Chris Ingram and Ross Whittock to make their World Rally Championship debut.

The 2019 European Champions will be making their first start in the WRC at this month’s Rally Croatia for a team named Rally Warrior. They are a brand-new team, and they will be going up against some more experienced drivers and teams. Never-the-less, there is no doubting the quality of this duo, and they will be a crew to watch, and they will know the car that they are about to take this opportunity, having driven a Skoda Fabia Evo Rally 2 to the ERC title.

If you read my interview with Chris from last years Autosport International, you will know that Chris and Ross crowdfunded their drive to the 2019 ERC title. If you haven’t, I recommend that you check it out. The good news is that this deal is for two seasons, and is fully supported by a number of big backers, giving them a fantastic platform to be able to concentrate all of their preparations on the events, and not have all these distractions for getting backing organised for events.

Chris has joined forces with the vastly successful SXM Competition team from Belgium to pilot a Škoda Fabia Rally2 Evo. “As a team we wanted to do another program in WRC-3, because this is the highest level of motorsport. I was very honoured that Chris contacted me to see if we could have a collaboration, said Fred Miclotte from SXM Competition. “I have known Chris and Ross already for some time and I’m sure they form a fantastic team together. I think that we all have the same goal for 2021. We all want to show our potential and that’s why I believe so much in it.”

 

Let’s hear from Chris.

What does this opportunity mean to you?

“It means the world to me and I’m so fortunate. When you grow up in a country that produced Richard Burns and Colin McRae, two of the best rally drivers that ever lived, it’s a massive source of inspiration. When you’ve got the kind of passion for this sport that I have you want nothing more than to try to get to the WRC and achieve just a fraction of what they did. Of course, they were world champions and obviously that’s the ultimate goal, but it takes time, talent and a phenomenal amount of hard work to get that far. It also needs financial support and I wouldn’t be here without my main sponsor, CarFinance 247. I’m going to give it everything I’ve got, just like I’ve done throughout my career.

“There have been some really tough moments to get this far but it feels so special to be able to say I’m a World Rally Championship driver,” said Ingram. “I’ve given everything I have to get this opportunity and I have so many people to thank and so much to be grateful for.

“Winning the ERC title in 2019 opened up lots of doors and I was close to landing a really good drive in 2020. The pandemic slammed all those doors shut, but I never gave up and never stopped believing my dream would come true. I’m so lucky to have this chance. “It’s a two-year programme and I can’t lose sight of that fact. It’s been almost 18 months since I last drove a top-level rally car so I’ve got to build up my confidence, learn the events and adapt to the championship because it’s the biggest thing I’ve ever done. The World rally rounds are another level. I’m going to give it everything.”

” You’ve secured a two-year programme. How important is that?

“It’s vital. Experience is so important in the WRC, which is so tough and competitive. And you only get experience by getting to the finish of each event you start. So, in year one, the objective is to keep a calm head, not do anything stupid, learn as much as possible and complete as many kilometres as possible. Points and podiums on top of all that would be a massive bonus, but there’s no pressure on me to do that. The only pressure is to get myself in a position where I can go for top results in year two.”

Why are you worthy of this chance?

“I’m totally committed, totally determined and I’ve won two of the main titles below WRC level. I have sacrificed everything personally to be able to chase my rally dreams. It has been a challenging road to say the least just to get to this point, we had to launch a crowdfunding bid just so Ross and I could get to the final rounds of our European championship-winning season but thankfully we made it and lifted the trophy. I train hard and push myself to be the best that I can be and I am so grateful the people who have helped me to get this far.”

You’ve used your social media channels to promote HUMEN, The Men’s Mental Health Movement. Why?

“I achieved a dream when I became European champion. However, competing against some of the fastest rally drivers on some of Europe’s most dangerous roads wasn’t the challenging part. I was struggling, fighting and overcoming a much harder battle with my own mental health. I hope that by being open about my challenges it will help other men to get talking. I have struggled with hard times in my personal life. I became very depressed when everything hit me all at once, financial pressures, relationships, family illnesses and the thought I couldn’t continue my career. Going home just a few days after each rally and even after winning the ERC, I would get so depressed with my personal life and sink into a very dark place, as I didn’t seek help. Men should talk.”

What are biggest challenges you’ll need to overcome in the WRC?

“I’ve not driven a powerful rally car since November 2019, all the events I’m planning to do will be new for me, it’s a new team and I’m up against the best drivers in the world. I know it’s not going to be easy but I’ve never had it easy in my career. I’m looking forward to facing all of the challenges head on as always and I feel confident in the knowledge I have a fantastic team around to support Ross and myself.”

 

I for one am glad that Chris and Ross have this chance to compete in the greatest championship in the world, and will be keeping a close eye on their progress.

Dan Rowbottom signs for Team Dynamics – Yuasa leave team and BTCC after ten years

It’s all change for Team Dynamics as they sign a new driver, gain a title sponsor, and lose another as title sponsor Yuasa have left the team after ten glorious years in the British Touring Car Championship.

After news broke of Dan Rowbottom taking the second Honda seat alongside the returning Gordon Shedden, it was confirmed that Cataclean, a partner of Rowbottom would become a sponsor of the team alongside the long-standing Halfords.

Rowbottom made his BTCC debut in 2019 with Ciceley Motorsport, and after sitting out 2020, he returns after a ‘lifeline’ from one of the sport’s most famous names.

Rowbottom had a season in BTCC in 2019 with Ciceley Motorsport. (Image Credit: BTCC Media)

“I was thrown a bit of a lifeline with a call from Matt Neal suggesting we should get together and have a chat about the future!  To be honest it was a real ‘pinch yourself moment’ one moment no racing, then next I had the main man of BTCC suggesting that it might be possible to join Team Dynamics,” Rowbottom stated in a press release on his website.

Neal was happy to have Rowbottom in the team and will play a more mentoring role in his development. “It’s great to have Dan join the team, he’s got previous experience in the BTCC, so he knows what to expect and how competitive it is.  I know he has set himself some pretty realistic, yet tough goals and I’ll be there to help and mentor him and make sure we achieve the best results we can for him and for the team”

Dynamics and Yuasa is one of the most successful partnerships in the history of the BTCC. (Image Credit: BTCC Media)

This therefore means Yuasa leave the team, after 11 trophy laden seasons with Team Dynamics. In a  press release from the battery brand, they stated: ‘During their 10 years (11 seasons) in the sport, Yuasa has enjoyed phenomenal success with the team and their drivers Matt Neal, Gordon Shedden and Dan Cammish.

‘With Yuasa’s backing Matt and Gordon both became three-time BTCC champions, and Dan narrowly missed out on his first BTCC title at nail biting season finale in 2019. In fact, since the relationship began in 2010 Yuasa and Team Dynamics have shared a phenomenal 78 race wins, 232 podiums, 4 drivers’ championships, 5 teams and 5 manufacturers titles.’

This of course means Matt Neal won’t be on the grid next year, but he is expected to remain heavily involved in the team and the garage.

A tribute to Murray Walker

The news that Murray Walker had died aged 97 was as heart-breaking as it was sudden, but he was a man who lived a long, excellent life – and he spent it entertaining and inspiring generations.

The more you look at the fallout from Murray’s passing, the more you realise that it was not just British fans that treasured the voice of Formula One, but the death of such a lovely human being is being mourned by motorsport fans around the world.

Murray was the voice of some of the most amazing moments in the history of Formula One and motorcycle racing; he even provided his emotive and unmistakable voice to the British Touring Car Championship too.

Honestly though, so much adulation and collective sentiment for a perpetual hero of Formula One cannot be summed up by one person in an article. Murray produced some infamous quotes, provided notoriously emotional soundtracks to some of the most incredible moments in motorsport, and touched the lives of many, so we thought we should include some thoughts from all of us here at the PitCrew Online.

Image Courtesy of Ian McWilliams

For me, Murray Walker was, and always will be, the voice of Formula 1. I grew up listening to Murray and loved the way he could convey the excitement of F1 and his absolute passion for the sport. My fondest memory is of Damon Hill crossing the finishing line and winning the championship when he says he has a lump in his throat making you realise he had known Damon as a man and boy and obviously knew Damon’s father, Graham. – Karen

“I watched, F1 in the 80s, wanted to be a racing driver, then i choose more boring things, anyhoo. James and Murray guided me through F1, with James’s hate of slow back markers, and Murray’s enthusiastic and over optimistic ‘comms’. Oh and he had the curse all right, Australia’86 will stick in many peoples’ heads. Talking of heads. I’m sure Damon and Nigel, have forgiven him many moons ago.
“Oh and he had the commentator’s curse all right”  – Taras

RIP Murray.

My favourite moment was the 1998 Belgian GP at spa when Murray commentated on the biggest accident in F1 history on lap one, he showed genuine shock and concern for the drivers involved. He nearly jumped out of his chair when Michael Schumacher rear-ended David Coulthard in the rain, then saw Damon Hill and Ralph Schumacher secure the Jordan team’s first ever win and one-two in one of the most exciting and unforgettable races ever. Murray was not just a commentator he was a real F1 fan and that is why so many people loved him, he was captivating to listen to and embodied the essence and excitement of racing. – Mandy

Murray Walker is synonymous with Formula One. In fact, he IS Formula One. He was always more than just a commentator: He was the friendly voice that encouraged you into the sport, he was the passionate fan that infected you with his enthusiasm and he was an orator capable of wonderful storytelling. He was a man that simply wanted to share his love for motorsport with the rest of the world, and we thank him for that. We will miss you Murray. – Adam Wheeler

Mine and many others’ first voice of F1. The only voice of F1 for some. Murray Walker was a treasure to me, to Formula One and to Great Britain as a whole. An imperfect genius behind the microphone, and we’ll never see his like again. – Jack Prentice

As a small boy mum used to sit me down in front of the TV whenever Murray was on, it was the only way to keep me still and quiet, he’s literally responsible for my life’s greatest passion!

Thanks for all the amazing memories and for giving me a love of motorsports that is such a big part of my life. – Simon Tassie

RIP, Murray

My Murray Walker Memories

When I think of Murray Walker, I don’t just think of Formula One, but also British Rally Cross and the British Touring Car Championship. He was THE motorsport commentator, and his style was utterly unique! I discovered motorsport in my late teens, and by the end of 1991 was following the WRC, BTCC and Formula One. Murray was commentating on the BTCC and Formula One for the BBC and this meant that you would hear Murray’s commentary throughout the year as the races came and went.

He retired from commentating during the 2001 Formula One season, but remained a much-loved man, and would pop up from time to time with great interviews with the drivers and other characters from the motorsport community.

As we’ve seen, he will be massively missed by everyone. My thoughts are with his family and friends – Thank you for sharing him with us. – Warren Nel

Growing up in South Africa, Murray was the voice to an F1 world that we could only see on television. He made me feel connected to this world that was so far away (as a child I felt that way) and is the reason my love of F1 grew. He was and will always be the voice of the greatest sport ever and the voice I always hear in my head at lights out. – Rhea Morar

Murray was the best of us. His child-like enthusiasm was infectious; it resonated with us all. It was Murray who said that those who can do and those can talk about it, which is true to all of us who contribute to the PitCrew Online. Murray laid the foundations so we could run, and we are all eternally grateful. Murray’s unrivaled passion for racing has driven every single one of us. Thank you for everything Murray – Luca Munro

As a kid growing up my parents bought me a VHS – Murray’s Magic Moments. I watched it again and again, enthralled by his infectious commentary over some of F1’s most iconic moments. So much so that I know quote them verbatim when I see them on TV. Murray Walker was more than just a commentator, he was a fan first and foremost, and brought that passion to millions around the world. He’s an icon and a pillar of motorsport. His BTCC commentary is also hugely popular and something I love watching again and again. Sleep tight Murray, a gentleman and in a world of egos, his humble nature and passionate commentary will live on. “And now I’ve got to stop, cause I’ve got a lump in my throat.” – Aaron Irwin

Murray was the voice of F1 across the world not only the UK; he was just a legend in motorsport. The word legend at times is used too frequently, but I grew up listening to his iconic voice and murrayisms like ‘Go Go Go!’ He, in my view, should be immortalised at Silverstone on the national circuit as he was there when it all began! His legacy will continue to inspire all; he was truly unparalleled in knowledge and how to put it through the microphone. – Chris Lord

Murray brought races to life with his enigma and his pure passion for racing. He has inspired and will continue to inspire generations in motorsport and broadcasting. We will miss you, Murray.

