BTCC Oulton Park – Butcher takes win as Rowbottom steps up title chase

Rory Butcher secured the win in round 11 of the British Touring Car Championship in a frenetic second race at Oulton Park.

He took the lead on lap one and held on with Dan Rowbottom and Adam Morgan completing the podium.

Rowbottom made the best start and held on to the lead with Butcher and Gordon Shedden in tow. Butcher held off his brother in law and made a brave move on Rowbottom into the Knickerbrook chicane to take the lead.

On lap two Senna Proctor made a brilliant move down the inside of team mate Josh Cook and Jake Hill into the hairpin and passed both. Behind them Ollie Jackson and Jack Goff both collided. This ended Goff’s 100% points finishes record this season.

On lap three, same place, another collision as Colin Turkington tapped Cook, who slid into Jason Plato, with Cook coming off the worse and retiring from damage.

Butcher was pulling away but Rowbottom had to defend from Morgan, who was having another fantastic weekend around Oulton Park. Securing his second third place finish of the weekend.

Ash Sutton and Tom Ingram are both fighting for the title and have both recovered from setbacks to be in the top ten in race two.

Butcher strolled to the win with Rowbottom in 2nd and Morgan in 3rd. Hill, Moffat, Shedden Jelley, Sutton, Proctor and Ingram rounded off the top ten.

Pos Driver Car Team +/-
1 Rory Butcher Toyota Corolla Toyota Gazoo 17:35:137
2 Dan Rowbottom Honda Civic Type R Team Dynamics +1.695
3 Adam Morgan BMW 330i M Sport Ciceley +2.500
4 Jake Hill Ford Focus MB Motorsport +2.944
5 Aiden Moffat Infiniti Q50 Laser Tools +3.200
6 Gordon Shedden Honda Civic Type R Team Dynamics +4.653
7 Stephen Jelley BMW 330i M Sport Team WSR +5.811
8 Ash Sutton Infiniti Q50 Laser Tools +6.035
9 Senna Proctor Honda Civic Type R BTC Racing +6.305
10 Tom Ingram Hyundai i30N Excelr8 +6.546
11 Carl Boardley Infiniti Q50 Laser Tools +6.661
12 Colin Turkington BMW 330i M Sport Team WSR +6.826
13 Tom Chilton BMW 330i M Sport Ciceley +10.693
14 Chris Smiley Hyundai i30N Excelr8 +15.436
15 Sam Osborne Ford Focus Motorbase +17.329
16 Aron Taylor-Smith Cupra Leon Team HARD +17.859
17 Jack Butel Hyundai i30N Excelr8 +18.613
18 Jason Plato Vauxhall Astra Power Maxed +20.108
19 Sam Smelt Toyota Corolla Toyota Gazoo +20.317
20 Jade Edwards Honda Civic Type R BTC Racing +20.575
21 Dan Lloyd Vauxhall Astra Power Maxed +23.129*
22 Jack Mitchell Cupra Leon Team HARD +23.365
23 Rick Parfitt Hyundai i30N Excelr8 +24.281
24 Nicholas Hamilton Cupra Leon Team HARD +26.062
25 Jack Goff Cupra Leon Team HARD +4 Laps
Retirements
DMF Ollie Jackson Ford Focus MB Motorsport Damage
DNF Josh Cook Honda Civic Type R BTC Racing Crash
DNS Tom Oliphant BMW 330i M Sport Team WSR Damage

 

BTCC Oulton Park – Rowbottom takes first BTCC win in two-part race

Dan Rowbottom took his first ever BTCC race win in round ten of the British Touring Car Championship at Oulton Park in a two-part race.

On lap eight Tom Oliphant was pitched into a spin by Jason Plato, before being collected by Excelr8 drivers Chris Smiley and Rick Parfitt. On the restart Rowbottom took the lead and held on for the win.

The two Team Dynamics Honda’s made the best start and swamped pole sitter Senna Proctor at the start. Shedden led with Rowbottom close behind, Proctor fell to fifth with Morgan and Butcher getting past too.

Into the long sweeping left hander at Cascades, a few cars were forced off track, with Colin Turkington being one of them, sending him to the back.

By lap three the Honda’s were two seconds clear, as there were five second penalties dished out to Josh Cook, Ollie Jackson and Sam Smelt for being out of position at the start.

With title challenger Tom Ingram starting at the back of the grid, Ash Sutton was thinking about capitalizing on his rival being at the back. However Sutton was in the pits on lap four and fell to the back.

Proctor was recovering from his poor start and by lap seven he managed to pass Butcher at the tight hairpin and went into fourth place.

On lap eight Jason Plato dived down the inside of Tom Oliphant at the final corner, and made contact, spinning the BMW round and leaving him stationary at the top of the hill.

He was an innocent bystander as Chris Smiley hit him, and then shortly after RIck Parfitt careened into him to bring out the red flag. After a short period once debris was cleared, there was a six lap restart.

On the restart Rowbottom held onto the lead and held on, despite a strong fight from his team mate Gordon Shedden. The Scot has previous at Oulton when fighting with team mates, having collided with team mate Matt Neal a few years back to deny the team a 1-2.

Rowbottom held on for his first BTCC win with Shedden, Morgan, Butcher, Jelley, Moffat, Plato, Hill, Proctor and Goff rounding off the top ten.

Pos Driver Car Team +/-
1 Dan Rowbottom Honda Civic Type R Team Dynamics 8:45:702
2 Gordon Shedden Honda Civic Type R Team Dynamics +0.384
3 Adam Morgan BMW 330i M Sport Ciceley +2.104
4 Rory Butcher Toyota Corolla Toyota Gazoo +5.885
5 Stephen Jelley BMW 330i M Sport Team WSR +6.170
6 Aiden Moffat Infiniti Q50 Laser Tools +7.053
7 Jason Plato Vauxhall Astra Power Maxed +7.469
8 Jake Hill Ford Focus MB Motorsport +7.829
9 Senna Proctor Honda Civic Type R BTC Racing +8.082
10 Jack Goff Cupra Leon Team HARD +8.444
11 Carl Boardley Infiniti Q50 Laser Tools +9.405
12 Ollie Jackson Ford Focus MB Motorsport +10.629
13 Dan Lloyd Vauxhall Astra Vauxhall Astra +10.897
14 Ash Sutton Infiniti Q50 Laser Tools +10.955
15 Josh Cook Honda Civic Type R BTC Racing +11.690
16 Aron Taylor-Smith Cupra Leon Team HARD +14.195
17 Tom Chilton BMW 330i M Sport Ciceley +14.373
18 Colin Turkington BMW 330i M Sport Team WSR +14.593
19 Tom Ingram Hyundai i30N Excelr8 +15.331
20 Jack Butel Hyundai i30N Excelr8 +15.580
21 Jade Edwards Honda Civic Type R BTC Racing +16.384
22 Jack Mitchell Cupra Leon Team HARD +17.203
23 Sam Smelt Toyota Corolla Toyota Gazoo +17.530
24 Sam Osborne Ford Focus Motorbase +4 Laps
Retirements
DNF Rick Parfitt Jr Hyundai i30N Excelr8 Crash
DNF Chris Smiley Hyundai i30N Excelr8 Crash
DNF Tom Oliphant BMW 330i M Sport Team WSR Crash
DNS Nicholas Hamilton Cupra Leon Team HARD Mechanical

 

Rally Estonia Review 2021 – Kalle and Jonne take their maiden win!

Thursday’s evening stage, SS1 Visit Estonia Tartu 1 – 1.64 km, the typically short stage to start most European event, was won by Kalle, with Craig and Teemu second and third fastest. Championship contenders, Seb and Elfyn were 10th and 19th fastest respectively but only a few seconds from the leader.

Friday

Coming into the first full day of competition, the start list looked like this – Ogier, Evans, Neuville, Tänak, Katsuta, Rovanperä, Greensmith, Breen, Suninen, Loubet.

SS2 Arula 1 – 12.68 km saw Ott take the stage win and move into the lead as expected really. His teammate, Craig was just 1 second or so from Ott’s time and this moved him into second overall, whilst Kalle who was third, dropped from the lead to third. A fun aspect of this stage was that there was a section of snow laid alongside a section of the stage which saw two cross-country skiers racing from one end to the other in the same direction as the cars as they came through from a left-hander!

The was a change in the lead though at the end of SS3 Otepää 1 – 17.05 km. Craig was equal fastest with Kalle with Seb third fastest. Craig was now the leader from Kalle and Thierry. Two drivers dropped down the leaderboard and for different reasons. Elfyn made an error, going straight on at a junction when he should have gone right, but at least his car was undamaged. It was the Estonian that had the biggest problem though. Ott suffered a puncture on the front and this ripped up the side of the car and even removed one of the headlights. A big shame for him.

Next up was SS4 Kanepi 1 – 16.54 km and Kalle moved into the lead deposing Craig, whilst Takamoto was third fastest and moved into third overall. Elfyn was also quick, going fourth, with Seb fifth fastest. Thierry dropped a couple of places down to fifth after getting a puncture on the left rear with about 7km’s left of the stage. Teemu also suffered a puncture, exactly the same as the Belgian but at least he was able to complete the stage. His teammate, Gus, ground to a halt in the stage. The engine just died. He got the car running again after some time was lost, and then Craig who was next to start the stage came through and was running in Gus’ dust and losing time. Gus pulled out of the stage and this allowed Craig to finish the stage. Unfortunately, Ott and Martin were out though. The home favourites had gone off into a field and sustained two punctures, and with no spares it was game over for them. Also, to retire were Oliver Solberg and Jari Huttunen. Oliver suffered an overheated engine, whilst Jari rolled his i20 Rally2 car. Also, to retire was Takamoto and Dan, after Dan suffered a back injury after a heavy landing during the stage. A really big shame after setting such a good time.

The final stage then of the morning loop, SS5 Kambja 1 – 17.85 km, and the top three was Kalle, Craig and Elfyn. The top five overall was now Kalle, Craig, Seb, Thierry and Elfyn. In the WRC2 category Mads led by just eight tenths of a second over Andreas, with Nikolay in his Polo holding third. Unfortunately, Molly Taylor and Seb Marshall were out, after an accident. What a shame for the pairing in their Fiesta Rally 4.

After the service and lunch break, the rerun of SS6 Arula 2 – 12.68 km was again won by Kalle, who was looking increasingly comfortable, with Craig second fastest, just 1.4 seconds behind and Thierry in third and faster than Seb as the Belgian looked to move onto the final step of the podium positions. Elfyn also seemed to be getting on better, going just seven tenths slower than Seb with the fifth best time. The rain came but didn’t affect things too much. In the WRC2 category, Mads lost 22 seconds and the lead, after getting a puncture and fell from the lead to second place, and was now 15.9 from the leader who was now Andreas.

Into SS7 Otepää 2 – 17.05 km, and it was the young Finn in his Yaris who continued to set the pace, and he increased his lead again over Craig by another 1.7 seconds, whilst Thierry closed the gap some more to Seb, after taking a further 2.4 from the Frenchman with the result that the gap was now under 3 seconds between them.

The following stage, SS8 Kanepi 2 – 16.54 km saw Craig hit back, winning the stage by 1.2 seconds from Kalle and Thierry third again a full 3.4 seconds faster than Seb and with that took third position from the world champion by just half a second! In the WRC2 category, Andreas continued to lead, with Mads going second fastest in the stage and Adrien third. Mads was given a 10 second penalty though, after jumping the start and was now down to third place, with Nikolay now into second place. Just eight seconds covered second to fifth as well. Anything could happen in this battle.

The final stage then of Friday, SS9 Kambja 2 – 17.85 km and our top three was Kalle, Craig and Thierry. There was a change of positions between Teemu and Pierre-Louis, with the Finn passing the Hyundai i20 driver for sixth overall after the Frenchman lost grip in a corner and went off. He completed the stage in road mode after that. There was more drama for Sean Johnston and Alex Kihurani who rolled out in their Citroen C3 Rally2 car after running a little wide in the left-hander just before. They were holding a good position in the category and had just moved into seventh place in the previous stage. The stage was stopped, as their car was blocking the road completely. They were taken to hospital to be checked over as they suffered some cuts and bruises and also some temporary sight loss.

Classification after Day One

1 K. Rovanperä J. Halttunen Toyota Yaris WRC 1:06:54.4
2 C. Breen P. Nagle Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC +8.5
3 T. Neuville M. Wydaeghe Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC +53.4
4 S. Ogier J. Ingrassia Toyota Yaris WRC +59.4
5 E. Evans S. Martin Toyota Yaris WRC +1:15.1
6 T. Suninen M. Markkula Ford Fiesta WRC +3:14.9
7 P.L Loubet F.Haut-Labourdette Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC +3:21.5

 

Let’s hear from the drivers then.

Toyota Gazoo Racing WRT

Kalle Rovanperä (1st)

“It has been a really nice day today. We were pushing really hard all the time and almost always on the limit. I did start a bit more carefully in the first stage this morning, and then I tried to clean up the driving and be fast all the time. It’s been a nice battle; I’m really enjoying it. The gap is really small still and I’m sure that tomorrow will be another big fight. Generally, the feeling is good, and I hope we can do something with the setup to find more grip for the second pass than we had this afternoon.”

