F3 Spa: Doohan holds off charging Martins for second Spa win

Jack Doohan took his second victory of the weekend in the Spa feature race, fending off a race-long challenge from Victor Martins to make a crucial dent in Dennis Hauger’s championship lead.

Doohan started the race from pole, but was spared from defending the lead into La Source as the race began behind the safety car because of the wet conditions. When the race got going with 14 laps on the board, Doohan bolted early out of the final chicane but Martins went with him to look at the outside into La Source.

Martins was too far back to convert that into an overtake attempt, but he stayed glued to the back of Doohan throughout the opening laps. After setting several fastest laps and running within half a second of Doohan, Martins saw his chance on lap 5 coming into Pouhon. Pulling to the outside of Doohan, Martins managed to come out of the corner in the lead, but not without running all four wheels over the limit of the track while setting up the move.

Victor Martins, MP Motorsport (Joe Portlock, Formula Motorsport Limited via Getty Images / FIA F3)

After beginning to pull a gap over Doohan, Martins was instructed over the radio to hand the position back to avoid a penalty. He did on the following lap, but in doing so Martins dropped to more than a second behind Doohan.

Doohan then set the fastest lap when back in the lead, but Martins responded almost immediately to slash the gap back to half a second by lap 7. As they went through Rivage Martins almost nudged the back of Doohan but still couldn’t find a way past the Trident. All the while, Doohan and Martins had pulled more than five seconds clear of the rest of the field, led by Alex Smolyar in third.

As the race ticked over the halfway stage and the track began to dry, Martins’ wet tyres started to overheat and Doohan was able to start building up a gap over the MP Motorsport driver. By lap 9 Doohan was almost a second ahead, before a wide moment for Martins on lap 11 solidified Doohan’s lead over the closing laps.

Doohan took the win with just under two seconds in hand over Martins, who at least managed to reclaim the fastest lap points from Doohan before the end. Smolyar completed the podium in third, albeit 10 seconds back from the top two.

Alex Smolyar, ART (Lars Baron, Getty Images / FIA F3)

Caio Collet narrowly missed out on another podium as he came home fourth and just a second behind Smolyar, while Clement Novalak finished fifth ahead of Frederik Vesti and Logan Sargeant. Championship leader Hauger battled his way up to eighth place from 14th on the grid to take four points, and David Schumacher and Arthur Leclerc rounded out the top ten.

Doohan’s two wins this weekend means he’s now closed Hauger’s lead at the top of the standings from 63 points to 25. Vesti and Martins move up to third and fourth in the standings, displacing Olli Caldwell who was outside the points in all three races at Spa.

Formula 3 returns next weekend at Zandvoort in support of the Formula 1 Dutch Grand Prix.

F3 Spa: Colombo powers to rain-interrupted sprint win

Lorenzo Colombo took his first Formula 3 win at Spa, making up for the win he was disqualified from in Hungary, by dominating the field in the rain-drenched first sprint race.

Owing to the torrential rain throughout the morning, the race started almost an hour late and ran three laps behind the safety car before lights out.

When the race did get underway on lap 4, Colombo’s Campos led away from Hitech’s Jak Crawford and Roman Stanek. Jonathan Hoggard in fourth put a challenge to the inside of Stanek at La Source, but Stanek held on around the outside to keep third place.

On the first racing lap, the only change in positions came from MP Motorsport’s Caio Collet and Victor Martins, who moved up past Logan Sargeant for eighth and ninth respectively. On lap 5, Collet then made up another place by passing Clement Novalak for seventh at Les Combes.

Victor Martins, MP Motorsport (Joe Portlock, Formula Motorsport Limited via Getty Images / FIA F3)

At the front of the field, Colombo made use of the clear visibility ahead of him to open up a four-second lead over Crawford by the end of lap five. Crawford himself had several seconds in hand over teammate Stanek, but Stanek was unable to drop the challenge of Hoggard who was staying consistently half a second behind the Hitech.

Hoggard’s pursuit of Stanek had opened up a gap between him and the Trident of David Schumacher in fifth behind. By the halfway stage, Schumacher was leading a train of cars including Frederik Vesti, Collet, Novalak and Martins.

On lap 9 Collet tried an audacious move around the outside of Vesti into La Source, but couldn’t get the traction on the wetter part of the circuit and Vesti retook sixth on the exit of the hairpin. At the same time, Collet’s teammate Martins managed to complete a move past Novalak for eighth coming into La Source.

Once past Novalak, Martins put in a new fastest lap time and started putting pressure on Collet ahead of him. Meanwhile, the train caught up with Hoggard who made a pair of costly mistakes on lap 10 and dropped away from the back of Stanek.

On lap 13 Schumacher took advantage of Hoggard running wide out of La Source to pull alongside the Jenzer. But as the two fought down the Kemmel Straight, Vesti and Collet entered the battle as well and Collet emerged from the spray in front of Vesti and Hoggard, albeit after taking to the runoff to avoid collecting the cars ahead of him.

Collet was then handed a five-second time penalty for completing the move off the track, but not before he’d been passed by Vesti on track for fourth place. Hoggard meanwhile fell back to seventh after being passed by Martins, while Schumacher came out of the fight worst as he tumbled back down the order to ninth behind Novalak.

Clement Novalak, Trident (Dan Mullan, Getty Images / FIA F3)

Entering into the final laps, Colombo out front retook the fastest lap title from Martins and continued to sprint away from the field. By the time he took the chequered flag, Colombo was more than 12 seconds clear of Crawford, who took second place by two seconds from Stanek.

Vesti finished fourth, while Collet’s penalty promoted Martins to fifth ahead of Hoggard, Novalak and Sargeant. Collet slotted into ninth position ahead of Alex Smolyar, who dropped Schumacher to P11 and outside of the points on the penultimate lap. Jack Doohan finished in P12 and will start this afternoon’s race from reverse grid pole.

W Series Spa preview: Summer is over and the fight is on!

The summer break is over, and W Series is back for Round 5 at the famous Spa-Francorchamps in Belgium. The longest circuit on the calendar, the 18 drivers are ready to compete at a track well known for its blind, high speed corners and changeable weather conditions. This will test the talent on display in the all-female series.

Eight drivers on the grid have previously raced at the circuit including Jamie Chadwick, Alice Powell, Abbie Eaton, Sarah Moore, Vicky Piria, Beitske Visser, Fabienne Wohlwend and Caitlin Wood. Caitlin will be stepping up for a second time as reserve driver this season with the PUMA W Series team after a solid performance in Hungry.

Who’s going to be on top?

Coming into the second half of the season there is a really close battle for the championship with only one point separating Chadwick and Powell, and Nerea Marti 35 points back in third.

Chadwick and Powell have been exchanging wins all season, and with 2 wins each the difference is due to Chadwick’s third-place finish at Silverstone. Consistency in a championship like this is always key to success, but that seems to be common practice for these two so a fight to the end looks on the cards to see who will come out victorious. Just one mistake or no points finish could be pivotal in the championship battle.

The fight for third

Just three points cover the drivers in third to seventh, and with good performances from each driver in these positions, the fight to third is looking very interesting.

Marti put in a great performance as a rookie to stick to the top two of Chadwick and Powell last time out in Hungry, finishing in third and putting herself ahead of Sarah Moore by one point.

Moore herself has had a strong start to the season with a podium in the first two rounds, but only managed P7 at Silverstone and didn’t score points in Hungry. She will be looking for a fight back and to hang on to her one-point lead over Emma Kimilainen.

Kimilainen has had a solid start with a podium and points finishes in three of the four rounds so far and therefore is currently fifth in the standings, only one point ahead of Fabienne Wohlwend and Irina Sidorkova who are tied on points.

Wohlwend has had a very up and down first half of the season, getting two podium finishes but then finishing P10 in Round 2 and suffering a DNF in Round 4. In comparison Sidorkova has only been on the podium once but has had higher points finishes with P8 in Round 1 and P4 in Round 4, missing out on points in Round 3.

This battle for third in the championship looks to go right to the end of the season and could be anyone of the five already in contention. However, Beitske Visser and Belen Garcia, in eighth and ninth respectively, are not too far behind and could really come into play if they can put in some great performances over the last four races.

F3 Spa preview: can anyone stop Hauger’s runaway title challenge?

After taking several weeks off over the summer break, the 2021 Formula 3 season is back this weekend, with another trio of races around the Circuit Spa-Francorchamps in Belgium.

There are only three rounds left to go this season — at Spa, Zandvoort and the Circuit of the Americas — and at this point it’s hard to imagine anyone toppling Prema’s Dennis Hauger from the position of title favourite.

Hauger took his third win of the season in the Hungaroring feature race before the summer break and earned himself a 63-point lead over Trident’s Jack Doohan in the standings. That means that Hauger will leave Spa still at the top of the table, unless he fails to score a single point and Doohan performs a clean sweep of wins, fastest laps and pole position in all three races this weekend.