Gordon Shedden returns to the BTCC with Team Dynamics

Three-time BTCC champion Gordon Shedden is making a return to the series with Team Dynamics, replacing outgoing Dan Cammish.

The Scotsman, who won his three titles with the Honda backed team, returns to the sport after a three year absence, having last raced in 2017. In a somewhat poetic twist, it was Cammish who replaced Shedden three years ago, and now the roles are reversed.

Shedden, or ‘Flash’ as he is known, needs no introduction to BTCC fans. He made his debut at Knockhill in 2001 as an independent and secured a full time BTCC drive with Team Dynamics in 2006. He won his first race at round seven at Oulton Park.

Shedden last raced in the BTCC in 2017. (Image Credit: BTCC Media)

He stayed with the team until a small stint with Seat in the second half of 2009. Shedden returned in 2010 with the squad now a manufacturer backed Honda team. Incredibly between 2010 and 2016 he wasn’t out of the top three in the championship standings. He won his first title in 2012 before adding two more in 2015 and 2016.

His last BTCC season in 2017 secured three wins and fourth in the championship before he left for World Touring Cars, with Cammish replacing him.

This won’t be the first time he’s driven the Honda Civic FK8, as he had a demo run last year when Matt Neal was injured in a bike crash, but Shedden says he ‘can’t wait to get back in the car.’

Shedden has 48 wins to his name and will make his 350th appearance this season. (Image Credit: BTCC Media)

Shedden told the official BTCC website: “I’ve been keeping an eye on the Championship, and it looks mega competitive, but my fight and determination is as high as it’s ever been, so I’ll be giving it my all.” 

This news comes after Cammish announced he was stepping away from the BTCC, with Shedden’s teammate to be announced in the coming weeks. The strong speculation is we will see Dan Rowbottom in the second seat but time will tell.

Five of our favourite BTCC liveries from the last five years

One of the most exciting things about pre-season is seeing the cars, seeing what colours we need to look out for on the grid. While most cars look great, there are some that just stand out for all the right reasons.

Whether that be an iconic livery, a moment you associate with your favourite team or driver, or simply you think it looks good and therefore becomes a favourite of yours.

We’ve delved into the archives and found five of our favourite liveries from the last five years of the British Touring Car Championship, with so many to choose from creating a list wasn’t easy.

5. 2016 Team Dynamics Honda Civic

Shedden attacks Knockhill in his Honda Civic FK2. (image credit: BTCC Media)

Honda and Halfords, it’s a combination we’ve become used to over the years watching the British Touring Car Championship. Gordon Shedden took the title for Team Dynamics in his orange Honda with some beautiful black accents to compliment the design. The FK2 Civic is one of the most successful BTCC cars of all time, and suited the colour scheme perfectly.

4. 2020 Excelr8 Hyundai i30N

The beautiful Hyundai i30N from 2020. (Image Credit: BTCC Media)

With the COVID-19 pandemic restricting fans to watching on TV, the Hyundai ran by Excelr8 often caught the eye. Driven by Senna Proctor and Chris Smiley, the vivid blue and black colour scheme really helped accentuate the i30N’s features. The red around the grille stood out and made the car easy to spot during races.

3. 2018 Motorbase Ford Focus Pink Edition

This one off livery definitely caught the eye. (Image Credit: BTCC Media)

As part of the BTCC’s 60th anniversary celebrations at Snetterton, Sam Tordoff revealed a pink liveried Ford Focus which definitely caught the eye. When asked about why he chose it, Tordoff stated: “We wanted to choose a colour that really made an impact on the track and also on TV. Bright pink has become my signature colour over recent years and we wanted something special for the car, so it was a no-brainer to run with it!”

2. 2019 WSR BMW 330i M Sport

Tom Oliphant at Thruxton in the stunning BMW 330i M Sport. (Image Credit: BTCC Media)

BMW’s M Sport brand is one of the most recognisable in motorsport, and while the iconic colours were used on the 1 Series in the few seasons prior, the colours really shone on the new-for-2019 330i. Colin Turkington drove to the title in the white BMW, with splashes of red, light blue and dark blue. Side note, the Pirtek livery used by Andrew Jordan also really suited the 330i, but the white machine used by Turkington and Tom Oliphant, was just a cut above.

1.  2017 WSR Pirtek BMW 1 Series

Andrew Jordan’s beautiful Pirtek livery. (Image Credit: BTCC Media)

Our favourite livery of the past five years is this stunning metallic Pirtek livery used by Andrew Jordan. It was used in 2016 on his Ford Focus but following his move to WSR, the livery followed. A shining blue with Pirtek’s signature yellow and red logos, this livery caught the eye and really shone. A move to a matte finish akin to Red Bull’s recent liveries followed in 2018, and while pleasant it wasn’t as striking as the metallic versions.

These were just five of our favourites, honourable mentions include Tom Oliphant’s metallic green Ciceley Mercedes Benz A Class from 2018, and BTC Racing’s matte grey Honda Civic FK8 with pink accents.

As we wait for the cars to hit the track, we will sit back and marvel at these beautiful machines a little longer.

(All image credits: BTCC Media)

Arctic Rally Finland 2021 Review – Ott and Martin strike back for Hyundai

2021 FIA World Rally Championship / Round 02 / Arctic Rally Finland / 26-28 February, 2021 // Worldwide Copyright: Toyota Gazoo Racing WRT

With two stages on Friday, the running order looked like this – Ogier, Evans, Neuville, Rovanperä, Katsuta, Greensmith, Tänak, Suninen, Breen, Solberg, Loubet, Tuohino, Bertelli.

 

Sarriojärvi 1, 31.05km run in the daylight and as expected Ogier was sweeping the road of loose snow. His Welsh teammate lost some time in the early splits in this, the longest stage of the rally, but as he came through the last split, he’d not only reduced the gap, he was now faster, and crossed the line six seconds quickest at this point. What happened after that was that their times were really tumbling with Thierry, then Ott going fastest. Craig came through with a very good time, but was not really happy, and it seemed that the Hyundai was just dealing with the road better than the Toyota’s, but the only flaw in that theory is the quick kid, Kalle who despite a spin in the stage was there in amongst the Hyundai’s in his Toyota. Oliver Solberg was right on the pace as well in first outing in the i20 WRC, losing ten seconds in the stage, but ahead of Gus Greensmith. It was a good drive from the nineteen-year-old.

 

As the sun set on this magical location in the arctic circle, the crews prepared for the night time run of SS2 Sarriojärvi 2 – 31.05 km, and what we saw was that Ott was right in the groove. Somehow, he was just maintaining the grip from these Pirelli’s and the studs, so with the right starting position and the right feel with his car on these tyres, it was just coming together for him and Martin and once again he was fastest from Kalle and Craig third. Oliver and Seb in their i20 were fourth in the stage, just 2.2 slower than Craig, a very good performance from them which brought them up to 8th overall! Overall top three were, Ott, Craig and Kalle.

 

Classification after Day One

1 O. Tänak M. Järveoja Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC 31:50.7
2 C. Breen P. Nagle Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC +16.2
3 K. Rovanperä J. Halttunen Toyota Yaris WRC +20.4
4 T. Neuville M. Wydaeghe Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC +29.8
5 E. Evans S. Martin Toyota Yaris WRC +32.0
6 T. Suninen M. Markkula Ford Fiesta WRC +34.5
7 T. Katsuta D. Barritt Toyota Yaris WRC +38.8
8 O. Solberg S. Marshall Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC +45.9
9 S. Ogier J. Ingrassia Toyota Yaris WRC +49.8
10 G. Greensmith E. Edmondson Ford Fiesta WRC +1:05.8

 

Let’s hear from the drivers at the end of Friday’s stages.

Hyundai Motorsport

Ott Tänak (1st)

“Let’s say that I’m happy, but it’s very early and there’s no reason to get carried away yet. This has been a rollercoaster kind of day, typical for Finland with very technical and up-and-down roads. It’s been a big job today, for sure, with road position and tyres playing their part. The car balance is OK but it can always be better so there are things we need to work on. At the moment, we are leading but the road position was different to our rivals so everything can change tomorrow. We need to keep focused and keep pushing.”

Craig Breen (2nd)

“It’s nice to be here with such unique conditions; it’s a special feeling to be in the woods, in the dark, doing 200kph – I definitely enjoyed it! I have had a good starting position, but I honestly don’t think I took the full benefit from that, particularly in the first stage. In the second run, I tried to push hard – perhaps a bit too much at the start because I suffered towards the end, losing studs in the last three to four kilometres. This is something that comes with time and experience. I know I can jump in the car after six months and be on the pace, but it takes time to refine the small things. Absence certainly makes the heart grow fonder, and it’s nice to have the confidence and security from a full programme.”

2021 FIA World Rally Championship
Round 02, Arctic Rally Finland
26-28 February 2021
Craig Breen
Photographer: Austral
Worldwide copyright: Hyundai Motorsport GmbH

Thierry Neuville (4th)

“We’ve had a pretty satisfying start to this brand-new WRC event. Compared to what we saw in the pre-event test, we went quickly through the snow onto the gravel; the grip was higher, as was the tyre wear. I lost the first studs on the shakedown and then a few more this afternoon. The car was working well in those conditions and we had a good afternoon, making our way to P4 which gives us a good road position for tomorrow. We need to benefit from that and fight with the cars in front of us – and behind. At the same time, I am also continuing to build on my new working relationship with Martijn.”

 

Toyota Gazoo Racing WRT

Kalle Rovanperä (3rd)

“The first stage started really well, but in one junction I made a mistake and I went wide into the snowbank. We almost got away with it but we had to reverse out. In the second stage I could already see in the beginning that the setup we had was not optimal for the conditions in the second pass with a lot of gravel coming through, and I was having a lot of understeer. That was hurting the front tyres, so the end of the stage was really tough. But I’m sure that we can find something with the setup for tomorrow and keep fighting.”

Elfyn Evans (5th)

“It has not been a bad start for me today. We were running early on the road which is perhaps not the best position to be in, but we had a clean run through the first stage and then I think we had a decent run through the second stage in the dark. The stage evolved a lot between the two passes with a mix of ruts and quite a lot of loose snow, so it was challenging. Today the main target was always to improve our road position for tomorrow, and we’ve managed to do that, so now we want to try and move up the order if we can.”

2021 FIA World Rally Championship / Round 02 / Arctic Rally Finland / 26-28 February, 2021 // Worldwide Copyright: Toyota Gazoo Racing WRT

Sébastien Ogier (9th)

“It was tough today; it was not an ideal start for us. I had hoped to be a little bit closer to the lead tonight. I was enjoying the driving but not the stage times. There wasn’t much we could do unfortunately. With colder temperatures it probably would have been better, but we had the first positive temperatures of the year here today and that didn’t help us running first on the road. It meant that the snow was very soft and the cleaning effect was huge, and it wasn’t any easier on the second pass. Tomorrow we have to keep trying and see what’s possible.”