Sébastien Ogier (4th)

“I am extremely happy with my day today. I have been on the limit; the car was working well and no mistakes. I couldn’t really have expected better from this day. There was very loose gravel so being where we are tonight, only six seconds off the podium, is really good. I’ve enjoyed the day. Now we have to carry on with the same rhythm tomorrow. It will be challenging with new stages and some different characteristics, so it won’t be easy, but let’s see what we can do with a much better road position.”

2021 FIA World Rally Championship / Round 07 / Rally Estonia / 15-18 July, 2021 // Worldwide Copyright: Toyota Gazoo Racing WRT

Elfyn Evans (5th)

“It’s not been the day we wanted. This morning I made a couple of clumsy mistakes in the second stage and gave away quite a lot of time, and in this rally, you can’t really afford to do that. Apart of that, it’s been going OK but I haven’t been fully at one with everything. The car has the pace to do it but it’s just not quite clicking for me at the moment. We’ll make some minor changes tonight to try and find some more confidence, and I’m looking forward to a new challenge tomorrow.”

Hyundai Motorsport

Craig Breen (2nd)

“I am very happy with what we’ve achieved today. It’s been a really nice day and we are definitely in the mix. Paul has been awesome in the co-driver’s seat and the car has been amazing all day. The feeling of driving these cars on roads like this is something very special, and even more so this year because the second pass stood up really well. I’ve had a good ding-dong with Kalle all day, it’s a nice fight. It still doesn’t quite feel like home, certainly when you consider these guys are in the WRC cars each event, whereas I am more used to driving the R5. But we have finished today well, and we’ll try to carry this good rhythm into Saturday, with the first two stages completely new.”

Thierry Neuville (3rd)

“With the exception of our puncture in the morning loop, everything was working fine today. We had a good rhythm and could achieve what we set out to. Our target was to catch Sébastien and to increase the gap over him by the end of the day. Of course, we had a small advantage with our road position but it’s definitely going to be a tough fight all weekend. We know the target is to maintain the provisional podium position, to keep the car on the road, and to secure a good result for the team.”

Ott Tänak (DNF, SuperRally)

“Unfortunately, we were forced to retire from the rally today after we picked up two punctures in the Kanepi stage. We already had one in the previous run, which cost us time and positions but from the beginning of SS4 I went wide in a corner and, basically, I went into the field. During that I knocked off two tyres, and with no spares it was not possible to continue. The team will prepare the car for us to continue tomorrow.”

2021 FIA World Rally Championship
Round 07, Rally Estonia
15-18 july 2021
Ott Tanak, Martin Jarveoja, Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC
Photographer: Dufour Fabien
Worldwide copyright: Hyundai Motorsport GmbH

M-Sport Ford WRT

Gus Greensmith (DNF, SuperRally)

“We had a very good start to the day with the fifth fastest time, which I was very pleased with because it was a big improvement on where we were last year, so I felt like I was doing a very good job in the car. It was the same going into the second stage of the loop but, unfortunately, we had a failure related to the engine. We managed to nurse it through but eventually we had to retire in the third stage of the loop because it was more than likely going to cause damage to the engine and risk whether we would be able to compete for the rest of the weekend. I’m very disappointed but let’s see what we can do tomorrow.”

Teemu Suninen (6th)

“It was generally and okay day. I did my best, but we had quite a challenging day. Tomorrow we try to do good job with no mistakes.”

Adrien Fourmaux (4th WRC2)

“It has been quite tricky in some places today and I didn’t want to make any mistakes. Okay, it wasn’t the best loop for me this morning but in the afternoon, I found some pace and that’s the main thing. Tomorrow is another long day so it’s good for the experience.”

Tom Kristensson (6th WRC2)

“We had a fantastic day, we developed our driving, we developed the car and the feeling is absolutely amazing. Today was for me to get into the maximum speed and learn the surface, learn the tyre and learn how really fast you can drive in this car on these roads. We had an awesome day, we are in our speed without any mistakes, any moments, no issues with the car and we are very happy and looking forward to continuing the rally tomorrow.”

Saturday

With 132km of action over nine stages, would it be a tricky day for the crews? The start list looked like this – Greensmith, Tänak, Loubet, Suninen, Evans, Ogier, Neuville, Breen, Rovanperä.

Well, what we saw from Kalle was an amazing stage win in SS10 Peipsiääre 1 – 23.53 km. The young Finns started the stage eight and a half seconds ahead of Craig and Paul and emerged with a twenty-two second lead! Ott and Craig were second and third fastest, but what a time from Kalle and Jonne! Further down the leaderboard, Seb closed the gap a little to Thierry in their battle over third place.

Into SS11 Mustvee 1 – 12.28 km, and the top three was Ott, Kalle and Craig, with only three tenths between Ott and Kalle. Elfyn had a much better stage, going fourth fastest and keeping his teammate honest! The WRC2 category Andreas was fastest and continuing to build a lead over Mads. They both held ninth and tenth places in the overall classification as well.

Ott made it two out of two in SS12 Raanitsa 1 – 22.76 km, eclipsing Kalle again, but not by much! Craig fell further back from Kalle by 10 seconds, but was still holding second overall, a good 45 seconds ahead of third placed Thierry. Seb was third fastest and doing what he could to close the gap to Thierry ahead.

Ott also won SS13 Vastsemõisa 1 – 6.70 km from Seb and Craig, whilst rally leader Kalle was fourth fastest. It was a really good stage for WRC2 leader, with Andreas setting the seventh best time beating both Teemu and Gus!

Into the afternoon stages then and the Estonian’s continued their amazing pace, winning SS14 Peipsiääre 2 – 23.53 km from Kalle and Craig. There was a change in the WRC2 category with Adrien getting passed by Marco who now held third place in the category.

Ott also won SS15 Mustvee 2 – 12.28 km from Kalle and Thierry, whilst Craig was sixth fastest and a further 8.7 seconds behind, the gap between Kalle and him now 45.6 seconds! There was some action and position change in the WRC2 category though with Adrien setting a faster time than Marco, with the Frenchman now back into third place.

Into SS16 Raanitsa 2 – 22.76 km and Ott again was fastest from Thierry and Seb. The top two were fourth and fifth in the stage. In the WRC2 category, Marco was fastest from Mads and the Bolivian’s pace brought him back into third place, back ahead of Adrien.

Thierry won SS17 Vastsemõisa 2 – 6.70 km from Ott and Kalle. The Belgians pace meant that the gap widened between him and Seb who still held fourth overall. Mads won the WRC2 category from Marco and Adrien, and the battle between the Bolivian and Frenchman continued with them setting the exact same time through the stage.

The last stage then of Saturday, SS18 TV3 Tartu 2 – 1.64 km and there was some drama for Craig, who hit a large rock in the stage, but made it to the end of the stage. He didn’t stay at the stage end for long and was gone! There was definitely something leaking from his car. Seb, Thierry and Elfyn were the fastest in the stage, and Kalle who was equal third fastest now held a 50 second lead from Craig.

Classification after Day Two

1 K. Rovanperä J. Halttunen Toyota Yaris WRC 2:17:46.8
2 C. Breen P. Nagle Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC +50.7
3 T. Neuville M. Wydaeghe Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC +1:20.9
4 S. Ogier J. Ingrassia Toyota Yaris WRC +1:38.8
5 E. Evans S. Martin Toyota Yaris WRC +2:02.2
6 T. Suninen M. Markkula Ford Fiesta WRC +6:14.3
7 P.L Loubet F. Haut-Labourdette Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC +7:32.5

 

Let’s hear from the drivers.

Toyota Gazoo Racing WRT

Kalle Rovanperä (1st)

“It’s been a really nice day and it feels good to be in this position tonight. We know the first stage this morning was the most difficult stage of the rally, a really technical stage with brand new pacenotes, and we prepared really well for that knowing that we could make some difference. It didn’t feel so good, but it was clean and I was trying to push and the time was really good. After that we could make a gap and then manage it on the second pass, where the conditions were quite rough. There were some tricky places with big ruts but we managed it quite well. Tomorrow is going to be a long day still: In this position we need to be focused all the time to not make any mistakes but still have a good rhythm.”

Sébastien Ogier (4th)

“Yesterday I was really happy with the job I did; today it was not my best day ever. But we are on target because I stayed ahead of Elfyn and he is my nearest rival in the championship. This morning I was too careful and driving a bit too much with my head, but then this afternoon the conditions were very difficult with big ruts in the first two stages. When you want to be fully in control and not take any risk, these are not the conditions you want to have, so I preferred to take it easy. Most importantly we are still there in a good position for the championship and tomorrow we have the chance to get some extra points from the Power Stage.”

Elfyn Evans (5th)

“Today I was still trying to find the sweet spot and I think we continued to make some small steps with the setup during the day, and generally the feeling was better in the afternoon. We haven’t got a lot to show for that in terms of improving our position in the rally, but at least we’re taking some steps in the right direction and that’s a positive with an eye on Rally Finland later in the year. Tomorrow we’ll focus our efforts on the Power Stage and try to come away with some more points.”

2021 FIA World Rally Championship / Round 07 / Rally Estonia / 15-18 July, 2021 // Worldwide Copyright: Toyota Gazoo Racing WRT

Hyundai Motorsport

Craig Breen (2nd)

“We have completed the day relatively unscathed, and I think we can be happy with what we’ve achieved. Given our experience, it was always going to be tough, but we’ve tried to feel more comfortable in the car. It still feels a bit alien at times, and we haven’t been able to let it go full banzai. We have to realistic and happy; it’s been a good weekend so far. The splits on the faster sections have been good, it’s in the narrower parts where we need to gain additional confidence. These things take time and ultimately when you’re rallying with people who have been in the car week-in, week-out, it’s tough.”

Thierry Neuville (3rd)

“It was a positive day for us. We had a good, clean rhythm in the car, always controlling the speed and able to gradually build up our advantage over Ogier. We had a decent run through today’s stages, which included some tricky new tests. We played things sensibly as it’s crucial to stay in the game. Third place overnight is not a bad result, but there is still a day to go. We need to keep clear of mistakes, avoid any issues and try to bring back some good points for the team.”

2021 FIA World Rally Championship
Round 07, Rally Estonia
15-18 july 2021
Thierry Neuville, Martijn Wydaeghe, Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC
Photographer: Dufour Fabien
Worldwide copyright: Hyundai Motorsport GmbH

Ott Tänak (32nd)

“Everything has gone fine today, with no major issues. We might not be in the fight for victory, but we have still had some fun on these stages. We have tried to keep a good rhythm. In the second loop, the stages were quite demanding, but the car was working well, and we had an OK feeling. I kept going as best I could, and we were able to set some good times. If you take it slow, it’s not as interesting. We have also used the day to learn some things.”

M-Sport Ford WRT

Teemu Suninen (6th)

“The morning stages were super-tricky and I overshot one junction and stalled the engine, which cost a few seconds. There was some cleaning and there was always a risk you could break the car or make a mistake. I’ve enjoyed the driving but, honestly, it’s not really been a good day for me. In general, we’ve been lacking in performance so I can’t be satisfied.”

Gus Greensmith (33rd)

“It was tricky opening the road this morning like I knew it would be. But comparing my times against those of my team-mate when I was cleaning the road makes me think I did a pretty good job during the morning stages. We weren’t able to find the precision we had with the rear of the car yesterday during the morning loop, so we worked on getting the feeling back this afternoon. Overall, it’s been a tough day although I’m happy with the job I’ve done even though there’s a lot to improve on. We go again tomorrow and that’s the important thing.”

Adrien Fourmaux (4th WRC2)

“This morning was really interesting and the first two stages were quite technical compared to yesterday although I was happy with my morning loop. We had a spin in the first stage this afternoon, but we worked a lot on the road section with the set-up for the next stage and we were quite happy. I had a puncture on the front-right in the last stage but I don’t know how it happened. It’s a shame to lose time on this type of stage but there is still a long day tomorrow and many things can happen. Our position is not bad and we are going in the right direction.”

Tom Kristensson (5th WRC2)

“I expected a much better start to the day, but the first stage was a tough one, like it was for everybody else. But I focused on my pace and by the third stage I was back into it again. Then we had to stop on the fourth stage after Nikolay Gryazin’s roll. The car has been working perfectly and I have been learning quite a lot. I hate to drive for learning, I want to push for the win, but we just need to accept the situation and keep learning and improving.”

Sunday

The final day then and the crews faced 52km over six stages. The start list looked like this – Tänak, Loubet, Suninen, Evans, Ogier, Greensmith, Neuville, Breen, Rovanperä.

Ott, Thierry and Seb were the top three in SS19 Neeruti 1 – 7.82 km, and there was no movement in the top positions. The overall top two were pretty evenly matched as well. Mads took his C3 Rally2 to seventh in the stage and faster that Gus and Teemu again. These shorter stages some mean that these results sometimes pop up! In the WRC2 category, Adrien moved back into third ahead of Marco and onto the last podium position.