But although Hauger has become something of a runaway train, the positions behind him in the standings are still in flux. Doohan is second for now on 89 points, but Prema’s Olli Caldwell and ART’s Frederik Vesti are within just nine points of the Trident, with all three drivers having shown great pace throughout the season so far.

Doohan will be one to watch at Spa, as it was there that he recorded one of the best results of his debut season last year. But Vesti also has fond memories of the circuit, having finished on the podium in last year’s sprint race while driving for Prema.

The midpack is as tight as ever

Alex Smolyar (Dan Istitene, Formula Motorsport Limited via Getty Images / FIA F3)

Behind the top four in the championship, there are two incredibly fierce battles brewing in the final positions of the top ten. The first is between Aleksandr Smolyar (P5), Clement Novalak (P6) and Victor Martins (P7), who are only separated by seven points.

Smolyar arguably should be in the mix with those ahead of him in the standings, given that he’s won two races this year compared to one each for Doohan, Caldwell and Vesti. But despite scoring points in most races — including two fourth places — Smolyar hasn’t stood on the podium since his second win at Paul Ricard in Round 2. That’s something he’ll need to change if he’s going to break away and join what’s realistically the fight to be this year’s vice-champion.

With Novalak and Martins, their goal for the latter half of the season is straightforward: win races. They’re currently the highest-placed drivers in the championship yet to record a victory. In Novalak’s case, he also hasn’t been on the podium since his second-place finish in the opening round in Barcelona — something not helped by being eliminated from strong positions in two of the Red Bull Ring rounds through no fault of his own.

As for Martins, what felt like an inevitable run to a maiden win after three podiums in the opening two rounds has soured recently. Between the second Red Bull Ring race and the summer break, Martins recorded a run of five races well outside the points. Bouncing back from that in a rookie season is hard, but it’s what he’ll need to do to keep up with the drivers around him.

Clement Novalak, Trident (Eric Alonso, Formula Motorsport Limited via Getty Images / FIA F3)

The second of the two midfield fights involves Arthur Leclerc, Matteo Nannini and Caio Collet, who are on 44, 42 and 41 points respectively. Nannini catapulted himself into that group by taking his first F3 win in the second race at the Hungaroring. Leclerc, who has a win and a second place but only one other points finish so far this year, will surely be looking over his shoulder in case Nannini’s maiden win turns out to be a breakthrough moment.

And while Collet hasn’t quite been the match of his MP Motorsport and Alpine academy teammate Martins, he’s still been able to get great results — including two podiums — out of his car, and should be just as much a threat to Leclerc and Nannini in the remaining races.

New Charouz lineup, and Frederick to miss Spa

Lastly, the grid will look a little different this weekend for a few reasons. The first is that Charouz Racing System has refreshed its lineup. In place of Enzo Fittipaldi and Reshad de Gerus, the team will run 2020 US F4 champion Hunter Yeany and Euroformula Open driver Zdenek Chovanec in the #30 and #31 cars respectively. They’ll join Logan Sargeant for the remainder of the season.

The second change is that Carlin will only field two cars this weekend, as Kaylen Frederick has tested positive for Covid-19 and will therefore not take part in the event. Given the late timing, Carlin will not replace Frederick for the weekend.

Ypres Rally Belgium 2021 Review – Thierry and Martijn take victory!

Friday

There were with a total of 135.34km over eight stages to complete on Friday. The startlist looked like this – Ogier, Evans, Neuville, Rovanperä, Tänak, Katsuta, Breen, Greensmith, Fourmaux, Loubet.

The first stage, SS1 Reninge – Vleteren 1 – 15.00 km then and Ott was fastest from Thierry and Craig giving us a Hyundai 1-2-3 and the three were separated by less than 3 seconds. Elfyn was the closest challenger in fourth. What was interesting was that opening the road didn’t seem to provide the cleanest road. The two M-Sport crews held eighth and ninth, with Adrien ahead of the Englishman.

There was a change in the lead in SS2 Westouter – Boeschepe 1 – 19.60 km, with Craig going fastest from Thierry and Elfyn. Ott could only manage the fifth best time and dropped to third. There were just seven tenths of a second between the top two! Further down Adrien passed Takamoto for seventh place after going 3.2 seconds faster than the Japanese driver.

Craig continued his great drive, winning SS3 Kemmelberg 1 – 23.62 km from his Belgian teammate and increasing his lead to 1.6 seconds. Elfyn was third fastest in the stage and closed the gap to third placed Ott to just four tenths of a second. Seb suffered a puncture and was only sixth. There was huge drama for Adrien and Renard who suffered a huge crash. They’d slid wide on a left hander and as the road dropped away the car took off and pirouetted in the air before then colliding with a post on the left where the car came to a stop. They were out for the day, and also for the remaining days as well.

The last stage then before the lunchtime service break and it was a first stage win of the weekend for Thierry in SS4 Zonnebeke 1 – 9.45 km with Craig only managing the fourth best time as well. The Belgian had now taken the lead. Ott was second and Elfyn again third. The gap between first and second was just four tenths of a second as well.

It was a 1-2-3 for the Hyundai team in SS5 Reninge – Vleteren 2 – 15.00 km with Thierry leading Craig and Ott. Kalle matched Ott’s time, whilst Elfyn was just a further 2 tenths back and continued to hold fourth overall and only one second behind Ott in their battle over the final podium position continued.

Into SS6 Westouter – Boeschepe 2 – 19.60 km and Thierry was fastest again from Craig and Seb finally finding some pace after service. Elfyn was slower than Ott and this meant that the gap opened up a little in their fight for third place. We lost Gus in this stage though after going off the road and ending up in one of the big ditches at the side. The car was undamaged, but they could not get it out and their day was done.

So, to SS7 Kemmelberg 2 – 23.62 km and what turned out to be the final stage of the day. Thierry was fastest from Seb and Kalle. The Belgian’s pace meant that he’d opened up a lead now over Craig of 7.6 seconds. There was a change on the leaderboard with Kalle moving ahead of his teammate Elfyn into fourth place, but there were only eight tenths between them.

The final stage of the day, set to run as the sun set, was cancelled for safety reasons.

Classification after Day One

1 T. Neuville M. Wydaeghe Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC 1:04:27.0
2 C. Breen P. Nagle Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC +7.6
3 O. Tänak M. Järveoja Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC +31.2
4 K. Rovanperä J. Halttunen Toyota Yaris WRC +32.6
5 E. Evans S. Martin Toyota Yaris WRC +33.4
6 S. Ogier J. Ingrassia Toyota Yaris WRC +39.4
7 T. Katsuta K. Williams Toyota Yaris WRC +1:24.5
8 P.L Loubet F. Haut-Labourdette Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC +2:50.0

 

Let’s hear from the drivers

Hyundai Motorsport

Thierry Neuville (1st)

“We knew if we had a clean run today that we could be among the fastest. Of course, experience counts for a lot and the car has been working well, but it’s good to be leading at the end of the first day. We have tried to keep a good rhythm without taking risks and everything went smoothly. The target for the afternoon was to have another clean run. I was able to drive a bit faster because the pace notes had been checked and the gravel crew had done a good job, so I felt comfortable to push a bit and extend the lead. We got up to seven seconds during three stages which was great; I would have loved to have done the final stage with all those spectators but unfortunately the stage had to be cancelled. So far, it has been a great team effort, and we have some tough challenges ahead of us tomorrow.”

2021 FIA World Rally Championship
Round 08, Ypres Rally Belgium
13-15 August 2021
Thierry Neuville, Martijn Wydaeghe, Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC
Photographer: Dufour Fabien
Worldwide copyright: Hyundai Motorsport GmbH

Craig Breen (2nd)

“Honestly, I am really happy and have to be pleased with how the day has gone. The car has been feeling fantastic, and Paul is doing a great job as always. It’s nice to get back the feeling on tarmac; Croatia was a struggle, but the car here fits me like a glove. The first three stages this morning went well. I lost time on the fourth one as I took some references from the R5 car, which didn’t work, but it was a brilliant loop. Two fastest times and we led the rally. The gap to the lead went out a bit this afternoon but we knew it would be a challenge to match Thierry here; to be seven seconds behind after 135km isn’t terrible. The conditions on the second loop were tricky but I still enjoyed it and it’ll be another interesting day tomorrow – after I’ve had a cup of tea and some sleep!”

Ott Tänak (3rd)

“It is certainly a challenge to be competing at Ypres Rally for the first time, but I am happy to be here. We had a clean morning loop; there was a lot of dirt on the road already, sometimes more than I expected. The car was working well, but it was slippery in places, so we were careful. The long stages were quite demanding and on occasions it was difficult to know where you need to drive and find the grip. At times, the experience is definitely missing but we were learning step by step and the feeling was not so bad. In the afternoon, we were a bit low on boost but apart from that it was enjoyable to drive. Let’s see what tomorrow brings, with more new stages for us. It has been close, so for sure tomorrow we’d like to do a bit better.”