 

M-Sport Ford WRT

Teemu Suninen (6th)

“I’m really enjoying these conditions. It’s a proper winter rally with really nice stages and I’ve been happy with my driving and how things have been working with me and Mikko inside the car.

“We’re not quite where we want to be when compared to the fastest times, but it’s always been a bit like this on the faster rallies – and we’ll keep working to improve and move forward together.”

Gus Greensmith (10th)

“I’m really enjoying it out there and the conditions are just incredible! Having such a good feeling on Shakedown, it was disappointing to have lost so much on the first stage – but we got back into a rhythm for the second pass and it was a lot better. It was good to see that we were there or there abouts, and we just need to continue like that tomorrow.

“Of course, there is still a long to go, but I’m really looking forward to it. If SS4 is as good as I think it’s going to be then it’ll be one of the top-five stages I’ve ever driven – and I can’t wait to get back out there!”

Saturday

The start list for the seven stages on day two looked like this – Loubet, Tuohino, Bertelli, Greensmith, Ogier, Solberg, Katsuta, Suninen, Evans, Neuville, Rovanperä, Breen, Tänak.

 

First into SS3 Mustalampi 1 – 24.43 km was the young Frenchman in his i20 and he found the going tricky, sliding wide and taking a load of snow into the front of his car after clipping a snowbank on the outside of a tight left-hand corner. He limped to the end of the stage, losing over three minutes with Tuohino passing him in the stage as well. Top three in the stage was Ott followed by Thierry and Oliver Solberg, and there was a pattern emerging, as it seemed that the Hyundai was dealing with these fast stages better than the Toyota.

The following stage, SS4 Kaihuavaara 1 – 19.91 km saw Elfyn win, from Kalle and Seb. Kalle’s pace lifted him up into second overall as well at the expense of Craig who was fifth fastest in the stage. Erstwhile leader, Ott did not have a good run at all, setting the eighth best time, 6.1 second slower than his former M-Sport teammate, after putting his i20 a little into a snowbank. Kalle was not happy though despite his good time, saying “There are so many seconds I should be able to take away, but at this stage I cannot. I don’t have the feeling with the car and it’s not doing what I want, so in many places I just lose the car and the line. We have to see what we can do.”

The following stage, SS5 Siikakämä 1 – 27.68 km, saw Ott back at the top from Elfyn who was just a tenth slower and Seb third fastest who was a further second back.  Moving up the leaderboard with the fourth fastest time was Oliver, who was just 8 tenths off Seb’s time. The young Swede was showing some great skill, with his temporary co-driver and the duo were now in sixth, moving ahead of Takamoto.

After the break, SS6 Mustalampi 2 – 24.43 km, Ott was fastest again from Thierry and Kalle. There was a swap in positions between the Belgian and Craig, with Thierry moving into third at the expense of his teammate. Going well in this one as well was Teemu who was fourth fastest, showing a big improvement compared to the earlier running of the stage. Takamoto was passed by Seb after the Japanese driver lost five seconds when he went into a snowbank.

Kalle won SS7 Kaihuavaara 2 – 19.91 km, breaking Ott’s run of fastest times, with Ott and Elfyn second and third. Unfortunately, Oliver clipped a snowbank, and dropped a place, with Seb gaining another position and was now sixth overall.

The final stage, SS8 Siikakämä 2 – 27.68 km started as the sun was setting and there were all sorts of things going on! Oliver lost his glasses, but this didn’t seem to slow him down, going fifth fastest. The big drama from this one was that Seb clipped a snowbank and he’d ended up buried in the snow, right off the road. The Yaris was stuck, and not coming out without digging it out, and the French crew was just metres from the end of the stage. A big shame indeed! Fastest and setting an amazing pace was Thierry, who won the stage by an incredible 12 seconds from Ott and Kalle. The Belgian was now just 1.8 seconds behind the young Finn in their battle over second overall.

 

Classification after Day Two

1 O. Tänak M. Järveoja Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC 1:43:32.1
2 K. Rovanperä J. Halttunen Toyota Yaris WRC +24.1
3 T. Neuville M. Wydaeghe Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC +25.9
4 C. Breen P. Nagle Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC +53.4
5 E. Evans S. Martin Toyota Yaris WRC +1:03.5
6 O. Solberg S. Marshall Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC +1:26.8
7 T. Katsuta D. Barritt Toyota Yaris WRC +1:34.4
8 T. Suninen M. Markkula Ford Fiesta WRC +1:49.3
9 G. Greensmith E. Edmondson Ford Fiesta WRC +3:01.8

 

Hyundai Motorsport

Ott Tänak (1st)

“All in all, everything has gone to plan today. We had a good morning, but the stages were very demanding, incredibly fast and there are always places where the pace notes are not 100%. This afternoon, we took all the tyres we had, and we used them all; it was important just to get through and not make any mistakes. We were pushing on the first loop, but we wanted to come through the final stages of the day cleanly. The last one was still quite stressful on the tyres, but we completed it with no trouble and that was the target.”

2021 FIA World Rally Championship
Arctic Rally Finland 2021 26-28 February 2021
Ott Tanak, Martin Jarveoja, Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC, Action during Day 3 of Arctic Rally Finland 2021
Photographer: Romain Thuillier
Worldwide copyright: Hyundai Motorsport GmbH

Thierry Neuville (3rd)

“I am happy at the end of the afternoon’s stages which went well; we had good tyre management and I think we were fastest over the loop. I was a bit surprised to see the gap was so big after that final stage to be honest. It was definitely better than this morning. I expected a better run on the opening loop because the car was working well but I couldn’t take all the risks due to some communications issues. Martijn and I have been making some improvements but there’s more to come. The main target tomorrow is to bring home a double podium for Hyundai Motorsport. The stage is a different profile to those we’ve done so far but the car has been working well, I have been feeling comfortable and if our communication is working well, then we’ll go for it.”

Craig Breen (4th)

“It’s been a frustrating day, but we are still in fourth so it’s not too bad. You need to be at the absolute top of your game in these conditions. I started the first stage this morning well, got into a rhythm but then made a few mistakes, got sucked into a few snowbanks and lost the momentum. That upset the loop, really. I haven’t driven on these conditions for a long time and the pace notes weren’t as fast as they needed to be. I’ve tried my best to manage things – including the tyres – but it’s tricky when I don’t have any reference points. On the final stage, Thierry set an incredible time but compared to those around us we weren’t too far away. I know we can do it. The raw speed is there; it’s just getting the other refinements in order. The plan now is to keep hold of fourth and assess the situation to see what we do in the Power Stage.”

 

Toyota Gazoo Racing WRT

Kalle Rovanperä (2nd)

“This morning I didn’t have such a good feeling in the car, but we made some small changes during the loop and it got better. Then in the midday service we made some bigger changes, and this really helped in the conditions that we faced in the second loop, so I could manage the tyres and everything quite well. The tyre choice was tricky and a bit of a gamble. Fitting the new tyres in the middle stage was the wrong decision, so we lost a bit too much in the last stage. The approach for tomorrow is quite clear: We just have to push and try to be as fast as possible.”

Elfyn Evans (5th)

“I had a slow start this morning on the first stage, I think I was too careful and was a bit frustrated to have given away so much time. After that we seemed to find something: I was maybe being a little bit more aggressive and that seemed to work better. But unfortunately, in the afternoon we lost a lot of time on the first one again, and struggled with tyre wear and the general feeling. I feel I should have managed it better and didn’t take enough chances. Tomorrow we have to keep at it. It’s not such a huge gap to fourth place so we’ll be out there to do our best.”

Sébastien Ogier (22nd)

“Up until the last corner of the last stage it had been a strong day for us honestly compared to our start position. This morning with the colder temperatures the grip was not too bad and we could set some good times. I think we were doing a good job but unfortunately in motorsport every corner counts and the day is never over until it’s over. It’s a shame: We had made a lot of effort to climb up the rankings and now all that effort is gone. But there will be better days ahead for us for sure.”

2021 FIA World Rally Championship / Round 02 / Arctic Rally Finland / 26-28 February, 2021 // Worldwide Copyright: Toyota Gazoo Racing WRT

M-Sport Ford WRT

Teemu Suninen (8th)

“I have been enjoying the driving a lot today. The pace isn’t where we want it to be, but we can see that in the tricky, more technical sections we are capable of setting some top times. The conditions also became a lot trickier this afternoon and we were also able to show a bit more of what we can do there which was good.

“Tomorrow will be quite challenging as the stages will be very fast again. The goal is to make it to the finish, but if we have a perfect run through the Power Stage then there is chance to score a few points there as well. Let’s see how it goes.”

Gus Greensmith (9th)

“I’m still ruing yesterday’s opening stage as that hampered our road position today! But generally, the morning was pretty good and I was quite happy with the progress we made. It was a bit trickier in the afternoon as we had to take two spares to contend with the worsening conditions and didn’t really have the right setup to make that work.

“But overall, not a bad day and it’s amazing to drive these cars in these conditions. We know what we need to do as a team, and I’ve been able to identify some areas to improve my driving as well. So, it’s all going in the right direction – and we get to go enjoy these amazing stages again tomorrow!”

 

Sunday

With two runs of the same stage to round off this event, with what many of the crews were looking forward to as their favourite stage, there were two positions that four drivers were battling over. There were also the hopes of the reigning champions to score some points in the power stage. There was some news about Janne Tuohino, who would not start the final day after falling over in a sauna! This meant that the start list looked like this – Bertelli, Loubet, Ogier, Greensmith, Suninen, Katsuta, Solberg, Evans, Breen, Neuville, Rovanperä, Tänak.

Elfyn came out on top at the end of SS9 Aittajärvi 1 – 22.47 km, with a great run through which meant that he closed the gap on Craig in their battle for fourth to just 3.6 seconds. Craig was just not comfortable in this one, and was just taking it very carefully. Kalle did really well, as he’d taken two spare Pirelli’s, to everyone else taking just one. He was targeting maximum power stage points. Thierry was third, just not quite doing enough to pass Kalle.

The final stage then, SS10 Aittajärvi 2 [Power Stage] – 22.47 km, and Pierre-Loubet was coming to the end of the stage. His car had a misfire, but there was even more drama in store. As he came round the final corner to the flying finish the rear of his car stepped out and he went into the snowbank. He was still fastest though, setting a time 3.9 faster than Bertelli. There was snow all over the bonnet as he crossed the line. Next up was Seb, and he was hugely quicker than his younger compatriot. Gus who was next was matching Pierre-Louis on the splits and made it to the finish without any drama. Teemu was next and was quicker than Gus as expected.

Following the Finn was Takamoto, and he was faster early in the stage and maintained that gap, completing just 4 seconds slower than Seb who remained fastest as this point in the power stage. Oliver was next, and how would the youngster finish? Well, he was up on the world champions after four splits despite hitting the snowbanks a few times. He was not happy as he came to the last part of the stage, hitting his steering wheel in annoyance, and there was more drama to come! He went wide and the car spun in the snowbank on the exit of a right-hander. He got the car turned round and finished the stage, but dropped a place behind Takamoto by just 1.3 seconds.

Elfyn was next and was losing time in each split and was slower than Seb in the end. It seemed his bid for fourth was over. Well, Craig was going very well and setting a great pace, faster than Seb and he clinched the fastest time at this point with three cars remaining to complete. Thierry went well, but was slower than Craig by just one tenth! It was down to Kalle to knock Craig off the top. Just one car remained then, Ott and Martin. The former world champions were looking to just finish but still setting a good time out there. They came in fourth quickest and took a couple of power stage points. Top three in the stage were Kalle, Craig and Thierry.