The top three in SS20 Elva 1 – 11.72 km was Ott, Thierry and Kalle. The Hyundai teammates set the exact same time as well. Kalle’s lead was now 54.4 seconds over Craig, and looking in great shape to take his first victory! Marco moved back into third ahead of Adrien in the WRC2 category.

Thierry, Seb and Elfyn were the fastest in SS21 Tartu vald 1 – 6.51 km. Once again, we saw one of the WRC2 cars ahead of a WRC, with Andreas eighth fastest and 1 tenth quicker than Teemu. The positions were all very static up and down the leaderboard.

Into SS22 Neeruti 2 – 7.82 km and Ott was fastest from Thierry and Seb. The gap between Seb and Elfyn widened some more to almost 35 seconds between the teammates. Marco set the best time in the WRC2 category and now the gap between him and Adrien was over six seconds. Mads continued to have brake problems, but was actually quicker than category leader Andreas! Perhaps the lack of brakes was helping!

Just two stages left then and SS23 Elva 2 – 11.72 km and Thierry was fastest from Seb and Ott. However, there was some drama for the Belgian who was given a 10 second penalty for being late to the stage and there would be more drama later too. Our young Finnish leader was controlling his pace out the front. Marco set the best time and this coupled with an off-road excursion for Adrien who went into a field, and just missing a small pond meant the Bolivian was now ahead of the M-Sport young driver by 22 seconds.

The final stage then, SS24 Tartu vald 2 [Power Stage] – 6.51 km and Ott set the pace, flying through and setting the benchmark, with the others coming through after him but not getting that close to his time. Thierry and Seb were the closest going second and third, whilst Elfyn and Kalle rounded out the top five each adding a few points to their championship challenges.

The biggest news though was that Kalle and Jonne has taken their first overall WRC win, and were now the youngest ever rally winners, taking that mantel from Jari-Matti Latvala!

Final Overall Classification – Rally Estonia

1 K. Rovanperä J. Halttunen Toyota Yaris WRC 2:51:29.1
2 C. Breen P. Nagle Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC +59.9
3 T. Neuville M. Wydaeghe Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC +1:12.4
4 S. Ogier J. Ingrassia Toyota Yaris WRC +1:24.0
5 E. Evans S. Martin Toyota Yaris WRC +2:07.1
6 T. Suninen M. Markkula Ford Fiesta WRC +7:07.3
7 P.L Loubet F. Haut-Labourdette Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC +8:48.3
8 A. Lukyanuk Y. Fedorov Škoda Fabia Evo +10:16.1
9 A. Mikkelsen O. Fløene Škoda Fabia Evo +10:29.9
10 M. Østberg T. Eriksen Citroën C3 R5 +10:46.6

 

2021 FIA World Rally Championship for Drivers’ Standings
After round 7

1 S. Ogier 148
2 E. Evans 111
3 T. Neuville 96
4 K. Rovanperä 82
5 O. Tänak 74
6 T. Katsuta 66
7 C. Breen 42
8 G. Greensmith 34
9 D. Sordo 31
10 A. Fourmaux 30
11 T. Suninen 17

 

2021 FIA World Rally Championship for Manufacturers’ Standings
After round 7

1 Toyota Gazoo Racing World Rally Team 315
2 Hyundai Shell Mobis World Rally Team 256
3 M-Sport Ford World Rally Team 125
4 Hyundai 2C Competition 36

 

Let’s hear from the drivers then!

Toyota Gazoo Racing WRT

Kalle Rovanperä (1st)

“It feels really good to take the win. We’ve been aiming for this, and I have to say a big thanks to the team. Even though this year has been difficult for me, they have been supporting me so well and the feeling inside the car and the team has been really good. It’s really nice to have this record as the youngest winner also. Jari-Matti told me that he wanted it to be me who would take it, so that means something to me; it’s really nice. Today I had a surprisingly good feeling, I didn’t feel so much pressure and I could drive normally, still with good pace. For sure, this result should help a lot now: When you can get a win, it helps to release a bit of the feeling and the pressure.”

2021 FIA World Rally Championship / Round 07 / Rally Estonia / 15-18 July, 2021 // Worldwide Copyright: Toyota Gazoo Racing WRT

Sébastien Ogier (4th)

“Today it was mostly full focus for the Power Stage, but in the end the conditions were really horrible in that stage. With huge ruts, it was not a stage to drive hard, it was just about surviving and trying to finish, but we still tried to get some extra points, which at least we managed. Overall, this weekend has been a positive step for the championship. Coming here first on the road we knew it would be difficult. We had a very strong Friday, then didn’t manage to turn that into a better result, but still, the most important thing is the points we took. I’m really happy for Kalle and Jonne taking their first win, so congratulations to them and the whole team.”

Elfyn Evans (5th)

“It’s been a difficult weekend overall for us. Today we tried to focus on the Power Stage and did what we could there, but unfortunately it wasn’t really the performance we wanted. It’s not been what we hoped or expected this weekend. I didn’t really gel with it from the start and I never found my rhythm. Obviously, that’s something we have to put right for the next events. But I’m very happy to see Kalle and Jonne get the win here, it’s very well deserved.”

Hyundai Motorsport

Craig Breen (2nd)

“I am quite happy with how the weekend has gone, and I am satisfied with our performance. We have carried good speed throughout the stages. OK, it’s not been enough to match Kalle, but we were able to consolidate our second place and brought it home to the end. I’ve enjoyed myself immensely from start to finish. All I need is a bit more time to go that extra one or two percent that I know we have within us.”

2021 FIA World Rally Championship
Round 07, Rally Estonia
15-18 july 2021
Craig Breen, Paul Nagle, Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC
Photographer: Dufour Fabien
Worldwide copyright: Hyundai Motorsport GmbH

Thierry Neuville (3rd)

“It has been a long weekend with 24 challenging stages – and a tough event for us. Our main target coming here was to keep our closest rivals, Sébastien and Elfyn, behind and we were able to achieve that. Obviously, it has not been enough to catch back the points gap, but we have edged a bit closer. From a team perspective, getting two cars on the podium is a positive to take away, and I can now look ahead to Ypres Rally Belgium, my home rally.”

Ott Tänak (31st)

“When you are not fighting for anything, it’s difficult to have the same focus as you usually would, so we have just concentrated on getting to the end of this rally. We were lacking time in the car because of our early retirement on Friday, but gradually we have made improvements over the past two days. We have been looking to learn some things, and I think if you look at the fact that we have taken some stage wins today – early on the road – I think we have found something. All in all, not the weekend we wanted but I have to say we’ve had some great support from the fans and we have had some new stages which have been interesting and at times demanding. We keep fighting.”

M-Sport Ford WRT

Teemu Suninen (6th)

“The first stage this morning was quite tricky with the grip level changing a lot. Sometimes it felt like you were on Tarmac because the grip was so high, but sometimes it was super-slippery so I was glad to finish. I had a moment on SS22 when the car just jumped from the ruts to the inside but nothing serious happened. Then on the last stage, I was struggling on the ruts and somehow, I got to the inside of the ruts on a right-hand corner and had to go back. But we were able to finish after a difficult weekend.”

Gus Greensmith (32nd)

“After the test I was pretty optimistic that we could achieve something good this weekend and after the first stage on Friday we showed that we could. It was a shame what happened with the engine-related issue but since then it’s been a good learning opportunity. I wasn’t happy with my time on SS20 so I made a few changes and I was a lot happier for the second pass. But I just want to say a big thank you to all the guys and girls at M-Sport who have been to Kenya and haven’t been home, haven’t seen their loved ones in all that time. It’s been a massive effort from them and I’m really grateful for what they’ve done.”

Adrien Fourmaux (4th WRC2)

“It was a really nice experience for us all weekend and I must say thanks to M-Sport. The car has been really good and I’ve been enjoying it all the time. I wanted to bring a better result for the team, at least a podium. We missed it but it was a really nice fight with the two other guys but we can be happy and it was a really good experience.”

Tom Kristensson (5th WRC2)

“It was a challenge to take care of the car with the changes of surface and conditions we encountered. For sure we wanted to push more but it was important to bring the car home safe and sound, we’ve adapted well and we’ve taken the mileage. Now we can analyse the work we’ve done and look to the work we will have to do in the future.”

My Thoughts

What a drive from Kalle and Jonne. They took the lead on stage four and never looked like they would lose it at any point. Then came the first stage on Saturday morning, stage 10 when they added 14 seconds to their lead over Craig. It was a brilliant time and really cemented their grip on the lead. The gap just continued to grow after that and they utterly deserved to take victory.

2021 FIA World Rally Championship / Round 07 / Rally Estonia / 15-18 July, 2021 // Worldwide Copyright: Toyota Gazoo Racing WRT

Let’s talk about Craig and Paul next. This was their first time in the i20 on gravel since the same rally last September when they took second behind Ott. That’s ten months ago. They also showed great pace and led the rally as well and the only thing holding them back was the lack of seat time in the car and on this kind of surface. It was a brilliant drive and one that shows that they deserve a full-time seat in the championship.

Thierry and Martijn took their road position and also some very good reliability with their i20 to a strong podium finish and beat the two crews that are ahead of them in the championship. It was a good drive from them to yet another podium this year and keeping the Toyota crews on their toes.

Seb and Julien opened the road on Friday and this held back their chances of a podium but they did well to take some stage wins and also crucially finished ahead of their closest challengers, Elfyn and Scott, and increased their lead as well.

Ott and Martin could have so much more from this event, but after going off and sustaining two punctures on Friday morning the challenge for the win was over. When they returned, we saw the amazing pace that we know that they can deliver, and it would have been an incredible battle between them and the Finns. Definitely one that got away from them and I suspect that this result will mean their championship challenge is over for this year.

At M-Sport, Gus and Chris were going really well, before suffering car problems early in the event. They returned on Saturday and drove well to complete the event and gain some very good experience for the future. Teemu and Markko drove well, getting to the finish as well, and scoring a good sixth place overall.

A mention for Takamoto and Dan. After setting a really good pace, particularly in stage three, but then after landing heavily in the stage and then Dan suffering a back injury, they had to pull out. At least he has the summer break to recover from this, which is a good thing.

Finally, a mention for the WRC2 category which saw Andreas and Ola take a good win from Mads and Torstein who suffered some big problems throughout with tyres and brakes, whilst Marco and David drove a quick and consistent rally to finish on the podium for the category.

Next

We now have the summer break for the championship and the next event will be Ypres Rally in Belgium, taking place from the 13th to the 15th of August, a fully tarmac event. Pop back in the day’s before for my preview.

Rally Estonia Preview 2021

Rally Estonia Preview 2021

It’s time to return to Estonia, an event that made it WRC debut last year. It’s fair to say that Toyota have benefitted massively from the Hyundai team’s problems in the last few rounds, with wins going to Toyota drivers Seb and Elfyn. This has allowed Toyota to open up a good lead in the Drivers and Manufacturers championship.

2020 FIA World Rally Championship
Round 04, Rally Estonia
04-06 September 2020
Ott Tanak, Martin Jarveoja, Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC
Photographer: Helena El Mokni
Worldwide copyright: Hyundai Motorsport GmbH

One hope for Hyundai is that last year Ott and Martin took a very good win, and they’ll be hoping that the 2019 champions can repeat this and kickstart their campaign. In the other i20, Thierry and Martjin are a little closer to the top two in the championship, holding third and will target a podium. Craig and Paul return to competition as well. If they can get comfortable quickly, their good road position could allow them to score a good result. Last year they took a deserved second place behind Ott. I suspect that Ott and Thierry will want their teammate to be ahead of at least one of the Toyota drivers.

Thinking of the Toyota team, it’ll be tricky for Seb to open the road and stay close to the front, but we know what he and Adrien are capable of. Having said that a podium finish is more than possible for the crew. Meanwhile Elfyn and Scott will want to hit back and finish ahead of their teammates and championship rivals. They will be starting second on the road throughout Friday’s stages and if they can finish that first day near the front and also ahead of Seb then they could re-ignite their challenge for this season’s championship.

At M-Sport both Adrien and Gus took a really good result last time out in Kenya. Teemu and Markko return to the cockpit of the Fiesta WRC and will want to get a good result as they bid to remain part of the M-Sport Ford team into next year. Gus and Chris continue their partnership and will hope that they can take good points for themselves and the team.

 

Let’s hear from the drivers.

Toyota Gazoo Racing WRT

Sébastien Ogier

“To have won four rallies already this season is mega and better than we could have expected. Winning rallies at the moment in the WRC is tough because the competition is very hard, so I’m very happy with our season so far. Rally Estonia is a challenging one to win, especially running first on the road, but I will do my best to keep scoring big points. Certainly, the ground will be much smoother than in Kenya, so we can really focus on the driving and on trying to find the limits. It’s always a difficult challenge to be on the limit on such fast roads that we have in the north of Europe, but I think it’s a challenge that every single driver enjoys.”

Elfyn Evans

“Kenya was not a great rally for me in terms of championship points but we need to put that aside and focus on doing the best we can in Estonia. Even though there were some very high-speed sections in Kenya, Rally Estonia has a very different character. The sort of stages we have there really bring out the best from this current crop of cars, and driving the Yaris WRC is always such a fantastic thrill on roads like these. We know the basis of our car is generally very good in high-speed sections, but there were a few things that we didn’t get 100 per cent correct for Estonia last year, so in testing we’ve been trying to get the car as good as we can and just be as prepared as possible.”