Toyota Gazoo Racing WRT

Kalle Rovanperä (4th)

“Today has been quite demanding with tricky conditions all the time, as we expected. I don’t have so many kilometres on asphalt in this car or with these tyres, and it can be tricky to know the grip level on these stages because it’s changing a lot. I found it easier this evening now that I knew more about the conditions, so I could push a bit more but without taking too much risk and it was quite enjoyable in the car. I could match my team-mates quite well, and the fight is quite hard now for the podium.”

Elfyn Evans (5th)

“It has not been an easy start to the rally. With changing grip levels and a mix of different surfaces it’s difficult to find confidence. Some sections felt pretty good, but in some sections I struggled to be fully at one with it. I think we got through the first loop quite OK, trying our best to keep in touch with the leaders. This evening I had a pretty good feeling in the car to be honest, but the times seemed to be not as competitive, so we need to understand why that was and try to be better tomorrow morning.”

2021 FIA World Rally Championship / Round 08 / Rally Ypres Belgium / 15-18 July, 2021 // Worldwide Copyright: Toyota Gazoo Racing WRT

Sébastien Ogier (6th)

“It was not an ideal start for us today. In the first loop the pace was not great. It was difficult to find grip running first on the road, and I really didn’t expect the dust to play as much of a role as it did. On top of that there was some room for improvement in the setup. In the second loop it was going in the right direction. It’s not perfect yet but we made some steps in the setup which made me feel more and more confident. I still have some ideas for tomorrow to hopefully make another step forward. Now we have to focus on that fight for the podium.”

M-Sport Ford WRT

Gus Greensmith (DNF, SuperRally)

“This event is completely unique and we made a few setup changes with each passing stage to get more comfortable. Things were feeling better and better and I felt increasingly confident in the car but sadly the day ended too soon and it will be back to the drawing board tonight and to try to take as much experience as we can through the weekend.”

Adrien Fourmaux (DNF)

“We have a small headache and some pain in the legs and my foot but basically all okay. Honestly, it was just the corner tightening but it was still flat, it said in the pacenote that it was flat corner but there was a bit of dirt and we just oversteered a little bit and then just hit something in the ditch and the car was gone.

“It’s nearly my home rally of course and it’s a big disappointment with so many friends and family here but for sure it’s also the downside of this sport that this sort of thing can happen. There is always something to learn and for sure we have to analyse a little bit more. It’s a shame we were just 500 metres from the end of the stage but we will have a lot to learn.”

Teemu Suninen (DNF, SuperRally)

“Basically, the day was going quite well, in the morning we were showing good pace and it felt like we had good pace and good feeling in the car. The roads were tricky with people before us cutting corners and that’s a big feature of this rally with the dirt on the road and we were just coming through the last stage and I lost the rear, went in a ditch and grass blocked the radiator so we had to stop after the final stage.”

Tom Kristensson (DNF)

“This rally started very well for us and we were encouraged by the way that we were able to build our pace through the day. The stages were very enjoyable and we were building a good feeling but sadly the final stage was so dirty when so many cars had been through and I just lost the front end of the car, I’m sorry for me and for the team when it was going so well.”

Saturday

With 119.92 over eight stages, what would day two hold for the crews? Well, the startlist looked like this – Greensmith, Loubet, Katsuta, Ogier, Evans, Rovanperä, Tänak, Breen, Neuville.

Into SS9 Hollebeke 1 – 25.86 km and it was a good start for Craig who was fastest from Elfyn and Thierry. Ott had to stop and change a tyre, and then re-joined in front of Craig, who was briefly behind, before Ott moved over for his teammate. Unfortunately, Pierre-Louis slid out into a ditch, just like Gus on Friday. Some spectators attempted to help get the car out, but this did not work.

Craig was also fastest again in SS10 Dikkebus 1 – 12.49 km from Thierry and Seb. The Belgian’s lead was now just 3.5 seconds. There was huge drama though for one of the Toyota’s. Takamoto lost control of his Yaris on some bumps and spun across the road and ended up colliding with a post at the side of the road, before coming to a rest on the left-hand side. They were out for the day and the event.

Elfyn won SS11 Watou 1 – 13.62 km from Thierry and Craig, thus allowing the Welshman to increase the gap to his younger Finnish teammate in their battle over the final podium position. In the WRC2 category, Oliver who was driving the new i20 Rally2 in competition, was suffering with power steering failure and really struggling through the stage. Never-the-less, he was holding the lead of the category after Teemu and Jari both suffered problems.

The final morning stage, SS12 Mesen – Middelhoek 1 – 7.99 km and Thierry was fastest from Kalle and Craig. Gus continued to have issues with his intercom, but was still setting good times, going seventh fastest in the stage.

After the lunchtime service, Seb won SS13 Hollebeke 2 – 25.86 km from Elfyn and Craig. Thierry was fourth and lost 1.8 seconds of his lead to Craig, but the gap remained a healthy five seconds. Elfyn also increased the gap to Kalle and the gaps between the three Toyota drivers closed up a little with less than 10 seconds between them. In the WRC2 category, Teemu retired from the rally after the engine in his Fiesta overheated.

Thierry returned to the top of the timesheets with the fastest time in SS14 Dikkebus 2 – 12.49 km with Seb and Craig second and third fastest. Seb was now just 2.5 from Kalle whilst Elfyn was further down in the stage times, only going sixth fastest and now the gap was just 6.6 seconds between the three of them.

Seb won SS15 Watou 2 – 13.62 km from Elfyn and Thierry. The Frenchman’s pace lifted him ahead of Kalle into fourth place and the gap between them all three Toyota drivers was just 5.8 seconds! Further down the leaderboard, there was a good battle between the WRC3 top two! Seb Bedoret driving a Skoda Fabia and Yohan Rossel in a C3 Rally2 were only separated by 2.4 seconds and holding seventh and eighth overall as well.

The final stage then of the day, SS16 Mesen – Middelhoek 2 – 7.99 km won by Thierry from Kalle and Ott and Kalle’s pace took him back ahead of Seb into fourth place. Thierry now held a ten second lead over Craig who was fifth fastest. In the WRC3 category, Johan was tenth and closed the gap to Seb to just nine tenths of a second in their battle for seventh overall.

Classification after Day Two

1 T. Neuville M. Wydaeghe Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC 2:06:18.8
2 C. Breen P. Nagle Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC +10.1
3 E. Evans S. Martin Toyota Yaris WRC +42.4
4 K. Rovanperä J. Halttunen Toyota Yaris WRC +45.7
5 S. Ogier J. Ingrassia Toyota Yaris WRC +46.7
6 O. Tänak M. Järveoja Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC +3:55.2

 

Let’s hear from the drivers

Hyundai Motorsport

Thierry Neuville (1st)

“We have had another controlled, trouble-free day and we can only be satisfied. We have stayed away from punctures and any other issues, as well as setting some more fastest times. The only moment we had was when I went straight at a junction but, even then, we only lost half a second. I decided to take a good but steady rhythm and keep things under control. The handling of the car has been nice, and I’ve been enjoying our home event. We have now completed a big part of the rally, managed very well by us, but I am conscious that we have another day to go. They will be very different to the stages we’ve had so far, so nothing is done yet. We have to be clever, but I hope we can have a nice day.”

Craig Breen (2nd)

“It’s been a very nice day from start to finish. We have tried to make no mistakes, and I am happy that I have found a rhythm that I can manage; it’s not only being on the pace but also being able to control it. I am super happy with the performance we’ve shown; we’ve taken another good step forward. I’ve had a nice feeling from the car, and it’s important for us to have two cars in a 1-2. Spa tomorrow may not have many kilometres but there will be room for mistakes. We have to protect our positions, which would be a great boost for the championship.”

Ott Tänak (6th)

“We have had another day of new stages to us, so it’s been important to get through and to get the knowledge. That’s really been the best that we could achieve at the moment. Unfortunately, we picked up a puncture on the opening run. As we had 10kms to go, we decided to stop to change the tyre in the stage, which lost us time. This is a new event for us, so it has been crucial to learn this rally; we can see how demanding it is and how many surprises there are. The stages are nice, especially with the higher grip on the second loop.”

2021 FIA World Rally Championship
Round 08, Ypres Rally Belgium
13-15 August 2021
Ott Tanak, Martin Jarveoja, Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC
Photographer: Dufour Fabien
Worldwide copyright: Hyundai Motorsport GmbH

Toyota Gazoo Racing WRT

Elfyn Evans (3rd)

“This morning was a bit better than yesterday and everything was working quite OK, but it’s been a bit up and down since then. Overall, I would say we have made some steps forward from yesterday. In the shorter stages we lost some time and that’s not ideal, but it means we have a close fight for tomorrow. I’m looking forward to giving it our all. Both stages have a real mix of character within them with a lot of things going on, so we need to have a car setup that will work everywhere.”