Final Overall Classification – Arctic Rally Finland

1 O. Tänak M. Järveoja Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC 2:03:49.6
2 K. Rovanperä J. Halttunen Toyota Yaris WRC +17.5
3 T. Neuville M. Wydaeghe Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC +19.8
4 C. Breen P. Nagle Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC +52.6
5 E. Evans S. Martin Toyota Yaris WRC +1:01.5
6 T. Katsuta D. Barritt Toyota Yaris WRC +1:37.8
7 O. Solberg S. Marshall Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC +1:39.0
8 T. Suninen M. Markkula Ford Fiesta WRC +2:09.0
9 G. Greensmith E. Edmondson Ford Fiesta WRC +3:39.4
10 E. Lappi J. Ferm Volkswagen Polo R5 +6:07.0

 

Let’s hear from the drivers!

Hyundai Motorsport

Ott Tänak (1st)

“This victory is very important and allows us to take away good points for the championship. We came to Finland – the home country of one of our closest rivals – so the pressure was on for sure. We knew it would be complicated to take on the fight but, in the end, we did a very good weekend. The pre-event test was held in very different conditions, so we didn’t really know what to expect. I was pushing the engineers quite a lot, but their hard work really paid off. We tried some new things in shakedown, and it all worked out nicely. This has been an amazing place to come for a rally, definitely one of the best for a winter event; there’s no place where you can have more snow and the characteristics of the road have been very special. Big praise to the organisers – it’s more than a worthy addition to the world championship.”

2021 FIA World Rally Championship
Arctic Rally Finland 2021 26-28 February 2021
Thierry Neuville, Ott Tanak, Martijn Wydaeghe, Martin Jarveoja, Scott Noh, Podium during Day 3 of Arctic Rally Finland 2021
Photographer: Romain Thuillier
Worldwide copyright: Hyundai Motorsport GmbH

Thierry Neuville (3rd)

“I am very satisfied with our weekend and third position, even if second was so close. We kept believing right up to the end, but everyone was pushing hard on the Power Stage, so it wasn’t possible to grab P2. Still, we have taken some good points for both championships, which were really needed after Monte-Carlo. The partnership with Martijn, too, was better. We still have some communication issues to resolve, to get the wording clearer and for me to understand better, but I’m sure we’ll be more competitive with that. I felt that the car was really great in these conditions, I didn’t really have any complaints; I felt comfortable, we could find a good rhythm and I was able to push immediately. A great all-round team result.”

Craig Breen (4th)

“I am happy to finish this rally with fourth place. In all honesty, it’s been a tough weekend. I’ve felt mentally – after delivering so much in Estonia last season – that the goalposts had moved, so I wanted to win but I also have to remember my experience is still a bit on the low side. It definitely gives me motivation to have made progress today. We spent some time in the regroup to analyse where I was losing time compared to the others. Thanks to the engineers, we were able to identify a few things that, maybe due to my driving style, were upsetting the car – erasing some traits that I’ve carried for a few years. I knew the speed was there, so it was nice to score some points for the team in the Power Stage and to end the weekend on a positive note.”

Oliver Solberg (7th)

“I don’t think I actually have the words to tell you how this feels,” said Oliver. “It’s really unbelievable and the biggest thing I did in my career. To Andrea, to everybody in Hyundai Motorsport and to the 2C [Compétition] team I just want to say thank you. We are in the home town of Santa Claus – I think he gave me a fantastic present!

“I knew it would be complicated to understand the aero,” said Oliver. “But I was quite confident I would be happy at this speed. I didn’t expect to make these sorts of times quite so early in the rally. It was just so much fun. Before the rally Andrea was telling me there was no pressure and I had to make sure I was smiling. I am smiling more than I ever did before now.

“There were a couple of times when I was a little bit frustrated, like in the last stage. I made a spin near the finish and that cost me sixth place. Sixth would have been nice, but I will take this result – in the top five on six stages out of 10. This is so much more than I could have dreamed of. It’s amazing. It’s unbelievable.”

 

Toyota Gazoo Racing WRT

Kalle Rovanperä (2nd)

“I’m really pleased with the second place. It was quite a difficult weekend, I was pushing really hard and we couldn’t always be on the optimal pace, but we were fighting back all the time. In the Power Stage I gave everything that I had and it was enough, so we got really good points from here. It’s really nice to be in this position now, leading the championship for the first time. It’s going to be a new situation for me going to the next event, and we just have to keep up the pace and be consistent like we have been here.”

2021 FIA World Rally Championship / Round 02 / Arctic Rally Finland / 26-28 February, 2021 // Worldwide Copyright: Toyota Gazoo Racing WRT

Elfyn Evans (5th)

“I had a good start to the final day. The grip was higher than I expected but after the first few corners we seemed to find a better rhythm and it was a good time. But then it was not the best run for us in the Power Stage. It felt OK but the time was quite a bit off where we would have liked to be. It has not been the best event for us to be honest, I’m quite disappointed with the overall result. There were some flashes of good speed but nowhere near consistent enough to challenge for the top positions.”

Takamoto Katsuta (6th)

“I’m happy with this weekend, but I wanted to show something more and I was hoping for a better position before the rally. I enjoyed the stages a lot and, in some splits, I was fastest, while in some splits I was a bit too careful and losing too much time. When the conditions were consistent. I felt very confident, but when there was loose snow or big ruts I needed to improve my driving. I really need to focus on this and improve if I want to get on the podium or win rallies. I still have a lot to learn and I’m even more motivated than before.”

2021 FIA World Rally Championship / Round 02 / Arctic Rally Finland / 26-28 February, 2021 // Worldwide Copyright: Toyota Gazoo Racing WRT

Sébastien Ogier (20th)

“Overall, it’s been a tough weekend. We tried everything we can but we knew coming here as leaders of the championship it would be a tough rally. Still, we fought hard but this small mistake yesterday in the final stage of the day was obviously very costly too and took us out of the fight. With our starting position we had not so much hope for the Power Stage. I couldn’t do more, I was on the limit and there was still too much snow, but it was good to score one point at least.”

 

M-Sport WRT

Teemu Suninen (8th)

“Our rally was pretty good with no issues or mistakes, and I was enjoying the stages a lot. The car felt really nice to drive, and I would say that this is one of the rallies I have enjoyed the most in my career with really nice winter conditions.

“Of course, it was a bit disappointing to see that the stage times weren’t where we wanted them to be, but we have struggled in the fast rallies before. In the slower sections the pace was good and we were amongst some of the fastest drivers – so this is where we can aim to make a difference in the next events.”

Gus Greensmith (9th)

“Overall, I would say that it has been a pretty good weekend for us. The stages have been incredible, and I was happy with my driving – especially on Saturday morning. But of course, there’s still work to do and there will always be more to learn.

“It was also a bit disappointing to have given so much time away in the first stage because that hampered us for the rest of the event. I think that’s one of the main things I will take away from this weekend – knowing that I can’t be giving road position away as it doesn’t help me show my potential.”

 

Warren’s Thoughts

Well, it’s fair to say that Hyundai and in particular Ott rally hit back in this event after their disappointing result last time out. It was a masterclass in tyre management from the Estonian crew and they just made their strategy  work, along with the good road position on Friday. He didn’t win every stage, but no-one else came close to his consistency and sheer speed. Thierry also went well, but there was a bit of a blame game going on with his new co-driver and not hearing the notes always or clearly. Craig drove a good rally, but lacked a bit of consistency in places. To be fair though, he’d not sat in the car competitively since Estonia last year, so to confirm fourth on the final stage after a nail-biting battle with Elfyn was a very good result. Finally, Oliver, with Seb alongside him, took a massive result for a rookie. It was a brilliant result for the young Swede, and he showed great pace out there. Fourth quickest on his second stage showed the incredible talent he has.

2021 FIA World Rally Championship / Round 02 / Arctic Rally Finland / 26-28 February, 2021 // Worldwide Copyright: Toyota Gazoo Racing WRT

At Toyota, Kalle was the one that really showed his pace again, and his battle over second place with Thierry saw the young Finn produce a drive that had its moments, but delivered him second place and the lead for the first time of the World Championship. His Welsh teammate had his moments of speed, but its fair to say that running second on the road throughout Friday held him back and meant that he didn’t have the best position on the road afterwards. He still took two stage wins though, and holds a good position in the championship. Takamoto also showed great speed out there and of course picked up sixth place right at the end. It was a shame what happened with Seb at the end of Saturday, but it certainly spices up the championship.

 

Finally, at M-Sport Ford WRT, Teemu made the finish after a consistent run through. The Finn showed moments of pace out there and its probably fair to say that M-Sport are just lacking a bit of development with their car. For Gus, taking a points finish on a surface that he has never driven on in one of these cars is a good result. Perhaps at the next event on tarmac they will show some better pace.

 

Round Three will take place in Croatia from the 25th to the 28th of April. Pop back then for our preview!

 

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

1 K. Rovanperä 39
2 T. Neuville 35
3 S. Ogier 31
4 E. Evans 31
5 O. Tänak 27
6 T. Katsuta 16
7 C. Breen 16
8 D. Sordo 11

 

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

1 Toyota Gazoo Racing World Rally Team 88
2 Hyundai Shell Mobis World Rally Team 77
3 M-Sport Ford World Rally Team 24
4 Hyundai 2C Competition 22

Dan Cammish leaves Team Dynamics – What next for Honda backed team?

Dan Cammish

Dan Cammish will not be in the 2021 British Touring Car Championship after it was revealed he has left Team Dynamics.

The news broke on Tuesday morning as the Yorkshireman departed after three stellar campaigns in the championship. In what appears to be an amicable split, Cammish leaves the team and means that the Honda backed outfit has yet to name either of its two drivers for this season.

Dan Cammish departs Team Dynamics on good terms. (Image Credit: BTCC Media)

Cammish amassed eight wins in his three seasons with the team. He has been in the hunt for the title in both 2019 and 2020, finishing third on both occasions. This including a dramatic and heart-breaking final race battle in 2019, where brake failure saw him retire in spectacular fashion at Brands Hatch, handing the title to Colin Turkington.

After a flood of supportive tweets came in for Cammish, he was quick to thank the fans for their support over the last few years.

Team Dynamics’ lynchpin Matt Neal paid tribute to Cammish and his effort with the team.

The move brings up a conundrum for the Team Dynamics side, what is their next move going to be?

Series veteran Matt Neal has been strongly rumoured to be retiring and taking on a leadership role in the garage. The move may mean Neal has one more season, or he sticks to his plan and brings in two brand new drivers for the new season.

There are various contenders for the two seats, and ones which will be the most coveted, in what is a race and title winning outfit.

Dan Rowbottom has been strongly linked with a move to Team Dynamics, having had one season in 2019 in the BTCC with Ciceley Motorsport. Neal could remain with the team and shelve his retirement plans. His son Henry could be drafted in but some believe it’s too early for him to make the step up.

Alternatively some outside bets for the seat could arise, including Senna Proctor, whose yet to sign for anyone. Another outside bet could be Harry King, who romped to title success in the Porsche Carrera Cup GB series in 2020, and has a similar pedigree to Cammish.

The first driver is said to be revealed on Friday 5 March, with the second being announced over the coming weeks.

Arctic Rally Finland 2021 Preview

This is going to be special! If you’ve watched any of the pre-event testing footage online, you’ll understand what I’m talking about. If you haven’t, be sure to check them out!

When we knew that Rally Sweden was cancelled, the FIA looked to see what could be done, and this event was put together pretty quickly as a replacement.

