pretty well. Now we need to try and do more of the same tomorrow. Nobody knows what the conditions will be like, so we have to adapt to whatever is put in front of us. I don’t think we’ll need to change much as everything worked very well today, but we’ll look over the data and try to find a few more seconds.”

Kalle Rovanperä (3rd)

“Today was nice. The conditions on the stages were better than everybody expected. There was more ice and snow and the tyres were lasting well. In the morning loop we were doing really well and we had good speed. There were a few mistakes here and there, but we were learning more about the car all the time. The last one didn’t go so well as I stalled the car and we lost a lot of time. So that was not so nice, but hopefully we can gain back the time tomorrow. Let’s will see if there is snowfall tonight, as that would make the conditions quite different.”

2020 FIA World Rally Championship / Round 02 / Swedish Rally / February 13-16, 2020 // Worldwide Copyright: Toyota Gazoo Racing WRT

Sébastien Ogier (4th)

“The conditions were not that bad today; I think it was close to normal winter conditions. We could have good fun in some sections with good grip. It’s not been a bad day for us, but our team-mates have proven that we can go faster. It was not easy to start second on the road today, but that’s not the only reason why we have been slower. We need to be a little bit more committed in some places and maybe accept to take a bit more risk. The long-game is always important but we want to leave this event with as many points as possible. We’re going to try to make some little changes on the car for tomorrow and try to improve our pace if we can.”

 

Hyundai Motorsport

Ott Tänak (2nd)

“It’s been a good day. Conditions have been quite similar to the recce so we had an idea of what we would face. The start was not so bad. The first stage, especially on the gravel, was actually quite good. I felt nice in the car, it was in the icy places where I was not so confident. The final stage of the morning was a bit more demanding. With only one day of testing in the car, I was not really full of confidence but it’s coming step by step. I am happy to have made it to the end of this first day; we will now analyse all that we’ve learned from today and aim to speed up a bit tomorrow.”

Thierry Neuville (6th)

“It has been tricky to be first on the road today, but we’ve had a trouble-free run with no mistakes. I’m not happy with the overall classification but I am satisfied with what we’ve done in the car and with the speed. We couldn’t do much more. The first stage was quite consistent but the following two we knew would be trickier. This morning, the layer of ice was very thin in places and the gravel was coming out, which gives more grip to the cars behind. There were also a lot of cuts, where I was the first to discover. This rally is so short, it won’t be possible to catch up a lot of time, but we will fight hard and see what we can achieve tomorrow.”

2020 FIA World Rally Championship
Round 02, Rally Sweden
13-16 February 2020
Thierry Neuville, Nicolas Gilsoul, Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC
Photographer: Helena El Mokni
Worldwide copyright: Hyundai Motorsport GmbH

Craig Breen (8th)

“It is great to be back in a WRC car; it’s been a while since Wales Rally GB. This is a different Rally Sweden to what we’ve seen in previous years, a much shorter event and missing a lot of the kilometres we should have been doing. As the day went on, I started to get more confidence. It’s always going to take a stage or two to get settled back in; fighting against guys who are in the car all the time, it’s hard to be flat out from the start. I really enjoyed it and I felt we were getting stronger with each kilometre. Tomorrow, it could be difficult to make much of a difference, but we’ll certainly try.”

 

M-Sport Ford WRT

Esapekka Lappi (5th)

“It’s been quite a consistent day for us. We can’t match the guys at the front which is a bit frustrating, but we are best of the rest and I’m happy with that. I’m really trying and was twice in the ditch already – losing a couple of seconds with that – but I feel that we can still improve. If we can make some small changes to the set-up then I think the pace can be better and tomorrow is a new day so for sure it’s not over yet. We’ll keep trying and keep pushing until the end.”

Teemu Suninen (7th)

“The conditions have been quite challenging today with a lot of gravel making it tricky to judge the grip. We didn’t have the pace we wanted in the fast sections and that’s something we know we need to work on. But the pace was a lot better in the slower sections and we’ll keep pushing tomorrow.”

Teemu Suninen and Jarmo Lehtinen at speed. Photo credit, M-Sport WRT

Saturday

This day action featured 68km’s over just four stages. The running order for day two was in reverse order – 1. Katsuta 2. Suninen 3. Breen 4. Neuville 5. Lappi 6. Ogier 7. Rovanperä 8. Tänak 9. Evans

 

Elfyn started the day well, winning SS6 Hof-Finnskog 2 – 21.26 km, with Ott Tänak once more second fastest and Seb setting the third best time. Kalle Rovanperä could only manage fifth fastest and the gap between him and shrinking to just one tenth of a second. Thierry was doing the best he could, given that he was opening the road, but was the best part of half a minute from the leader.

The great drive from the Welsh wizard continued into SS7 Finnskogen 2 – 20.68 km, which he also won, going 3.6 seconds faster than Ott once more and now the lead was a massive 15.3 seconds. Ogier also moved up the leaderboard, passing Kalle for third position after the Finn could only manage the seventh fastest time. The top M-Sport driver continued to be Esapekka Lappi, who was holding onto fifth position.

 

Well, Elfyn continued his dominance winning SS8 Nyckelvattnet 2 – 18.94 km as well, from Kalle Rovanperä, who’s great time moved him back ahead of Seb Ogier into third. Ott Tänak was now almost 17 seconds behind his former M-Sport teammate. The gap that Thierry had been reducing to Esapekka, now grew larger again, in their battle over fifth position, with the Belgian now over four seconds behind.

 

Just the short SS9 Torsby Sprint 2 – 2.80 km stage to round out the day and the top three were Thierry, Seb and Esapekka. Rally leader, Elfyn, was fourth quickest, and ahead of Ott as well giving him a 17.2 second lead over his closest challenger and the world champion.

 

Classification after Day Two

1 E. Evans S. Martin Toyota Yaris WRC 1:00:38.9
2 O. Tänak M. Järveoja Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC +17.2
3 S. Ogier J. Ingrassia Toyota Yaris WRC +28.8
4 K. Rovanperä J. Halttunen Toyota Yaris WRC +29.3
5 E. Lappi J. Ferm Ford Fiesta WRC +34.7
6 T. Neuville N. Gilsoul Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC +39.2
7 C. Breen P. Nagle Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC +49.7
8 T. Suninen J. Lehtinen Ford Fiesta WRC +1:14.8
9 T. Katsuta D. Barritt Toyota Yaris WRC +1:37.4

 

Toyota Gazoo Racing WRT

Elfyn Evans (1st)

“It has been another good day for us and we can be happy with what we’ve managed to do. I had a really good feeling in the car, I’ve been happy with the balance and the confidence it’s giving me. The first two stages this morning were really good. The third one was quite tricky, a bit softer with more loose ice and snow, and the last stage was quite rough but we got through it OK. Let’s see what we face tomorrow, as the conditions are a bit of an unknown. It could be very difficult with the warmer temperatures we have now, but hopefully we can find the same rhythm we have in the last two days. It’s a long stage and we just need to keep our head down and keep doing what we’ve been doing.”

Sébastien Ogier (3rd)

“It’s not been a bad day. We set some good times this morning. The third stage was not the best for me, but other than that I think we’ve done a good day. I’ve felt pretty good in the car. We’ve been playing around a bit with the setup and we’re learning with every kilometre. The Power Stage is obviously going to be important tomorrow. It’s still very tight with Kalle, and also the others guys are not far behind, so we cannot relax. We will have to push to the end, and the conditions could be quite tricky.”

Kalle Rovanperä (4th)

“This morning I had a good feeling but I was a bit too hard on the tyres and not managing them well, so we were losing time at the end of the stages as we were losing the studs. But we made some small setup changes on the car so that it was not understeering and not loading the front tyres so much, and then the third stage went well. The last stage was in a really rough condition and these were new conditions for me. It’s going to be really difficult for us tomorrow as we don’t have the same experience on this stage as the others, but I will try my best.”

 

Hyundai Motorsport

Ott Tänak (2nd)

“I can’t really say we’re happy, but we have been steadily making progress and getting valuable experience in the car. We’re still missing some feeling and confidence but that’s down to my lack of seat time. There are still a lot of things that are a bit fresh and some things to learn. We’re taking it step-by-step, improving all the time and understanding what we need to do to be on the pace. We’re not far off but it’s not as enjoyable to see such a gap. It has been a solid start for a short event, and I am sure the speed is there for the future; we just need to work on it.”

2020 FIA World Rally Championship
Round 02, Rally Sweden
13-16 February 2020
Ott Tanak, Martin Jarveoja, Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC
Photographer: Helena El Mokni
Worldwide copyright: Hyundai Motorsport GmbH

Thierry Neuville (6th)

“Performance-wise, I am quite satisfied with how things have gone; we have tried to do the best we could and optimise the situation we’re in. At the same time, we’ve had to be clever and avoid making silly mistakes. So far, it’s all fine but it’s also disappointing and frustrating not to be in the position we’d want to be. It’s a very short rally, so it is difficult to catch up lost time solely through driving. We are going to try and maintain our rhythm into tomorrow’s final stage and see what we can pick up for the championship.”

Craig Breen (7th)

“I’d summarise by saying the day has been sometimes good, sometimes bad. Obviously, it’s taking me a bit of time to get going. Again, on this morning’s opening stage, I don’t know why but I dropped too much time. The two other stages of the loop were really nice and I enjoyed myself. Compared to the people around us, we were quite competitive, but obviously there was a lot of cleaning, especially on the third one (SS7) with lots of fresh snow overnight. Thierry was running just behind us and we have been able to match his pace in some stages; we have to be happy with that. In a rally as specific like this you really have to be at one with everything. All things considered; I think we’re still doing a good job.”