Kalle Rovanperä (4th)

“Today has been really nice. I think in some places it was a bit more dirty in some places from the cuts with a lot of loose gravel on the road, and that’s one area I still need to learn more about, because when it’s clean like on the last stage we have really good pace. With our lack of experience, I’m really happy that we have been able to match our team-mates and it has been really tight between us. Tomorrow is going to be interesting because the stages are a different style, and it’s going to be nice to drive on the track at Spa.”

Sébastien Ogier (5th)

“Today for me it was a little bit the same trend as yesterday. The grip has been very low on the first pass of the stages, but surprisingly it is much higher on the second pass. Then I can carry much more speed into the corners and enjoy it. It’s a shame that we lose so much on the first pass, but at least we are still in the fight. 4.3 seconds is not that much, so tomorrow we have to try to drive well and see where we end up.”

2021 FIA World Rally Championship / Round 08 / Rally Ypres Belgium / 15-18 July, 2021 // Worldwide Copyright: Toyota Gazoo Racing WRT

M-Sport Ford WRT

Gus Greensmith (61st)

“We needed a strong day after the disappointment of going off the road yesterday and I’ve done everything I can today to learn what I can about the stages and the rally. It really has a character unlike anything we’ve seen in the WRC before. We had one or two electrical issues through the day, which made it hard to be as fully committed as I would have liked to be because the challenge is enormous. There’s no room for error and for anyone who hasn’t competed here before it’s really a learning process, and there have been some encouraging signs of progress through the day.”

Teemu Suninen (DNF)

“We quickly found a very good feeling with the Ford Fiesta Rally2 this morning and from this we had the confidence to push. We were able to set fastest times once again and prove how fast the car is, but unfortunately there was still some damage in the engine from where we overheated yesterday. The car began overheating again and the fan broke, with the result that we had to stop rather than cause more damage.”

Sunday

The final day then and a long 300km drive to the Spa-Francorchamps track for a total of 40.52km over four stages. The startlist looked like this – Loubet, Greensmith, Tänak, Ogier, Rovanperä, Evans, Breen, Neuville.

The first stage then, SS17 Stavelot 1 – 9.05 km, which started away from the track and then joined the track at the end of the Kemmel straight and then followed the track to the Stavelot corner. Kalle was fastest from Ott and Thierry. The young Finns pace halved the gap between him and Elfyn as he bid to take third from his Welsh teammate. In the WRC3 category there was a change in the lead as Yohan passed Seb after finishing the stage 5.6 seconds faster.

Into SS18 Francorchamps 1 – 11.21 km which again started outside the track, then saw the cars arrive at the track via a roundabout and then enter the paddock under the start finish straight, before going the wrong way up the pit entry and joining the track at the final corner before heading round la Source and plunging down Raidillon and into the first part of l’Eau Rouge and then finishing the stage at the rally cross track. Ott took the stage win from Kalle and Craig. The Finn passed Elfyn for third overall after the Welshman was only sixth in the stage.

The second run of SS19 Stavelot 2 – 9.05 km saw Ott win from Thierry and Kalle. Elfyn lost another 1.1 seconds to Kalle and he would need a big stage win in the power stage to overcome the five second lead that Kalle now had over him. In the WRC3 category, Yohan now held a good lead of over thirty seconds and held seventh overall as well.

The final stage then, SS20 Francorchamps 2 [Power Stage] – 11.21 km and the top five was Ott, Seb, Thierry, Kalle and Elfyn. Thierry secured his first victory of the year and with it his first win with his new co-driver Martijn, and also on home soil too! What a great performance from the pairing, which brings them back into the battle for the championship.

Final Overall Classification – Ypres Rally Belgium

1 T. Neuville M. Wydaeghe Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC 2:30:24.2
2 C. Breen P. Nagle Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC +30.7
3 K. Rovanperä J. Halttunen Toyota Yaris WRC +43.1
4 E. Evans S. Martin Toyota Yaris WRC +49.6
5 S. Ogier J. Ingrassia Toyota Yaris WRC +55.8
6 O. Tänak M. Järveoja Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC +3.46.5
7 Y. Rossel A. Coria Citroën C3 R5 +12:14.9
8 P. Cracco J. Vermeulen Škoda Fabia Evo Rally2 +13:05.9
9 F. Kreim F. Christian Volkwagen Polo GTI +13:13.8
10 V. Verschueren F. Cuvelier Volkwagen Polo GTI +13:31.1
2021 FIA World Rally Championship
Round 08, Ypres Rally Belgium
13-15 August 2021
Thierry Neuville, Martijn Wydaeghe, Craig Breen, Paul Nagle, Scott Noh
Photographer: Dufour Fabien
Worldwide copyright: Hyundai Motorsport GmbH

Let’s hear from the drivers then!

Hyundai Motorsport

Thierry Neuville (1st)

“We had a lot of pressure coming here but to be honest I have felt confident, comfortable, relaxed and in control all weekend. We were able to rely fully on the team and the car, which worked perfectly. It has been a pleasure to get this first win together with Martijn. It has been a long time coming, but it feels even better now. We knew we had to deliver here, not just because it is our home event but because of the need to score big points for the championships. It was really special to do that final stage at the nicest circuit in the world, just 15km from my hometown, with friends and family cheering us on and to be able to do some celebratory donuts. A fantastic weekend and a result to savour!”

2021 FIA World Rally Championship Round 08,
Ypres Rally Belgium 2021, 13-15 August 2021
Thierry Neuville, Martijn Wydaeghe, WRC, Action during Day 3 of Ypres Rally Belgium 2021
Photographer: Romain Thuillier
Worldwide copyright: Hyundai Motorsport GmbH

Craig Breen (2nd)

“To finish second here at Ypres as part of a Hyundai 1-2 result means a lot. Sometimes, there’s a lot of space in between our events, so we can struggle to get into a rhythm but two events in a row with two podiums is amazing. It definitely gives me more confidence going forward. We have all the ingredients around us to perform to this standard; it’s a pleasure and an honour to drive a car like this. Thanks to everyone in the team, my gravel crew, everyone in service, and to Paul; we’ve had a great package this weekend, and it’s been a lot of fun.”

Ott Tänak (6th)

“This has been a great, challenging event and a really good addition to the WRC calendar. Nobody has really been able to challenge Thierry and Martijn this weekend – congratulations to them – but now we have seen and experience the roads, we’ll be ready when we come back. It is a unique tarmac event, unlike any other; we can’t really compare it to Croatia or Catalunya, so it’s been important to learn it first-hand. All in all, while we haven’t got the result we wanted, it has been a successful event for the team, so we have some positives.”

Jari Huttunen (1st in WRC2)

“I am pleased that we made it safely to the end of Ypres Rally Belgium and to take the first victory with the Hyundai i20 N Rally2.  They say, ‘to finish first, you first have to finish’ and that was the name of the game this weekend. I am sad for Oliver and Aaron that they were not able to start this morning. It was not the perfect weekend for us, but luckily, we made it through after we lost six-and-a-half minutes due to three separate punctures. This is an important result for everyone at Hyundai Motorsport Customer Racing after a huge amount of preparation work to get the car rally ready. The starting point for this new car compared to the previous one is high, and we know where we can make some improvements easily.”

2021 FIA World Rally Championship Round 08,
Ypres Rally Belgium 2021, 13-15 August 2021
Jari Huttunen, Mikko Lukka, WRC, Action during Day 2 of Ypres Rally Belgium 2021
Photographer: Romain Thuillier
Worldwide copyright: Hyundai Motorsport GmbH

Oliver Solberg (DNF)

“It is disappointing not to take the win in WRC 2, especially after leading for so long and battling so hard yesterday. The car just stopped in parc fermé this morning due to an electrical issue. Aaron and I worked on it, and did everything we could, but that was the end. Fortunately, our team-mate Jari was in second place behind us, so he could bring the win home. Everybody at Hyundai Motorsport Customer Racing has worked so hard for this moment, they deserve the victory. During our time in the car, there were some of the issues you would associate with a car so young, but I think we all know what’s going to be possible with this car. It has a really good future.”

Toyota Gazoo Racing WRT

Kalle Rovanperä (3rd)

“The final day here in Belgium was really nice. It was one of the tightest fights I have been in on a Sunday and to compete with your team-mates is always interesting. The stages around Spa were maybe a little bit easier for me, a bit closer to what I have driven before on other rallies and therefore a bit easier for me to get up to the pace, but it was still quite tricky. I’m really happy with this result. The two drivers in front had a lot of experience of this rally and you could see in the times on Friday that nobody could match them. I think that for us to be able to match the rest with our lack of experience and finish on the podium is really good.”

2021 FIA World Rally Championship / Round 08 / Rally Ypres Belgium / 15-18 July, 2021 // Worldwide Copyright: Toyota Gazoo Racing WRT

Elfyn Evans (4th)

“Today was unfortunately the worst day of the rally for us. It just didn’t really click from the outset this morning. We were pushing at points but lost a bit with a few mistakes and it just wasn’t our day today. Kalle had a strong day and a great result for him. Overall, it has been a bit of a frustrating weekend, and the potential was there to do a little bit better than we did. I think we had very good performance at points and in certain conditions, but we didn’t manage to back that up throughout all the stages. Now we obviously have to look forward to the next one and try to be better.