Now looking at the championship, Seb and Elfyn hold the top two places, with Thierry third. As championship leader, Seb will open the road on day one, thus sweeping the road of fresh snow. This will likely mean that he won’t be in the fight for victory, but will hope that he can score a podium, and some good points from the power stage. Elfyn will be certainly be eyeing up the win however, and starting second on the road will give him a good opportunity to do this.

Last year, Thierry came to Rally Sweden as championship leader and finished sixth. This time around he starts third on the road, and having won Rally Sweden in 2018, he knows how to win on the snow and ice. The new partnership with Martijn will be the key to possible to victory. Twelve months ago, Ott Tanak came back from his big shunt to score a well-deserved second place, and he won in Sweden during his championship year as well, meaning that the Estonian duo can’t be discounted from the fight for victory. Also driving an i20 will be Craig who took seventh overall last year, but was not happy with his drive.

Teemu took eighth in Sweden last year, and the M-Sport Fiesta has shown good pace on the snow in the past, win Elfyn taking stage wins in 2019 when he was at the team. Gus will continue his learning of this car, and will want to just finish the event. He will be happy if he shows some pace similar to Teemu.

Now, here are the key figures for Round Two of this year’s championship.

251.08: Competitive distance in kilometres

10: Service park and event HQ are located 10 kilometres south of Rovaniemi Airport

31.05: Sarriojärvi is the longest stage of the rally at 31.05 kilometres in length

19.91: In contrast the 19.91-kilometre Kaihuavaara stage is the shortest

-20: The ambient temperate could drop below as -20 degrees centigrade during the rally

 

Here’s the full stage details for each day and the map showing the stage locations.

Let’s hear from the drivers.

Toyota Gazoo Racing WRT

Sébastien Ogier (Driver car 1)

“We should have proper winter conditions for Arctic Rally Finland, which will be quite a contrast to what we have seen in the WRC in the last few years. When I tested in the area around Rovaniemi last week I enjoyed it a lot: I felt happy with the car and I think we are ready. We just have to wait and see how the conditions are for us opening the road, as usually this can play a big role on snow rallies like this. After last year I know to expect tough competition from my team-mates in these conditions – I’m sure Elfyn will be very motivated and Kalle probably even more so on home ground – but also from the other teams as well. So, I expect it will be a difficult rally to win, but I’m up for the challenge.”

Elfyn Evans (Driver car 33)

“Arctic Rally Finland will be brand new for most of the drivers. Naturally, we want to strive for a similar result to Sweden last year, but we have to wait and see how things go. The conditions are likely to be different to what we’ve seen in Sweden in recent years, when there’s been very little ice or snow. So that’s been something to consider in our testing, where it’s been really cold. We’ve also had to adapt the setup for the new Pirelli tyre. Similar to Monte-Carlo we have no prior experience with the tyre, but it’s a bit more straightforward because we only have one choice for this rally, so we’ve been able to focus our efforts on that. Overall, the feeling is good and I’m looking forward to the rally.”

Kalle Rovanperä (Driver car 69)

“It will be nice to be back competing in Lapland again. I did the rally there once before – last year, when it was my first event in the Yaris WRC. For sure, this experience will help a bit. But there will be some stages that I haven’t driven before or they will be in the opposite direction, so I don’t think it will be a big advantage. In our tests the biggest thing we needed to do was find the right setup for the new tyre, as the style of the tyre is different from what we had before, but the feeling has been good. For me there is a bit more pressure than normally, but I would say it’s more excitement than pressure – especially from the Finnish people, as everybody is following me more than on other rallies.”

Hyundai Motorsport

Thierry Neuville (Car number 11)

“Aside from our recent pre-event test, the only time I had been in Rovaniemi before was for a test with the team many years ago. It’s proper winter conditions, lots of snow on the stages, huge snowbanks and quite narrow in places. It’s a challenging profile but one we are really looking forward to. We were able to pick up a podium in Monte-Carlo, in our first competitive rally together, so the target for Martijn and I is to build some momentum and aim to deliver another solid result for the team.”

Ott Tänak (Car number 8)

“Arctic Rally Finland will be a very interesting event. Rovaniemi is very far north in Finland so it is certain to be cold and snowy. I competed there about ten years ago, so I have some experience of a few of the stages. It’s definitely a full snow event and I’m sure it has a rightful place on the WRC calendar. We will be aiming to get our championship off to a proper start after the disappointment and challenges of Monte, targeting a more representative result for ourselves and the team.”

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

Craig Breen (Car number 42)

“I am thrilled that Paul and I get to start our 2021 championship at a brand-new event for the WRC, a rally that is going to be an amazing adventure for us all. We can be quite sure that we will have cold weather and big snowbanks at Arctic Rally Finland. It’s important for Paul and me to start our season in the right way. It will take a bit of time to get back into the swing of things again, but we can’t wait for it.”

M-Sport Ford WRT

Teemu Suninen (Car number 3)

“The rally is similar to Sweden but even faster and with more narrow roads. There are quite a lot of compressions and bumps because when the ground freezes it gets bumpy and that’s going to create a big challenge for the drivers but also for the teams with the set-up. My aim is to be as fast as possible in the first two stages where there is some chance to make some difference with the time. The Friday stage is the most challenging and the most technical, especially when we are doing it for the second time in the dark. My starting position is good, but if it’s not too cold the snow can get dusty. And the snow dust can stay in the air for minutes like on a gravel rally. If you can’t see you get slower.”

Gus Greensmith (Car number 44)

“I think everyone is looking forward to this week’s event and the ultimate winter rally playground. I’ve not done a lot of snow rallies, but what I have done I’ve really enjoyed and – being in the Arctic Circle – this one is going to be on a completely different level.

“We’ve not had a lot of snow in the championship over the past few years, but there’ll be no shortage of it in Rovaniemi and I’m really looking forward to the experience – learning how to use those big snow banks and how to extract the most from the studded tyres on the snow and ice.

“We had a full day testing last weekend to really get to grips with the conditions and learn as much as we could about winter rallying. But I’m not going to put too much pressure on myself this week. This rally is all about focusing on ourselves – on improving our pace over the course of the weekend and having fun doing it.”

Other key competitors

Esapekka Lappi (Car number 25) Movisport, Volkswagen Polo GTI R5

“I have done the Arctic Lapland Rally three times and the last time was nine years ago so I can’t take a lot from back then although the stages are a bit different now, of course. I am sure most of the drivers will like this adventure with the snowbanks although the roads are a bit different to what they will find in Sweden, more bumpy and more straightforward in some places with long straights and tight corners. But the rhythm and characteristics will change a few times per stage so each stage is not going to be similar from start to finish. The target is to fight for the win in WRC2 but the challenge will be tough. The quality of the drivers is very good and the competition is very high and I don’t know the car.”

Oliver Solberg (Car number 2) 2C Compétition

The first thing is for me to say is a very big thank you to Andrea [Adamo, Hyundai Motorsport Team Principal], Alain [Penasse, Hyundai Motorsport Team Manager] and everybody for giving me this opportunity and for putting their trust in me to drive this rally in the Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC. “This really is a dream for me. To think I have only been competing for four years and now I’m here; it’s just a dream to be making my debut in a World Rally Car from the World Rally Champions!

“Honestly? I’m counting the minutes until I get to sit in this fantastic Hyundai for the first time. “Obviously, I did Arctic [Lapland Rally] last month with the Hyundai i20 R5, so that gave me an idea of what’s coming later this month.” Delighted to drive the Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC anywhere, anytime, Oliver’s particularly pleased to make his debut in the car on a surface and in surroundings he knows well. “That is,” he said, “one of the good things about driving the Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC in Lapland – the snow and ice conditions should be consistent, which is a nice way to learn about a new car. The consistency will help me to understand the grip and how any changes we make to the car will affect it.

“And we go there with just one tyre, Pirelli’s Sottozero Ice which is also nice and certainly less complicated than on the first round of the WRC, Rallye Monte-Carlo, where we had four tyres to choose from and so many conditions it was sometimes quite crazy! “If I had to choose a rally to take a debut in the Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC, it would be my home event at Rally Sweden, of course! But I have to be honest and say the snow in Finland is pretty good as well. “I have driven quite a lot on the snow and I know this type of condition quite well.”

 

Summary

Well, we are set for an exciting event. Can Elfyn repeat his win from last year, or will Ott and Thierry deny the Welshman? What will Oliver be able to achieve in his first start in a full-on world rally car? With his co-driver out as he tested positive for Covid, Seb Marshall will be sitting next to Oliver instead.  It will be interesting to compare him and Gus Greensmith.

In the battle for the podium places, its fair to say that any of the drivers from the top teams will be in the fight. It will be interesting to see how Esapekka Lappi will do. Last year he was the best placed M-Sport driver with fifth place overall. He’s a world class driver, and will want to win the class to show that he deserves a spot in the top cars. For me, there is no doubt that he deserves this, and the sooner he’s back in one of those cars, the better.

Enjoy!

eWales Rally 2020 – Virtual Rally!

Last month, after a year of very little rallying, and no Wales Rally GB as well, my good rally friends Heather (@CooperKinetix) and Corey (@WorldRallyApp) are @Kinetix AF on Instagram and organised this event!!

‘After a year of hardly any rallying, most of the of the motorsport world turned to eSports and rallying was no different. Our choice was simple, Dirt Rally 2.0 or WRC8 and like many others we opted for DR2.0. With the cancellation of Wales Rally GB but Welsh star Elfyn Evans on the verge of an apparent 1st championship, we (Kinetix AF) teamed up with rising Welsh rally star James Williams to host eRally Wales 2020. Our plan was to give those who took part a small taste of the Welsh stages.

Competitors would battle in both R5 and R2 classes over six stages that were picked to represent the essence of a classic Wales Rally GB. Stages had mixed weather conditions, with a notorious couple of back-to-back stages that were wet that proved to be challenging for the drivers.

The event got started at 7pm on Friday December 4th and continued until 7pm on Sunday December 6th. To welcome as many competitors as possible, all platforms were included; Xbox, Playstation and PC gamers.

The event had a good response and attracted both serious rally competitors and serious eSports competitors as well.

Some of the rally names: WRC3 co-driver Alex Kihurani, BRC co-drivers Dai Roberts, Richard Crozier and Richard Bliss. Former JBRC driver Cameron Davies, Norwegian RallyX Nordic Champion Thomas Holmen.

eSport Names: Pro eSports driver & Italian Dirt Rally champion Nicolo Ardizzone, Sven Grube who finished in the top 10 of the eBRC.

Countries – competitors came from more than 22 countries!

Onto the action then, with six stages ahead of the crews.

Pant Mawr was the first stage and Here Lindberg took the stage victory from Sven Grube, whilst Przemek Rudzki was third fastest. All three were pedalling Fiesta R2’s. In the R5 class, Nicolo Ardizzone was fastest, with Davide Leonardi second and Lester Bromley third.

Stage two, River Severn Valley was taken by Sven Grube, with Tommie Lindberg second and Neil Jones in third. Tommie put an Adam R2 in second. Sven also won the R5 class, with Rhys Cadwaladr in a Citroen C3 R5, and Alex Kihurani third.

Stage three, Geufron Forest was taken by Sven Grube, with Neil Jones and Tommie Lindberg second and third fastest. Sven was building quite a lead with Neil in his Fiesta R2 now 34 seconds from the leader. In the R5 class Sven Grube was fastest from Lester Bromley, with Alex Kihurani.

Stage four, Bronfelen saw Sven continue his domination, taking his third stage win from Edgars Luznieks, and Tommie in the Adam R2 was once again third. Sven was so dominant, that he also won the R5 category from Alex Kihurani, with Lester Bromley with the third fastest time. All three of them were driving Fiesta R5 MK2’s.