 

M-Sport Ford WRT

Esapekka Lappi (5th)

“It’s been a very positive day. We made some changes to improve the set-up overnight and I was really pleased with the driving. This was a good step forward, and it’s something that we can use in the future too. I’m learning all the time the little things and small details that affect the feeling and allow you to push more. We’re still not quite up there with the top times, but we’re getting closer and closer. We just have the one stage tomorrow but nothing is over yet. With 4.5 seconds behind and 5.4 seconds ahead it will be a big push to the end for everyone!”

Teemu Suninen (8th)

“We didn’t have the best road position today, but like yesterday we’re still struggling to find the top pace. The first two stages weren’t too bad, but then in the third one I had a few big slides and took it carefully after that. Tomorrow we just have the Power Stage, so let’s see what the conditions are like and see what we can do in there.”

 

Sunday

Just one stage left then, after the first run of Likenäs was cancelled, giving us just the single run with counted as the power stage. Coming into the final day, Elfyn and Scott had a 17 second lead over Ott Tänak.

 

It was a first stage victory for the young Kalle Rovanperä in SS11 Likenäs 2 – 21.19 km who was almost four seconds faster than Thierry Neuville, with Seb Ogier third, Ott Tänak in fourth, Esapekka Lappi in fifth. Rally leader Elfyn Evans come through to finish the stage in sixth place, but crucially took a very special victory in his second event for Toyota Gazoo Racing WRT. It was the first for an all British crew as well.

It was a dominant drive from them both. They won by over twelve seconds from Ott Tänak and Kalle Rovanperä took a very impressive first podium, passing Seb Ogier in the final stage.

 

Final Overall Standings

1 E. Evans S. Martin Toyota Yaris WRC 1:11:43.1
2 O. Tänak M. Järveoja Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC +12.7
3 K. Rovanperä J. Halttunen Toyota Yaris WRC +20.2
4 S. Ogier J. Ingrassia Toyota Yaris WRC +23.6
5 E. Lappi J. Ferm Ford Fiesta WRC +32.4
6 T. Neuville N. Gilsoul Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC +33.8
7 C. Breen P. Nagle Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC +1:00.9
8 T. Suninen J. Lehtinen Ford Fiesta WRC +1:24.5
9 T. Katsuta D. Barritt Toyota Yaris WRC +1:59.6
10 J. Huttunen M. Lukka Hyundai i20 R5 +4:03.0

 

Toyota Gazoo Racing WRT

Elfyn Evans (1st)

“I feel really good to have my first win with Toyota Gazoo Racing in our second event together. I have to give a lot of credit to the team for not only giving me a great car but also giving me the support and help in testing for me to get the car to where I wanted it. The car is giving me great confidence, and in changeable conditions like we’ve had here, that’s really worth a lot. It has been very enjoyable to drive so far and hopefully we can carry this feeling onto gravel in the events to come. A big thanks to Scott too: he’s been very good since he’s been alongside me and I’m very happy to finally be with him for his first win too.”

2020 FIA World Rally Championship / Round 02 / Swedish Rally / February 13-16, 2020 // Worldwide Copyright: Toyota Gazoo Racing WRT

Kalle Rovanperä (3rd)

“I feel really good to be on the podium. It was a really demanding rally because it was shorter than usual and all the time you had to be flat-out. We were losing some time because of my mistakes but it was nice to get back on the podium today and also, to have five points from the Power Stage. It was a really good run, I gave it everything I have. It didn’t feel so good in the beginning because I was maybe a bit more careful and saving the tyres, but it paid off in the end as we were doing really fast split times and the final time was really good.”

Sébastien Ogier (4th)

“I cannot be unhappy about this weekend. I don’t really enjoy being fourth but it’s still some good points for the championship and it puts us in a good position ahead of Mexico. Kalle deserves this podium. He did a really great job the whole weekend, and he went for it in the Power Stage and he did a brilliant time. It was very difficult conditions, and when you’re thinking about the championship, it was hard to really go for it. Elfyn was driving fantastic this weekend and it’s a nice win for him and for the team. It’s always better to have these strong guys in your team rather than in the opposition: I think Toyota has a very strong line-up for this season. For us now we focus on the next one, where we will try to fight for the win.”

 

Hyundai Motorsport

Ott Tänak (2nd)

“I am pleased to take my first podium with the team, particularly considering the challenging conditions we’ve all experienced this weekend. There are certainly positives to take away. The car has shown it has the speed; we just need to learn more about it. After Monte-Carlo, it was important for us to complete the full event, to get some kilometres in the car, and to get some points on the board. We weren’t able to compete at the sharp end, but we are making good progress, improving all the time and finding more confidence in the car. Looking at things from that perspective, it has been a useful weekend.”

Thierry Neuville (6th)

“We had only one target today, which was to try and optimise the situation and push for points in the Power Stage. It wasn’t quite enough to set the fastest time, and the conditions were incredibly tricky, just like they have been the entire weekend. It has been a tough rally, but we couldn’t have done much more. There were a few stages where we lost a few seconds here or there; I don’t think it would have changed the end result.”

Craig Breen (7th)

“It has been a difficult weekend and, personally, I am not happy with my result. I have enjoyed being back in a WRC car immensely, don’t get me wrong, but it’s hard not to be up there fighting for podiums and wins. The weather and road order have been against us and it’s a pity we’ve had short loops. That’s made it hard to make much of an impression. Today we’ve seen completely different conditions again, with a lot of standing water, so there were no heroics; the priority was to bring the car home, which we did, and to support the team as best we could.”

 

M-Sport Ford WRT

Esapekka Lappi (5th)

“I need to be pleased with our performance this weekend. We’re not exactly where I wanted to be as I wanted to fight for the podium, but we’re not far away. We’re missing that last little bit, but it’s getting closer. We’ve made a good step forward – especially yesterday when the pace was really good – and that gives us some confidence going forward to Mexico. Everything is going well at the moment, so let’s see what we can do next.”

Esapekka Lappi and Janne Ferm secured a good result, but they will want more. Photo credit, M-Sport WRT

Teemu Suninen (8th)

“This hasn’t been a good rally for us. It all started with a big moment on Shakedown and then on Friday I was just taking it a bit too carefully in places. We lost a few seconds there and just couldn’t get the time back. Then on Saturday we had to open the road and that made it even more difficult. Now we just need to analyse this rally and look forward to being better on the next one.”

 

Summary

Well, that was a special weekend for Elfyn and Scott. Their first win together after coming so close last year in Corsica. It was a very dominant win as well, given that they never lost the lead at any point and always increased the lead that they had. It’s also given them the championship lead for the first time in their careers.

Ott Tänak and Martin Järveoja came back from a very big accident to show exactly why they are the world champions. Getting used to their new car and delivering top pace with two stage wins and a well-deserved second place.

Kalle Rovanperä and Jonne Halttunen scored a very impressive third place after taking their first stage win in their second event. It was a very good drive from the young Finn’s. It won’t be the first time that we see them on the podium this year.

Next event is Rally Mexico, from the 12th to the 15th of March.

 

Elfyn and Scott celebrate an incredible result, one that was well over due. Photo credit, Toyota Gazoo Racing WRT

 

2020 FIA World Rally Championship for Drivers’ Standings
After round 2

1 E. Evans 42
2 T. Neuville 42
3 S. Ogier 37
4 K. Rovanperä 30
5 E. Lappi 24
6 O. Tänak 20
7 T. Suninen 11
8 S. Loeb 8
9 T. Katsuta 8
10 C. Breen 6

 

2020 FIA World Rally Championship for Manufacturers’ Standings
After round 2

1 Toyota Gazoo Racing World Rally Team 73
2 Hyundai Shell Mobis World Rally Team 63
3 M-Sport Ford World Rally Team 40
Photo credit, Toyota Gazoo Racing WRT

Interview with Chris Ingram, 2019 European Rally Champion.

At Autosport International Show last month, I sat down with Chris Ingram, the first British winner of the European Rally Championship for over fifty years.

This is what the rising British star had to say.

Chris Ingram, The 2019 European Rally Champion. Photo credit, Warren Nel

Warren

Describe your journey in rallying so far. How did that even start?

Chris

My dad was passionate rally driver in the eighties, he did road rallies and when he made a bit of money with his business in the early 2000’s he got back into it and rallied in the UK national championships, performing in world rally cars. He took me to watch a rally in Yorkshire and I just fell in love with the sport as a ten-year-old kid. It was my life from then. All day at school, I was drawing pictures of rally cars, and getting told off. Every single story I had to write was about rallying, Colin McRae or whatever.

That’s how it started, and then as I got into my teenage years I really wanted to get behind the wheel, and to be honest, I didn’t have any expectations of doing anything, I just loved the sport. It wasn’t like I was a spoilt kid, but my dad helped me start in the Junior 1000 championship in 1.0 litre cars for drivers between the age of 14 and 17. I had a Citroen C1. We pretty much built that ourselves in our shed. It was basically a road car with a rollcage. We did that championship and ran the car ourselves and won it, and then entered the British Championship. Unfortunately, my dad had some tough times in his business, so I had to go on my own and find sponsors but that all worked out by the skin of its teeth. It  was 2012 was when I started, when I was seventeen. When I was nineteen, I got the chance with Renault Sport to drive in the European Rally Championship, with some great backing from them to drive a Twingo R2, which is the first year of the ERC Junior Championship, I crashed the car on the circuit of Ireland, but I was lying eight overall, plus tenth overall against R5 cars, I got awarded the Colin McRae Trophy. That was the first time that I’d shown proper top-class pace.