Sébastien Ogier (5th)

“I was looking forward to an exciting final day with a nice battle for the podium with our team-mates, but after three or four kilometres of the first stage this morning we picked up a puncture. I know why this time: I hit a small rock that I didn’t notice out of the line, and that was the end of the fight for us. After that moment we focused on the Power Stage. We didn’t manage to win it but still we got second place, with four extra points. Thanks to that we come out of this weekend leading the championship by one point more than before, so it’s not that negative.”

Takamoto Katsuta (DNF)

“This was a very difficult and demanding rally. The grip level is very hard to predict and, in some sections, it is more difficult because of the gravel brought onto the road. I needed to take it step-by-step, and on Friday I was learning many things and gaining new experience. On Saturday I wanted to try and push a bit more in some sections to try and get a better feeling with the driving, but unfortunately, we crashed in SS10. It was in a high-speed but narrow section near the start of the stage. There were some bumps and when the car landed in the compression I couldn’t turn as easily and we went wide into the ditch. In this rally you can’t make this kind of mistake. It was a big crash but luckily, we were both OK. I am very sorry for the team. It was a shame but it is part of the learning and I will try to come back stronger.”

M-Sport Ford WRT

Gus Greensmith (47th)

“It wasn’t a good weekend for sure. It was my mistake on Friday that really took us out of contention this time. It was hard to find a rhythm after that and I wasn’t really where I wanted to be but that can often be the case when you are not in a fight with anyone. We learned a significant amount about this rally and we got the car home in one piece. Thank you to the team as ever for their hard work, they always do the best they can.”

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

1 S. Ogier 162
2 E. Evans 124
3 T. Neuville 124
4 K. Rovanperä 99
5 O. Tänak 87
6 T. Katsuta 66
7 C. Breen 60
8 G. Greensmith 34
9 D. Sordo 31
10 A. Fourmaux 30

 

2021 FIA World Rally Championship for Manufacturers’ Standings
After round 8

1 Toyota Gazoo Racing World Rally Team 348
2 Hyundai Shell Mobis World Rally Team 307
3 M-Sport Ford World Rally Team 135
4 Hyundai 2C Competition 36

 

My Thoughts

Well, what a rally! What was clear from this was local knowledge and previous experience went a huge way in helping be competitive on these unique stages. That is why Thierry and Craig had such a dominant 1-2 for Hyundai.

Thierry and Martijn’s first victory together has long been coming, particularly after their drive in the Safari Rally where they had a lead of almost a minute before their problem that took them out. It was a brilliant drive and a well-deserved win for the pairing and has brought them back into the championship battle as they are now equal on points with Elfyn and Scott.

Craig and Paul’s second podium in a row was a just result for them during their part season with Hyundai. They have won this event in the past, and I suspect their lack of seat time held them back from victory. Never-the-less their drive was fantastic and the question now is when will they get an opportunity to have a full season in the championship?

2021 FIA World Rally Championship Round 08,
Ypres Rally Belgium 2021, 13-15 August 2021
Craig Breen, Paul Nagle, WRC, Action during Day 3 of Ypres Rally Belgium 2021
Photographer: Romain Thuillier
Worldwide copyright: Hyundai Motorsport GmbH

The final podium place went to Kalle and Jonne. It was really close between the three Toyota drivers and the battle between them all was really close. As a result, the battle ended up being for the final step on the podium. The young Finns came off the back of their first victory last time out with another very good and consistent drive.

Looking at Elfyn and Scott drive, there were moments of pace including some stage wins, and this was to be expected given that the Welshman knows how to be fast on tarmac. Its fair to say that it was a shame that he lost the third place to Kalle with just two stages left on Sunday. In regards to their championship challenge, they need to take a win next time out in the Acropolis Rally and all they have to do is look back at their win in Turkey last year to know that it is possible.

For Seb and Julien they realised that the win was not going to happen and therefore drove a consistent rally to fifth place and with the points from their finishing position and the power stage they actually outscored Elfyn and Scott and increased their championship lead.

Looking at the drive from Gus and Chris in their Fiesta, after they went out early on, they came back and at least finished the rally to take away some good and useful experience for the future. For Adrien and Renaud, they were going pretty well before their big crash that took them out of the event. Still, they will be looking forward to their next event when they are back in the car for Rally Acropolis.

Takamoto and Keaton suffered an even bigger accident, if that’s actually possible. They suffered a big impact which took the rear hatch off their Yaris. The crew were actually given a fine after they didn’t press the okay button within the allowed minute that is given after a crash. Now I understand why the rules are there, but given the impact that they had, and I think it’s a pretty harsh penalty and have a 2000 Euro fine to pay.

Final mention has to go to Jon Armstrong and Phil Hall who took a really good win in the Junior WRC.

Jon Armstrong (1st Junior WRC)

“It’s been a really good weekend all round we didn’t know what it was going to be like this weekend because the rally is new for the majority of driver in Junior WRC. Thankfully we were really fast out of the blocks we pulled a big lead on day one. Then the rest of the rally we have been trying to manage that. It’s just been very difficult today especially. When you start to try and go slow it’s hard to keep a rhythm and concentrate but it’s fantastic to win and good for the championship.”

 

Next event is The Acropolis Rally Greece, held over the 9th to the 12th of September and the first time in eight years that the championship will visit the country. Pop back in the days before to check out my preview.

Ypres Rally Belgium 2021 Preview

After the summer break, the championship returns to tarmac having had four rounds on the loose gravel roads, and we are getting to the business point of the championship with this event being the eighth of twelve rounds. Of course, Seb Ogier and his co-driver Julien lead the championship from their teammates, Elfyn and Scott and this will mean that the reigning champions will open the roads on Friday’s stages. Thierry and Martijn remain the closest challengers to the two Toyota crews. They will be aiming to take victory on their home event and close the gap to the leaders.

Here’s a brief look at the stages that the crews face –

After a shakedown on Friday morning in Langemark, Ypres Rally Belgium 2021 gets underway later that day with two loops of four stages: Reninge-Vleteren (15.00km), Westouter-Boeschepe (19.60km), Kemmelberg (23.62km) and Zonnebeke (9.45km).

A further eight stages will take place on Saturday, with Hollebeke (25.86km), Dikkebus (12.49km), Watou (13.62km) and Mesen-Middelhoek (7.99km) each being run once in the morning and once in the afternoon.

The final day consists of two passes of Stavelot (9.05km) and Francorchamps (11.21km). The second pass of Francorchamps will be the rally’s Power Stage, offering bonus points to both drivers and manufacturers.

Renties Ypres Rally Belgium itinerary:
Shakedown Langemark 0801
SS1 Reninge-Vleteren 1 15.00km (9.32 miles) 1336
SS2 Westouter-Boeschepe 1 19.60km (12.17 miles) 1425
SS3 Kemmelberg 1 23.62km (14.67 miles) 1515
SS4 Zonnebeke 1 9.45km (5.87 miles) 1609
Service Ypres 1634
SS5 Reninge-Vleteren 2 15.00km (9.32 miles) 1815
SS6 Westouter-Boeschepe 2 19.60km (12.17 miles) 1904
SS7 Kemmelberg 2 23.62km (14.67 miles) 1954
SS8 Zonnebeke 2 9.45km (5.87 miles) 2048
Service Ypres 2113

Saturday August 14
SS9 Hollebeke 1 25.86km (16.06 miles) 0911
SS10 Dikkebus 1 12.49km (7.76 miles) 1008
SS11 Watou 1 13.62km (8.46 miles) 1101
SS12 Mesen-Middelhoek 1 7.99km (4.96 miles) 1151
Service Ypres 1233
SS13 Hollebeke 2 25.86km (16.06 miles) 1411
SS14 Dikkebus 2 12.49km (7.76 miles) 1508
SS15 Watou 2 13.62km (8.46 miles) 1601
SS16 Mesen-Middelhoek 2 7.99km (4.96 miles) 1651

Sunday August 15
SS17 Bellevaux-Malmedy 1 16.62km (10.32 miles) 0830
SS18 Francorchamps 1 11.21km (6.96 miles) 0908
SS19 Bellevaux-Malmedy 2 16.62km (10.32 miles) 1040
SS20 Wolf Power Stage Francorchamps 11.21km (6.96 miles) 1218

Let’s hear from the drivers.

Toyota Gazoo Racing WRT

Sébastien Ogier

“I’m very excited for Ypres and another new asphalt rally in the championship. It’s well known as a very challenging rally and I’m looking forward to discover those roads for the first time. Of course, it won’t be easy, but we had a good test last week in difficult conditions with a bit of rain and we have tried to do our best to be ready. Generally, the grip is changing a lot there and I think this will be the main difficulty when we are trying to find the limits without any previous experience of this rally. It’s nice to be in the position we are right now with a bit of a lead in the championship, but we have to stay focused with some difficult rallies – like this one – still to come.”