The penultimate stage, Bidnor Moorland Reverse, was taken by Sven, his fifth stage win, with Edgars and Tommie once again second and third. Sven now had a lead of over a minute over second placed Edgars. In the R5 class, Sven was fastest as well. Could anyone catch him? Lester and Alex were second and third, but their positions were swapped in the battle to finish second, with that position held by Alex. Lester had closed the gap though to just 1.3 seconds.

The final stage then, Sweet Lamb. Sven completed his domination, taking the final stage from Tommie and Neil completing the top three in the stage. Sven also took the R5 stage win from Lester and Alex. There was a change for second place in the final stage, with Lester eclipsing Alex for second place. He’d been closing the gap for a while, and nabbed the position right at the end!

Here’s an example of the Fiesta R5 at speed. Photo: Drew Gibson

Sven ended up winning the R2 class from Tommie by almost a minute and a half, with Neil Jones around three and a bit seconds further back in third. In the R5 class, Sven was also victorious, winning by over a minute from Lester who’d clinched second place on the final stage, with Alex taking third, just 1.3 seconds from second place.

 

Let’s hear from the top three!

Winner of both the R5 and R2 class: Sven Grube (UK)

“I would just like to thanks the organisers for setting up this event, I had consistent runs in both classes and im happy with my performance, using the stick setup on the R5 Fiesta worked really well, and the R2 Fiesta was lovely to drive on these Welsh stages!”

Lester Bromley- 2nd place in R5 (UK)

Well done to everyone that took part. I do love Wales being welsh! [I] managed to finish a rally that’s unlike me lost it on stage 2. Lost 23 secs and stage 4 puncture lost 34 secs. Not a bad second though behind Sven Grube, he’s super-fast, so well happy.

Alex Kihurani – 3rd place in the R5 class (USA)

“A bit frustrated with some really silly mistakes that ultimately cost me 2nd place by 1 second, but I’m happy to be on the podium, and even happier with my miraculous hair growth! 3rd is where I ended up in the actual Wales Rally GB last year in the JWRC, so the game must be quite realistic if I’m 3rd in the virtual version.”

Alex Kihurani co-drove Sean Johnston to third in the JWRC class in the 2019 Wales Rally GB. Photo credit, M-Sport.

Here’s some of the other competitors!

Tommie Lindberg – 2nd R2 finished his run-on Saturday 5th (SWE)

On finishing his run-on Saturday 5th said “Gone through both events, at the moment holding 4th in R5 and 2nd in R2. I had a good time, especially R2’s was pretty much spot on, some mistakes in the Polo but still happy. Thanks for a nice event and looking forward to more of them coming!”

Chris Wheeler – Participant (UK)

2016 BRC3 champ Chris Wheeler unfortunately did not finish the event. Speaking afterwards he told us he was running as high as 9th during the earlier stages. “I had a good run with a few minor offs but I sadly retired on the last stage after I got a puncture. These things happen unfortunately.”

Lot’s of UK fans will know Chris Wheeler.

Andrew Coley – Participant (UK)

Not the best to be honest! Rolled on the first corner in the dark, tore off my lamp pod, had a puncture on two stages… I’m actually surprised it lasted until stage three!

Thomas Holmen – Participant (NOR)

I think I’ll keep myself to the track! I knew it wasn’t going well by the first split! Then a DNF on SS4, think my suspension fell apart! Never mind, looking forward to the next one!

 

Round Up.

Well, that sounded like a lot of fun! Hope you enjoyed my round up of this eRally! It’s fair to say that Sven certainly had some serious pace on the stages. Lester and Alex battled it out for second overall, and Lester took the spot right at the end!

Rallye Monte Carlo 2021 Review –

Rallye Monte Carlo 2021 Review – Seb and Julien take their Eighth Monte Carlo Victory

 

Thursday

The first day saw just two stages. The starting line-up looked like this – Ogier, Evans, Tänak, Neuville, Rovanperä, Suninen, Sordo, Greensmith, Katsuta, Loubet.

 

First up was SS1 Saint-Disdier – Corps – 20.58 km first up! Ott was fastest in the stage, from Kalle and Elfyn. Thierry and Martijn started their first ever stage as a crew, going fourth fastest, 3.9 off their teammates best time. The big news was Teemu and Markko’s crash though, near the end of the stage. They were pushing hard and the stage was really wet in the last sector. The Finn put his tyres on the white line on a left hander, and the car slid into a bank which sent the car onto its roof, and then off the road backwards into a tree, leaving the broken rear wing on the road in bits. It was a huge shock and surprise and a big shame as well.

It was a second stage win for the Estonian crew in SS2 Saint-Maurice – Saint-Bonnet – 20.78 km, with Kalle only three tenths off, and Elfyn a further five seconds off in third. Thierry continued a good start, moving into fourth overall at the expense of Seb, who was suffering with a braking problem, which was holding him back from his ultimate pace.

Classification after Day One

1 O. Tänak M. Järveoja Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC 24:17.5
2 K. Rovanperä J. Halttunen Toyota Yaris WRC +3.3
3 E. Evans S. Martin Toyota Yaris WRC +8.5
4 T. Neuville M. Wydaeghe Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC +16.0
5 S. Ogier J. Ingrassia Toyota Yaris WRC +16.9
6 D. Sordo C. del Barrio Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC +42.7
7 P. L. Loubet V. Landais Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC +1:07.8

 

Let’s hear from the drivers.

Ott Tänak (1st)

“At the start, it was looking like quite a simple start to Monte-Carlo; we never started before in daylight and with consistent conditions. The second one, with more cuts and muddy places, was very demanding and with lots of surprises. We have more stability with the car compared to last year and definitely better feedback. Overall, in wet conditions, the Pirelli tyres have some grip and seem to have good performance but in other places, when you hit some mud or some dirt, the step is quite big. It’s something we still need to learn and get experience.”

Thierry Neuville (4th)

“Everything went quite OK in these opening stages. It was all pretty new for Martijn in the Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC, driving at fast speeds, so we have to be satisfied. We didn’t know what to expect with no shakedown or testing together, but it worked well. We have some things to improve with the in-car communication over the weekend, but he has done a good job so far. I was able to drive at a good rhythm without taking any big risks. The first stage went well but we perhaps lost a bit too much on the second one. Tomorrow is a much longer, trickier day and I expect a more difficult tyre choice; we look forward to it.”

Dani Sordo (6th)

“This is not the way we were hoping to start this rally. I had a weird feeling from the car right from before the first stage. There was a noise that I have never heard before, perhaps in the differential, it sounded like something was not fixed properly. We need to check to see what it is. The rally is very long and tomorrow we are expecting some different conditions but honestly, I wanted more from today. I was confident I could do well on the first stage which is why I think something is not quite right. We need to keep pushing.”

2021 FIA World Rally Championship
Rallye Monte-Carlo 2021 21-24 January 2021
Dani Sordo, Carlos del Barrio, Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC, Action during Day 1 of Rallye Monte-Carlo 2021
Photographer: Romain Thuillier
Worldwide copyright: Hyundai Motorsport GmbH

Toyota Gazoo Racing WRT

Sébastien Ogier (5th)

“I had a cautious start in the beginning of stage one, because I have very little experience with these tyres and I needed to get a bit of a feeling. Then in the middle of the stage I started to have this brake issue, and so then the rest of the loop was tricky. When you are not confident with the brakes it’s quite hard to drive on the limit. It’s not an ideal start but for sure we will keep fighting and I’m quite sure the car will be 100 per cent tomorrow morning and now it’s up to me to do my best. Tomorrow morning it will be a super early start with probably some tricky conditions, so there is still a long way to go in this rally.”

Elfyn Evans (3rd)

“It was a difficult couple of stages to open the rally. It was quite wet and we had a lot of surface changes, so the grip was changing all the time. To top it off we had a delay waiting to start the second stage, so we had to enter it with cold tyres and that was pretty difficult. Immediately we went into a narrow village with ice on the road, so it was very difficult to generate temperature and gain confidence. But we got through it. We have the possibility of more wintery weather tonight, so we’ll have to wait until the morning and see what conditions we’ll face.”

Kalle Rovanperä (2nd)

“The feeling was good in the first loop. The first stage was quite nice. It was my first time driving on wet asphalt with the new Pirelli tyres but the feeling was good. The second stage was much more tricky with the ice, but there the pace was also quite good and I enjoyed the challenge. I was a bit surprised about the pace because it didn’t feel so fast or a big push, but the car felt good. Tomorrow will be really tricky starting in the dark with ice and snow maybe but we’ll try to keep the same pace up.”

2021 FIA World Rally Championship / Round 01 / Monte Carlo Rally / 21-24 January, 2021 // Worldwide Copyright: Toyota Gazoo Racing WRT

M-Sport WRT

Teemu Suninen (DNF)

“Everything was going well and I had a really good feeling in the car. Then coming into a corner, I lost the line and touched the bank which sent us off the road. It’s a really big shame because the car was quick and everyone has worked really hard to be here. The pace was good and the car was looking really strong, so this isn’t the start to the season that any of us wanted – and with too much damage, we won’t be back tomorrow.”

Gus Greensmith (10th)

“It’s not been a great start for us and all of the confidence we had on the test seems to have gone amiss somewhere. I’m feeling really uptight and uncomfortable in the car, and not relaxed in my driving – so that’s something we’re going to have to try and solve for the morning. There could be some snow in first stage which will make the rest of the loop pretty tricky when it comes to the tyre choice. But they’re all really nice, flowing stages – especially the last one which is probably my favourite of the rally; so, let’s see if we can have some fun in there!”

Adrien Fourmaux (2nd WRC 2)

“We saw some very tricky conditions today with the grip levels changing all the time. We decided where to push and where to be a bit more cautious and I have to say that I was really pleased with my pace – especially on the last stage which is where we decided to push to make the most of our tyre choice. It was a really clean drive and to be only eight seconds away from the lead is nothing on a rally like this. For tomorrow we should see some snow and ice which means a lot can still happen – so we have to stay focused.”

 

Friday

The second day of this event saw five stages, totalling 104.70km. The start list looked like this – Ogier, Evans, Tänak, Neuville, Rovanperä, Sordo, Greensmith, Katsuta, Loubet.

It was all change in SS3 Aspremont – La Bâtie-des-Fonts 1 – 19.61 km, with Seb, Elfyn and Kalle locking out the top three fastest times and with that, Kalle was now leading from Elfyn and Seb. Overnight leader, Ott, fell to fourth overall, 8.7 seconds from the lead now. Also falling down the leaderboard was Gus in his Fiesta WRC. He was only 14th fastest, and dropped one place to eleventh overall.

Seb struck back in SS4 Chalancon – Gumiane 1 – 21.62 km, winning the stage from Kalle and Elfyn, and moved into the lead from his younger Finnish teammate, and now had a lead of 3.3 over Elfyn, with Kalle a further 6.4 back, but still holding third overall. Gus had a much better stage, setting the seventh best time and climbing back into tenth overall.

The Frenchman took SS5 Montauban-sur-l’Ouvèze – Villebois-les-Pins 1 – 22.24 km as well, from Elfyn and Ott. Kalle had taken a ten second penalty for arriving at the next stage late, and this meant that former rally leader Ott was now back into third overall. Further down the leaderboard, Takamoto and Gus swapped positions, with the Japanese driver back in front and back in the top ten. Seb now held a 11.3 second lead over Elfyn in their battle over the win.

After service, everything changed! The second run of SS6 Aspremont – La Bâtie-des-Fonts 2 – 19.61 km saw Seb have a puncture, and he spun on one of the hairpins and was only twelfth fastest. Top three was Elfyn, 6.9 ahead of Ott with Thierry a further 2.8 behind his Estonian teammate. Takamoto was also on the move up the leaderboard, after setting the fifth best time in the stage and was now in eighth overall, gaining two places at the expense of Adrien Fourmoux and Pierre-Louis. So, what of Seb? Well, he was now in third, 23.4 behind Elfyn.

