The championship returns to the stunning island of Sardegna less than two weeks after the end of Rally de Portugal. It’s a very quick turnaround for the teams, and pretty unusual for the World Rally Championship.
This event was run very late last year, with Dani Sordo taking victory from Thierry and Seb. Hyundai will hope that they can fight back after a disappointing Rally de Portugal, which saw their three drivers all lead at different points but ultimately only take a second place after troubles for Ott with broken suspension and Thierry who broke his suspension after a crash on Friday. Oliver Solberg was set to make a second start in an i20 WRC but with his dad having caught covid 19, he’s had to withdraw from the rally. A big shame for the youngster.
Of course, Toyota and Elfyn were there to pick up a very good win in Portugal and the team now hold the top two positions in the drivers’ championship and a big lead in the teams’ championship. Will they be able to challenge for victory this time? Not sure on this, given Seb and Elfyn will be first and second on the road, and will not have the cleanest of roads, but they will target the top five. The Welshman finished fourth last year after opening the road on Friday, courtesy of his championship lead at the time.
M-Sport will hope for a good start like last year where they held the top positions early in the rally, and Teemu who returns to a top car finished in second place last year, and will hope for a similar result. Certainly, would be great to see M-Sport’s drivers take a top result on the island. Gus will have another different co-driver in the car, with Stuart Loudon stepping in, as Chris Patterson is not available for this event.
A look at the stages
After a shakedown on Thursday morning in Loiri, the 2021 Rally Italia Sardegna will begin with a ceremonial start in Alghero.
The schedule on Friday consists of two loops of Sa Conchedda (22.29km) and Terranova (14.36km) in the morning, followed by a service point, and then two loops of Tempio Pausania (12.08km) and Tula (14.97km) in the afternoon.
On Saturday, the crews will first complete two passes of Loelle (15.00km) and Monti di Ala’ (22.08km), before twice tackling Viddalba (14.70km) and Castelsardo (13.03km), again with a service point between the morning and afternoon sections.
The final day comprises of two stages, both of which will be run twice: Braniatogghiu (15.25km) and Santa Teresa (7.79km). The second pass of Santa Teresa will be the rally’s Power Stage, offering bonus points to the drivers and manufacturers.
Let’s hear from the drivers.
Toyota Gazoo Racing WRT
“I’m sure that Sardinia will be another demanding rally for us, opening the road again like in Portugal. But honestly, I am happy to be leading the championship: I always try to take as many points as I can, and this will be the aim in Sardinia too. The result in Portugal was positive, even though I was not so satisfied with our pace. But it was the first time driving with the new tyres on gravel, and hopefully as we gain a bit more understanding with them, we can see how to extract some more performance already in this next event.”
“Portugal was obviously a great result for us. We made good progress with the car setup and our understanding of the tyres throughout the weekend, but even though it’s quite a tight turnaround, I think we probably all have a few ideas as to how we can improve the package for Sardinia. It’s not going to be an easy weekend given our road position, and that might be more of a disadvantage than it was in October last year if we have warm and dry conditions like expected, but we’re going to give it our best shot as always.”
“After Portugal I really hope that we can have a better rally in Sardinia. The stages there are quite demanding and I’m not sure whether suit my style so well, even though I did win there in WRC2 in 2019. Last year it was quite a tricky event for us, but I really want to improve there and show some better pace and I have already been studying the stages quite a lot in preparation. In Portugal I struggled a lot on the first pass when the grip was lower, but we used the Sunday to test some different setups ready for Sardinia and hopefully we can use what we learned there.”
“Rally Italia Sardegna is a brilliant event at which the whole team has always been very strong. A few of us have won there before, and we’ll be hoping to get back on the top step again. This year will be a bit of a change as we are going back to Olbia, where we have been in the past, but the stages will be more or less the same. It will certainly be a challenging event, but hopefully we can bounce back and deliver a strong team result in some beautiful weather.”
“Rally Italia Sardegna is definitely one of the toughest events of the season. The stages can get very rough there with lots of bedrock coming through, so it certainly presents a lot of challenges. Especially with the new tyres this year there will be quite a lot to discover. However, we showed a lot of pace on the gravel in Portugal, so I hope we can take that across to Italy and battle for the win once again.”
“The last two years competing at Rally Italia Sardegna have delivered really good results for me. On both occasions, I have managed to win the rally, so it is an event that I really like. I feel very comfortable there, plus I will have an advantage with road position on the first day, so I am definitely looking forward to it. It was great to get on the podium at Rally de Portugal, but we will be going to Sardinia to fight for the win.”