Elfyn Evans

“Like many of the drivers I’ve never competed in Ypres before, so it’s an all-new challenge and we can’t be 100 per cent sure what to expect. It will be nice to be back on asphalt again, but it’s very different to what we had last time in Croatia. Initially the roads can seem quite straightforward as there are not so many corners and just a lot of straights and very tight junctions. But what’s quite evident from our test is that there are a lot of surface changes, grip changes and quite a lot of cutting, so there’s a bit more to it in reality. I’ve not done as well in the last couple of rallies as I would have liked, so we’re definitely going to be targeting a strong result.”

Kalle Rovanperä

“It feels good of course to have that first win in Estonia under our belts and to not be waiting anymore for that result to come. Now I’m really looking forward to Ypres. It hasn’t been in the WRC before but it’s a really legendary event that everybody in rallying knows about. In the test we could already see that the conditions are tricky. Normally the drivers are taking really big cuts and there is a lot of mud and dirt on the road, so the conditions can be really demanding and changeable. One of the key points going there for the first time will be to know where the grip is and to see how we can include that information in our pacenotes.”

Hyundai Motorsport

Thierry Neuville

“We are all very much looking forward to be going to Ypres. It’s a rally I’ve done a couple of times in the past, and I won the event back in 2018 with a Hyundai i20 R5. It’s very challenging as the roads are quite narrow and slippery, and the ditches on both sides are always very deep, so you have to make sure to not make any mistakes and keep all four wheels on the road. I think we are going to see a lot of action; it has different characteristics to any other tarmac event we’ve seen so far. When we have competed in Germany in the past, there has been thousands of Belgian fans cheering us on, so with it being in Belgium, and in WRC, I’m sure it will be great atmosphere.”

2021 FIA World Rally Championship
Round 03, Croatia Rally
22-25 April 2021
Thierry Neuville, Martijn Wydaeghe, Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC
Photographer: Dufour Fabien
Worldwide copyright: Hyundai Motorsport GmbH

Ott Tänak

“I’ve seen some footage from Ypres and it’s obviously a very famous rally. Even though the road look straight in sections, there are still dangerous ditches making it incredibly tricky to drive. We managed to do a one-day test there before the event was cancelled last year and our feeling was that it is certainly going to be a challenging weekend. It will be our first WRC round on tarmac since Croatia, which wasn’t a particularly comfortable rally for us. We have since had some time in the car at Rally di Alba, so I am certainly hoping for a better all-round feeling at Ypres.”

Craig Breen

“Ypres is one of the events I really like the most. I’ve been lucky enough to do it quite a few times across my career, and last time I was there in 2019 we managed to win the rally. It’s definitely one of the most interesting and specialised rallies you’ll ever do. On paper, it seems to be a strange profile of event but when you are in the car it is an amazing challenge. At pretty much every junction, the surface is a little bit different; it’s an event I really look forward to and it’s a rally worthy of World Rally Championship status.”

Oliver Solberg

“It’s been a real honour to be involved with the Hyundai i20 N Rally2. To be given the chance to drive this fantastic car for the first time in competition is so exciting. I can’t wait to show the world what Hyundai Motorsport has been so busy making.  I have never competed in Belgium before; I’ve done some testing there and I know it can be a complicated rally. If the weather and the conditions are mixed, it will be a real tough one – to be honest, even if it’s dry it’s definitely not an easy place to go for the first time.”

Jari Huttunen

“I am looking forward to Ypres Rally Belgium and hope that we can bounce back after a difficult and disappointing weekend in Estonia. We have a lot to be excited about with the competitive debut of the Hyundai i20 N Rally2. We have carried out a lot of testing with the new car and we have a positive experience with it. Of course, we hope to do well and to enjoy a positive result. It will be a challenging new rally, for sure, so we’ll have lots to learn.”

M-Sport Ford WRT

Gus Greensmith

“From testing I was surprised how slippery and unpredictable the farmland roads can be and the changeable grip will be a big thing during the rally. We had wet and dry conditions in the test, so I got a bit of everything. I’m feeling well prepared and the car was handling very well.

“The roads are much narrower than what we’d find in Germany, for example, and there’s much less room for error. If you have a small slide in Germany, it’s nothing, but if you have a small slide in Ypres then you’re on the edge of the road so you need to drive straight and clean. You need a car that works well in the cuts because there are so many and you need a predictable car because you don’t want to be sliding when the edge of the road is so close.

“One of my main focuses on the test was to make sure I was nailing my braking points for the junctions and not giving away time. If you are not quite committing on the braking you are giving away a couple of tenths and that adds up, so you’ve got to be pushing the limits. But the grip is so changeable, even in the dry, and you’ve got to be careful because it can easily catch you out. Tarmac is a more natural surface than gravel for me because I grew up doing karting so my ambition is the top five.”

Adrien Fourmaux

“It’s a new rally for me but it’s like a home rally for me because it’s 40 kilometres from my house. The specificity of the road is therefore not new and I know about the really tight corners and the need to have big brakes and good traction for the long straights that come after. There are also some really fast corners and the roads are really narrow. There will be a lot of cutting and that means there will be a lot of mud on the road so road position will be very important.

“This rally is already a big challenge in the dry but if rain is coming to the party, it can be really difficult because it’s narrow and there is a lot of mud because we are in the middle of the fields. It could even be faster with gravel tyres!

“Competing in Ypres in a World Rally Car is even more extreme, but I am confident. We had a good test with a bit of rain, some drying roads and proper dry roads. It’s really nice to be so close to my house, my family, my partner’s family, my friends – and it’s the home rally of my co-driver Renaud. Of course, we want a good result and for sure we will do our best like always. Maybe I have a bit of an advantage because I know a bit about what to expect. But I’m not putting any pressure on myself, I just want to be in the fight.”

Teemu Suninen

“It’s going to be an interesting challenge. I’ve tried to watch and find videos from YouTube to get more understanding of the rally and this is where my focus will be in my preparation. I think the biggest challenge is the big cuts, how this will affect the car and how much dirt is coming on the road, especially if it’s raining. It’s a challenge to jump between the cars and I’m really motivated to make the Ford Fiesta Rally2 as strong as possible. At the beginning of my rally career, I was a lot stronger on gravel, but I have good results on Tarmac like in Corsica. But the challenge is to read the grip level, which is still challenging for me. The ultimate goal is to get back to my level where I have been before and be happy for the driving. I am not really setting the result targets.”

Tom Kristensson

“We will test on Monday and this will be very important because I need all the kilometres I can have in the car and to get an understanding of the kind of roads we will drive on during the rally. I need to realise the important points with the car, the surface and the speed and focus on finding a good rhythm and confidence with the car. We had some really good stages in Croatia and a good feeling. To be honest I was more confident on Tarmac than I expected. I am expecting the roads will be quite similar to what we had when I was driving in Germany, the cuts, the weather changes and reading the different Tarmac. To be honest I have not looked at the WRC2 entry because there’s nothing, I can do about it. I just need to focus on my own performance and be the best I can physically and mentally.”

My Thoughts

Well, as I already mentioned, we are really getting to the business point of this season’s championship and the crews looking to challenge Seb and Julien at the top will want to take the fight to the world champions, in the hope that they can take points away and close the points gap down. It’s fair to say that Hyundai’s best driver’s championship hopes lie with Thierry and Martijn, and the team led by Adamo will look to Ott and Craig to support their teammates I suspect.

Toyota have a simpler job, but will need to remain at the top of their game to hold on to their lead in both the driver’s and manufacturers titles. Elfyn and Scott will want to take victory in this event and close the points gap to their teammates. Kalle and Jonne who scored their first victory last time out, will come to this event and will look to push on. Could the young Finn’s take victory again?

At M-Sport Ford, the young crews piloting the Fiesta WRC’s will continue their development, and as they bid to remain with the team into next year and the new rules and cars due to be eligible for competition. It’s fair to say that all three of their drivers that have competed in the Fiesta WRC this year have done a very good job and I’m sure are on the list for Malcolm and Rich to be signed next year. Gus and Chris’ relationship has gone well to date and they will look to show some good pace on the tarmac, whilst Adrien and Renard who step back into the Fiesta WRC will look to show the good pace that they had in the last tarmac event.

In the WRC2 class, Oliver and Jari will compete in the new Rally2 i20 and it will be interesting to see what kind of pace that they can deliver on its first competitive outing. M-Sport will run Teemu and Tom in the class, and the Finn has always shown good pace on sealed surfaces in the past and is likely to challenge at the front of the field.

Well, enjoy the rally and pop back next week for my full stage by stage review.

F2 Spa: Shwartzman wins after Ticktum and Nissany collide

Robert Shwartzman led home a Prema 1-2 in the Spa sprint race, assuming the lead after Roy Nissany and Dan Ticktum collided ahead of him.

Starting from fourth on the reverse grid, Shwartzman jumped to third immediately as Guanyu Zhou was slow off the line. Meanwhile Ticktum got a much better start from second than polesitter Nissany and took the lead into the first corner.