The last stage of the day, SS7 Chalancon – Gumiane 2 – 21.62 km, now run-in daylight saw things improve for Seb though. He was a massive 16 seconds faster than Elfyn, reducing Elfyn’s’ advantage to just 7.4 seconds. After a troubling day for Dani, he found a rhythm, and was just 1.3 from Seb and second fastest, with Kalle third. Takamoto was making eighth overall his position, going fourth quickest. Meanwhile, Gus was also moving up, and was now in tenth overall.

 

Classification after Day Two

1 E. Evans S. Martin Toyota Yaris WRC 1:33:57.5
2 S. Ogier J. Ingrassia Toyota Yaris WRC +7.4
3 O. Tänak M. Järveoja Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC +25.3
4 K. Rovanperä J. Halttunen Toyota Yaris WRC +53.1
5 T. Neuville M. Wydaeghe Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC +59.1
6 D. Sordo C. del Barrio Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC +1:49.6

 

Let’s hear from the drivers

Toyota Gazoo Racing

Elfyn Evans (1st)

“Even though we’re leading I’m not completely satisfied with the day, to be honest. Seb has driven very well today and it’s been difficult to keep up with his times. In some sections I was able to do quite well, but when the surface gets more slippery, I’m struggling to feel the grip and I don’t get the confidence to push more in those areas. Hopefully we can make some changes and be in a better position in those conditions tomorrow. It’s been a difficult rally with the conditions so far and it sounds like there’s the possibility for more interesting weather overnight, so it’s not going to be easy all the way to the end.”

Sébastien Ogier (2nd)

“After the difficult start yesterday, I was able to wake up this morning and have a good rhythm from the first kilometres. It was a difficult start on the first stage with some fog and a lot of icy sections. But I was happy with the car and it was much more enjoyable to drive now that I had the confidence. This afternoon the roads were more muddy as expected, but with the winter tyres on it was still nice to drive. I think we were pretty unlucky in the penultimate stage where we lost a lot of time, but other than that I think we’ve done the best we could do today. I came here to win this rally and I’m going to do everything to make that happen.”

2021 FIA World Rally Championship / Round 01 / Monte Carlo Rally / 21-24 January, 2021 // Worldwide Copyright: Toyota Gazoo Racing WRT

Kalle Rovanperä (4th)

“I had a good feeling this morning. It started with a tricky stage but we managed quite well. Then we had a small issue on the road section and we couldn’t make it on time to the next stage but at least we got it fixed. In the first stage after service in the beginning there was a really big cut with a lot of mud: I was expecting a bit more grip from the tyre, and we had a spin and took us some time to get back on the road. I’m pretty happy with the driving, but with the time penalty and this small off it’s quite a big gap we have given away.”

 

Hyundai Motorsport

Ott Tänak (3rd)

“It’s been a bit of a mixed day with some tricky conditions. In some places, things have felt consistent, but then you have sections where the grip changes a lot and it’s difficult to figure out and find the limit. I tried my best, but I am lacking confidence at times and this is not the place to be a hero. In the final stage of the afternoon, we had no visibility with a misted-up screen, so things got extra complicated.”

2021 FIA World Rally Championship
Round 01, Rallye Monte-Carlo
21-24 January 2021
Ott Tanak, Martin Jarveoja, Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC
Photographer: Dufour Fabien
Worldwide copyright: Hyundai Motorsport GmbH

Thierry Neuville (5th)

“We ended the day with a really nice stage and an incredible job from Martijn. I have been feeling increasingly confident after a less than easy morning. We didn’t make the best tyre choice in the opening loop so we had to make the most out of it. We tried to stay cautious as the conditions have been really difficult. A top job at midday service, with a strong team spirit, allowed us to tackle the afternoon stages in a more positive manner. It still wasn’t a really big push because it’s tricky to catch back the time lost from the morning.”

Dani Sordo (6th)

“Conditions have been difficult, and it’s honestly been a challenge to find the grip and the confidence. I have struggled a lot, although we had a better run this afternoon. We lost a lot of time this morning which will be hard to catch back, but we keep on doing what we can. I can’t say I am happy with the performance but our time in the final stage shows that I can set good pace when I feel comfortable and confident in the car.”

 

M-Sport WRT

Gus Greensmith (10th)

“For some reason things just aren’t clicking for us this weekend. The car is good, it’s just the driver and I wish I had the answer as to why things aren’t going right. Normally I really enjoy these conditions. I’ve won here before and I’d see challenging, changeable conditions like this and think, great, I can make some time here. But this weekend, I just don’t seem to have the confidence.

“We’re still here which is the most important thing – and we’re getting the mileage and the experience which is definitely a positive. But it’s not the weekend we anticipated after such a good feeling on the test. We’ll have another look through the data tonight to try and identify where to improve, and hopefully that will be the case tomorrow.”

 

Adrien Fourmaux (2nd WRC 2)

“It’s been another really tricky day out there, but we had good pace and can only be happy with our performance. The conditions were so difficult and dirty with almost every cut full of gravel – so we had to compromise. We set a fastest time, but sometimes we also had to back off the pace as it’s so easy to make a mistake.

“The conditions aren’t going to get any easier tomorrow and they could be even trickier if we have snow and ice – so we need to stay focused. We’ve done a good job so far, and just need to continue like that tomorrow.”

 

Saturday

With three stages on the third day, and the first run in the dark, there had been some changes in the conditions. Snow had fallen, and we were seeing a much more normal challenge out there for the crews. The starting line-up looked like this – Loubet, Greensmith, Katsuta, Sordo, Neuville, Rovanperä, Tänak, Evans, Ogier.

Into SS9 La Bréole – Selonnet 1 – 18.31 km then, and we saw Seb take advantage of his experience going through the stage 17.8 seconds faster than Elfyn who was second and Dani who was getting some confidence in the conditions going third fastest. Gus was also finding some confidence, and set the fifth best time. Unfortunately, it was going wrong for Ott, who picked up a puncture on the stage, and dropped more than a full minute and fell to fifth overall as well.

The penultimate stage of the day, SS10 Saint-Clément – Freissinières – 20.48 km, had a very interesting outcome. Pierre-Louis was first through the stage, and had set a very good time. The fresh snow on the stage had given the young Frenchman good confidence. As the other crews came through, they couldn’t beat that time, but finally, Thierry and Martijn took their first stage victory as a duo. As the top drivers came through, they found that the conditions were such that they couldn’t get anywhere the times set earlier.

Top three was Thierry, Pierre-Louis and Dani. Top three overall remained, Seb, Elfyn and Kalle, but Thierry was now just 1.4 seconds from taking the third place from the Finn. It was a disaster for Ott though. He had another puncture! What a nightmare for the 2019 champ. He stopped to put the wheel rim back on, so that he and Martin would have a tyre on a rim to drive back to service.

Elfyn took the last stage of the day, SS11 La Bréole – Selonnet 2 – 18.31 km. He and Seb had swapped and the Welshman, meaning that Elfyn was last to complete, and was the only driver on the second run to drop below 12 minutes, setting a time, 1.3 seconds faster than Seb. Kalle was third, and increased the gap over Thierry to seven seconds over their battle for the final podium position.

 

Classification after Day Three

1 S. Ogier J. Ingrassia Toyota Yaris WRC 2:16:31.9
2 E. Evans S. Martin Toyota Yaris WRC +13.0
3 K. Rovanperä J. Halttunen Toyota Yaris WRC +56.8
4 T. Neuville M. Wydaeghe Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC +1:03.8
5 D. Sordo C. del Barrio Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC +2:11.3
6 T. Katsuta D. Barritt Toyota Yaris WRC +4:43.1

 

Let’s hear from the drivers!

Toyota Gazoo Racing WRT

Sébastien Ogier (1st)

“It has been a good day, although not perfect. The first stage went very well in super tricky conditions. I really pushed hard so I was happy to cross the finish line and keep the car on the road with that kind of speed. The second stage was much more difficult for us. The conditions were really extreme and I had absolutely no grip, and we lost quite a lot of time compared to the drivers running at the front of the road order. Maybe we also didn’t do the perfect job with the tyre management but they are new and we’re still learning about them. In the final stage the conditions had changed a lot since the first pass and also since the gravel crew went through, but it was a clean drive for me. Most importantly we are in the lead and that’s what we need to keep now.”

Elfyn Evans (2nd)

“It has been a bit of frustrating day for me. I didn’t start off too well in the first stage this morning. Once I got my rhythm the time was not so bad, but Seb was obviously very strong. In the second stage it seemed to polish a lot and as later runners we seemed to have a lot less grip. Still, our time was quite close to Seb’s, although we had a small stall at a hairpin which cost us a handful of seconds. The last stage was difficult because the gravel notes were telling you it’s much worse than what you were seeing on the road. I tried to stay clean and out of trouble and it seemed OK. There was more to get out of it today and I wasn’t brave enough really, but of course it’s about finding a balance in these conditions. We’ll keep the pressure on tomorrow.”

2021 FIA World Rally Championship / Round 01 / Monte Carlo Rally / 21-24 January, 2021 // Worldwide Copyright: Toyota Gazoo Racing WRT

Kalle Rovanperä (3rd)

“It was a nice start this morning, the first stage went quite well. I was quite careful in the tricky conditions but the time compared to others was good. The second one was really tricky, it felt good but I think the road was getting much slower all the time and we lost some time there. The last stage was tricky because I had a problem with my earplugs, so Jonne had to scream all the time so I could hear the notes! But I think it was a good run – we were faster than the driver behind us so it was enough.”

 

Hyundai Motorsport

Thierry Neuville (4th)

“It has been another tricky, challenging day but we have been constantly improving in the car. It was a difficult start; I wasn’t feeling comfortable in the first stage and not in the rhythm but that improved in SS10. I tried to be as efficient as possible in the car, looking for traction and keeping it clean. There was a mid-section where I felt I had more grip so I could push a bit more. Still, I was surprised to see the time, especially after we lost a lot in that opening stage. It was our first stage win of the season and the first for Martijn, which was nice after the progress we have made this weekend. The target has been to get mileage and get used to working with each other. Monte is the best school you can get!”

2021 FIA World Rally Championship
Round 01, Rallye Monte-Carlo 2021
21-24 January 2021
Thierry Neuville
Photographer: Austral
Worldwide copyright: Hyundai Motorsport GmbH

Dani Sordo (5th)

“Today was all about the grip and getting the car to the end. We knew the opening stage would be ‘interesting’ with lots of ice when we heard the comments of the gravel crew this morning. We changed to a softer car set-up to get a better feeling. The first stage was difficult to read the road, as we knew it would be, with some slippery places and other parts less so. I lost a bit of confidence in the middle of the second stage, so I didn’t push as much there. We didn’t have any problems and it’s been important to get through today with no mistakes. We took the final stage slowly because it’s so easy to go off the line, so we took no risks.”

Ott Tänak (DNF)

“Unfortunately, another early finish to Monte for us. On the first stage, I hit a stone – or something similar – and damaged the wheel, which caused a puncture. It was my mistake, something I didn’t notice during the recce. From the very beginning of the second stage, we had a slow puncture, so it was a long way to come back on the rubber. We tried to put the first damaged tyre back on the car to make the road section, but it didn’t last. Nothing much more we could do. We made it to service but had to retire the car. With no opportunity to re-join tomorrow that’s the end of the rally for us.”

 

M-Sport WRT

Gus Greensmith (8th)

“It’s been pretty icy out there today! There was quite a lot of grip on the compacted snow at the start of the first stage and I didn’t feel as though I was making the most of it – but to be fair, the splits were pretty okay.