Warren

Who was sitting alongside you?

Chris

Gabin Moreau, a French Co-Driver sat alongside, but early on, Michael Gilbey, who still rallying now. I changed my co-driver quite a lot in the early days. Like I said, when I won the Colin McRae Award, the doors opened up to Peugeot and I got a fully funded drive with them for two years in the same class, RT two-wheel drive, and that led to a fully funded drive with Opel Motorsport which was a massive opportunity, a proper German team. Working with those guys, both my speed a professionalism came on a lot, both inside and outside the car because I had to deliver for them, or it was game over, and then I won the Junior Championship with them in 2017, and that was when I was put back on my own. I had to move to R5, but there were no works drives, for someone my age, with no experience – No experience with R5 or WRC events, but I was very lucky to find a great team called Tok Sport who were based in the Nurburgring and they were really good and invested a lot in me, really believed in me.

Chris Ingram / Ross Whittock Chris Ingram Opel Adam R2 during Wales Rally GB 2017. Photo credit Wales Rally GB

They’d seen me in Rally GB when I competed in the Adam R2. In the dark and fog I was in the top five in WRC2 against twenty R5 cars, we were beating half of them at the end of Saturday. Set a couple of mad stage times, which caught their attention and they helped me compete in R5 to this day and same again in 2019 but I lost my main sponsor a week before the first rally but they believed in me that much, they helped as much as they can, rally by rally I had to find as much sponsorship as I could and made it through with crowdfunding on the last event where we raised £20,000 from rally fans who were all chipping in, which was unbelievable, and then to win the title on the very last stage of the last round to pay them all back was just the sweetest moment.

Warren

What was the points gap at the end?

Chris

It was nine points, but basically it was head to head with Alexey Lukyanuk the reigning champion going into the last rally. He had to win and me finish less than third. I was comfortably in second, he was leading, I got a puncture and dropped to third. I thought that’s okay, I’ve a minute and thirty second gap behind. We come to the last stage, it’s horrific weather is dark, there’s fog, it’s muddy, half the stages are on gravel with slicks, and a twenty-seven long stage to finish the rally, and I got a puncture halfway through and I thought, do I change this puncture, as it’s going to cost me at least a minute thirty to change because it’s dark and raining.

I don’t think I could have ever changed it in a minute and thirty if it was the best tyre change of my life, so I decided to carry on through to the end and we lost between and minute thirty and forty, but we’d actually stayed ahead of whoever was in fourth, a driver called Callum Devine was fifth and he’d had an amazing run and taken two minutes out of me, and he jumped onto the podium and I dropped to fourth. I realised this at the end of the stage, Chris Ross BRC radio saying you’ve lost the championship. I didn’t wait and we drove about 100 metres down the road to change the puncture and then a photographer came running down the road because Alexey Lukyanuk was running behind me as it was reverse order on the last stage of the rally and the photographer said Alexey Lukyanuk has had a puncture too and he’d dropped to second meaning that we’d won the title, so if he’d not got the puncture, he would have won the title by a point, but had a puncture and handed us the title. Plus, if we’d not got a puncture then we’d have won the rally, so it was just mad. A mental finish.

Warren

What was your favourite event from the championship?

Chris

Hungary was a horrible rally, in terms of tricky conditions, dangerous stages, but that’s one round I’ll never forget, so obviously that’s the highlight, but my favourite is the Azores, which is the most spectacular rally in the world. One of the stages runs along the volcano ridge, which means one side is a 500 metre drop into a lake and the other side is a 500 metre drop into the sea, it’s just spectacular. Just the most incredible in my opinion. That’s probably the best one.

Warren

What do you do to relax? Do you relax?

Chris

It’s hard. I find it hard to relax, because as soon as I won the championship, now I’ve got to find money for next year. So, I had a bit of time with my girlfriend over Christmas to try and chill out, but it’s very hard to, because this is everything to me. It’s not just my passion and dream that I’ll never give up on, if I wasn’t a rally driver, I’d have to reinvent myself and do something else as a job, so it’s everything.

Warren

In your mind, that’s harder, as you’ve got through these last ten years.

Chris

Yes, exactly and we’ve got so far that we’ve got to keep going now. I need to find the backing and support from British fans, that’s what we need to do now.

Warren

That’s one of the reasons that I wanted to talk to you, as feel that you’re a bit under the radar, and I’d become aware of you over the years.

Okay, if you could drive a world rally car from the past, right the way back to the early days in the championship, all those exotic cars in the Group ‘B’ and Group ‘A’ era, right up to the current types of car, which one would you pick?

Long pause from Chris as he pondered this question….

Warren

There’s some great cars and I think I’d struggle to answer this.

Chris

There are obviously the classic and legendary cars like the Quattro. I’ve been lucky enough to drive the 205 T16 Group ‘B’ car, which was an unbelievable experience.

Kevin Furbers’ 205 T16 at Race Retro 2015, Photo credit, Kevin Jones Peugeot UK

Warren

Where did you drive that, and describe the experience?

Ari Vatanen and Chris Ingram in conversation , Photo credit, Kevin Jones Peugeot UK

Chris

At Race Retro three or four years ago. It was completely raw, you could feel everything that car was doing, and it was an absolute animal and you had to manhandle it, to get it round this tight stage that they’d set up, just the hardest work. I’m lucky that I get to work with Tuthill Porsche and with the old 911’s in Sweden. They own these classic legendary rally cars and they offer this completely unique experience, whereas probably most R5 cars are pretty similar to drive to be honest. But I’d still you know, like to drive a modern WRC machine like the Yaris, if I was to choose, I’d go with the latest spec car to be honest. If it had to be retro, maybe the Quattro, because it’s just so iconic, isn’t it, and I’ve driven the 205 anyway.

Kevin Furbers’ 205 T16 at Race Retro 2015, Photo credit, Kevin Jones Peugeot UK

I drove Russell Brookes’ old Opel Manta, which is an honour, because he’s an absolute legend. That was an amazing opportunity as well. Much easier to drive the 205, but still harder than today’s cars. The difference is that back then, it was much more about car control, now you have to be more relaxed, you can’t drive these cars aggressively. You have to know the car and let the car do the work, and as long as you’re good at carrying speed, it’s all about technique. Turn in once, braking once, minimal inputs that’s the only way to drive, and very smooth.

Warren

Going from the Opel Adam, front wheel-drive and moving to something that’s got four-wheel drive like the Skoda, just explain how you adapted your style?

Chris

To be honest, the first time that I drove the R5 car it was easy, jumping out of the two-wheel drive which you had to wring its neck, when I got into the Skoda R5, I was like a PlayStation, it was unbelievably easy, which is crazy, isn’t it? This year I started to get too stressed because of all the pressure, and because of all of that and anxiety, not knowing if I was going to be able to carry on, I didn’t realise it at the time, but I brought that into my driving and I was tense and it started to become hard work again, physically difficult to feel the car because of all those things, I just wasn’t relaxed. The last few rallies, I got it back, and able to relax and it just flows so much easier when you’re relaxed, it’s mad how it works.

Warren

What are your hopes for this season?

Chris

To compete in a full season of WRC2, to find the funding and the target is always to win. There would be a lot of learning in the first year of WRC. I’d be competing against guys who’d done it several times, but we’d be doing everything to win, because if we can win the ERC and WRC back to back, which no-one’s ever done, then we can’t be ignored by the top teams. That’s the goal. The top teams are Toyota and Hyundai, and then M-Sport, they’ve probably got one works driver and then the other drivers are paying for their seats, so realistically Hyundai and Toyota. It’s a small market, but we need to give it everything.

Warren

What’s your thoughts on Seb Loeb still competing?

Chris

He’s a legend, and I can understand it from a manufacturer point of view, and there’s some other drivers which, they’ve had their chance dozens of times and they’ve not won, so hopefully more young talent will get a chance, and just because they’ve got big backing behind them, just raw talent. Streaming could be a good opportunity for me, if they’re keen to get young talent on board, not just names from the past. That’s the battle I’m having constantly, competing against guys that have been involved for so long, everyone knows who they are, so it’s very difficult, very hard.

 

Well, a big thank you to Chris for his time. One of many things that came across was his passion and drive to make it to the top of his chosen sport. I for one hope that he gets his opportunity and soon. It would be a crying shame if it did not happen.

Give him a follow and check out his website.

Home

 

Rally Sweden 2020 Preview

Just a few day’s ago this event was looking like it wouldn’t happen. I’m sure that you’ll be aware of the lack of snow this year in Sweden. Anyway, the organisers and the FIA came to an agreement to run a much shorter event. Here’s the full stage information. The sixty-eighth Rally Sweden is happening!