Ticktum and Nissany continued fighting through the opening sequence of corners with Nissany managing to get back ahead of the DAMS. But while they fought at the front, there was drama further down the pack as title contender Callum Ilott was hit from behind by Yuki Tsunoda and spun out of the race.

The safety car was deployed to recover Ilott’s car. At the restart on lap 4 Ticktum stuck close to the back of Nissany to harry the Trident through Eau Rouge and down the Kemmel Straight. Ticktum then went to the outside going into Les Combes and ran wide as Nissany held the corner, but didn’t back out and the two collided as Ticktum bounced off the kerb and back onto the track.

Clive Mason / Formula 1 via Getty Images)

Nissany was spun into the wall and retired immediately. Ticktum was able to continue albeit with a damaged car, but dropped to second as Shwartzman came through the collision to assume first before the safety car was redeployed.

When the race resumed again on lap 7, the damage to Ticktum’s car became clear as Shwartzman immediately pulled out a 2.8s gap over him. But despite a train forming behind the struggling DAMS, Ticktum was able to defend second place for several laps.

Louis Deletraz initially took the position at the restart but Ticktum repassed him on lap 8. This turned out worse for Deletraz, as he was then passed by Schumacher and Zhou on the same lap and dropped to fifth.

However, Ticktum was unable to keep defending when Schumacher caught him on lap 12. Zhou also got past the DAMS on the following lap, and from there Ticktum started to fall back through the top eight.

Guanyu Zhou, UNI-Virtuosi (Clive Mason / Formula 1 via Getty Images)

The train caused by Ticktum’s damaged car meant that Shwartzman was able to run away in first place and reach the chequered flag unchallenged. The Russian managed to build a nine-second gap over the rest of the field by lap 14, and kept this gap over the remaining five laps to take a dominant win.

Schumacher and Zhou completed the podium in second and third, with Hitech’s Nikita Mazepin and Luca Ghiotto finishing in formation behind them. Deletraz eventually finished in sixth ahead of Christian Lundgaard. Artem Markelov took the final point in eighth, after a penalty awarded to Tsunoda for hitting Ilott dropped the Carlin out of the points into ninth. Ticktum eventually finished tenth after his late struggles, just ahead of teammate Juri Vips.

Shwartzman’s win and Ilott’s retirement means Shwartzman has retaken the lead of the championship with 132 points to Ilott’s 122. Tsunoda is 11 points back in third, although Schumacher’s sixth podium of the year has moved him to within five points of the Japanese driver.

In the teams’ standings, Prema now has a 24-point lead over UNI-Virtuosi, while third-placed Hitech is 62 points behind.

FIA Formula 2 returns next weekend at Monza, in support of the Formula 1 Italian Grand Prix.

Full race result:

Pos. Driver Team Points
1 Robert Shwartzman (FL) Prema Racing 17
2 Mick Schumacher Prema Racing 12
3 Guanyu Zhou UNI-Virtuosi Racing 10
4 Nikita Mazepin Hitech Grand Prix 8
5 Luca Ghiotto Hitech Grand Prix 6
6 Louis Deletraz Charouz Racing System 4
7 Christian Lundgaard ART Grand Prix 2
8 Artem Markelov BWT HWA Racelab 1
9 Yuki Tsunoda Carlin
10 Dan Ticktum DAMS
11 Juri Vips DAMS
12 Pedro Piquet Charouz Racing System
13 Felipe Drugovich MP Motorsport
14 Giuliano Alesi BWT HWA Racelab
15 Guilherme Samaia Campos Racing
16 Jehan Daruvala Carlin
17 Jack Aitken Campos Racing
Ret. Marino Sato Trident
Ret. Marcus Armstrong ART Grand Prix
Ret. Roy Nissany Trident
Ret. Callum Ilott UNI-Virtuosi
DNS Nobuharu Matsushita MP Motorsport

F3 Spa: Sargeant bounces back with sprint race win

Title contender Logan Sargeant bounced back after engine problems in yesterday’s feature race to take victory in the Formula 3 sprint race at Spa.

Reverse grid polesitter Richard Verschoor held the lead into the first corner, while Sargeant rose to second ahead of Olli Caldwell due to Liam Lawson having a slow start and dropping back to fifth.

But despite getting off the line well, Verschoor was unable to drop Sargeant in the opening laps as he struggled again with straight line speed for his MP Motorsport car. Sargeant stayed within a few tenths of Verschoor until lap 3, when he made the move for first and took the lead of the race.

Meanwhile, Sargeant’s teammate Frederik Vesti was moving up through the order from fifth on the grid. After taking third from Caldwell while Sargeant was passing Verschoor, Vesti then overtook Verschoor himself for second on lap 4.

Clive Mason / Formula 1 via Getty Images)

The race was neutralised shortly after when Hitech’s Pierre-Louis Chovet went into the barriers and brought out the virtual safety car for two laps. When the caution was withdrawn on lap 6, Verschoor continued to fall down the order. The Dutchman lost third to Theo Pourchaire on lap 9, then dropped behind Lawson, Aleksandr Smolyar and Oscar Piastri in quick succession.

Meanwhile, Vesti was making strong progress to catch Sargeant. After being 2.1 seconds behind his teammate after the virtual safety car restart, Vesti cut the gap down to four tenths by lap 14 as Sargeant complained of fading tyres on the radio.

However, Sargeant was able to regroup in the final few laps and opened the gap back up to a second. Vesti made one final charge on the final lap, but couldn’t close up enough to make a move for the lead and finished runner-up across the line.

Lawson recovered from his poor start to finish third behind the Premas. After passing Verschoor for fourth, the Hitech driver put significant pressure on Pourchaire who was struggling with his tyres, and took third away on lap 12.

Theo Pourchaire, ART (Dan Istitene / Formula 1 via Getty Images)

Pourchaire lost another place to his ART teammate Aleksandr Smolyar, who finished fourth for the second race in succession. On lap 15 Pourchaire was also passed for fifth by Oscar Piastri, who was charging forward from his own slow start to minimise the damage done by Sargeant’s win.

But just after moving into fifth, Piastri was given a five second time penalty for leaving the track and gaining an advantage when passing Pourchaire, dropping him to sixth behind the Frenchman in the final order.

Verschoor stabilised in seventh place by the chequered flag, finishing ahead of yesterday’s race winner Lirim Zendelli. His Trident teammate Caldwell had been running eighth, but fell out of the points after colliding with Alex Peroni. David Beckmann took ninth, and Sebastian Fernandez benefitted from the collision ahead to finish tenth.

After taking 17 points for victory and the fastest lap, Sargeant returns to the top of the drivers’ standings by seven points from Piastri, while Beckmann stays third ahead of Lawson by just half a point. Find the full F3 drivers’ and teams’ standings here.

FIA Formula 3 returns next week at Monza for the penultimate round of the season.

Full race result:

Pos. Driver Team Points
1 Logan Sargeant (FL) Prema Racing 17
2 Frederik Vesti Prema Racing 12
3 Liam Lawson Hitech Grand Prix 10
4 Aleksandr Smolyar ART Grand Prix 8
5 Theo Pourchaire ART Grand Prix 6
6 Oscar Piastri Prema Racing 5
7 Richard Verschoor MP Motorsport 4
8 Lirim Zendelli Trident 3
9 David Beckmann Trident 2
10 Sebastian Fernandez ART Grand Prix 1
11 Olli Caldwell Trident
12 Enzo Fittipaldi HWA Racelab
13 Lukas Dunner MP Motorsport
14 David Schumacher Carlin Buzz Racing
15 Clement Novalak Carlin Buzz Racing
16 Bent Viscaal MP Motorsport
17 Jake Hughes HWA Racelab
18 Dennis Hauger Hitech Grand Prix
19 Roman Stanek Charouz Racing System
20 Federico Malvestiti Jenzer Motorsport
21 Andreas Estner Campos Racing
22 Alex Peroni Campos Racing
23 Cameron Das Carlin Buzz Racing
24 Alessio Deledda Campos Racing
25 Calan Williams Jenzer Motorsport
26 Matteo Nannini Jenzer Motorsport
27 Igor Fraga Charouz Racing System
Ret. Michael Belov Charouz Racing System
Ret. Pierre-Louis Chovet Hitech Grand Prix
Ret. Jack Doohan HWA Racelab

F2 Spa: Tsunoda wins feature race after Mazepin penalty

Red Bull junior Yuki Tsunoda took victory in the Spa feature race after on-track winner Nikita Mazepin was penalised for forcing Tsunoda off track.

Tsunoda got a near-perfect launch from pole position to head off the pack into the first corner, while Nobuharu Matsushita jumped Mazepin for second. Behind them, Mick Schumacher got a good start from seventh on the grid to jump up to fourth, while title protagonist Robert Shwartzman dropped from fourth down into the pack.