“I am very excited to return to the cockpit of the Hyundai i20 R5 at Rally Italia Sardegna. It has been a long break for me, and we only have limited opportunities to prepare for the rally with a one-day test on Monday. I have only competed in this event once before – last year – and I won in WRC 3, so I have very nice memories and high expectations of this year’s entry into WRC 2.”
M-Sport Ford WRT
“Portugal was just about getting back to where I can be and I’m hoping for more of the same in Sardinia. Although it’s more technical, Sardinia is fairly similar to Portugal in that we’ll start the rally on the set-up I finished Portugal with, which worked well.
“The set-up is a very similar premise to Portugal. We want the car to be driving from the front, we don’t want to be losing time sliding because the stages are so narrow and twisty and technical that the more you are facing forward the faster you are going. We know the car can be fast here from previous years and both Teemu and I can count on good road positions for day one. I’ve not had much luck on this rally so I’m hoping for third time lucky.
“Chris can’t attend for personal reasons but I’ve competed with Stuart before in Germany. We did a few stage-winning times so clearly we’re pretty hand in a car together.”
“I’ve always enjoyed driving in Sardinia. It’s on the rough side of a gravel rally but the car can take the roughness, although you need to manage your tyre wear and that will be a big point. Normally I have had good results in Sardinia. I won’t try the Pirelli tyre until shakedown, which is a challenge, but I will take the challenge and get the maximum out of the weekend.”
“It helps that we start in Sardinia straight after Portugal, but the others will have a one-week advantage over me because I did Portugal in the Rally2 car. They know the whole package and there’s not much I can do about that so I need to make a big difference out of my road position, which will be good for the first day if it stays dry.”
“I’m really excited to be back in the Ford Fiesta WRC. It’s enjoyable to drive and I would say it’s easier going from the Rally2 to the WRC rather than in the other direction. We have the aero and it’s easier to go with the paddleshift. But it’s easier to wear out the tyres because we have 100hp more and you can have too much wheelspin. That can make the rally more difficult but I’m here to learn the tyres and have a clean rally.”
“I will discover again the Rally2 Fiesta after two rallies in the World Rally Car. But it’s my third time in Sardinia and I expect to be able to fight with the top drivers in WRC2 and why not fight for the win. I hope with the knowledge of the car that I have from before that I will be able to adapt quite quickly. Even if it’s a different car to the WRC, it’s still four-wheel drive. But the big difference is the speed in the very fast sections.”
“Without all the aero of the World Rally Car it can be a bit less stable but then we have less power so it’s not a problem. We use the paddle to change the gears with the WRC car but in the Rally2 we use the gear stick, so I have to remember to change my habits. I can be very proud of my performances in Croatia and Portugal, where I had to discover everything. Now I have a different job to do, but I am confident I can do it well so I get more chances in the World Rally Car in the future.”
Well, anyone could take victory on the island from the Hyundai team, and it’s certainly what they will what, given the lead that the Toyota drivers hold over them. I guess the question will be, can the M-Sport team get in the mix and challenge at the front? If all goes well, then I’m sure that they can. In the WRC2 category, there is some really good talent as well, with Mads, Adrien, Nicolay, Andreas and others in the mix. Finally, Chris and Ross continue their WRC3 challenge, and after scoring a very good third place finish in that category, they will be hoping for even better this time out.
It was a rally to forget for Hyundai, with all three of their drivers leading at different points throughout the weekend. However, it was Elfyn and Scott in their Yaris WRC that came through to take their fourth career victory. Here’s the story, stage by stage how it happened.
The startlist looked like this heading into the first day of action – Ogier, Neuville, Evans, Tänak, Rovanperä, Katsuta, Fourmaux, Greensmith, Sordo.
It was a 1-2-3 for Hyundai in SS1 Lousã 1 – 12.35 km, with Ott leading Dani and Thierry, whilst Gus and Elfyn were equal fourth fastest. Meanwhile our championship leader was only eighth fastest, 5.1 down on the leaders, and the slowest of the Toyota drivers, perfectly understandable given that he was opening the road.
The was a change in the lead after SS2 Góis 1 – 19.51 km, as Dani went a little over three seconds faster than Ott, whilst Thierry remained third fastest in the stage and overall, as well. Seb lost another 11 seconds in this stage, but still held eighth. Kalle moved up into fourth overall as well after a good time.
Into SS3 Arganil 1 – 18.82 km, and Dani opened up his lead over Ott and Thierry remained in third. There was a change further down the top ten though with Elfyn jumping up to fourth overall as Kalle slipped down the order to seventh. Gus’s good pace earlier was ruined after getting a puncture and dropping 51 seconds and two places from seventh to ninth.