Kalle Rovanperä

“I have always liked the fast rallies like Estonia. I have driven a lot in the Baltic countries and they have the same kind of fast and flowing roads as in Finland. It suits me really well, and you can also feel that the Yaris WRC likes these kinds of roads. It’s important to be confident in your car and in yourself on a rally like this or you can lose a lot of time. I’m really looking forward to turn things in a better direction for us in the second half of the season, and I think Estonia can be a good event for that. I hope we will have a good feeling and a clean rally, and then hopefully we can start to have good results again.”

Hyundai Motorsport

Thierry Neuville

“Rally Estonia was the first edition of our re-started championship last year, so it will be good to go back. It is quite a fast event, with wide roads and a lot of jumps; actually, we experience some bigger jumps than we even have in Finland. It is a challenging rally for us, but with the additional insight and advice from Ott, we hope to be fast – just as we have been at many events this season.”

Ott Tänak

“Rally Estonia is generally characterised by very fast, smooth flat roads; there are many artificial jumps, too, which gives the event a very high average speed. It is nice to drive at home, and we had a memorable result last year with our first-ever win for Hyundai Motorsport. We remain hopeful that we can fight for a similar result this year, as we know the car can be fast in these conditions. For me, it will be a logistically easy rally with very little travel time to and from the event – which is always nice.”

2020 FIA World Rally Championship
Round 04, Rally Estonia
04-06 September 2020
Ott Tanak, Martin Jarveoja, Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC
Photographer: Helena El Mokni
Worldwide copyright: Hyundai Motorsport GmbH

Craig Breen

“Rally Estonia, for me, is one of the rallies I enjoy the most on the calendar. Last year, it presented Paul and me with one of the better moments in our career, when we finished in second place as part of a Hyundai 1-2. I am looking forward to going back there again; it’s an amazing rally with incredibly fast stages and hopefully we will be able to do a similar job this year.”

Oliver Solberg

“Estonia is somewhere I already have great memories from. For the last two years I made good results and won the class. I’m really looking forward to challenging for more of the same this time with the Hyundai i20 R5. I really like the roads. In places, they are faster than Finland, but without so many jumps. Last year we did the event a little bit later in the summer, when there was some rain around and that helped the surface for the grip. Being more in the middle of the summer, it could be a bit more loose this time. It’s a great challenge.”

Jari Huttunen

“I competed in Rally Estonia last year and came second in WRC 3, so I have some quite nice memories from the event. We have prepared for this event carefully with an 80km test, so I hope we can be quick from the start in our Hyundai i20 R5. It was fantastic to win in the WRC 2 class in Sardinia and I am hoping we can bring some of that positivity into Estonia. I think this one will be more difficult for me in comparison, but we’ll do our best to bring home another good result for Hyundai Motorsport N.”

M-Sport Ford WRT

Gus Greensmith

“Kenya was all about being smart, surviving the conditions and managing your pace. Estonia is just about being flat out from the outset and keeping it flat out until the end of the rally.

“I’ve always tended to do well on fast rallies even though we’ve not been as strong as we’d like to have been. But we’ve had a good test between myself and Teemu and I believe we’ve made the car even more drivable and predictable. Looking at the onboards from last year, the majority of the time lost was from big slides or mistakes being made when struggling to get the best out of the car so the changes should help.

“The update made to the engine earlier this year means it pulls better at the top end. It’s a small change but top-end speed is what we need in Estonia so hopefully we can be more competitive than what we were last year. Certainly, the confidence is high in the team after Kenya and a top-six result in Estonia is a realistic target.”

Teemu Suninen

“I’ve always loved the rally; it has challenging roads but also super-high speed so something similar to what we have in Finland. Although it’s similar speed-wise there are less crests and jumps in Estonia but there starts to be quite a few artificial jumps, which are hard to understand how far you can jump.

“The surface is more sandy compared to Finland and I would like to think I can take advantage of my road position and hopefully get a better result than last year. Last year we were struggling a bit with the pace, but hopefully the one and a half days of testing we have done will also help.

“Having done some testing I’m not worried about getting back up to speed in the World Rally Car because I have a good feeling and a good understanding from the aero. I don’t think having the rally in July rather than September will make a big difference, apart from maybe with the tyres, with softs in the morning and maybe some hards in the afternoon. The airflow is quite high in the car on fast stages so the heat should not be a problem.”

Adrien Fourmaux

“It’s a really good rally for the Nordic drivers because it’s a proper Nordic rally, so fast with some really big jumps! But the surface is more sandy compared to Finland and on the second pass you have some really big ruts and you really need to change the set-up of the car. But the rally is really nice, really fast and the Estonian people are also really nice, waving at you on the road sections like they did in Kenya. I did this challenge of switching back to a Rally2 car from a World Rally Car for Sardinia.

Where I need to be careful is on the really fast corners because you don’t have the aero like you do in a World Rally Car. It’s really easy to take too much speed into a corner so I need to switch my brain to the Rally2 car. But I am sure the World Rally Car will help me to be faster because the speed is higher and it can help me to have less stress. The goal is to be able to fight for the championship. Okay, I am against more experienced drivers, but with the testing we have done I am confident I can fight with them.”

Tom Kristensson

“I didn’t do many stages last year after the engine problem on SS3, but I have a taste of the roads and the conditions. I was very sad last year because I had a very good feeling and it’s one of my absolute favourite rallies. With the Rally2 car it will be much easier because of the help from the suspension. I will still need to find the correct line but in the Rally2 car it’s more about driving and not to think how much the car will be able to handle everything.

I was struggling a lot before Croatia and also Portugal because there was so much to organise with the budget. But I have done some lifestyle changes. I stopped my normal work so I just have three days a week of work and the rest is for rally preparation. It means I have more time to focus and this is a rally that I feel comfortable going to. I want to find my speed and my pace, whether it’s enough for third or fifth I don’t know but I know it will be good when I am there.”

Let’s take a look at the stages.

Rally Estonia will cover an expanded itinerary compared to its 2020 edition with 24 special stages run over a distance of almost 320km.

Starting with the short Tartu test on Thursday evening, action gets properly underway on Friday for the first of two legs in excess of 130km.

Two loops of the Arula, Otepää, Kanepi and Kambja tests – each between 12.66km and 18.25km and modified from their 2020 route – are separated by lunchtime service.

Saturday’s schedule introduces four new stages following a similar format with Peipsääre – the longest stage of the rally at 23.56km – Mustvee, Raanitsa and Vastsemõisa. The penultimate day with a return to Tartu.

Sunday covers six tests at just under 54km with Neeruti, Elva and Tartu vald each run twice, the latter acting as the Power Stage with the usual extra drivers’ and manufacturers’ points up for grabs.

Rally Estonia Itinerary:
Thursday July 15
Shakedown 6.23km (3.87 miles) 0901
Ceremonial Start 2000
SS1 Tartu 1 2.00km (1.24 miles) 2038

Friday July 16
SS2 Arula 1 12.66km (7.86 miles) 0940
SS3 Otepää 1 18.25km (11.34 miles) 1028
SS4 Kanepi 1 16.51km (10.25 miles) 1116
SS5 Kambja 1 17.85km (11.09 miles) 1208
Service Raadi 1308
SS6 Arula 2 12.66km (7.86 miles) 1534
SS7 Otepää 2 18.25km (11.34 miles) 1622
SS8 Kanepi 2 16.51km (10.25 miles) 1710
SS9 Kambja 2 17.85km (11.09 miles) 1808
Service Raadi 1908

Saturday July 17
SS10 Peipsiääre 1 23.56km (14.64 miles) 0806
SS11 Mustvee 1 12.39km (7.69 miles) 0908
SS12 Raanitsa 1 22.76km (14.14 miles) 1036
SS13 Vastsemõisa 1 6.72km (4.17 miles) 1139
Service Raadi 1308
SS14 Peipsiääre 2 23.56km (14.64 miles) 1506
SS15 Mustvee 2 12.39km (7.69 miles) 1608
SS16 Raanitsa 2 22.76km (14.14 miles) 1734
SS17 Vastsemõisa 2 6.72km (4.17 miles) 1837
SS18 Tartu 2 2.00km (1.24 miles) 2008
Service Raadi 2020

Sunday July 18
SS19 Neeruti 1 7.80km (4.84 miles) 0721
SS20 Elva 1 11.72km (7.28 miles) 0809
SS21 Tartu vald 1 7.47km (4.64 miles) 0908
SS22 Neeruti 2 7.80km (4.84 miles) 1141
SS23 Elva 2 11.72km (7.28 miles) 1229
SS24 Wolf Powerstage tartu vald 2 7.47km (4.64 miles) 1418
Podium Raadi 1521

Summary

It’s fair to say that the usual suspects will be fighting for victory this weekend and it will be the crew that feel the most comfortable on the stages that will be the most likely to take victory. It’s hard to look past Ott and Martin taking victory, and perhaps with the roads being much smoother and faster, we won’t see the problems of their rear suspension rearing its head.

At Toyota Takamoto will be hoping that he can make it to the end, after he rolled out last year. Elfyn opened the road last year as he was leading the championship, and scored a really good fourth overall. Perhaps starting second on the road will allow him and Scott to finish on the podium?

The lower points paying positions may well be fought out between Gus, Teemu and the WRC2 drivers or any drivers from the top teams that suffer any problems early in the weekend.

The WRC2 field looks really good as well with entries from Hyundai, M-Sport, Citroen and a number of Skoda’s as well. It will be a tight battle for them all, and will be fun to follow!

Finally, a mention for Molly Taylor and Seb Marshall, who begin a return to the championship in a Ford Fiesta Rally 3 car with three events this year. The Extreme E championship leader is relishing the opportunity to compete at the highest level of rally.

Molly Taylor, M-Sport Fiesta Rally3 driver

“We’re getting the band back together! I’m really excited to have this opportunity and get back to some of my favourite WRC events in Finland, Estonia, and the Acropolis, which has always been on the bucket list. We’ve been working towards this programme for a while, so it seems like it’s been in the distance for so long. You don’t want to get too excited, because you’re always trying to put programmes together, and it’s often that nothing happens.

gosia

Then it all started to come together, and it looked like it was finally happening. Now it’s coming around really soon, so it’s pretty surreal. It’s exciting to be a part of the beginning of the [Rally3] category and I think, from everything that I see, it looks like a really good package, so I’m really excited to give it a go. When this opportunity with the new Rally3 car came up, I think it was a combination of all the little things that just fell into the right place, and so when the opportunity arose, it was possible to jump at it. I always wanted to get back into the WRC. I feel like it’s been many years of trying to get to an opportunity like this – that I was trying for back in 2012 – but I’ll take it now!”

Enjoy the event and pop back next week for my full stage by stage report!

Safari Rally Kenya 2021 Review – Seb and Julien take the win!

Here’s the incredible story of the return to the World Rally Championship to Kenya after 19 years away. Seb took his fourth win of the year as well, and a good lead in the race for this season’s championship.

After Thursday’s first stage, SSS1 the leaderboard looked like this.

End of day one (Thursday):
1 Sébastien Ogier/Julien Ingrassia (Toyota Yaris WRC) 3m21.5s
2 Kalle Rovanperä/Jonne Halttunen (Toyota Yaris WRC) +0.3s
3 Elfyn Evans/Scott Martin (Toyota Yaris WRC) +0.7s
4 Ott Tänak/Martin Järveoja (Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC) +2.5s
5 Thierry Neuville/Martijn Wydaeghe (Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC) +5.0s
4 Takamoto Katsuta/Dan Barritt (Toyota Yaris WRC) +5.6s
9 Gus Greensmith/Chris Patterson (Ford Fiesta WRC) +6.1s
8 Oliver Solberg/Aaron Johnston (Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC) +7.9s
9 Lorenzo Bertelli/Simone Scattolin (Ford Fiesta WRC) +9.0s
10 Adrien Fourmaux/Renaud Jamoul (Ford Fiesta WRC) +9.6s

Friday

The first full day saw 129km’s over six stages. The start list looked like this – Ogier, Evans, Neuville, Tänak, Katsuta, Rovanperä, Sordo, Greensmith, Fourmaux, Solberg, Bertelli. The crews would start with four-minute gaps between them.

The day’s first stage, SS2 Chui Lodge 1 – 13.34 km saw Thierry take the stage win from Ott with Kalle. The Belgian’s pace saw him jump from fifth into the rally lead in one go and he was nine tenths ahead of Kalle whilst Ott was now in third. There were further changes in the lower top ten as well. Dani Sordo moved into sixth, jumping up five places, whilst the duelling M-Sport teammate, Adrien and Gus changed positions with the Frenchman moving ahead into eighth place.

The next stage, SS3 Kedong 1 – 32.68 km was part of the last event in 2002 and the longest stage of this year’s event. Thierry was fastest again from Kalle and Ott again. There was disaster for Elfyn and Scott though. As they came to the last few corners in the stage, they cut too close early in a corner and the front right wheel clobbered a huge boulder that was hiding in the bush. This wrecked his suspension and wheel and they attempted to finish the stage but the car bogged down in the loose gravel and sand. He was done for the day. What a shame as he was building a gap to Seb and could have moved up a place.