At the end of the first lap Tsunoda had already opened up a second over Matsushita, as Mazepin closed back in on the MP Motorsport to retake second. Mazepin took the position back on lap 3 while setting the fastest lap of the race, by which point Tsunoda had pulled almost three seconds clear of the pair.

After losing second to Mazepin, Matsushita then started to drop back through the field. Schumacher demoted him to third at the end of lap 3, then on the following lap Matsushita was passed by Louis Deletraz, Shwartzman and Guanyu Zhou.

At Blanchimont Matsushita was set to lose another position as teammate Felipe Drugovich drew level around the outside. But the two made contact instead, breaking Drugovich’s front wing and sending Matsushita into the wall with a puncture, resulting in the virtual safety car being deployed.

Nobuharu Matsushita, MP Motorsport (Lars Baron / Getty Images)

The virtual safety car was withdrawn on lap 6, with Mazepin being quicker than Tsunoda on the restart to gain six tenths on the Carlin. Tsunoda responded over the following laps as Mazepin’s soft tyres started to fade, and the gap returned to over two seconds by the time Mazepin made his pit stop on lap 9.

Tsunoda stayed out a lap longer than Mazepin, but when he came into the pits his own stop was slow and he rejoined the track behind the Russian in 14th place. However, race control then announced Mazepin was under investigation for an unsafe release, as he came close to hitting several of Trident’s pit crew on leaving his box.

With the Mazepin incident to be decided after the race, Tsunoda stuck close to the back of the Hitech as they made their progress through the alternative strategy runners ahead of them. By lap 16 they were back up to the front of the field with a second between them, which Tsunoda then reduced to half a second by lap 19.

Over the next few laps Tsunoda made two moves for the lead around the outside going into Turn 5, but Mazepin headed both off and Tsunoda ran wide as he bailed out. On the penultimate lap Tsunoda tried the move a third time and once again ran wide as Mazepin defended the position. Unable to get close enough to try another pass, Tsunoda ended up crossing the line in second behind Mazepin.

However, shortly after the chequered flag Mazepin was given a five-second time penalty for forcing Tsunoda off track at Turn 5, reversing their positions and giving Tsunoda his second win of the season.

Nikita Mazepin, Hitech (Rudy Carezzevoli / Getty Images)

Schumacher completed the podium in third, the German having a relatively quiet race with five seconds separating him from fourth-placed Deletraz. Shwartzman managed to recover to fifth after his poor first lap, and Dan Ticktum finished sixth for DAMS as the highest alternate strategy driver.

Zhou briefly led the race on the same strategy as Ticktum, but the Chinese driver stayed out later than anyone and wasn’t able to make the places back after his stop, coming home in seventh.

Roy Nissany also ran the alternate strategy and was second behind Zhou for a while, but was likewise unable to carve back through the field on the soft tyres later. However he did manage to pass Luca Ghiotto and Callum Ilott to take reverse grid pole for tomorrow. Ghiotto and Ilott took the final points positions, just keeping DAMS stand-in Juri Vips out of the top ten on his F2 debut.

Post-race penalties:

Mazepin has been given a five-place grid drop for the Monza feature race for “potentially dangerous and unsportsmanlike conduct”, after the stewards judged him to have entered parc-ferme too fast.

Hitech were reprimanded for Mazepin’s pit stop, which was investigated as an unsafe release, while Trident have been fined for their mechanics standing too far forward in the pitlane and thus being in Mazepin’s path.

Matsushita has been given a three-place grid drop for the sprint race for causing his collision with Drugovich on lap 3. Drugovich himself, who finished in P20, was disqualified for making his mandatory pit stop on the final lap, which is a breach of the sporting regulations.

Finally, Marcus Armstrong was given a five-second penalty for overtaking Jack Aitken off-track and drops from P13 to P15.

Full race result:

Pos. Driver Team Points
1 Yuki Tsunoda Carlin 25
2 Nikita Mazepin Hitech Grand Prix 18
3 Mick Schumacher Prema Racing 15
4 Louis Deletraz Charouz Racing System 12
5 Robert Shwartzman (FL) Prema Racing 12
6 Dan Ticktum DAMS 8
7 Guanyu Zhou UNI-Virtuosi Racing 6
8 Roy Nissany Trident 4
9 Luca Ghiotto Hitech Grand Prix 2
10 Callum Ilott UNI-Virtuosi Racing 1
11 Juri Vips DAMS
12 Pedro Piquet Charouz Racing System
13 Jack Aitken Campos Racing
14 Marino Sato Trident
15 Marcus Armstrong ART Grand Prix
16 Artem Markelov BWT HWA Racelab
17 Christian Lundgaard ART Grand Prix
18 Giuliano Alesi BWT HWA Racelab
19 Jehan Daruvala Carlin
20 Guilherme Samaia Campos Racing
Ret. Nobuharu Matsushita MP Motorsport
DSQ Felipe Drugovich MP Motorsport

F3 Spa: maiden win for Zendelli as Piastri retakes title lead

Trident’s Lirim Zendelli controlled the F3 feature race at Spa for his first win in the series, as Oscar Piastri capitalised on problems for title rival Logan Sargeant to retake the championship lead.

Zendelli got a clean start from pole to keep the lead at the start ahead of ART’s Theo Pourchaire and Aleksandr Smolyar. Two rows back, Zendelli’s teammate David Beckmann passed Sargeant to move up from fifth to fourth, and started targeting Smolyar’s podium position.

The early battles were neutralised by a virtual safety car on lap 3, following a series of punctures for Clement Novalak, Andreas Estner and Enzo Fittipaldi that left debris on track, and Alessio Deledda spinning into the gravel.

When the VSC was withdrawn on lap 5, Beckmann pounced on Smolyar to take third. Smolyar briefly retook the position, but Beckmann repassed the ART definitively on lap 7 and pulled out a gap to hold his place on the podium.

At the same time, Zendelli broke out of DRS range from Pourchaire and proceeded to pull away more with each lap. After adding another second over Pourchaire by lap 10, Zendelli continued pushing until the chequered flag, crossing the line almost five seconds clear of the ART in second and Beckmann in third.

Oscar Piastri, Prema (Bryn Lennon / Getty Images)

Behind the leading trio, Piastri finished fifth behind Smolyar in a potentially crucial result for his championship campaign.

Sargeant had stayed in fifth early on after being passed by Beckmann, and was gaining on Smolyar to move up to fourth. Meanwhile, Piastri was making his way up from the lower half of the top 10, passing Richard Verschoor and Liam Lawson to get up to sixth by lap 10.

With four seconds separating the two Premas, Sargeant then suddenly slowed on lap 13, losing two seconds with a suspected engine problem. Piastri closed up to within a second two laps later, before he breezed past Sargeant for fifth on the run to Eau Rouge.

Sargeant continued to nurse his car through the final laps despite saying on team radio that he didn’t think he could make it to the end. However, he lost another two positions to teammate Frederik Vesti and Trident’s Olli Caldwell before the chequered flag, and eventually finished in eighth. The result has given Piastri the lead of the championship again with five points in hand over Sargeant.

Lawson finished in ninth place after struggling with his tyres for much of the race, and Verschoor will start from reverse grid pole tomorrow after taking tenth place. Finally, Pourchaire gained the extra two points for setting the fastest lap within the top ten.

The two rookies making their debuts this weekend, Michael Belov and Pierre-Louis Chovet, finished 20th and 22nd respectively, while Estner finished 27th after his puncture on his return to F3.

Theo Pourchaire, ART (Dan Istitene / Formula 1 via Getty Images)

Full race result:

Pos. Driver Team Points
1 Lirim Zendelli Trident 25
2 Theo Pourchaire (FL) ART Grand Prix 20
3 David Beckmann Trident 15
4 Aleksandr Smolyar ART Grand Prix 12
5 Oscar Piastri Prema Racing 10
6 Frederik Vesti Prema Racing 8
7 Olli Caldwell Trident 6
8 Logan Sargeant Prema Racing 4
9 Liam Lawson Hitech Grand Prix 2
10 Richard Verschoor MP Motorsport 1
11 Sebastian Fernandez ART Grand Prix
12 Jack Doohan HWA Racelab
13 Matteo Nannini Jenzer Motorsport
14 Alex Peroni Campos Racing
15 Dennis Hauger Hitech Grand Prix
16 Calan Williams Jenzer Motorsport
17 David Schumacher Carlin Buzz Racing
18 Federico Malvestiti Jenzer Motorsport
19 Igor Fraga Charouz Racing System
20 Michael Belov Charouz Racing System
21 Lukas Dunner MP Motorsport
22 Pierre-Louis Chovet Hitech Grand Prix
23 Bent Viscaal MP Motorsport
24 Roman Stanek Charouz Racing System
25 Cameron Das Carlin Buzz Racing
26 Enzo Fittipaldi HWA Racelab
27 Andreas Estner Campos Racing
Ret. Jake Hughes HWA Racelab
Ret. Clement Novalak Carlin Buzz Racing
Ret. Alessio Deledda Campos Racing