The following stage SS4 Lousã 2 – 12.35 km was all about those two young drivers, with Kalle winning the stage from Gus and Dani third. The young Finns pace lifted him up into sixth and ahead of Adrien Fourmaux. Elfyn was holding fourth overall at this point 18.5 seconds from the leader who was still Dani.
Dani won SS5 Góis 2 – 19.51 km from Thierry and Kalle. Ott was off the pace with the seventh fastest time and was passed by his teammate Thierry. Takamoto also passed Elfyn for fourth place after the Japanese driver set the fourth best time. Seb was also on the move up the leaderboard as well, moving into seventh ahead of Adrien.
Ott won SS6 Arganil 2 – 18.82 km from Thierry and Elfyn and the Welshman’s pace moved him back ahead of his teammate. Top M-Sport driver was Adrien who was holding eighth overall ahead of his teammate Gus.
Seb took his first stage win of the weekend in SS7 Mortágua – 18.16 km from Elfyn who actually set the same time as his teammate. This was done, because the Welshman got caught behind Thierry who’d hit a bank after losing control of his car, and he’d damaged his right rear wheel and suspension. Gus took third fastest as he started to show some quality pace out there, and this meant that he moved ahead of his French teammate into seventh. Thierry would attempt to fix the problem but the damage was too much and he would have to retire from the rally.
The final stage of the day then, which was the super special, SS8 SSS Lousada – 3.36 km, and the top three was Ott, with Seb second and Gus in third. Dani was off the pace with only the seventh best time and fell from the lead to third. Ott was now in the lead from Elfyn with Dani holding third.
Classification after Day One
Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC
Toyota Yaris WRC
C. del Barrio
Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC
Toyota Yaris WRC
Toyota Yaris WRC
Toyota Yaris WRC
Ford Fiesta WRC
Ford Fiesta WRC
Let’s hear from the drivers
Ott Tänak (1st)
“It hasn’t been trouble-free by any means, so it is positive to be leading the rally. We did what we could to get the best out of the car on these gravel roads, but it was a demanding day. Although we took some stage wins, I felt that there was still room for improvement at times. We tried to manage the tyres and find a better feeling into the afternoon loop. A puncture in SS5 limited our options, so we focused on getting through the day. It was great to be back rallying in front of fans again.”
Dani Sordo (3nd)
“I have enjoyed being back in a WRC car, alongside my new co-driver Borja, on these Portuguese stages. It has been great to see some spectators too, who are an important part of this rally. We had a decent morning loop, making the most of our road position to take some stage wins. The car was working well. Unfortunately, we had a much tougher afternoon, including an engine stall in SS7 which saw us lose the lead. We also had some tyre-related issues, which was clear to see on the Super Special, so I couldn’t push more. We have to be satisfied with our position today and target a more consistent performance on Saturday.”
Thierry Neuville (DNF)
“Unfortunately, we had to retire following a pace note in SS7 that was too optimistic. It was too fast and when I saw the corner, I tried to correct it but there was something like a tree stump that pulled us onto our side. It is disappointing because we started really well this morning, despite being second on the road. The target was clearly to fight for the win. Everything was going firmly to plan until SS7. We tried our best to fix things on the road section but sadly the suspension was damaged, so it was game over for the day.”
Toyota Gazoo Racing WRT
Elfyn Evans (2nd)
“It’s been a long and difficult day out there. We’ve had the new gravel tyres to get to grips with and it’s been tough to make the right choices. It was quite damp this morning but we’re very limited with how many soft tyres we have. We were quite often mixing tyres and therefore it’s been difficult to feel totally comfortable behind the wheel. But we seemed to have escaped trouble when others have found it, and on the back of that we find ourselves in a really strong position overnight. I struggled a bit for consistency this morning, but after that it was a bit better this afternoon and now, we’re looking to make some small improvements to try and fight for that win over the rest of the rally. It’s going to be a challenging day tomorrow but I’m looking forward to it.”
Sébastien Ogier (5th)
“For most of today, running first on the road was a bit the same like always: trying our best but always losing time on every stage. Luckily there was one stage this afternoon which saved us a little bit, SS7. I really did not expect to be fastest in this stage: It was the dirtiest stage of the day with a lot of loose and dry gravel. The fact I opened the road all day gave me the chance to save the tyres more than the others, we benefited from a lot of trouble for our competitors and we managed to do a good time. For sure, it looks a bit better now, we’re back in the fight for the podium at least. It’s still very open I believe tomorrow is the longest day of the event and it should be a bit more interesting for us having some cars running in front of us on the road.”