Kalle took the next stage, SS4 Oserian 1 – 18.87 km and reduced the gap to Thierry by 3.1 seconds who remained in the lead. There was a change in the leaderboard though with Seb dropping three places after getting a rear suspension problem that meant that the rear was bouncing around! The two M-Sport drivers were going well, and the teams plan were clearly working well with Adrien and Gus setting the fourth and sixth best time respectively in the stage.

After the service break SS4 Oserian 1 – 18.87 km saw another stage win for Toyota and it was Kalle who was fastest from Thierry, whilst Takamoto made it a Toyota sandwich. The young’s Finn pace saw him take the lead from Thierry who was now in second place.

The second run of SS6 Kedong 2 – 32.68 km saw the Belgian fight back though and was a massive 11.2 seconds fastest than Kalle, retaking the lead by 10 seconds! Kalle and Seb were second and third in the stage with the championship leader passing Adrien for sixth spot overall. The Belgian did this despite getting a puncture on the right rear tyre as well.

The final stage of the day then, SS7 Oserian 2 – 18.87 km. Seb and Takamoto shared the fastest time with Adrien going third fastest. The big story from the stage though was the retirement of second placed Kalle. He bogged down in the fesh fesh on a tight uphill section of the stage. The stage was red flagged as his car was pulled out, and having lost over ten minutes the team told him to retire for the day.

Classification after Day One

1 T. Neuville M. Wydaeghe Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC 1:23:19.1
2 T. Katsuta D. Barritt Toyota Yaris WRC +18.8
3 O. Tänak M. Järveoja Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC +55.8
4 S. Ogier J. Ingrassia Toyota Yaris WRC +1:49.4
5 G. Greensmith C. Patterson Ford Fiesta WRC +1:56.1
6 A. Fourmaux R. Jamoul Ford Fiesta WRC +2:19.1

 

Let’s hear from the drivers.

Hyundai Motorsport

Thierry Neuville (1st)

“We had some good stages today. Unfortunately, we also had a couple of punctures. Some parts were really rough with big stones, you couldn’t avoid everything; you had to just cross your fingers that you didn’t pick up damage. Thankfully, we were able to manage things and get the car back to service. We have learned a lot and the team will look closely at the car this evening to prepare for another challenging day tomorrow. Saturday’s stages have different characteristics, and I’m sure we’ll see more things happening, so we have to stay out of trouble.”

2021 FIA World Rally Championship
Round 06, Safari Rally Kenya
24-27 june 2021
Thierry Neuville, Martijn Wydaeghe, Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC
Photographer: Dufour Fabien
Worldwide copyright: Hyundai Motorsport GmbH

Ott Tänak (3rd)

“For us, it was a consistent day apart from a bit of drama in the final stage with the tyres. I have been doing about 60% of my maximum today because it has been so demanding. We are only at the appetisers; the main meal is coming tomorrow. It is only going to get tougher. Even if you are two minutes behind, you could still win this rally based on what we’ve seen so far. The middle stage of the loop was really cool and looked like proper Safari. Overall, it was challenging, and I have to say we’re happy to be here.”

Dani Sordo (DNF, Super Rally)

“I had really been enjoying the experience of Safari Rally Kenya in the opening stages, so it was disappointing to have to retire. When you watch back the video you can see we took a stone in the middle of the road that broke the suspension arm on the car. After that, the steering locked so the car started to slide, and we went into the bushes. Nothing we could do – and we were lucky that we didn’t roll because otherwise we might not have been able to re-start. It was an amazing stage to drive, really fast, and I wasn’t pushing too much. We will aim to be back tomorrow to fight for points and to finish this incredible rally.”

Oliver Solberg (DNF)

“The first thing I have to say is that I am very sorry for the team. I know how much effort in terms of time and money Hyundai Motorsport, Andrea and Alain have committed in bringing us here.

“There was a dip in the road in stage two, we went through it and there was a shock for the car. That’s where the damage to the roll cage and the chassis came. The rules say that if you have a hit to the roll cage, for safety reasons, you cannot continue.”

Oliver worked on the car after SS2 and made it through the next stage. Unfortunately, they stopped in the next stage with damage to the right-rear suspension.

“It was a dream for me to come here to compete on this rally,” said Oliver. “What’s happened is my fault and for this I am very sorry. I so wanted to get through this adventure to make the finish on Sunday.”

Toyota Gazoo Racing WRT

Sébastien Ogier (4th)

“We expected tough conditions here and it has not been a surprise to see everyone having a lot of trouble today. We were a bit unlucky with the problem that we had this morning, which meant we had to drive slowly to bring the car back to service, but in the end, we kept fighting. This afternoon the conditions were even more extreme, but we managed to get through without big dramas. We’re back in fourth tonight and a lot of things are still possible.”

Kalle Rovanperä (7th)

“This morning I think we started quite smart, taking it carefully to see how the car will handle the rough parts, and then we picked up the pace a bit. The afternoon started well with the fastest time, and I think we were controlling it well. But in the last stage just after the start, a lot of dust came up from the ground and I couldn’t see anything, so I had to slow down, and then we got stuck in the ruts. It’s really frustrating because we were in a good situation before that. But the rally is not over and we will try to take what we can.”

2021 FIA World Rally Championship / Round 06 / Safari Rally, Kenya / 22-27 June, 2021 // Worldwide Copyright: Toyota Gazoo Racing WRT

Elfyn Evans (DNF, Super Rally)

“It was a massive disappointment for our day to end so early. I made a fairly basic mistake, to be honest, and I’m kicking myself for that. The stone was sticking out further than what I had marked in our pace-notes and we clipped it. On an event like this, you have to try and fix something if you can, but once I could inspect the damage, I knew there was no chance to continue today. Now we have to look forward to the rest of the weekend and try and salvage something from it.”

M-Sport Ford WRT

Gus Greensmith (5th)

“On most gravel rallies we have an ideal start position but on this ground it’s so soft and sandy in many places that we are actually at a bit of a disadvantage compared to the early runners. It’s a lot to learn, but I am delighted to be here, the Safari is a bucket list event for any driver and I am drinking in the experience.

“Fifth place overall is of course right where we want to be at this stage and it was encouraging to see the gap closing between my times and those of the leaders as the day went on.

“The team did a fantastic job to check the car in service and unfortunately it cost us a time penalty but we were able to press on through the afternoon loop. When the surface breaks up it’s a bit crazy, but then it’s also unusual to see warthogs and giraffes roaming around at the side of the stage as well!”

Adrien Fourmaux (6th)

“This is a legendary event and to experience it for the first time is like nothing that I have driven before. To be in a good position at the end of Day 1 is a big positive but you have to focus inside rather than worry too much about the times.

“You have to be careful with the car because there are so many areas of the stages that are crazy with how rough the ground is. We are running the suspension as high as we can but very stiff to protect the car from damage underneath, but the trade-off is that you lose grip. Even in the sections where you think you can push a little there are potentially things you can’t see so it’s nervous but enjoyable.

“On the last stage of the day I felt comfortable and was able to increase my pace on many sections because the road conditions were right for us to push a little more. I want to keep my pace for the whole weekend and then we will see what position that gives us at the end. “

Saturday

Six stages totalling 132km awaited the crews, with the longest stage being Sleeping Warrior at 31km! The start list looked like this – Sordo, Evans, Bertelli, Rovanperä, Fourmaux, Greensmith, Ogier, Tänak, Katsuta, Neuville.

The first stage then, SS8 Elmenteita 1 – 14.67 km and Thierry picked where he ended Friday winning the stage from Seb and Ott. In the battle of the two restarters of Elfyn and Dani, the Welshman was fastest and they were beginning their climb up the leaderboard.

Seb took SS9 Soysambu 1 – 20.33 km from Adrien with Thierry setting the third best time in the stage. The Belgian still extended his lead with Takamoto only setting the fifth best time. Elfyn continued to pull away from Dani as well.

It was another stage win for Seb in SS10 Sleeping Warrior 1 – 31.04 km, with Ott 5.9 seconds slower with Takamoto taking the third best time and taking a little bit of time from Thierry. Dani was faster though than Elfyn and the pair of them moved up the leaderboard now holding 17th and 18th overall, with a slight advantage to the Spaniard.

After the service break SS11 Elmenteita 2 – 14.67 km, Seb was quickest from Ott and Thierry. The M-Sport duo, Gus and Adrien continued to set times that placed them fifth and sixth both in the stage and were holding the same positions overall. Elfyn moved past Dani and into 16th overall.

Into the longer SS12 Soysambu 2 – 20.33 km and Ott was fastest from Seb by just a second, whilst Gus took an excellent third fastest time. Thierry continued to lead from Takamoto and in fact had increased his lead over the Japanese driver to 35 seconds. Elfyn and Dani continued to move up the field now into 15th for Elfyn.

All the drama for Saturday was saved up for SS13 Sleeping Warrior 2 – 31.04 km though. The cloud was developing in the sky towards the end of the previous stage and there were reports of thunder and lightning. The first few cars through set the pace and they had a little rain to deal with but the road stayed dry for them. As the leaders came through though the rain arrived in two of the sectors. First to have problems was Gus, as he slid straight on at the end of a long section of the stage. He managed to get back on track though without damaging his car. Also getting rain was Seb, Ott, Takamoto and Thierry! The Estonian was the one that lost out the most though. His windscreen was misted up on his side and he could not see a thing. He stopped the car and Martin and he wiped the screen clear with their hands! They were stopped for just under a minute and dropped behind Seb. The big news was that Thierry actually opened up his lead to almost a minute. The top three in the stage was Dani, Elfyn second and Adrien third.

Classification after Day Two

1 T. Neuville M. Wydaeghe Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC 2:45:04.6
2 T. Katsuta D. Barritt Toyota Yaris WRC +57.4
3 S. Ogier J. Ingrassia Toyota Yaris WRC +1:15.5
4 O. Tänak M. Järveoja Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC +2:21.2
5 G. Greensmith C. Patterson Ford Fiesta WRC +2:39.4
6 A. Fourmaux R. Jamoul Ford Fiesta WRC +2:51.4
7 K. Rovanperä J. Halttunen Toyota Yaris WRC +11:04.3

 

Hyundai Motorsport

Thierry Neuville (1st)

“I am relieved to be in the lead of Safari Rally Kenya after the final stage we faced today; it doesn’t matter by how much, keeping the position was the most important thing today. We have pushed hard over the past two days to be in front, so I fought hard and refused to lose the position. I knew that other drivers had rain in the stage, but I was already in wet conditions after only 3km. I realised that I was losing time already there, and that it could only get worse. I was determined to keep driving as fast as I could, even in the four or five sections where there was a heavy downpour. Keeping the car on the road wasn’t easy but we managed it – and we can now focus on the final day. It’s going to be another rough one, but I enjoyed those stages in the recce, so I hope we can have a trouble-free run and secure the win.”

Ott Tänak (4th)

“It started to rain quite soon after we started the stage, and unfortunately my side of the windscreen heater was not working. I had to ask Martin where the road goes but we couldn’t do that for 30kms in slippery conditions. We had to stop, clean and try to figure things out. The stage took a long time, and it was complicated. Tomorrow is demanding, and from the team’s perspective it’s important to finish, so we keep focused on the job in hand.”

2021 FIA World Rally Championship
Round 06, Safari Rally Kenya
24-27 june 2021
Ott Tanak, Martin Jarveoja, Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC
Photographer: Dufour Fabien
Worldwide copyright: Hyundai Motorsport GmbH

Dani Sordo (13th)

“Before I started the final stage, I saw the clouds and sent a picture to the team and said that something is coming. We were able to miss the rain and could be fast in the conditions. Taking a stage win was a nice way to end the day. Before that, as first on the road, the cleaning effect was very high, so we really couldn’t do any more. I didn’t have any particular target today; we focused on just driving and keeping a good feeling with the car. At times, it was slippery and demanding, so we had to be careful. I am not in any battle, I just wanted to make it safely to the end and not take any risks.”

Toyota Gazoo Racing WRT

Sébastien Ogier (3rd)

“It’s been a positive day. I think we did everything we could today, with a good pace, we kept the pressure on and it’s good to be back in the podium places tonight. We didn’t expect to have so much rain in the last stage; it started to pour down like crazy after five kilometres or so. We knew that when the ground here gets wet it can be very slippery and this was confirmed. Some sections were like driving on ice, so I’m very happy I kept the car on the road, and it also allowed us to gain a position. Tomorrow there are still some very rough sections to go through though, so it’s far from over.”

2021 FIA World Rally Championship / Round 06 / Safari Rally, Kenya / 22-27 June, 2021 // Worldwide Copyright: Toyota Gazoo Racing WRT

Kalle Rovanperä (7th)

“The plan was different today, as we couldn’t really gain positions just through our driving, so we were just trying to avoid issues and see if something happens in front. The stages were not so soft today, so they were a bit more enjoyable to drive and we could keep the pace up without taking any big risks. Tomorrow I think the stages could be quite soft like on Friday, so it will be interesting to see how rough the conditions will be and what we can do on the Power Stage, because we still need to take care of our overall position as well.”