Stages & times

Thursday   February 13
09:01 Shakedown Skalla 7,21 km Stage info
12:30 Meet the crews, Torsby Service Park Arena – Full programme
20:08 SS 1 Karlstad SSS 1 1,9 km Arena – Full programme Stage info
Friday   February 14
06:47 Torsby Service Park Arena – Full programme
08:42 SS 2 Hof-Finnskog 1 21,26 Stage info
10:08 SS 3 Finnskogen 1 20,68 km Stage info
11:08 SS 4 Nyckelvattnet 1 18,94 Stage info
15:00 SS 8 Torsby Sprint 1 2,8 km Arena – Full programme Stage info
15:32 Torsby Service Park Arena – Full programme
Saturday   February 15
06:47 Torsby Service Park Arena – Full programme
08:42 SS 5 Hof-Finnskog 2 21,26 km Stage info
10:08 SS 6 Finnskogen 2 20,68 Stage info
11:08 SS 7 Nyckelvattnet 2 18,94 Stage info
15:00 SS 16 Torsby Sprint 2 2,8 km Arena – Full programme Stage info
15:32 Torsby Service Park Arena – Full programme
Sunday   February 16
08:46 Torsby Service Park Arena – Full programme
10:08 SS 17 Likenäs 1 21,19 km Stage info
10:48 Regroup Ambjörby
12:18 SS 18 Likenäs 2 Wolf Power Stage 21,19 km Stage info

 

As you can see the stages have kept their original stage numbers, giving us an idea as to how many stages have been lost.

 

Throwback

Last year Ott Tanak took victory for Toyota with six stage victories, with Esapekka Lappi finishing second and 2018 winner Thierry in third. Can M-Sport challenge at the front like last year? Teemu Suninen led early on, and with a double Finn lineup, perhaps we will see a three-way battle at the front between the them all? Elfyn went well, taking two good stage wins, his first in Sweden, and given his performance in Rallye Monte Carlo, we can expect more of the same this year too. Returning to the championship is Craig Breen who scored a brilliant second overall in 2018 when driving for Citroen. He replaces Seb Loeb.

FIA World Rally Championship 2019 / Round 02 / Rally Sweden / February 14-17th, 2019 // Worldwide Copyright: Toyota Gazoo Racing WRC

Let’s hear from the drivers.

Hyundai Motorsport

Thierry Neuville

“An ideal Rally Sweden would have lots of snow, huge snowbanks, very icy roads, the perfect conditions for us to go fast with full confidence to get the most out of the car. When the road is properly frozen, the studs get good grip and you can go flat out. Obviously, if there will be less snow than previous years it could be quite tough to do the stages. Our tyres are very thin and very high, so they won’t work the same on gravel stages and it’s going to be really tricky. Without the snowbanks, the rally gets faster and faster, and less interesting, so we keep our fingers crossed for a lot of snow to arrive.”

2018 FIA World Rally Championship
Round 02, Rally Sweden
15-18 February 2018
Thierry Neuville, Nicolas Gilsoul, Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC
Photographer: Austral
Worldwide copyright: Hyundai Motorsport GmbH

Ott Tänak

“Since Monte, I have been feeling better every day. We learned a very good lesson, and we know now that each time we have to drive a new section, we really need to focus more than ever before. Driving in Sweden is always very special, particularly when we get some frozen, icy conditions. The grip from the spiked tyres is extremely high and gives a great feeling. It will be important for us to get back some points and to improve step-by-step. It will be our first time on loose surface with Hyundai, but I hope we can deliver a good result.”

Craig Breen

“I am very humbled to have the chance of getting behind the wheel of the Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC again. It’s been a long time since Wales Rally GB, so I’m excited and anxious. From the first moment I drove the car, I felt a lot of confidence and that I could drive my own natural way. Sweden is a rally I enjoy; I scored my best-ever result in the World Championship there a few years ago. Hopefully the conditions will be favourable for us and the cold will arrive in the region for us to have ‘proper’ roads. Regardless, when I am back in my happy place driving a WRC car, I will have a nice weekend.”

 

Toyota Gazoo Racing WRT

Sébastien Ogier

“I definitely love Rally Sweden. It’s a magic event, the only one on full snow on the calendar, and driving on those roads is very special. I certainly hope to be performing well there again this year. I’ve had some good times there in the past, but it has been a bit more of a struggle in the last few years – I guess partly because of my start position, as coming to Sweden while leading the championship has been very challenging. This year will be slightly different so let’s see what we can do. Rallye Monte-Carlo was a very positive start for the whole team, and they have been performing very well in Sweden, so hopefully we are able to do the same this time.”

Elfyn Evans

“I’m really looking forward to Rally Sweden. The car was feeling really good in our winter testing on snow, so I’m hoping for another good event there. Rallye Monte-Carlo was overall a positive start for us in the Toyota Yaris WRC, even though our result could have been even better. Road position can play a big part in Sweden, depending on what sort of conditions we’ll find: if there’s a lot of loose snow, then there is a big advantage for those starting further back. But like any other rally, we’ll go in and do the best we can from the first stage.”

Kalle Rovanperä

“I enjoy snow rallies a lot, so Rally Sweden should be a nice event for us. I think it should be easier for me than Rallye Monte-Carlo, but we will also need to push more to the limits there. Driving the Yaris WRC has been a lot of fun so far, and on snow it has been an amazing car to drive. We did the Arctic Rally in January in the Yaris and that was good preparation for us, but the conditions in Sweden could be tricky because there has been not so much snow, so we will have to see just how helpful it really was.”

 

M-Sport Ford WRT

Esapekka Lappi

“I’ve had some good results at Rally Sweden – especially last year when we finished second on our second event with a new car so let’s see if we can do the same again this year! Of course, the competition will be strong and no one really knows what the conditions will be like, but we will give it our best.

“We’re testing this weekend when we’ll get our first indication of what to expect. The Swedish stages are always fast, which I enjoy, but there could only be a small layer of ice which will make tyre management pretty important when it comes to retaining the studs for the whole loop. Fourth on the road could be a decent position, but let’s wait and see.”

Teemu Suninen

“Last year we found a good set-up for the soft snow and rutted conditions, and it worked really well for us – leading after the first full day and showing good speed throughout the weekend. This year the plan is to show that same speed consistently and without mistakes.

“Of course, a lot will depend on the weather. It’s great that the organisers have been able to make the rally happen, but we will have to wait and see what the conditions are like. I’m hoping for snow, and we’ll have a test this weekend to prepare. Whatever the weather, we will give it our best and I hope to be in a good battle.”

The R5 class

Also competing this weekend are Adrien Fourmaux and Rhys Yates, at the wheel of two Fiesta R5 Mk2’s and Ole Christian Veiby and Nikolay Gryazin who will compete in i20 R5’s.

Adrien Fourmaux

“It’s really nice to hear that the organisers have found a way for us to go rallying and we can say a big thanks to the Rally Sweden team for that. This is the only full-snow rally on the calendar, and that makes it really special. Driving in the forests with the white landscape and hundreds of fans makes it a beautiful rally, and I’m really looking forward to getting back out there this year.

“I competed in Sweden last year, but this will be my first time with the Fiesta R5 which makes it a completely new experience for me with more speed and totally different lines. The biggest challenge will be in trusting the grip and speed through the corners and learning how to fight on the same level as the locals – but I can’t wait to get started. I plan to enjoy every second, and if I can deliver a smart rally and leave with good points, good stage times and a good experience I’ll be very happy.”

Rhys Yates

“We’ve got a really good feeling with the car at the moment and I’ve never felt more comfortable on gravel than I did with the Fiesta at the Cambrian last weekend. The pace was pretty quick at times – as it will be this week in Sweden – so you’ve got to be comfortable with the car moving about underneath you. You’ve got to be comfortable with it going sideways in fifth gear. I got that feeling in Wales and that’s great for me.

“I want to hit the ground running in Sweden. We’ve got a test on Tuesday and then the rally starts Thursday. One thing I’m so chuffed with is how much time I’m getting in the car. By the time Sweden starts I’ll have been in this Fiesta four times in a week – I’ve never had that much seat time before and that can only be good for the confidence!

Ole Christian Veiby

“Rally Sweden is one of the highlights of the season. It’s very much a home rally, one of the stages even goes through our family forest. I was watching there since I was a little kid, so it means a lot. There are lots of supporters, friends and family; to see so many Norwegian flags is really special. To drive on proper snow conditions is, I think, one of the best things to do. The grip level can even sometimes be better than gravel, especially with studded tyres. The target for the rally is for sure a victory. We were a bit disappointed about Monte-Carlo; I think the car worked really well so hopefully it will also do that in Sweden. I’m looking forward to it!”

Nikolay Gryazin

“Sweden for us means quite a lot because it’s winter. Back in my country, we drive in the cold a lot. We had a valuable experience in Monte-Carlo, adapting to a new car in tricky conditions. I feel more confident now and I hope the result reflects that. This will be my second time in Rally Sweden. It will be difficult to compete against the local crews, but I am determined to secure a good result and to see how the Hyundai i20 R5 performs. It has definitely shown good pace in all conditions so I hope we will have a positive weekend – whatever the conditions.”

Summary

We are set as ever for an incredible rally then, and despite the changes to the schedule, including the loss of the stage that includes Colins Crest, it’s almost certain to be a fascinating event. Don’t miss it!

Rallye Monte Carlo 2020 Review.

The shakedown on Wednesday was interesting from the aspect of drivers acclimatizing to their new cars. The top three best times were sent by Seb, Thierry and Elfyn. Of the new drivers, Kalle and Gus, well the young Finn clearly showed why he is in that Toyota for the whole season.

With two stages on Thursday event, first up was SS1 Malijai – Puimichel – 17.47 km. Well, Seb was really on it, winning the stage from Ott Tanak, and Elfyn third, with less than 2 seconds covering the top three.

Into SS2 Bayons – Bréziers – 25.49 km, and well Seb was demoted to second place after Thierry set a blistering time to move from fourth place into the lead. The Belgian was a massive 25.5 seconds faster than Seb.