Kalle Rovanperä (6th)
“Overall, today was quite difficult but we managed to do some good times too. In the morning I felt that the setup was not quite right for what I need: We haven’t done enough kilometres yet on the new tyres in these conditions and I was not sure which way to go. But when we could see what we needed to change, we were able to change the setup a bit in the middle of the day. After that the afternoon was better, but we also had an issue with the tyres which cost us a lot of time. I think we now know which direction to go in with the car setup and hopefully it will work out much better tomorrow.”
M-Sport Ford WRT
Gus Greensmith (7th)
“We worked really hard on the test last weekend and the ideas we came up with have brought this car alive for me and that’s really pleasing. I felt the tyres overheated a bit on SS2, so I was trying to manage them a bit and I was clearly too cautious in places.
“It was a shame about the puncture on SS3 because, otherwise, we shouldn’t be too shy of the podium, but we were able to keep the focus and keep going and I was happy with my driving and what I’ve achieved so far. I’ve spent 50 per cent of the day inside the top three stage times so it’s been positive.
“As soon as Chris came into the car, he showed me the bits where I was going wrong and where I needed to make changes. We’ve worked really hard on those areas and everything seems to be becoming a lot better. The progression’s a lot quicker than I expected it to be and I’m enjoying it.”
Adrien Fourmaux (8th)
“It was a really nice loop this morning, just so enjoyable and the car was amazing to drive, so much fun. But we’re here to learn so I was focusing on doing that and going forward in a good direction.
“This afternoon was another challenge, another new experience. I was surprised how rutted the road was and I was afraid to have a puncture. But looking at the whole day, I’ve been really happy with my stage times and with my driving.
“In a corner that was tightening on SS7, the rear wheel was just a bit in the dust and we had a big spin. We were lucky that the car had no real damage, just a puncture, but everything was okay and we are hoping for another good day on Saturday and for more experience.”
Teemu Suninen (3rd WRC 2)
“It’s been a really good day for us, but it’s been quite tricky with a lot of rough places and we had to be quite clever. We’ve been on a really good pace and we’ve been fighting for the seconds with two other drivers. We lost 10s in Mads Østberg’s dust on SS3 when I couldn’t see anything, but let’s see if we can get the time back. The Fiesta Rally2 is proving to be really competitive in these conditions and I look forward to understanding it on gravel even more over the next two days.”
Tom Kristensson (8th WRC 2)
“We had some problems earlier in the day. They became a thorn in our side and we slid down into a ditch on SS4 and were unable to get back up. We’ll give it another go tomorrow.”
The startlist for Saturday looked like this – Neuville, Fourmaux, Greensmith, Rovanperä, Ogier, Katsuta, Sordo, Evans, Tänak.
First up was SS9 Vieira do Minho 1 – 20.64 km and Ott was quick out of the blocks, adding seven and a half seconds to his lead over Elfyn who was second in the stage and Dani who was third. Seb was on the move though, and after setting the fourth best time, he passed Takamoto and was now in fourth overall.
The Estonian was quickest in SS10 Cabeceiras de Basto 1 – 22.37 km from Elfyn and Dani. Ott’s lead was now approaching 20 seconds over the Welshman. There was a change on the leaderboard, with Takamoto now moving into fourth after Seb suffered a small spin.
The final big stage of the morning SS11 Amarante 1 – 37.92 km was again won by Ott from Elfyn and Dani, and Ott’s lead increased again a little. Seb brought down Tatamoto’s lead down to just half a second in their battle over fourth overall.
After the lunchtime break for service, Elfyn hit back and won the stage from Ott, but could only reduce the gap by a little. Dani remained in third, but there was a change in position between Seb and Takamoto as the champion moved back into fourth.
Ott won SS13 Cabeceiras de Basto 2 – 22.37 km from Kalle and Takamoto. Further back, Gus was having a technical problem with the throttle only working sometimes and he lost a further 49 seconds in the stage. He still held on to seventh place, as his teammate Adrien who had suffered a similar problem earlier in the day.
The second run of SS14 Amarante 2 – 37.92 km saw drama for Ott however, as his lead ended after his rear right suspension broke and while he attempted to get to the finish they had to stop and retire in the stage. Elfyn came through to take the stage win from Dani and Seb, and this was also now the top three as well.
The final stage of the day was won by Dani, with an amazing drive from Mads in his C3 Rally2 to the second fastest time, whilst Takamoto was third quickest. Elfyn was only twelfth and saw his lead over Dani cut to just 10.7 seconds. In fact, the fastest Brits were Chris and Ross in their Rally Warrior run Skoda Fabia Rally 2. There was a change in position between the M-Sport crews, with Adrien and Gus swapping places, and the French crew moving into fifth overall.