Elfyn Evans (12th)

“It was good to be back out today and to get experience of the stages here. It was quite difficult to read the road ahead in some places, so good pace-notes were quite key. In the afternoon the stages hadn’t deteriorated too much since the first pass, which was quite a surprise given the conditions we saw yesterday. But our main focus was on bringing the car back in one piece and making sure that we have a good car for tomorrow. The stages we have tomorrow are very demanding with quite different character between them. Of course, we’d like to target the Power Stage if we can; let’s see how it goes.”

M-Sport Ford WRT

Gus Greensmith (5th)

“My car felt much better suited to the fast, flowing stages today. We struggled a little for traction in the deep, sandy ‘fesh-fesh’ that builds up in some of the slower sections of the roads here but I am happy that we have been able to show our true pace today.

“Among all of the drivers, when we talk to each other it’s clear that we are all experiencing many of the same issues, not least the way that the road changes from the first pass to the second after so many cars have been through. Also, the rally organisers have put rocks out to prevent cars going too far off-line when you cut corners, which weren’t there on the recce and which can get pulled out by the cars before you, which certainly adds an extra challenge.

“Your nature is to hesitate a little in that moment but I feel that we have generally gone as smoothly through the stages as we can. If we can get to the finish cleanly, I think we can all take a lot away from the experience.”

Adrien Fourmaux (6th)

“Hopefully one day the first stage win will come but it’s good to have good pace today. I was maybe a little too careful on the first stage of the day but on the second we were able to push and to be beaten to the stage win by the most successful man in the sport today is a nice fight to have.

“I was really comfortable on the second loop when we repeated the stages. I knew where the road was clean and where I could push, so there were times when I was able to show the speed that we have. It was a very positive day for us overall and with Gus and myself both in a good place to start the final day I hope we can bring the right result for the team. “

Sunday

The final day then and five stages totalling 53.49km of competitive action. The start list looked like this – Sordo, Evans, Bertelli, Rovanperä, Fourmaux, Greensmith, Tänak, Ogier, Katsuta, Neuville.

Into SS14 Loldia 1 – 11.33 km then and whilst Thierry emerged from the stage in the lead but it was game over again for the Belgian. The rear right suspension had broken, and he was out from the lead and out from the rally. Once again Hyundai lost a well-deserved win. Top three in the stage was Seb, Adrien and Ott.

Into the next one then, SS15 Hell’s Gate 1 – 5.63 km, the shortened power stage and Elfyn was fastest from Ott and Seb. New overall leader Takamoto was fourth fastest, just 0.8 seconds ahead of Seb and Ott now was in third overall. Elfyn’s pace was great to see and this brought him into 11th overall.

The next stage, SS16 Malewa – 9.71 km saw Adrien take his first ever stage win after such a strong showing in the last few rounds and M-Sports’ first of the season. Ott and Seb were second and third fastest. Seb and Takamoto were joint leaders of the rally as well! Elfyn was now into tenth overall, having passed Lorenzo Bertelli.

The penultimate stage then, SS17 Loldia 2 – 11.33 km and Seb was fastest from Adrien and Gus bringing the other M-Sport Fiesta to the top. Seb’s pace took him to the top of the leaderboard and now Takamoto was second, but looking at scoring the best result of his career to date.

The final stage of the rally then, SS18 Hell’s Gate 2 power stage – 10.56 km and the crews got to run the full stage. As always there was a tweak to the running order – Rai, Patel, Tundo, Sordo, Bertelli, Evans, Rovanperä, Greensmith, Fourmaux, Tänak, Katsuta, Ogier. Onker Rai set the early benchmark in his Polo R5 before the faster cars came through. Fastest time was set by Ott, with Kalle, Elfyn, Seb and Dani taking the remaining points paying positions.

Final Overall Classification – Safari Rally Kenya

1 S. Ogier J. Ingrassia Toyota Yaris WRC 3:18:11.3
2 T. Katsuta D. Barritt Toyota Yaris WRC +21.8
3 O. Tänak M. Järveoja Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC +1:09.5
4 G. Greensmith C. Patterson Ford Fiesta WRC +1:44.7
5 A. Fourmaux R. Jamoul Ford Fiesta WRC +1:54.6
6 K. Rovanperä J. Halttunen Toyota Yaris WRC +10:53.4
7 O. Rai D. Sturrock Volkswagen Polo GTI +29:26.4
8 K. Patel T. Khan Ford Fiesta R5 +33:30.4
9 C. Tundo T. Jessop Volkswagen Polo GTI +36:40.7
10 E. Evans S. Martin Toyota Yaris WRC +49:22.7

 

Let’s hear from the drivers after this incredible rally!

 

Toyota Gazoo Racing WRT

Sébastien Ogier (1st)

“It feels amazing to win the Safari Rally. I didn’t think it was still possible after our trouble on Friday, but I always give my best up to the end to take the maximum points possible, and in Safari we knew many things can happen – and they did happen. I think that since our issue on Friday we’ve been very strong for the rest of the weekend. We had really good pace and the car has been amazing. It’s a huge step for both championships, so a very good day for the team. I also want to congratulate Taka who took an amazing result: It was not that easy to catch him at the end.”

Takamoto Katsuta (2nd)

“I’m feeling very good to have achieved this podium. It has been a really long weekend with a lot of things happening. Everybody has had some problems but we survived and that’s why we are in this position. I must be happy with this result. I did not expect to finish on the podium on the Safari because this rally is very special and all the top-level guys are so experienced. I expected it to be a tougher weekend for us but I’m really happy. I can still improve and hopefully in the future I can match Seb and win rallies. Thanks to the WRC Challenge Program because without it I would not be here: It has helped me to develop from nothing, so thanks to Toyota and to Akio Toyoda, and to the whole team.”

2021 FIA World Rally Championship / Round 06 / Safari Rally, Kenya / 22-27 June, 2021 // Worldwide Copyright: Toyota Gazoo Racing WRT

Kalle Rovanperä (6th)

“I had been waiting for the chance to go for some extra points in the Power Stage, and we had quite a good run. It was a big push, and with two hard tyres on the car it was not the best option. We were quite close to taking the maximum points, but four points was still really good. Overall, it was a difficult weekend and not what I was hoping for, but the team did a great job to keep the car going, so thank you to them.”

Elfyn Evans (10th)

“Today we were looking for points and we gave it a good go in the Power Stage, although it was very difficult to judge where the grip was. It’s disappointing to only come away from here with a few points after the error on Friday. But it was good to drive most of the stages and gain experience of this event for the future, and now we have to look forward and focus on Estonia. Credit to the team and to Seb for the victory, and I’m really happy to see Taka and Dan on the podium as well.”

Hyundai Motorsport

Ott Tänak (3rd)

“On the one hand, it is good to be back on the podium and to take maximum Power Stage points, but this has been another difficult weekend for the team. My approach to this event has been to drive at 50-60% of my maximum, to not make any mistakes and to be as smooth as possible. Friday was demanding, just as Safari Rally needs to be, and it was like that again this morning. It has been an impressive event, and enjoyable to do something different and unique, for instance the fesh-fesh on Friday, which was very challenging and like an adventure. It is a shame for Thierry that it didn’t work out for him this weekend. We now head back to Estonia, my home event, which should be fun.”

2021 FIA World Rally Championship
Round 06, Safari Rally Kenya
24-27 june 2021
Ott Tanak, Martin Jarveoja, Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC
Photographer: Dufour Fabien
Worldwide copyright: Hyundai Motorsport GmbH

Dani Sordo (12th)

“It has not really been a good weekend for us. We had our problem on the first day, and we lost all of our possibilities to fight for a strong result then. After that, we hoped Thierry and Ott would be able to take some points, but it was unfortunately not straightforward. As a team, we are going through a bad period, but I am sure things will change. We will work through this situation together and come back stronger.”

Thierry Neuville (DNF)

“This is a big disappointment, not just for me but also for the whole team. It’s a tough time at the moment, as a team standing together, retiring from the lead for the third rally in a row. Basically, we came to a very slow corner, and at the exit suddenly I felt something break on the car. We tried to finish the stage but after investigation we saw that the damper had exploded, and we had to stop there. We knew this would be a tough event, but we were prepared for it and did the job – me and Martijn in the car, the mechanics, everyone. I enjoyed the weekend and had good fun. I felt comfortable in the car, we were fast and controlling the speed throughout the event, so there are lots of positives to take away. The motivation is still there we are just missing the luck, but we will regroup, find solutions and come back stronger as a team.”

M-Sport Ford WRT

Gus Greensmith (4th)

“Generally, it was a very good rally. Fourth and fifth was very good for the team, it brings us some good points. We had some bad luck with the rain yesterday but it was a very good and fair battle with Adrien this weekend.

“I always prefer to win on the road, so while fourth place is a great feeling it would be nice to claim it next time without a penalty for Adrien. Last time we battled this close together in Portugal I came out on top, this time it was his turn, at least in the eyes of the stopwatch! Nevertheless, a fourth-place finish is tremendous for the whole team and now it’s time to focus on Estonia. “

Adrien Fourmaux (5th)

“The only strategy this morning was to bring the car back. The Safari Rally has been probably the nicest experience that I have ever had in my career, a really great adventure. This country is sometimes completely crazy, especially the road sections, on the way back to the hotel yesterday we were completely blocked for more than 90 minutes but it’s a great adventure, the welcome has been truly amazing. I love it.

“The final day brought us the roughest, rockiest stages of the event but also the most beautiful, right up in the middle mountains with so many amazing animals that I can’t wait to watch it back on the TV. There was less time to enjoy it today but, on the recce, we saw monkeys, zebras, giraffes, everything to be honest.

“In spite of the time penalty, to end the rally, my second event on gravel in the Ford Fiesta WRC, with a stage win is an incredible feeling and I think it will bring good memories for a long time. Congratulations to Gus on his fourth place and thank you to everyone on the team, and thank you Africa.”

My Thoughts

Let’s start with Toyota. What a brilliant drive from Seb Ogier. He and Adrien held fourth overall on Friday almost two minutes from the lead. Their drive from that point brought them up the leaderboard was the kind of drive we have got used to from the champions. Takamoto led a rally for the first time and scored a well deserved first podium with a very measured drive. Quick when he needed to be and keeping it on the road when that was required. Kalle’s drive was really good and if he’d not got stuck and lost that time on Friday, then he’d have certainly been on the podium and maybe even been challenging for victory? Elfyn salvaged some points after a really surprising mistake on Friday, but it could have been so much more. At the time he was faster than Seb and could well have finished on the podium if not taken victory.

2021 FIA World Rally Championship / Round 06 / Safari Rally, Kenya / 22-27 June, 2021 // Worldwide Copyright: Toyota Gazoo Racing WRT

Moving onto Hyundai it was a case of what might have been again. They had full control of the lead and yet again the suspension on the rear just gave way. Ott came through and took a well-deserved podium after setting the pace on some stages and despite having his own problems with his car, at least he made it to the end. Thierry lost a well-deserved victory to be honest. He was very quick and even with the problems in the final stage on Saturday he’d increased his lead despite the huge rain that he and Martijn had to navigate through. Dani suffered a rare mistake, but returned like Elfyn to the fray and brought the car home providing good support for his teammates as well.

Finally, at M-Sport they came with a plan and stuck to it. Quick when they needed to be, Adrian and Gus set some good top three times, with the Frenchman taking his first ever stage win and M-Sport’s first of the year. Gus showed what a mature drive he is capable of and delivered a great result finishing in fourth overall.

2021 FIA World Rally Championship for Drivers’ Standings
After round six

1 S. Ogier 133
2 E. Evans 99
3 T. Neuville 77
4 O. Tänak 69
5 T. Katsuta 66
6 K. Rovanperä 56
7 A. Fourmaux 32
8 G. Greensmith 32
9 D. Sordo 31
10 C. Breen 24
2021 FIA World Rally Championship / Round 06 / Safari Rally, Kenya / 22-27 June, 2021 // Worldwide Copyright: Toyota Gazoo Racing WRT

2021 FIA World Rally Championship for Manufacturers’ Standings
After round six

1 Toyota Gazoo Racing World Rally Team 273
2 Hyundai Shell Mobis World Rally Team 214
3 M-Sport Ford World Rally Team 109
4 Hyundai 2C Competition 28

 

Next rally takes place on the weekend of the 15th to the 18th of July with Rally Estonia. Pop back in the week before for my preview.

 

BTCC Brands Hatch – Morgan takes lights to flag win in exciting final race

Adam Morgan took the final win of the day at Brands Hatch, the ninth win of his career and the first for Ciceley’s new car.

He led from start to finish in his new BMW 330i M Sport with Team HARD’s Jack Goff finishing second and Aiden Moffat rounded off the podium for Laser Tools.

Morgan was placed on pole thanks to the reverse grid draw, and used his rear wheel drive to his advantage as he led from lights to flag. Behind him was where all the action was.