Friday

With six stages covering a total of 122.58km’s, it would be a very interesting day. The running order looked like this- 1. Suninen 2. Tänak 3. Neuville 4. Ogier 5. Evans 6. Lappi 7. Loeb 8. Rovanperä 9. Greensmith 10. Katsuta 11. Jocius

Elfyn won the SS3 Curbans – Venterol 1 – 20.02 km from Seb Loeb, with Ott Tanak going well now. The result of Elfyn’s great time was that he jumped from fourth into second place, just 5.4 seconds from the leader, Thierry.

The young Welshman continued his great form in SS4 St-Clément-sur-Durance – Freissinières 1 – 20.68 km, winning the stage from Seb Ogier and with Thierry third fastest and almost nine seconds slower, we had a new rally leader. However, there was a huge shock, with Ott Tanak having a massive crash. He’d slid wide on a flat out left hand kink, with the car skating along on the edge of the road before colliding with some trees at the side of the road and then the car flipped over end to end, before falling down the side of the hill, coming to rest on the road further down. The main structure of the car was intact incredibly. Ott and Martin were taken to hospital for checks.

The final stage of the morning loop, SS5 Avançon – Notre-Dame-du-Laus 1 – 20.59 km was won by Elfyn, going 4.2 seconds faster than Seb Ogier, and he increased his lead over Thierry who was now 8.9 seconds behind the Welsh ace. Further back Kalle was showing his quality and setting a great time in compared to Esapekka Lappi, just seven tenths between the two Finns at the end of the stage.

After the service break the battle between the three continued, with Seb Ogier winning SS6 Curbans – Venterol 2 – 20.02 km and he jumped ahead of Thierry into second place, and was now just 3.3 seconds behind Elfyn who was holding the lead.

Seb Ogier won SS7 St-Clément-sur-Durance – Freissinières 2 – 20.68 km from Elfyn who was only six tenths of a second behind, whilst Thierry lost a few seconds and was now ten seconds from rally leader Elfyn.

Thierry fought back though on SS8 Avançon – Notre-Dame-du-Laus 2 – 20.59 km, winning the stage from Seb, who was just one second behind, and then Elfyn who lost the lead to the charging Frenchman, but the gap between them was just a little over a second.

Day one standings

1 S. Ogier J. Ingrassia Toyota Yaris WRC 1:43:31.5
2 E. Evans S. Martin Toyota Yaris WRC +1.2
3 T. Neuville N. Gilsoul Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC +6.4
4 S. Loeb D. Elena Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC +1:06.9
5 E. Lappi J. Ferm Ford Fiesta WRC +1:57.2
6 K. Rovanperä J. Halttunen Toyota Yaris WRC +2:19.2
7 T. Katsuta D. Barritt Toyota Yaris WRC +5:18.7

 

Let’s hear from the drivers.

Toyota Gazoo Racing WRT

Sébastien Ogier (1st)

“Overall, I am happy with the day. This morning I didn’t feel perfectly comfortable in the car and I was a little bit cautious, so I was not in the best rhythm. But for this afternoon we made some little adjustments to the setup and I felt more confident, and I could set some good times. We feared that the tyre choice was not optimal, but in the end, it was not that bad, as it was much drier than expected in the second stage of the loop. The gaps are still very small but it is nice to be in this position.”

Elfyn Evans (2nd)

“It was a really good morning for sure. The conditions were not so easy and the grip was quite changeable, but the Yaris gave me good confidence, so I was able to relax and enjoy driving the car. The afternoon was not quite so good – the conditions in the last stage were deteriorating with every car that passed and we were probably a bit too brave on the tyre choice. But overall, it’s been a good day and hopefully it will be more of the same tomorrow.”

Kalle Rovanperä (6th)

“I’m happy with today as we’ve improved a lot from this morning, which was quite difficult for me. Again, the conditions were new, going with slick tyres on some icy sections, so it was quite a careful morning. But it was getting better with each stage and the middle stage of the loop was good on both occasions. I’ve still got a lot to learn but I’m getting more comfortable in the car all the time. Tomorrow will be a new challenge, with a different style of stages I think, and we need to see what the conditions will be like.”

Hyundai Motorsport

Thierry Neuville (3rd)

“It has been a bit of a frustrating day for us. We had a difficult morning, fighting to pick up the pace and to have a good clean run. We faced some challenging conditions, and I couldn’t find the right feeling to push hard. It got better towards the end of the day and we were improving constantly with Dani Sordo as my road note crew. In the end it worked quite well, and I was confident. Step by step we found our way forward and we also worked on the set-up of the car to make it feel more comfortable. We need to continue in this way. I am happy Ott and Martin are okay; it was a huge crash at high speed but most importantly they are doing well.”

2020 FIA World Rally Championship
Rallye Monte-Carlo 2020
22-26 January 2020
Thierry Neuville, Nicolas Gilsoul, Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC
Photographer: Helena El Mokni
Worldwide copyright: Hyundai Motorsport GmbH

Seb Loeb (4th)

“I had a good day today. For sure, I think we had some more mud on the road, but also the drivers out front are very fast. I couldn’t match their speed. The gap to them is quite large so there’s no point to take risks. The running order will be different tomorrow; it may not make much difference, but we will see what the second half of the rally brings.”

Ott Tanak (Retired)

“First of all, Martin and I feel fine. We are recovering well and will be fit soon. In the early stages with the car we’ve been improving step by step. Last night, I really couldn’t understand everything that was happening. Overnight we managed to work quite a lot with the engineers and this morning the car already felt better. Still, of course, it would have been nice to continue for a bit longer to improve the feeling and to adapt again, but it is how it is. Yes, we had some moments already before the accident. Basically, in the first stage this morning, we were caught out by black ice where we had a spin. I must say it was proper Monte-Carlo; we really had some tricky conditions and it’s been challenging. I’m sure everyone had some moments and it’s normal in these kinds of conditions.”

M-Sport Ford WRT

Esapekka Lappi (5th)

“It has been quite a tough day for us. We’re learning a lot of new things, but still we were expecting to be a bit closer. We wanted to close the gap, but we’ve been consistently losing the same amount to the top guys stage after stage. We’ll work with the team to understand where we’re losing and how to find a solution, and hopefully we can be better tomorrow.”

Teemu Suninen (16th)

“After what happened yesterday, today was just about driving through the stages and getting the experience. It was tricky with the conditions this morning as they had changed quite a lot from when the route note crews went through, but it was better this afternoon and we were able to make some different choices with the tyres which should give us good knowledge for the future.”

 

Saturday

The running order looked like this- 1. Greensmith 2. Suninen 3. Katsuta 4. Rovanperä 5. Lappi 6. Loeb 7. Neuville 8. Evans 9. Ogier

The first stage of the day, SS9 St-Léger-les-Mélèzes – La Bâtie-Neuve 1 – 16.87 km, was won by Thierry, whilst Seb Ogier was second fastest and Elfyn in third and less than six seconds covered the top three.

Elfyn hit back, setting the fastest time in SS10 La Bréole – Selonnet 1 – 20.73 km, 7.6 seconds faster than Seb Ogier and Thierry was a further 13.8 away from our new rally leader. Top M-Sport Ford was Esapekka Lappi was in fifth position.

After lunch service, SS11 St-Léger-les-Mélèzes – La Bâtie-Neuve 2 – 16.87 km, Thierry hit the front again, winning the stage from Seb Ogier, who moved into a joint lead with Elfyn who was third quickest. The gap that the two leaders had fallen to eleven seconds.

The final stage of the day, SS12 La Bréole – Selonnet 2 – 20.73 km was won by Thierry as well, but the big surprise was that Seb was third fastest and dropped to second overall, with Elfyn regaining the lead. The three of them had been battling all day and just 6.4 seconds separated them. Further back, young Finn Esapekka had been catching Seb Loeb, and the gap was now just 14.1 seconds between them. The even younger Finn Kalle Rovanperä had driven to a very good sixth overall. His debut event was going very well.

 

Standings at the end of Saturday.

1 E. Evans S. Martin Toyota Yaris WRC 2:28:35.1
2 S. Ogier J. Ingrassia Toyota Yaris WRC +4.9
3 T. Neuville N. Gilsoul Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC +6.4
4 S. Loeb D. Elena Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC +2:24.3
5 E. Lappi J. Ferm Ford Fiesta WRC +2:38.4
6 K. Rovanperä J. Halttunen Toyota Yaris WRC +3:27.3
7 T. Katsuta D. Barritt Toyota Yaris WRC 10:31.1

 

Let’s hear from the drivers.

Toyota Gazoo Racing WRT

Elfyn Evans (1st)

“Overall it’s been a solid day and it feels good to be leading. I’m pretty happy with the weekend up to this point: the car has been giving me great confidence and the team has been working very well together. It was a very difficult afternoon loop, as we opted for the slick tyres like our rivals but there were still some icy sections out there. I was a bit too careful in the first stage of the loop, and then a bit too optimistic at the end of the last one on the final icy corner and we went off, but luckily, we didn’t hit anything. There’s a big fight on for tomorrow and we need to keep focused and not think about it too much.”

2020 FIA World Rally Championship / Round 01 / Rallye Monte Carlo / Jan 23-26, 2020 // Worldwide Copyright: Toyota Gazoo Racing WRT

Sébastien Ogier (2nd)

“It’s been a consistent day. The only regret we can have is being too cautious in the last stage on the tricky section on the ice. But I always prefer to be too cautious than in the ditch. This is always my strategy on this event and obviously it has paid off quite a few times. Taking risks can work, but not always. At the end of the day I’m not unhappy with today: It’s still very close and all is possible tomorrow. It’s a nice fight and now the plan is to be strong tomorrow and there is still a good chance to win this rally. We’ve had to push hard on these same stages in the last few years already, which is good experience to have.”