Classification after Day Two
Toyota Yaris WRC
Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC
Toyota Yaris WRC
Toyota Yaris WRC
Ford Fiesta WRC
Ford Fiesta WRC
Let’s hear from the drivers after day two.
Toyota Gazoo Racing WRT
Elfyn Evans (1st)
“It feels pretty good to be leading the rally tonight. Overall, the day went pretty well for us. I struggled to find my rhythm a little bit at the start of the morning loop, but after that I was relatively happy. The conditions have been pretty tough out there but we seemed to get through it quite well. It’s obviously a shame for Ott and what happened to him, but now we find ourselves in quite a strong position. It’s still close so it’s all to play for tomorrow and it’s going to be a tricky day. But I’m looking forward to those stages and we will definitely give it our best shot”
Sébastien Ogier (3rd)
“It has been a difficult day for us today, but at least we have been able to climb up the order a little bit. This is the positive thing: that we are back in a podium position. That is mostly because we stayed out of trouble, but this is also part of the game. For sure, I cannot be very satisfied with my day as I did not have the pace I wanted. This was partly down to road position because we suffered again with a lot of cleaning effect, but I could also have been better with my tyre choices at some points. Still, I have some new tyres left for tomorrow and we have to use those as best as we can.”
Kalle Rovanperä (DNF)
“The morning loop was again quite difficult today, but once more on the afternoon loop when the grip was higher, I was really enjoying the car again: Everything was working normally and the stage times were again good. So, I think there is some work to do for me to find the feeling with the car in the more slippery conditions we find on the first loop. Unfortunately, we had a technical issue before the third stage of the afternoon and we had to retire for the day, but we think we can be back out tomorrow. It’s going to be tricky in the Power Stage because of our road position, but of course we’ll try to get as many points as possible.
Dani Sordo (2nd)
“Our objective today was not only to defend our overnight position – third place – but also to keep an eye on the front so we could also try to make gains on the guys in front. We had some damage to the starter motor in the final stages, so we were a bit concerned to stall the engine. In the super special, I felt we had good grip so tried to keep it clean and not lose too much time. At the end, we could catch some time back to Evans and we’re now just ten seconds behind. He was a little bit faster today, but tomorrow is another day, with different stages; we need to work tonight on preparing carefully. I would like to win, so let’s see. It will be maximum attack.”
Ott Tänak (DNF)
“It was far from a great end after what had been a really nice and enjoyable day up to that point. I really enjoyed myself in the car, it was working nicely, and I was able to control everything. Unfortunately, we were forced to retire but hopefully the team will be able to fix it so we can return tomorrow ready to fight for some points.”
Thierry Neuville (DNF)
“Firstly, I would like to extend my thanks to the mechanics for preparing our car ready for today’s stages; it was not an easy job within the time, but they have again done a first-class job. Unfortunately, there were still some unresolved issues which made the car difficult to drive, so we took the decision to retire at lunchtime service in order to give it a thorough check. It doesn’t change our weekend, after the disappointment of yesterday; our target is still to push in the Power Stage tomorrow and to try and salvage some points for the drivers’ and manufacturers’ championships.”
M-Sport Ford WRT
Adrien Fourmaux (5th)
“The stages were really nice to drive today and driving my EcoBoost-powered Ford Fiesta WRC on gravel was just amazing, so I was enjoying myself a lot.
“It was not easy to be opening the road and I think it was worse in the second loop because of the line of the two-wheel-drive cars. It was hard to find the right driving style and the right set-up because of this. We have lost a lot of time but opening the road is part of the game and it’s good for the experience and for the future.
“Overall, we can be happy that we had a good pace for the last long stage. Honestly, it was a really tough day but really fun and I can’t wait to get more experience tomorrow.”
Gus Greensmith (6th)
“We had a pretty stellar run through the first stage this morning. I was hesitating in places on the next stage and then I had quite a big moment on the final stage of the morning that cost me five seconds. The moment distracted me a bit, but I got back on the rhythm pretty quickly.
“We had hopes of making more progress in the afternoon so we’re obviously disappointed to have had some issues with the car. But we managed them the best we could and minimised the time loss, which is the most important thing and something we should be pleased about. I will try to get the time back tomorrow and the positive thing is the top five is still achievable.”
Teemu Suninen (2nd WRC 2)
“It’s been a great day when you consider we are second in WRC2 and have been able to show the performance of the EcoBoost-powered Ford Fiesta Rally2 on gravel. It was a big shame we got the puncture in the afternoon and I have to say it was tricky to manage the conditions at the end of the loop. Of course, we were hoping for a bit more but I can be happy with what we’ve been doing here. We kept the pressure on in the afternoon and the gap was not too big before we got the puncture.”