There was an exciting race-long fight between Jason Plato and the BTC duo of Josh Cook and Senna Proctor. Proctor passed Plato on lap two before the veteran took his place back in to Druids.

Goff himself was in a new car, the Cupra Leon is new for 2021 and he took second on lap 11 and kept it there for an impressive result for the Team HARD outfit. The only retirement of the race came on lap 11 as Ollie Jackson’s bonnet came up and he pulled into the pits and retired the car to cap off a frustrating weekend for him.

Another person who had a frustrating weekend was Colin Turkington, who avoided going point-less at a BTCC race weekend for the first time since 2003 with a 14th place finish.

Plato managed to pull away from the BTC Honda’s and hunted down Moffat. The pair enjoyed a ding-dong battle to the flag with Moffat prevailing and holding on to third place.

His team mate Ash Sutton took back the lead of the championship with Tom Ingram close behind.

Morgan took the win, win number nine of his career with Goff and Moffat on the podium alongside him. Plato, Cook and Proctor were next, with Rory Butcher, Sutton, Dan Lloyd and Chris Smiley rounding off the top ten.

Pos Driver Car Team +/-
1 Adam Morgan BMW 330i M Sport Ciceley 19:57:584
2 Jack Goff Cupra Leon Team HARD +1.541
3 Aiden Moffat Infiniti Q50 Laser Tools +3.807
4 Jason Plato Vauxhall Astra Power Maxed +3.819
5 Josh Cook Honda Civic Type R BTC Racing +4.448
6 Senna Proctor Honda Civic Type R BTC Racing +4.874
7 Rory Butcher Toyota Corolla Toyota Gazoo +5.343
8 Ash Sutton Infiniti Q50 Laser Tools +6.011
9 Dan Lloyd Vauxhall Astra Power Maxed +6.375
10 Chris Smiley Hyundai i30N Excelr8 +6.890
11 Dan Rowbottom Honda Civic Type R Team Dynamics +7.204
12 Tom Ingram Hyundai i30N Excelr8 +7.446
13 Jake Hill Ford Focus MB Motorsport +8.688
14 Colin Turkington BMW 330i M Sport Team WSR +9.299
15 Tom Oliphant BMW 330i M Sport Team WSR +9.937
16 Gordon Shedden Honda Civic Type R Team Dynamics +10.141
17 Aron Taylor-Smith Cupra Leon Team HARD +12.633
18 Tom Chilton BMW 330i M Sport Ciceley +14.169
19 Carl Boardley Infiniti Q50 Laser Tools +14.431
20 Sam Osborne Ford Focus Motorbase +14.829
21 Jack Butel Hyundai i30N Excelr8 +16.248
22 Stephen Jelley BMW 330i M Sport Team WSR +16.631
23 Sam Smelt Toyota Corolla Toyota Gazoo +21.528
24 Glyn Geddie Cupra Leon Team HARD +24.674
25 Andy Neate Ford Focus Motorbase +27.802
26 Rick Parfitt Jr Hyundai i30N Excelr8 +28.456
27 Jade Edwards Honda Civic Type R BTC Racing +28.683
28 Nicholas Hamilton Cupra Leon Team HARD +2 Laps
Retirements
DNF Ollie Jackson Ford Focus MB Motorsport Bonnet

 

BTCC Brands Hatch – Ingram’s title challenge comes alive after last gasp win

Tom Ingram took his second win of the season and took the lead of the championship after a last lap pass on Tom Oliphant. Ash Sutton stole second from Oliphant in a battle to the finish line.

A six lap safety car period broke up the race after Stephen Jelley and Gordon Shedden collided at Paddock.

Oliphant had another good start off the line, with Dan Rowbottom atoning for his poor start in race one by rocketing up to second. Shedden is tapped at Paddock Hill bend but recovers. However on lap two he wasn’t as lucky.

Stephen Jelley saw a chance to dive down the inside and Shedden shut the door too late, with the pair going off into the gravel at Paddock. Shedden resumed but Jelley retired and this brought out the Safety Car.

After a six lap Safety Car period racing resumed. On lap ten Jake Hill passed Ingram into Paddock Hill in a brilliant move.

However Hill got a puncture heading into Clearways and lost two laps trying to fix it. Falling from third to the back of the pack.

Rowbottom challenged Oliphant for the lead and went around the outside of Druids. This left the door open for Ingram who took second by the end of lap 18.

There were interesting battles throughout the pack, with Jack Goff and Senna Proctor fighting for tenth place. It was the Yorkshireman who prevailed, finishing tenth ahead of Goff.

On lap 23 of 27 Ingram was on Oliphant’s tail, who was for the second race in a row, defending incredibly well in a much heavier BMW.

Ingram finally made his move on the last lap as he dove down the inside at Paddock and slightly tapped Olihpant’s rear. He managed to get through at Druids and steal away for his second win of the season.

Ash Sutton is a driver who can never be ruled out, as he took third from Rowbottom on the penultimate lap before sneaking past Oliphant in a drag race to the finish line.

Ingram took the win from Sutton and Oliphant on the podium, with Rowbottom, Josh Cook, Dan Lloyd, Chris Smiley, Jason Plato, Aiden Moffat and Senna Proctor rounded off the top ten, with Adam Morgan taking the reverse grid pole position.

Pos Driver Car Team +/-
1 Tom Ingram Hyundai i30N Excelr8 24:56:451
2 Ash Sutton Infiniti Q50 Laser Tools +0.489
3 Tom Oliphant BMW 330i M Sport Team WSR +0.527
4 Dan Rowbottom Honda Civic Type R Team Dynamics +0.972
5 Josh Cook Honda Civic Type R BTC Racing +1.213
6 Dan Lloyd Vauxhall Astra Power Maxed +1.630
7 Chris Smiley Hyundai i30N Excelr8 +1.957
8 Jason Plato Vauxhall Astra Power Maxed +2.194
9 Aiden Moffat Infiniti Q50 Laser Tools +8.394
10 Senna Proctor Honda Civic Type R BTC Racing +8.794
11 Jack Goff Cupra Leon Team HARD +9.232
12 Adam Morgan BMW 330i M Sport Ciceley +10.066
13 Tom Chilton BMW 330i M Sport Ciceley +10.468
14 Rory Butcher Toyota Corolla Toyota Gazoo +11.212
15 Aron Taylor-Smith Cupra Leon Team HARD +11.599
16 Ollie Jackson Ford Focus MB Motorsport +13.169
17 Colin Turkington BMW 330i M Sport Team WSR +13.590
18 Sam Smelt Toyota Corolla Toyota Gazoo +14.034
19 Sam Osborne Ford Focus Motorbase +14.909
20 Carl Boardley Infiniti Q50 Laser Tools +15.251
21 Jack Butel Hyundai i30N Excelr8 +15.518
22 Gordon Shedden Honda Civic Type R Team Dynamics +19.035
23 Jade Edwards Honda Civic Type R BTC Racing +20.337
24 Rick Parfitt Jr Hyundai i30N Excelr8 +22.885
25 Andy Neate Ford Focus Motorbase +23.690
26 Nicholas Hamilton Cupra Leon Team HARD +23.986
27 Jake Hill Ford Focus MB Motorsport +2 Laps
Retirements
DNF Glyn Geddie Cupra Leon Team HARD Mechanical
DNF Stephen Jelley BMW 330i M Sport Team WSR Crash

 

BTCC Brands Hatch – Oliphant takes 2nd career win after valiant Shedden chase

Tom Oliphant took his second career win in round seven at Brands Hatch in the British Touring Car Championship.

He fended off a ruthless Gordon Shedden chase in his Honda Civic with pole sitter Dan Rowbottom recovering from a poor start to finish third.

The Team Dynamics driver took his first pole position yesterday, but had a poor start off the line and was engulfed by cars passing him. Oliphant took the lead and it was a lead he never surrendered.

Aiden Moffat had a good start and flew up to second, with Tom Ingram third but his lap wasn’t without drama as he got sideways coming out of Clearways but recovered without losing too much time.

Oliphant started pulling away from the chasing pack, with Shedden moving up to second and his hunt of Oliphant began. Behind them Ash Sutton had a great exit out of Paddock Hill bend to almost overtake Shedden and Moffat who were fighting for second.

By lap eight Oliphant had a 3.5 second lead over Shedden but the Scotsman set the fastest lap as he was attacking to chase down the leader.

Rowbottom made his way back up to third with Moffat and Jake Hill fightinf for fourth place.

While Oliphant was leading, his team mates were less fortunate, Stephen Jelley was given a five second penalty for a false start, dropping him to 15th at the checkered flag. Colin Turkington started 14th and had a spin on lap 15, dropping him down to 21st by the end of the race.

Shedden was really pushing to catch Oliphant, shaving plenty of time off his lead and was only 1.3 seconds behind by lap 19.

RIck Parfitt and Nicholas Hamilton had a collision at Druids on lap 22 and this put Parfitt into the crosshairs of the leading duo. On the final lap Oliphant was almost held up by Parfitt but it didn’t factor in as Shedden’s valiant chase came up just short, finishing two tenths behind him.

An impressive win for Oliphant with Shedden and Rowbottom taking a double podium for Team Dynamics.

Hill, Sutton and Ingram were next with Chris Smiley, Moffat, Josh Cook and Jack Goff rounded off the top ten once Jelley’s penalty was applied.

Pos Driver Car Team Gap
1 Tom Oliphant BMW 330i M Sport Team  WSR 19:50:305
2 Gordon Shedden Honda Civic Type R Team Dynamics +0.188
3 Dan Rowbottom Honda Civic Type R Team Dynamics +4.603
4 Jake Hill Ford Focus MB Motorsport +9.811
5 Ash Sutton Infiniti Q50 Laser Tools +10.007
6 Tom Ingram Hyundai i30N Excelr8 +11.289
7 Chris Smiley Hyundai i30N Excelr8 +11.633
8 Aiden Moffat Infiniti Q50 Laser Tools +11.938
9 Josh Cook Honda Civic Type R BTC Racing +15.398
10 Jack Goff Cupra Leon Team HARD +15.720
11 Dan Lloyd Vuaxhall Astra Power Maxed +15.982
12 Senna Proctor Honda Civic Type R BTC Racing +16.339
13 Jason Plato Vauxhall Astra Power Maxed +17.510
14 Stephen Jelley BMW 330i M Sport Team WSR +18.771*
15 Rory Butcher Toyota Corolla Toyota Gazoo +19.025
16 Carl Boardley Infiniti Q50 Laser Tools +19.257
17 Adam Morgan BMW 330i M Sport Ciceley +22.713
18 Aron Taylor-Smith Cupra Leon Team HARD +23.051
19 Tom Chilton BMW 330i M Sport Ciceley +23.443
20 Colin Turkington BMW 330i M Sport Team WSR +24.816
21 Sam Osborne Ford Focus Motorbase +24.883**
22 Jade Edwards Honda Civic Type R BTC Racing +25.081
23 Ollie Jackson Ford Focus MB Motorsport +27.159
24 Sam Smelt Toyota Corolla Toyota Gazoo +28.500
25 Jack Buutel Hyundai i30N Excelr8 +28.720
26 Andy Neate Ford Focus Motorbase +33.172
27 Glyn Geddie Cupra Leon Team HARD +36.402
28 Nicholas Hamilton Cupra Leon Team HARD +37.808
29 Rick Parfitt Jr Hyundai i30N Excelr8 +1 Lap

* – Stephen Jelley received a five second penalty for a false start.

**-Sam Osborne received a 6.2 second penalty for gaining an advantage

BTCC Brands Hatch – Rowbottom takes first ever pole in Team Dynamics front row lock out

Dan Rowbottom secured his first pole position as Team Dynamics locked out the front row in qualifying at Brands Hatch in the British Touring Car Championship.

He lapped the Kent circuit in 48 seconds with team mate Gordon Shedden just five thousandths behind in his Honda Civic Type R in what was an odd session at the famous circuit.

28 of the 29 cars were separated by under a second with only Nicholas Hamilton outside of the second.

Tom Ingram and Jake Hill set the early pace, with Tom Oliphant in close tow. After the early exchanges not many drivers were improving or setting faster times.

With Brands Hatch’s Indy layout being used, the biggest issue the drivers face is traffic, with 29 cars trying to find space on what is an incredibly short circuit. The other issue drivers faced was track limits, with drivers such as Ollie Jackson falling foul of them and having lap times removed.

Ingram and Hill both went wide at Paddock Hill bend when pushing to the limit, thankfully both continued and didn’t get stuck in the gravel.

With six minutes left in the session Rowbottom went fastest with a 48.0, a tenth faster than Hill’s benchmark before Shedden went second, just five thousandths of a second behind his team mate.

Rowbottom held on for his first ever BTCC pole, with Shedden behind and Hill third. Title challengers Ash Sutton (7th) and Colin Turkington (14th) have a lot of work to do in the first of three races tomorrow.

BTCC can be watched in the UK on ITV3 on Sunday.