Kalle Rovanperä (6th)

“I’m not quite so happy with today, but it’s still OK: We’re doing exactly what we should do and driving without any mistakes. It was quite tricky conditions through the whole day, and we took it quite safe because we’re not fighting for any positions. I’m still learning how to use the car in the best way in all the different conditions. When you know these things, you can be faster. We have been going without taking any risks, so the times are quite OK when the road is clean.”

Hyundai Motorsport

Thierry Neuville (3rd)

“I am happy with what we have achieved today, and with the job of the whole team. We made a big improvement compared to yesterday and I am feeling more confident. Three stage wins out of a possible four and we’re in the fight for victory, that’s the positive we can take away from today. I am pleased with the performance we have delivered. Thanks to the corrections we got from the stages, we were able to push much harder without increasing the risks to go off. That was important and I was confident to give it everything. The plan for tomorrow is to go for the win but trying to be safe at the same time.”

Seb Loeb (4th)

“It has not been a good day for me; I have been struggling to get in the right rhythm. In these conditions, when you are not feeling at 100%, you lose time. The conditions have been difficult to read, with grip levels continuously changing. I made a small mistake in the final stage of the day, when I lost the car and spun on the final icy corner. But overall, we have just tried to stay secure. The three guys in front are flying so now my target to defend fourth place and hope for a better day tomorrow.”

M-Sport Ford WRT

Esapekka Lappi (5th)

“Everything felt much better this afternoon. We made some changes to the car which delivered a lot more grip, and also the information from the route note crews was much more precise. That brought a lot more confidence, and we were able to set some much better times and get a lot closer to Loeb ahead. But still 14 seconds is a lot to find when you’re talking about the nine-time World Champion! I think he knows tomorrow’s stages better than anyone so I’ll just focus on myself and hopefully we can show another improvement.”

Teemu Suninen (11th)

“Our pace was pretty good on the sections that were dry, wet or muddy, and I set some top-three times through those splits. But I lost a lot of time on the icy sections – especially when on the slicks. Maybe it was because I know I have to bring the car home to the finish, but still we could have gone faster. Experience always helps though, and I think we made some good tyre choices throughout the day so I was pleased with that.”

Gus Greensmith (66th)

“Considering how much work went into the pre-season it’s fair to say that my confidence was pretty shattered yesterday. I think it was the lowest point in my career, so today was all about rebuilding that. I was in no mood to make any mistakes through the first stage, but then I got back into things and managed to set the fifth fastest time in the next one. Then after that, I became a bit of a slush plough for the guys behind – but you’ve just got to pick yourself, keep working hard, and one day it’ll all come good.”

Sunday.

Just 63km’s left and four stages remained then and the startlist looked like this – 1. Suninen 2. Katsuta 3. Rovanperä 4. Lappi 5. Loeb 6. Neuville 7. Ogier 8. Evans.

The day started well for Thierry, who won SS13 La Bollène-Vésubie – Peïra-Cava 1 – 18.41 km and with Elfyn second fastest, but five seconds slower meaning that his lead over the Belgian who was now up into second place at the expense of Ogier. Esapekka Lappi was also going well and catching Loeb, who was just thirteen seconds ahead now in fourth place and his teammate, Teemu had now climbed into tenth place as well.

Thierry was really after this win, taking SS14 La Cabanette – Col de Braus 1 – 13.36 km as well, and took the lead. There was a change in fourth overall, as Loeb dropped a massive 42 seconds after sliding off the road and now Esapekka was up to fourth place. Thierry said that it wasn’t a good stage for him, but the clock said otherwise. He was on the limit of what the car wanted to do. There were just eleven seconds between Thierry in the lead and Ogier who was holding third.

 

Well, SS15 La Bollène-Vésubie – Peïra-Cava 2 – 18.41 km fell to the quick Belgian as well, who was just 1.4 seconds faster than Ogier with Lappi going third fastest with a good time. Elfyn was left trying to work out where his pace had gone. He felt he’d had a good run, but was only fourth quickest.

 

Time then for the final stage, SS16 La Cabanette – Col de Braus 2 [Power Stage] – 13.36 km and it was four out of four, for Thierry who got the nod for the stage victory, even though Ogier had set exactly the same time. Teemu Suninen was third in the stage, getting some good extra points for the driver standings. Of course, with Elfyn just fourth quickest and 3.2 seconds from Ogier, the man that had led coming into today now fell to third place, just 1.7 seconds from second place. The biggest news though was Loeb, who had fallen behind Kalle Rovanperä, who had finished in fifth position on his debut.

 

The Belgian duo and Hyundai had taken their first Monte Carlo victory with a drive full of risk, and it had paid off. They’d also taken the powerstage, giving them a perfect start to their championship challenge and in total took nine stage victories. Seb Ogier had got second place on the final stage, but what a drive from the Welsh Wizard, Elfyn and Scott Martin to their first ever Monte Carlo podium. They’d taken four stage wins against Seb Ogier and Julien Ingrassia who took three.

Final Overall Classification – Rallye Monte-Carlo

1 T. Neuville N. Gilsoul Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC 3:10:57.6
2 S. Ogier J. Ingrassia Toyota Yaris WRC +12.6
3 E. Evans S. Martin Toyota Yaris WRC +14.3
4 E. Lappi J. Ferm Ford Fiesta WRC +3:09.0
5 K. Rovanperä J. Halttunen Toyota Yaris WRC +4:17.2
6 S. Loeb D. Elena Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC +5:04.7
7 T. Katsuta D. Barritt Toyota Yaris WRC +11:27.9
8 T. Suninen J. Lehtinen Ford Fiesta WRC +13:30.4
9 E. Camilli F.X. Buresi Citroën C3 R5 +13:42.2
10 M. Østberg T. Eriksen Citroën C3 R5 +14:21.8

 

Let’s hear from the drivers!

 

Hyundai Motorsport

Thierry Neuville (1st)

“This is an amazing way to start the season and a fantastic feeling. I am really pleased that we have finally taken victory in Monte-Carlo; it’s been something we’ve chased for a while. We’ve come close before but now we’ve done it. It has not been an easy weekend, but I have picked up confidence as the event progressed, working very closely with the team and my gravel crew, who have done a great job. We’ve really been able to increase our feeling and comfort in the car the past few days. I could really push, and we’ve seen the results from the stage times. We were also able to take maximum points in the Power Stage. Our 13th WRC win – such a lucky number! My thanks to the whole team, it’s the perfect way to start a new season.”

Seb Loeb (6th)

“This has certainly not been the rally we were hoping for; it has been a difficult one all weekend and it seems the planets were not aligned for us. We were going OK until the second day but then yesterday we were backed up. Today was all about our tyre choice, which was not the right one for the conditions. We were already struggling at the end of the first stage, and I made a mistake at a tight hairpin in the second stage because I had no front grip. We just had to complete the rally, conserving our tyres to make it to the end. It’s not nice to tackle stages in that way but it was all we could do. We never give up. Huge congratulations to Thierry, Nicolas and the entire Hyundai Motorsport team for the victory. It takes something to win Rallye Monte-Carlo, so just enjoy these moments.”

Toyota Gazoo Racing WRT

Sébastien Ogier (2nd)

“I feel good honestly, it’s a positive result. Of course, I had hoped to deliver even more and bring the team a win straight away. But it’s always such a huge challenge to adapt to a new environment, especially on such a challenging rally, so I think we can be happy. I tried to stay in my comfort zone the whole weekend, not overdo it. We missed it by just a little bit, but 22 points is very good for the championship. There were some good moments during the weekend where we felt good in the car, some where I didn’t have enough confidence to really push the limits, but I really feel this car’s potential. I really enjoyed to drive it and I’m sure with a little bit more time, we’ll make great things together.”

Elfyn Evans (3rd)

“Obviously I feel a little bit disappointed today because I think we had the potential to win the rally. It’s difficult now because when you lead the rally, your expectations are raised and the win becomes the target of course. But it’s generally been a positive weekend. Unfortunately, I didn’t quite the feeling that I needed today. I was pushing hard but the speed wasn’t coming so naturally. I wasn’t nailing every corner and that ultimately cost us the handful of seconds we missed out by. We still have a little bit of learning to do, but overall it’s not a bad start and we can build on it.”

Kalle Rovanperä (5th)

“It has been a nice weekend. It was really tricky learning a new car in these conditions – and I think the conditions were really tricky this year, as they were changing a lot. It was getting better all the time and when there were conditions, I was more familiar with, I could do a bit better. There were so many things I learned during the weekend. It really helps to have a clean rally at the start of the season and also some good points.”

Takamoto Katsuta (7th)

“I’m so happy to have reached the end of the rally with lots of experience. I can see that I made a lot of progress from the start to the end of the weekend. I learned a lot about how to drive in different conditions and with different tyre options. I’m also getting more understanding about the car. On Saturday morning the conditions were very difficult and I made a mistake, but after that I could reset my mind and I had a pretty good feeling. My times at the end were pretty fine compared to other drivers who’ve done the same stages many times. Thank you to my co-driver Dan, my gravel crew Juho and Craig and the whole team – they did a brilliant job.”

 

M-Sport Ford WRT

Esapekka Lappi (4th)

“This is my best result from Monte and I think the best we could have done this weekend, so I am really happy with that. I managed to concentrate only on myself and what we were doing, and that seemed to work pretty well. It was a very challenging event and not always so easy, but we improved stage by stage and learnt a lot over the course of the weekend – so I’d say it’s been a positive start to the season.”