Tom Kristensson (9th WRC 2)
“We needed to start from fresh this morning and just try to get some experience and now we’ve got it. The first run through the long stage was very good for us and we were able to increase our speed during the stage. It was good experience with the tyres and a good experience with the car and we’re very happy to get to the finish of the day. We are enjoying and focusing totally on ourselves in the car. We need to continue like this.”
The final day then. The start list looked like this – Neuville, Rovanperä, Tänak, Fourmaux, Greensmith, Katsuta, Ogier, Sordo, Evans.
Well, the first stage of the day, SS16 Felgueiras 1 – 9.18 km saw Elfyn fly through an amazing 8.9 seconds faster than Adrien and Gus who were second and third fastest and suddenly his lead over Dani had effectively doubled to over twenty seconds as the Spaniard could only manage the fourth best time. The returning Hyundai drivers Ott and Thierry were cruising through and set the 20th and 28th best time respectively, saving their tyres for later and the push for power stage points.
Elfyn also took SS17 Montim – 8.75 km, but not by as much, with Dani just 1.4 seconds behind, whilst Gus was third fastest and closed the gap to his teammate to just 9 tenths of a second. There were no changes to the top positions however.
The first run of SS18 Fafe 1 – 11.18 km saw Thierry take the stage from Ott and Elfyn. Gus was quicker than Adrien and passed him for fifth overall.
The penultimate stage, SS19 Felgueiras 2 – 9.18 km saw Elfyn set the best time, from Adrien and Dani. Gus was fourth and kept his teammate behind though. Takamoto’s challenge to Seb was over though as the Japanese driver lost 33 seconds in this stage, but kept his fourth overall position as the lead he held over Gus was large after the young Brit’s problems on Saturday.
To the final stage then, SS20 Fafe 2 [Power Stage] – 11.18 km and we saw the pace of Ott and Thierry come through, with the Estonian going fastest from his teammate, and Seb taking the third best time. Fourth and fifth were Kalle and Elfyn rounding out the points paying positions in the power stage.
Elfyn ended up winning the rally by over 28 seconds from Dani who saved Hyundai’s event, whilst Seb scored a well-earned podium.
Final Overall Classification – Rally de Portugal
Toyota Yaris WRC
Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC
Toyota Yaris WRC
Toyota Yaris WRC
Ford Fiesta WRC
Ford Fiesta WRC
Škoda Fabia Evo
Ford Fiesta MkII
Citroën C3 R5
Volkswagen Polo GTI
Let’s hear from the drivers.
Toyota Gazoo Racing WRT
Elfyn Evans (1st)
“Obviously it’s a fantastic way to finish by clinching the win. It wasn’t all plain sailing all the way through the weekend, and we maybe weren’t the absolute fastest crew, but we still had really good pace and the performance was generally quite consistent. This morning we knew that there wasn’t such a big gap to second place, so we had to go out and give it our all. That’s what we did, and we managed to set a few good times just to build up a bit of an advantage. In Croatia it was quite painful to miss out so it feels good to get this one sealed with relatively little drama.”
Sébastien Ogier (3rd)
“Today we were focused on securing the third place overall and securing some bonus points in the Power Stage. We couldn’t get the maximum there but three points is certainly better than nothing, and 18 points overall from the weekend is a positive result. I don’t like when I’m not able to fight for the very top positions, but that was kind of expected coming here leading the championship and running first on the road, so we did what we could. We need to keep working and improve the pace for the next rally in Sardinia and see what we can do there, even though I expect it will again be challenging. Every time we score good points is a step towards the championship.”
Takamoto Katsuta (4th)
“For sure, I’m pretty happy about this weekend. It has been a tough rally and every stage has been quite tricky. I had one big moment on Saturday night but we could survive this without problems and the team did a great job as always to repair the car. It has not been an easy weekend and the last day especially was quite tough for me, but I could finish with the best result of my career and I’m very happy to fight with the top drivers like we did. I have definitely made a step forward compared to before. But, like I’m always saying, I still need to improve a lot, so I will continue to work hard to keep going in the right direction.”
Kalle Rovanperä (22nd)
“From my side the weekend has been a disappointment. We had many issues and lost some good points from this, but that’s rallying sometimes and we just have to continue onto the next one. Today we had the chance to test some different setups for the car in the first loop to help prepare for the next rallies. After that, we didn’t have such good tyres for the Power Stage compared to some other drivers. I really tried to push to the maximum that I could, and it was good that we got at least two points – it was just not really possible to get a better time with the tyres that we had.”