Pos Driver Car Team +/-
1 Dan Rowbottom Honda Civic Type R Team Dynamics
2 Gordon Shedden Honda Civic Type R Team Dynamics +0.005
3 Jake Hill Ford Focus MB Motorsport +0.105
4 Tom Oliphant BMW 330i M Sport Team WSR +0.110
5 Aiden Moffat Infiniti Q50 Laser Tools +0.244
6 Tom Ingram Hyundai i30N Excelr8 +0.258
7 Ash Sutton Infiniti Q50 Laser Tools +0.296
8 Chris Smiley Hyundai i30N Excelr8 +0.298
9 Josh Cook Honda Civic Type R BTC Racing +0.333
10 Stephen Jelley BMW 330i M Sport Team WSR +0.354
11 Jack Goff Cupra Leon Team HARD +0.354
12 Dan Lloyd Vauxhall Astra Power Maxed +0.357
13 Senna Proctor Honda Civic Type R BTC Racing +0.359
14 Colin Turkington BMW 330i M Sport Team WSR +0.383
15 Sam Osborne Ford Focus Motorbase +0.419
16 Rory Butcher Toyota Corolla Toyota Gazoo +0.432
17 Jason Plato Vauxhall Astra Power Maxed +0.448
18 Carl Boardley Infiniti Q50 Laser Tools +0.506
19 Ollie Jackson Ford Focus MB Motorsport +0.543
20 Aron Taylor-Smith Cupra Leon Team HARD +0.603
21 Adam Morgan BMW 330i M Sport Ciceley +0.606
22 Glyn Geddie Cupra Leon Team HARD +0.653
23 Jade Edwards Honda Civic Type R BTC Racing +0.682
24 Tom Chilton BMW 330i M Sport Ciceley +0.811
25 Rick Parfitt Hyundai i30N Excelr8 +0.829
26 Sam Smelt Toyota Corolla Toyota Gazoo +0.835
27 Jack Butel Hyundai i30N Excelr8 +0.908
28 Andy Neate Ford Focus Motorbase +0.910
29 Nicholas Hamilton Cupra Leon Team HARD +1.251

 

Safari Rally Kenya 2021 Preview

Well, this is going to be very special. The long-awaited return of the World Rally Championship to Kenya and the African continent is here! After nineteen long years we will get to see the most spectacular cars and crews at speed in the wilds of Africa.

The event last played a part in the championship from the 12th to the 14th of July 2002 and fan favourite Colin Mcrae took victory for Ford with Harri Rovanperä and Thomas Radstrom taking second and third for Peugeot and Citroen respectively. Richard Burns was the world champion driving a Peugeot 206 WRC, having won the championship in a Subaru Impreza the year before.

Well, moving onto this year’s rally, which has a total of 320 km’s of stages over eighteen stages. Let’s take a look at those now.

Safari Rally Kenya itinerary:
Wednesday June 23
Shakedown Loldia 5.40km (3.35 miles) 1301

Thursday June 24
SS1 Super Special Kasarani 4.84km (3.0 miles) 1408

Friday June 25
SS2 Chui Lodge 1 13.34km (8.28 miles) 0809
SS3 Kedong 1 32.68km (20.30 miles) 0905
SS4 Oserian 1 18.87km (11.22 miles) 1018
Service KWS Naivasha 1142
SS5 Chui Lodge 2 13.34km (8.28 miles) 1346
SS6 Kedong 2 32.68km (20.30 miles) 1442
SS7 Oserian 2 18.87km (11.22 miles) 1555
Service KWS Naivasha 1719

Saturday June 26
SS8 Elmenteita 1 14.67km (9.11 miles) 0808
SS9 Soysambu 1 20.33km (12.63 miles) 0908
SS10 Sleeping Warrior 1 31.04km (19.28 miles) 1022
Service KWS Naivasha 1157
SS11 Elmenteita 2 14.67km (9.11 miles) 1405
SS12 Soysambu 2 20.33km (12.63 miles) 1508
SS13 Sleeping Warrior 2 31.04km (19.28 miles) 1622
Service KWS Naivasha 1757

Sunday June 27
SS14 Loldia 1 11.33km (7.04 miles) 0726
SS15 Hells Gate 1 10.56km (6.56 miles) 0838
SS16 Malewa 9.71km (6.03 miles) 1045
SS17 Loldia 2 11.33km (7.04 miles) 1125
SS18 Hells Gate 2 10.56km (6.56 miles) 1318

 

Let’s hear from the drivers.

Toyota Gazoo Racing WRT

Sébastien Ogier

“I am always excited to discover a new challenge in my career, and I believe this rally will be very different from anything I have done before. We’ve heard a lot that we are going to have to set our targets a little differently: The way we drive nowadays in the WRC is by really pushing the limits all of the time, but when we go to Kenya it will be much more about trying to survive the rally without trouble. I think it can be interesting to have a challenge like this during the year. It has been hard to know what is the right way to prepare, so I think the drivers will probably have to adapt a bit during the rally, but the recce will certainly be important to understand what is ahead of us.”

Elfyn Evans

“Obviously, Kenya is a big unknown as none of the current drivers have been there to do an event before. Of course, I’ve seen a lot of the classic footage from the past and it all looks very spectacular. It’s not going to be exactly the same this time, as we’ll have a more controlled loop of stages, but I am nonetheless excited to go there and rally in a completely different environment. I suspect it’s not going to be the smoothest event on the calendar, and it could be a big test for the car and maybe for the crew as well. From what we’ve seen it’s quite an open landscape, so reading the road could be quite difficult, but until we get out there and have a look for ourselves on the recce, it’s very hard to judge what the biggest challenges will be.”

Kalle Rovanperä

“Kenya is going to be really interesting. It’s a new event for everybody and at the same time it’s also a really classic event from the past. The WRC was last there in the early 2000s when my father was competing, and I’ve seen all the old videos from then and he has been telling a lot of stories. Rallying as a sport is quite different now, so it’s going to be interesting to see how we will do those stages with the cars that we have these days. We know that it’s not exactly the same concept – we won’t drive such long stages, for instance – but it will still be nice to see if the conditions will be just as rough and as tricky in some places. Everything is going to be different but I’m excited for it.”

 

Hyundai Motorsport

Thierry Neuville

“I think everyone is excited to have Safari Rally Kenya on the calendar. I have heard stories from drivers who have had the chance to go there in the past, who have described the adventure they lived at the time. It will be a different experience for us, as the rallying has evolved over time. I don’t know what is waiting for us, but I hope to come back with a big trophy. We’ll be seeing zebras, elephants and giraffes; it is going to be fun!”

2021 FIA World Rally Championship
Round 05, Rally Italia Sardegna
03-06 june 2021
Day 1, Action, Thierry Neuville, Martijn Wydaeghe, Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC
Photographer: Dufour Fabien
Worldwide copyright: Hyundai Motorsport GmbH

Ott Tänak

“Safari Rally Kenya is a new event for me, and Africa is a place where I’ve never been. I am looking forward to it, although I expect it to a bit of an adventure. I have seen some footage from previous rallies; it is one of those events where to finish first, first you have to finish. It seems to be a wild, wild place – and it will definitely be different to anything else on the calendar, something special. Hopefully everything will work out in our favour.”

Dani Sordo

“We left Sardinia feeling unfulfilled with our weekend because we knew we were capable of much more. The car was fast and showed its potential on tough gravel roads. Kenya will be another challenge, but it is going to be an incredible experience. Safari Rally is like nothing else, it’s an event that we have never contested, with really unique stage profiles. I like to drive in these sorts of conditions; it’s going to be a hard rally like in the past, so let’s see how we get on. We’re hoping to score a good result for the team, who have been working non-stop to prepare for these events.”

Oliver Solberg

“I think you can believe me when I say I am excited about every rally I start. But this one is different. This is Safari Rally Kenya. I was eight months old last time the World Rally Championship was in Africa, so it’s pretty safe to say I don’t remember much about it – but I have grown up listening to my papa talking about the stories from this incredible place.

The Safari is really one of the total special ones. It might be different, I guess it’s going to be rough and tough and quite hard work, but isn’t it just fantastic to be going back to this place and this landscape. This is really what a world championship is about – going to these amazing places which provide some real adventure to the sport. Not that I want to be so adventurous… I already told Aaron [Johnston, co-driver] that he can do all of the tyre pressures this time. Somebody asked me if I was afraid of the lions? Of course, I am!

Seriously though, this rally is so different to Arctic and Alba, the two events I have done in the Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC. I don’t have any experience of the car on gravel; OK it will be a little bit, sort of similar to the snow in Lapland, but the roads are so different. The recce is going to be incredibly important on this one. From the onboards we’ve already seen there are going to be some very, very high-speed sections slowing down into tight junctions. It can be easy to miss these places, so we have to be super-careful on the recce. Once we get into the event, I will be sensible. There’s some danger in every stage, this isn’t one to try to be a hero. I want the experience of this incredible rally.”

 

M-Sport Ford WRT

Adrien Fourmaux

“It’s really good that the WRC is going back to Kenya. It will be a really big challenge and we know from the past how difficult this rally was. Okay, it’s a shorter event this time compared to the old WRC event, but it will still be hard and completely different to what we know.

“I’m a bit too young to remember watching the Safari Rally when it used to be in the WRC, but I have seen some videos and it was amazing to see the Ford Focus with the extra bars at the front. We will not have this protection but I am sure we will find some giraffes and elephants on the stages so it will be really interesting and for sure we will have to be careful!

“I have watched the video of the organiser. In some places we will have to almost stop because it’s really rough, but this is when we have to be smart enough to say, ‘okay this section we have to be slow but this section we can be fast’.

“It’s really nice to know the last driver to win the Safari in the WRC was Colin McRae in the M-Sport Focus. It will be really difficult to do exactly the same result although you never know because a lot of things can happen. But I want to stay quite humble. It’s an honour for me to do this rally and I can only say thanks to M-Sport for this opportunity. To go to Kenya is really good but with the WRC car it’s a dream and I can’t wait discover not only the rally but the humanity and the landscape.”

Gus Greensmith

“I was five when Colin McRae won the Safari for M-Sport and didn’t know what rallying was. But it’s obviously a cool thing he did and we’ve got the Safari Rally Focus that Colin won in in the main hall at M-Sport so every time I’m at M-Sport I pass the car. Clearly, it’s a very fond memory for Malcolm and the team and it would be great to get another good result.

“I’ve asked Malcolm plenty of questions about the Safari, but it was obviously so different back then with open roads and very long stages. It’s a very different challenge now and kind of new for the people of who have done it before. It’s definitely a trip into the unknown for me – I’ve never even been to Africa – but I’ve been watching the organiser videos for quite a while. Usually, I watch them religiously to become more familiar with the stages because it helps me to write better pacenotes, but because the roads are so undefined it’s been a different preparation for me. But I’m sure we’ll find more definition when we get there.

“From what I’ve seen I don’t think I can compare the Safari Rally to anything else I’ve done. But I have shown I can drive to the conditions when I need to, like when I won WRC2 on Monte-Carlo and in Turkey.

“We’ve certainly made some very good steps forward since Croatia. Chris is back in car on this rally and it will be helpful to have his knowledge. My aim for the remainder of the year is to be consistently in the top five and keep my pace going forward. There’s no reason why that can’t be possible.”

 

Summary

New events are always interesting, as it levels the playing field. As you know, the crews will have to complete totally new stage notes throughout the recce days. Road position will be really key in this event. We just don’t know how the stages will change, and with Seb Ogier opening the road could we see him on the podium on Sunday? There are so many unknowns about this, which makes it a very interesting event.

Ott Tanak will want to take victory after missing out on almost certain victory in the last two rounds. Who else could challenge for victory? Well, Dani Sordo always goes well on these kinds of events and could be right at the front. What about Elfyn? Well again if he can get comfortable, then he will certainly also be near the front. What about Kalle? Can he repeat his dad’s podium from 19 years ago? That would be a story! It’s just too hard to call and it will be fascinating to see how things pan out.

Here’s Rich Millener’s thoughts from last year’s Autosport International Show, when I asked him about the returning event – “I think Safari realistically is going to be quite different from what people expect. I think a lot more of the European style event is likely. It won’t be horrendously rough, it won’t be huge great deep-water splashes, cars will look pretty much look as they are. If people are expecting snorkels and everything that goes with it, which is great but we have the reality of the costs of designing a one-off car and it’s not feasible for anybody.

However, having said that all new stages, very different from what we’ve seen, it’s quite sandy in places which is a different skill, fast and actually narrow in some places and if you go offline, there’s big rocks and everything. The temptation to cut will be there, but the reality of cutting might not be so ideal and there is the wildlife, you know that you can’t get away from wildlife, there’s still going to be that gone are the days of the star helicopters and everything that went along with that because going to that level again would be like doing two rallies for the price of one.

We can’t really afford it. It will be very interesting, we sent some people out to the candidate rally to try and understand what it’s about, we know a little bit more, but all these new rallies are good for the drivers, because everyone’s in the same boat, new stages and new pace notes. I don’t think any of the drivers this year have been to any of these places, so that will be interesting. We’ll just prepare in the normal way, testing is most difficult because we don’t know the exact conditions you’re going to get in Safari, so you don’t know where you’re going to test. We’ve got a few options in mind, and I think that will be a key part of doing well.”

Enjoy the rally and pop back next week for my full stage by stage report!