Esapekka Lappi made a great debut in his M-Sport Fiesta WRC. Photo credit, M-Sport.

Teemu Suninen (8th)

“When the conditions were dry or wet, I was really pleased with my pace on those sections, and we showed that again on the Power Stage today – setting the third fastest time and two fastest splits. But on the icy sections we were losing a lot and I have some work to do to be more consistent there. It’s good that I can set strong times on an event like this, but I need more experience to do it all the time.”

Summary

Well, what an incredible opener we were treated to. Spellbinding driving from the top three. Some would have been surprised by the performance of Elfyn and Scott, who took the fight to two crews that have either won this rally, or have actually won it. They are also crews that have fought for the world championship for the last few years. Who knows if this is the start of a special year for them both?

For Thierry and Nicolas, who have come close to winning this rally for the last few years, they took a great victory. It was an impressive drive from them. What we don’t know is how Ott and Martin would have done should they have not crashed.

2020 FIA World Rally Championship
Round 01, Rallye Monte-Carlo
23-26 Janvier 2020
Thierry Neuville
Photographer: Austral
Worldwide copyright: Hyundai Motorsport GmbH

The M-Sport team managed to get a good result after their troubles early on. Esapekka led their charge up the leader board, in the way you’d expect from the Finn, and was in a good position to benefit from the problems for Seb Loeb.

It was a very good debut from Kalle Rovanperä. He consistently set times which put him inside the top seven, including setting the fourth fastest time on stage seven. He and Jonne did what was expected of them and got to the finish.

Next time the championship will be heading to Rally Sweden.

Rallye Monte Carlo 2020 Preview

The 2020 season begins as ever in the ever iconic event that is Rallye Monte Carlo. Ott Tanak begins his title defence having made the switch from Toyota to Hyundai over the winter. He will, I am sure you know, will not however be running with the number one on his car, deciding instead to stick with number eight.

Rallye Monte Carlo has a reputation of being a super tricky event, and this year’s 88th edition is unlikely to be any different. Here are the stages that await the crews:

Thursday, January 23 2020

5 pm Official Start

Quai Albert 1er in Monaco

8:38 pm SS 1 – Malijai / Puimichel

17,47 km

10:26 pm SS 2 – Bayons / Bréziers

25,49 km

Friday, January 24 2020

8:36 am SS 3 – Curbans / Venterol

20,02 km

9:56 am SS 4 – Saint-Clément-sur-Durance / Freissinières

20,68 km

11:21 am SS 5 – Avançon / Notre-Dame-du-Laus

20,59 km

1:54 pm SS 6 – Curbans / Venterol

20,02 km

3:14 pm SS 7 – Saint-Clément-sur-Durance / Freissinières

20,68 km

4:39 pm SS 8 – Avançon / Notre-Dame-du-Laus

20,59 km

Saturday, January 25 2020

9:38 am SS 9 – Saint-Léger-les-Mélèzes / La Bâtie-Neuve

16,87 km

10:56 am SS 10 – La Bréole / Selonnet

20,73 km

2:08 pm SS 11 – Saint-Léger-les-Mélèzes / La Bâtie-Neuve

16,87 km

3:26 pm SS 12 – La Bréole / Selonnet

20,73 km

Stop at the Gap-Fontreyne Service Park

Sunday, January 26 2020

8:17 am SS 13 – La Bollène-Vésubie / Peïra-Cava

18,41 km

9:08 am SS 14 – La Cabanette / Col de Braus

13,36 km

10:55 am SS 15 – La Bollène-Vésubie / Peïra-Cava

18,41 km

12:18 pm SS 16 – La Cabanette / Col de Braus

13,36 km

 

Shakedown will take place on Wednesday afternoon from 4pm. There will be keen interest in the drivers that have switched teams over the winter to see what kind of times they set on the Route de la Garde 3.35 km stage. We’ll have to wait and see how many runs the crews decide to do, as they attempt to get a feel for their new cars in a competitive environment.

Look back to last year:

Last year Seb and Julien took a win with their return to Citroen, which was their sixth victory in this event. Ott Tanak took third. He was the early leader, but suffered a puncture early on day one, dropping him out of the fight for the lead. Between them, in second, was Thierry Neuville.

There are two drivers who are making their debut in full blooded WRC machinery this weekend. Kalle Rovanperä and Gus Greensmith will step into their respective cars from Toyota and Ford. Yes, I know that Gus drove in three events last year, but he and Edmund haven’t driven one of these cars in Monte before. Last year he drove to a very good win in the WRC Pro class.

Let’s hear from the drivers:

Hyundai Motorsport

Photo credit, Hyundai Motorsport

Ott Tanak

“The start of a new year begins with probably the most demanding event of the season. To make it even more challenging, we have a new team and a new car to learn while tackling the tricky conditions. It will never be an easy job, but it is important to get a good start and to score some points. With the event held at the end of January, the conditions are normally inconsistent, and a lot depends on the altitude. In the lower conditions you can have dry tarmac, then the higher you go it starts to freeze. With the extreme conditions, its normal to find some unpredictability in this rally.”

Thierry Neuville

“Rally Monte-Carlo kicks off the season and we are straight into the dark stages. It’s a very tough event, and tyre choice is crucial. It’s a difficult event in which to compete; there’s a lot of hesitation and you need good pace notes, as well as accurate information from your weather crew. With different altitudes in the stages, high concentration is key. Conditions are constantly changing and the most dangerous thing for us is black ice. We have been competing in Gap for a few years now and we know which sections are in the shade all day and will be slippery, but there will always be some surprises waiting for us in Monte.”

Seb Loeb

“You never know what to expect at Rallye Monte-Carlo. It could be fully dry, wet or feature a lot of snow, which changes the driving conditions. It can even change between the stages and the road sections, which means tyre choice is even more important. You need to find the right rhythm to be fast without taking major risks. This rally you need to approach with your head; it’s not just flat out, it’s a question of reflection. My previous experience feels like a long time ago, so the rallies feel newer to me than other drivers. We only had one day in the car before Monte-Carlo last year, so hopefully with our current knowledge of the car we will be able to get an even better result than last year.”

 

Toyota Gazoo Racing WRT

Photo credit, Toyota Gazoo Racing WRT

Sébastien Ogier

“I’m excited to start my first rally in the Toyota Yaris WRC. Every car has different characteristics and it takes some kilometres to learn about them, but so far it has been good in the tests. We want to fight for a seventh title this year, and I believe we can have a good chance with this car. Rallye Monte-Carlo is an event with special emotions for me. I remember at the end of the 1990s, coming to spectate and Tommi was winning a lot – he was the first idol I had in rallying. Myself and Julien obviously have a very strong record too, and every year there is more and more pressure to try and continue that. It’s always a big challenge and one that I definitely enjoy.”

Elfyn Evans

“I’m looking forward to Rallye Monte-Carlo and my first event with Toyota. This is the first time in my WRC career that I’ve changed teams, but everybody’s been very welcoming and I’ve got a good feeling in the car, so I’m excited about the season ahead. My first time driving the Yaris WRC was in our test for the Monte in December, and quite quickly I was able to get a nice feeling and some good confidence. On this event the challenge is always the range of conditions you can possibly face. When you’re setting up the car, you need something that gives you confidence and I think we’ve got some good options with that in mind.”

Kalle Rovanperä

“Rallye Monte-Carlo will be a special event for me. It’s a big step up from an R5 car, with a lot more power and downforce, but so far, I’ve found the Yaris WRC to be quite easy to drive in the tests. Still, I have a lot to learn and I think it will take a few rallies to really adapt to the car and how everything works. I will need to think differently at the beginning of the season, and I hope that I will have the patience for this. I think Monte-Carlo is not the easiest place to start with a new car and a new team. The weather is changing all the time and you cannot always have the right tyre choice for the conditions. It will be a big challenge for us, but hopefully we can make it through.”

 

M-Sport WRT

2020 FIA World Rally Championship
Ford Fiesta WRC 2020 Livery
January 2020
Photo: Drew Gibson

Esapekka Lappi

“Monte-Carlo is always a tricky start to the season, but I’m looking forward to getting started. Straight away the Fiesta felt very logical and easy to drive, and that always gives a driver a lot of confidence. I hope I’ll be able to use that confidence next week, but Monte is always a challenge and you never know what to expect.

“We had wet roads on the test and the car felt good in those changing conditions. But in Monte you can have wet roads, dry roads, icy roads, full snow, and sometimes all of that in the same stage! You have to give this rally a lot of respect, but that’s what we plan to do and we want to get this new partnership off to a strong start next week.”

Teemu Suninen

“I’m really looking forward to this season and straight away I could see that Esapekka and I would work well together. We had a very similar set-up on the test, and it looks like we want to take the car in the same direction.

“I tested on dry asphalt and had a really good feeling, but for the more tricky  sections where there is a lot of ice and snow I will have to rely on my experience. This is my fourth time in Monte so I’m starting to know the stages a bit better. The rally is always a lottery, but I have a very experienced gravel crew who I trust 100 percent – so anything is possible!”

Gus Greensmith

“Monte is a special one for me. It’s where I claimed my first victory (winning WRC Pro 2 last year), and there’s no other rally than gives me more satisfaction behind the wheel. Knowing that I will drive these amazing stages with the Ford Fiesta WRC this year is beyond my wildest dreams!