Dani Sordo (2nd)
“I am very happy to come back to take second place in Rally de Portugal. Obviously, at the same time, I am a bit disappointed that I could not catch Elfyn for the win, but he was faster today. If you’re faster, then you win. To finish the rally and to take points for the manufacturers’ championship is important, and I am also delighted to share the first podium with Borja in our first WRC event as a crew.”
Ott Tänak (21st)
“It was a good feeling in the Power Stage to be back on the pace we showed yesterday. Since Saturday morning, we have started to find the feeling that we used to have. We are getting there. Looking at the positives, the pace is definitely improving. It’s been a long, hard job by many people, who have put in a lot of effort. This was our first gravel rally for a long time, so I don’t have much experience in the car; I still had to learn and understand a bit more. Hopefully now we are able to put the combination together. It’s now giving me a feeling of anticipation for the rest of the season. We’ve been working hard, so we expect results.”
Thierry Neuville (36th)
“After the dramas we have battled this weekend, we couldn’t have done any more today. I am really disappointed for the team not to have delivered in this rally. We had the pace and the car for victory but, unfortunately, I let everybody down with a mistake that started in the recce. We were too optimistic. We had bad conditions in the recce with fog and rain, and I misjudged the corner, which brought our rally to an early end. We are always motivated to do a good result, but we just weren’t able to achieve it in Portugal. We’re definitely going to go for it in Sardinia.”
Oliver Solberg (11th)
“It has been a difficult but enjoyable event with lots to learn with our new car, the Hyundai i20 R5, on gravel and in my first Rally de Portugal. It has been hard work over the weekend to get better and better. On Friday, we were learning about tyre combinations and the behaviour of the car on gravel. Normally I would push but I told myself to back off a bit and learn the pace notes. The speed was there on some stages.”
“When everything was working well, I could find confidence in the notes and a get into a rhythm. It was really good to take the fastest time in SS12 (Vieira do Minho). Of course, we had some small issues too, with the stall on Saturday which lost us some time. We took it easy on the final morning following an intercom issue on SS16. We wanted to save some tyres for the Power Stage, but we couldn’t go harder. We were on the limit, but it was a fantastic stage with the incredible Fafe jump. Not the overall result I had hoped for, but a fantastic Rally de Portugal nonetheless.”
M-Sport Ford WRT
Gus Greensmith (5th)
“It’s been a really good weekend, I’ve equalled my best result in the World Rally Championship so far, and things look good going forward and that’s important. We’ve had some issues but in terms of the pace and performance I’m really happy.
“We put in some good times and would have finished higher up the order had it not been for the puncture on Friday and problem with the engine on Saturday. But those things happen and only make you stronger and better as a driver.
“I want to say a big thank you to the team because they made a big difference in helping me make the step forward on this rally. Now we just need to keep it going on the next event in Sardinia and for the rest of the season.”
Adrien Fourmaux (6th)
“Honestly it was a really good rally for me and it was interesting to open the road yesterday. Okay, it was difficult for the pace but it was really good for the learning and I’ve learned so much with the car and everything this weekend and this what I am here to do.
“I really enjoyed the stages; they were so much fun and the car was really good. I can say only thank you to M-Sport for the opportunity to drive the EcoBoost-powered Ford Fiesta WRC.
“For sure it was a really difficult rally for my first time here and the knowledge of the stages of the others didn’t help us. But it’s part of the game and on the Felgueiras stage today, which hadn’t been used for many years, we were second fastest both times.”
Teemu Suninen (2nd WRC2)
“Finishing second in WRC2 is a really good result and it’s the same as the rally, which was also really good. I had a few struggles today, including a spin on the first stage this morning. But I was able to bring the car home to the finish and I could also show a good performance with the car and we can be happy with this. We can now focus on our next event in Sardinia when we will get the opportunity to drive the EcoBoost-powered Ford Fiesta WRC. It’s an event I know and like and I can’t wait to get there and get started.”
Tom Kristensson (9th WRC2)
“We had a tough rally, but it’s been a good final day with nice stages that were enjoyable to drive. The main target was to get to the finish, get the kilometres and get some confidence. For sure I need to find more confidence, but I’m enjoying driving the car and the team and the journey we are doing. We’ll start over fresh on our next event and keep making progress.”