“I didn’t commit as much as I could after that. I wasn’t sending it into the entry of the corners as much as I could, but the driving did feel better. There’s still a lot more confidence to be found out there, so let’s see if we can find some of it tomorrow.”

Gus and Elliott found some pace on the snow and ice. Photo credit M-Sport WRT

Adrien Fourmaux (2nd WRC 2)

“Just after a long right-hander there is a small left, and I was already focused on the next corner. I took the cut, but there was a rock on the inside which I hit and picked up a puncture. We had to do almost the whole stage on the rim and lost a lot of time.

“It was frustrating because we had a really strong second place and didn’t have to push too much – but that’s rallying. I made a little mistake, and now we need to push a little bit more to keep our second place and keep Éric behind us.”

Adrien and Renaud at speed. Photo credit, M-Sport WRT

Sunday

The last day then. There were some penalties handed out to some. Here is the running order – Loubet, Greensmith, Katsuta, Sordo, Neuville, Rovanperä, Evans, Ogier.

The first stage, SS12 Puget-Théniers – La Penne 1 – 12.93 km, saw ice on the road, and the first two crews in both slid wide and hit the scenery early in the first sector. They were however able to continue. In terms of the battle between Kalle and Thierry, with the Belgian setting the second fastest time and Kalle getting a puncture, the Hyundai crew took third place. Seb was fastest, whilst Elfyn was third in the stage and now 21 seconds from the leader, and holding second overall. The drive of the stage, I think, was Oliver Solberg and Aaron Johnston who were fourth fastest, just 15 seconds slower than the fastest time in their Hyundai i20 Rally2 car.

Onto SS13 Briançonnet – Entrevaux 1 – 14.31 km, and it was a second stage win for Thierry and Martijn, with Elfyn and Scott setting the second fastest stage and Seb third. The gap came down a little between Elfyn and Seb, but only a little over a second. There was drama for the drivers who opened the stage, with Pierre-Louis sliding into a barrier filled with snow, but getting away with it. At the same point and he set the fourth fastest time. Gus had the same problem, and hit the barrier harder with the left rear and the car spun to the point that the front was facing the barrier. Gus had to manoeuvre the car and lost quite a lot of time. Another to spin was Takamoto, who ended up setting a similar time to Gus, with the two of them fifteenth and sixteenth on the timesheets.

The rerun of SS14 Puget-Théniers – La Penne 2 – 12.93 km saw Seb take the stage win, with Dani and Thierry second and third fastest. Elfyn was fourth, and although Thierry was faster, the gap between the two of them remained just a little under 30 seconds.

Onto the last stage then, SS15 Briançonnet – Entrevaux 2, the power stage. Gus set the early benchmark, which was first eclipsed by Dani. Then Kalle cam through with the fastest time, but said that it would not be fast enough to take the stage victory. Thierry was next, but didn’t set the best time, unlike last year. Elfyn came through and was a 1.2 from Kalle’s time. Sadly, Pierre-Louis who was pushing hard got stuck in a snowbank, and ended up losing about two minutes. A big shame, but it was the first time that he had competed in this event, and there were some promising times.  Finally, Seb came through, and took the fastest time, 3.3 faster than Kalle. The top five was Seb, Kalle, Elfyn, Thierry and Dani.

 

Final Overall Classification – Rallye Monte-Carlo

1 S. Ogier J. Ingrassia Toyota Yaris WRC 2:56:33.7
2 E. Evans S. Martin Toyota Yaris WRC +32.6
3 T. Neuville M. Wydaeghe Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC +1:13.5
4 K. Rovanperä J. Halttunen Toyota Yaris WRC +2:33.6
5 D. Sordo C. del Barrio Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC +3:14.2
6 T. Katsuta D. Barritt Toyota Yaris WRC +7:01.3
7 A. Mikkelsen O. Fløene Škoda Fabia R5 +7:23.6
8 G. Greensmith E. Edmondson Ford Fiesta WRC +8:21.1
9 A. Fourmaux R. Jamoul Ford Fiesta R5 +9:15.8
10 E. Camilli F. Buresi Citroën C3 R5 +10:41.0

 

Let’s hear from the drivers!

Toyota Gazoo Racing WRT

Sébastien Ogier (1st)

“This is a perfect start to the season. Watching this rally as a kid gave me the dream to become a driver one day. If I could have only one record, for sure I would take this one. It has a lot of meaning for me, and this is also the reason I was quite emotional on the podium. The Yaris WRC has been fantastic this weekend: I had such a good feeling in the car. I think it was a good decision to do one more year. The team is great, so a huge thanks to all of them. The first stage this morning was incredible: There were so many grip changes and it was impossible to read because it was like black ice. The gravel crew went through the stage two hours earlier and there was nothing there at the time, just a little bit of frost. So, it was really surprising. It is never the easiest to manage a lead and especially on this rally, but we did it.”

Elfyn Evans (2nd)

“It was a tough final day with very challenging conditions, as it has been throughout the weekend really. Maybe I didn’t push quite enough to really challenge Seb for the victory, he was very very good this weekend. It’s his home rally so it was always going to be tough – but credit to him. And as a team it’s a fantastic start to the year. We can be happy with the points, but of course you always want more and hopefully next time I can be a bit stronger. I don’t think I quite had the feeling this weekend. Perhaps at the start of the year it was better not to risk everything to try to win, but we know if we want to challenge for the title, we’ll have to do that during the year. However, I feel we’ve got a really strong car and a very strong team to go with it.”

Kalle Rovanperä (4th)

“I would say the conditions were really quite extreme this morning. The first stage was really tricky with the ice and then then we had snow in the second stage. I think I was a bit unlucky with the tyre damage but that’s also rallying sometimes. In the Power Stage we had a nice time. I was a bit surprised because I wasn’t really pushing on the maximum. I just picked up the pace a bit more, and it was good to have proper points from there too. Overall it was a really nice weekend from my side because I didn’t do so many kilometres on asphalt last year. We were a lot faster than on this rally last year and more consistent also, so it was a good weekend with just a bit of bad luck.”

 

Hyundai Motorsport

Thierry Neuville (3rd)

“A challenging start to the new season for us, especially after a late co-driver change. We were able to find a solution to be competitive and, step by step, Martijn and me were able to find more confidence in the car to improve our collaboration and to improve our speed day by day. To finish on the podium is a satisfying result considering the situation we have faced. The job in the car has been really impressive considering the difficulties of Monte.”

Dani Sordo (5th)

“We haven’t had a very good rally, so to take some manufacturers’ points away is some consolation. From the beginning, we have not really been on the pace and I am not particularly happy with myself, to be honest. We have faced some incredibly tricky stages and there have been some parts where I have just lacked confidence. The only thing we’ve been able to do is survive: to bring the car home and to score points for the team. At the end of the year, they could be very important. We need to reset and go to the next one with full power. It is sad to finish my partnership with Carlos; we’ve had some good results over the years, and it’s been great to work with him.”

 

M-Sport WRT

Gus Greensmith (8th)

“It goes without saying that this wasn’t the weekend we wanted. I had a lot of confidence after the test and was really looking forward to this rally – but as soon as we got to that first stage the confidence just went to zero.

“So much work went on behind the scenes to get us here, and with the preparation we had I know we should have been better. Teemu proved on the first stage that there were no issues with the car – it was just the driver. I have to learn from this weekend, and work hard to get back to where I know we should be.”

Adrien Fourmaux (2nd WRC 2)

“It was a really nice rally for us and I’m really happy with our performance. We had very good pace and it was nice to be able to fight with Andreas – a guy who has so much speed and experience in this sport.

“I also have to say thank you to the team because they did a perfect job all weekend and really deserve this result. To finish in the top ten made it even better, and I look forward to continuing the fight at the next rally.”

 

2C Competition

Oliver Solberg (DNF)

“We came here to make experience,” said Oliver. “Of course, like always, I wanted to push hard and set some good times and I think we have done that. I wanted to finish and it’s very frustrating not to be back in Monaco this afternoon, but it was a small mistake.

“The car is fine and if we had some more people around, we could have come to the finish. OK, sometimes it’s like this. I won’t think so much to this. Instead, I take the positives.

“The time in the first stage on Sunday was really cool, to be fourth fastest overall was something special – it’s my best ever time on a WRC round. The conditions were so complicated there with a lot, a lot, a lot of black ice in places; every time you were going to the corner, you were asking yourself: “How will it be? Will the grip be there?”

“But I was able to find a rhythm and deal with the changing grip. It was nice because we were fifth fastest overall on the last stage on Saturday as well. Trying to forget the last stage, it’s been a fantastic event and almost the perfect way to start our time with Hyundai Motorsport in the WRC.”

 

Warren’s Thoughts

Well, it was a perfect start for Seb and Julien at the start of their final season. If you think about what happened in stage five, with the puncture and spin on the ice, the way that the world champions came back was incredible. They took eight stage wins including the power stage, meaning they’d taken the full points as well.

Elfyn and Scott drove really well too. A second podium finish on this event and one place better than last year showed how much they’d shown they could compete at the top, and they took two stage wins as well. They led for a short while again, just like last year, but were caught by a fired up Seb and Julien. It was a very good drive and they will once again be championship contenders.

Kalle and Jonne were also very good, and improved on their fifth place with fourth this year. It could have been a podium, but after their punctures, it slipped away from them. However, it was still a good drive and just like his teammates, an improvement from last year.

 

Thierry and his new co-driver Martijn settled in really well, and took two stage wins along the way. To secure a podium on their first ever event together is quite amazing, and I suspect that we will see them in the car on the next event.

Elsewhere in the Hyundai team, Dani with Carlos in the car for the final time, found it hard to get settled in the conditions, and then when things started to gel, the team suffered the retirement of Ott and then I suspect that the drivers were told to bring the cars to the end.

For the second year in a row, Ott and Martin really didn’t have things their way. It started well with two stage wins on Thursday, but once he hit the problems with the punctures, it really didn’t end well. He will hope that the next event is better.

Making their debut in a Hyundai i20 WRC 2020 spec car, Pierri-Louis Loubet and Vincent Landais had an up and down event. The Corsican had never competed in this rally before, but certainly had their good moments, with some top three times, but their crash also took any hope of points away. They re-joined and then on the final stage, were pushing on when they slid off the road, losing any hope of points in the power stage.

 

At M-Sport, it was a rally to forget. With Teemu and Markko crashing out on stage two and no hope of a restart, the Finns part season did not get off well. This left Gus and Elliot as the only remaining Fiesta WRC in the field, and they were all at sea. The young Brit was really hard on himself. There were moments however, when things came together and they showed what they could do. At least there wasn’t the large mistake from last year and they managed to complete all the stages.

Adrien and Renaud in their Fiesta R5 took second in the Rally 2 category, as they started their season well, taking ninth overall as well. They will be looking forward to the moment that they step into the Fiesta WRC.

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

1 S. Ogier 30
2 E. Evans 21
3 T. Neuville 17
4 K. Rovanperä 16
5 D. Sordo 11
6 T. Katsuta 8
2021 FIA World Rally Championship / Round 01 / Monte Carlo Rally / 21-24 January, 2021 // Worldwide Copyright: Toyota Gazoo Racing WRT

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

1 Toyota Gazoo Racing World Rally Team 52
2 Hyundai Shell Mobis World Rally Team 30
3 M-Sport Ford World Rally Team 10
4 Hyundai 2C Competition 8

 

Next event is the Artic Rally in Finland, which takes place from the 26th to the 28th of February. It is a replacement for the cancelled Rally Sweden. Pop back closer to then to read my preview for round two!