“Everyone wants to win here, and the changing conditions make it one of the biggest challenges on the calendar. The smallest mistakes pay a heavy price, but I do think this is a strong event for me. I’ve always relished tricky conditions, but experience is something you need here too. I’ll have to make up for that, and hope to produce a strong performance to kick off this 2020 season.”

Summary

Here we go then! Who will win the first round of this new season? Will we see another win going to Seb Ogier, or perhaps we’ll see a new winner this year? Thierry challenged in 2017, and was close last year, or perhaps we’ll see Ott Tanak take a first victory?

 

Podium challengers could be Elfyn Evans, Teemu Suninen and Seb Loeb. Finally, how will Kalle Rovanperä get on? The son of Harri Rovanperä has made his own name on his way up the ladder. There will be mistakes, that is expected. Still, expect to see him win some stages as well.

Enjoy!

Interview with M-Sport Team Principal, Richard Millener, Autosport International 2020, Part Two

Welcome to Part Two of my Interview with Rich Millener.

Warren

Let’s talk about Esapekka. Have you just signed him up on a one-year contract?

Rich

Yes, just one year at the moment, with the potential for further if we both agree, but it was a bit of a tough decision for him and tough decision to come with us, but a tough time for him. He found himself in Australia, finding he could be out of a job and it came to fruition. You’ve got to have four, five years of WRC at the top level to get your experience, and he’d just done that, had a tough season at Citroen and then it looked like it was all over, so luckily he found a way to come with us which is great and we really wanted him to have him on board and as I said we can prove a point and we can help him show his best and that’s the goal, we only chose him because we think he’s capable. If we didn’t think he was capable, we’d have stuck with Teemu and Gus, but he was there and we both agreed that we wanted to get him in the car and that’s happened, so yeah, we’re looking forward to it.

Warren

Teemu as well, a second consecutive year for him.

Rich

Yes, he did some really good performances last year, especially on tarmac, some really quite promising stage times, when you keep reminding yourself of his experience level, a couple of silly mistakes which he would be the first to admit to, which we want to try to get rid of. That really made his season, you know the history books say one thing, but we know the pace was good for the rest of it, and then a couple of problems from our side, and it was a bit of a mixed year. We want to try and take that away and go from there really.

Warren

Gus is doing a lot more rounds. He did Portugal, and then did a couple more because of Elfyn Evans’ situation.

Rich

Yes, going from three to nine is a big step, no R5 this year, so concentrating fully on WRC which is great, but it’s the biggest step he’ll make and it’s the top level and you’re in the limelight, and got all the pressure on you. He’ll want to prove himself, doesn’t want to be seen as someone who’s not capable of results. At the same time, it’s tough competing with those guys and he’ll have some good times and bad times. Our goal is to help him through it, he’s taking it incredibly seriously, to be fair to him. We mentioned to him in the middle of last year we thought he ought to get a bit more serious on a couple of issues, we said his personal fitness needs a bit of a look at and he’s dropped 21 kilos since Germany last year, which is incredible and that is dedication and for us to mention something like that and to go away and do what we’ve asked is great and shows his commitment to the project. It’s not just that, he’s upped all sorts in the background as well, and he’s really doing everything he can and it’s our responsibility and our job to do everything we can, and so we’re excited to see what he can achieve.

Warren

Finally, sum up Elfyn’s year. Came close to that win, had the problem in Estonia, missed three rounds.

Rich

He had a strong year, considering how many events he did, and he finished equal fourth in the championship and missed five rallies effectively. Two through retirement and three because of the injury, so if you think he hasn’t scored on five rallies and still fourth he’s done right in between and we knew that kind of performance would eventually get him a drive somewhere else. As much as we’re all disappointed, that he’s gone, we’re also happy that he got the opportunity to go show that he’s got the speed with another manufacturer, because you run the risk that people think he’s only ever going to stay at M-Sport and now he’s got his opportunity to show what he can do. It’s going to be hard for him, he’s got to prove it now over the next two years, but he’s capable, so we wish him the best of luck.

 

Many thanks to Rich for his time!

All photos courtesy of M-Sport

Interview with M-Sport Team Principal, Richard Millener, Autosport International 2020, Part One

Rich Millener had a lot to say about the new season at Autosport International.

Here is part one of my interview with M-Sport’s Team Principle.

Warren

Your feelings after the win that got away?

Rich

It was a bit of a baptism of fire for me in some ways. Doing the job in the background for the last three or four years. I approached Malcolm at the end of 2018 when Seb Ogier left and asked if I could do the team principle role, to which he agreed- this was surprising- if you don’t ask, you don’t get. It was a nice opportunity to be given. I think last year was a bit of a learning curve in some ways. It wasn’t hugely different from what I’ve done before- there were elements we knew – More involved in areas that I’ve not been involved with before, and then we had the Corsica issue. It was a very easy job at the start. Three rallies in and three good results. Fourth rally in and on for a win. I think people thought M-Sport were going to be in the way and pretty competitive, but unfortunately it unravelled. Then we had a tough mid-season and then we came back stronger at the end of the season.

I think overall not bad but there are a few things I’d like to change this year. There was nothing I wanted to change this past year, because you’re still learning. You don’t come in and try to change everything as you don’t have the experience to do it. Overall, I think we were very happy – the whole team is aware of the structure and how it’s working. We’ve tried to improve communication with mechanics and engineers, every part of the team really, just to work together as best we can, and just try to continue to improve. The drivers are all capable of winning, so we just want to perform as best we can, to give them everything we can to do well.

Warren

What do you think Lappi has brought to the team so far in terms of his experience with the previous cars he has driven?

Rich

Ah, difficult to say at the moment, as he’s done so little. He’s done two and a half days in the car so far, but the experience he has as he’s been with two manufacturer teams already, and we’re the third, all the current generation cars, which is great. He’s got experience and knowledge of the two rivals. He has been through the highs and lows himself and has won a rally and then had a tough season last year, so the kind of pressure of being in the top level of WRC, he’s been there which is great.

To promote a younger person into leading a team, you run the risk of that being difficult for them to get their head around and be prepared, but he’s kind of ready and nothing seems to stress him out which is great and like Malcolm said, the team and environment is very good, we’re a younger team with all the same goals, we’re all hungry to improve and win and so is he. If we can make him feel comfortable, then we know he can perform well. That’s our main goal at the minute. He seems to understand British humour, which is helpful so he can see a joke and be serious at the same time, and I think if he feels comfortable, then he should be on the pace right away.

Warren

Are you looking at any events for victories?

Rich

I think Monte Carlo will be difficult. I’m not sure tarmac would be EP’s favourite subject, but on the other side, Teemu’s tarmac pace has been really good the last few rallies. We didn’t do any testing before Christmas, we didn’t have the budget to do that, so we did that this year instead, a really good test, but unfortunately no snow but, we know how much that rally can change, so Monte will be hard. Sweden, we expect to be strong, like last year with Teemu, again it will depend on the road conditions and how much snow there is. Now really the rest after that, we should be strong in all of them and there’s no reason we can’t challenge in all of them. So, we’re not focusing on anything in particular, just be the best for all the events.

Warren

Now, three new rounds and this is a question that I asked Esapekka and Teemu. How do you go about preparing for Rally Safari?

Rich

I think Safari realistically is going to be quite different from what people expect. I think a lot more of the European style event is likely. It won’t be horrendously rough, it won’t be huge great deep-water splashes, cars will look pretty much look as they are. If people are expecting snorkels and everything that goes with it, which is great but we have the reality of the costs of designing a one-off car and it’s not feasible for anybody. However, having said that all new stages, very different from what we’ve seen, it’s quite sandy in places which is a different skill, fast and actually narrow in some places and if you go offline, there’s big rocks and everything.

The temptation to cut will be there, but the reality of cutting might not be so ideal and there is the wildlife, you know that you can’t get away from wildlife, there’s still going to be that gone are the days of the star helicopters and everything that went along with that because going to that level again would be like doing two rallies for the price of one. We can’t really afford. It will be very interesting, we sent some people out to the candidate rally to try and understand what it’s about, the same with Japan, New Zealand we know a little bit more, but all these new rallies are good for the drivers, because everyone’s in the same boat, new stages and new pace notes. I don’t think any of the drivers this year have been to any of these places, so that will be interesting. We’ll just prepare in the normal way, testing is most difficult because we don’t know the exact conditions you’re going to get in Safari, so you don’t know where you’re going to test. We’ve got a few options in mind, and I think that will be a key part of doing well.

Warren

Do you know if Rally Chile is going ahead?

Rich

It looks like it will be cancelled, and I don’t think there will be a replacement to be honest, I think it’s too late in the day to be able to find a solution to the logistics, to change everything around. We’re all planned around the thirteen rallies. Fourteen was always a push to be honest. It’s hard on the guys, yes less rallies than say Formula One, but you’re away for a longer time, over a week and last year with Argentina and Chile we were away for over three weeks and it was hard to keep morale up in the team because a lot of people have families and kids and it’s a long time for fifty people that you work with day in and day out. Thirteen is not a big drama for me. I appreciate that we need to go to new places, and it’s a shame that we’ve lost them, but we can still have a good championship.

Warren

I’m of the opinion that Formula One has too many races.

Rich

Yes, you become a casual fan, because you switch it on and it’s always there, which is great because it’s in your mind at the time, you don’t build up to the weekend, ah F1’s on at the weekend, I’ll watch that, but then it’s on every other weekend and WRC isn’t strong enough to warrant that many events, so got to be careful. I think thirteen or fourteen is acceptable.

 

The 2020 M-Sport lineup. Photo credit, Warren Nel

Look out for Part Two soon!