Looking at the performances at Toyota, Elfyn and Scott’s drive to victory was very well judged. they maintained good pace to stay close to the leader throughout Friday and Saturday and this gave them the lead when Ott and Martin had their problem on Saturday. They then laid down a real marker on Sunday’s first stage when they doubled their lead. It was a very good drive from the pairing. Seb and Adrien did a very impressive job as well, as we’ve come to expect from them. They did what they could on Friday and were quick when they had the opportunity, and picked up the positions when others had their problems. They continue to lead the title race. Takamoto and Dan drove to their best ever result of fourth overall and changed positions with their teammates a number of times throughout Saturday. Finally, Kalle and Jonne were having a good event and it was a shame that they suffered this technical problem that took them out of the running for a top ten finish. Still, they learnt a lot, and this has to bode well for the future.
At Hyundai it was a rally that got away from them. Thierry and Martijn were in a strong position, setting some great times, feeling confident out there but it all went wrong with one wrong pace note and that was it for their victory hopes. However, Ott and Martin were there to pick up the pieces and were driving well, building a big lead on Saturday morning, only for the suspension to break on them and that then put them out of the lead. A big shame for the 2019 champions. However, Dani and his new co-driver Borja had a great event, taking stage wins and scoring a very good result for themselves and the team. Finally, Oliver and Aaron took their debut on gravel in the WRC2 category and set some fantastic times and would have scored a well-deserved podium in the category were it not for a spin and getting beached on the edge of the road.
At M-Sport we saw a superb drive from Gus and Chris, with the paring scoring a brilliant fifth overall, but more than that setting a couple of very good top two fastest times. Were it not for the puncture and technical problems they would have been battling with Takamoto for fourth overall and that would have been an incredible result. It was a very good drive, and bodes well for the rest of the season. Their French teammates Adrien and Renaud also had a great debut on gravel with a full WRC car. Just like Gus, they had their problems but they stayed focused and came through for a well-deserved top six finish.
Final mention goes to Chris and Ross for their excellent drive to a WRC3 podium in their Rally Warrior run Skoda Fabia. They also finished in the top 15 which is an excellent result. The duo took a number on stage wins in the category, and they will be looking forward to their next rally.
Just home from @rallydeportugal and pleased to be back on the podium. One of the best and most challenging rallies I've ever done, still a huge amount to come which I'm excited to unlock! Thanks to our team, partners and everyone supporting us as always for making this reality 🙌 pic.twitter.com/Jdohplvwnj
We come to the third round of this year’s championship with young Finn Kalle Rovanperä leading the title race from Thierry Neuville and Seb Ogier.
This event sees the crews face the challenge of making completely new notes for stages that they have not seen before. They will relish the challenge though, and will be looking forward to the return of competition.
Making their first start in a full Fiesta WRC will be Adrien Fourmaux and Renaud Jamoul. The French-Belgian crew are sharing the second Fiesta WRC with their teammates Teemu and Mikko. It will be interesting to see how they match up with Gus and his new co-driver Chris Patterson.
Also making his debut in the championship are 2019 European Rally Champions Chris Ingram and Ross Whittock with the Rally Warrior/ SXM Competition squad who are running a Skoda Fabia in the WRC3 class for the duo. By the time they make their start, they will have completed two tests as they look to start on the front foot.
There are twenty stages over the three days of the rally – Here’s the full details below.
Let’s hear from the drivers!
Toyota Gazoo Racing
“Croatia will be a new rally and I’m excited to still discover new things in this sport at this point in my career. It has been a long time since we had a full asphalt rally like this one, and the Yaris is a great car to drive on asphalt, so I’m sure it will be fun. From what I’ve seen so far, the roads could be quite challenging, maybe a bit dirty and narrow in places, so I’m sure there will be plenty of action ahead of us. The pre-event test was very important because we have new tyres this season and this was the first chance to drive the slick tyres on dry asphalt. I did a lot of runs, trying all of the different combinations of tyres and trying to be ready to make the best choices during the rally.”
“Croatia is an all-new event so we don’t know exactly what to expect. We’ve been able to study videos of the stages to learn as much as we can, but nothing can substitute actually being there on the recce and seeing the route for real. The stages look quite mixed, with some wide fast parts and some very narrow bumpy parts, and there could be quite a lot of cutting. So it looks like we need to be quite adaptable to the different surfaces and different character of stages that we’ll face. We don’t have masses of experience with this car on dry asphalt or with the Pirelli tyres, so in testing we were trying quite a few different settings. But the feeling in the car was generally positive straight away from the first runs.”
“I’m really happy with how the has season has started for me and hopefully we can carry on the same way. I’m not feeling any pressure even though I’m leading the championship: It’s only been two rallies and we have a long season ahead. For sure it’s nice to be in this position but we have to work hard to try to stay in the fight. I’m excited for Croatia: It will be the first time for me on a proper asphalt event with the Yaris, as so far, I’ve only had events with winter conditions like Monza and Monte Carlo. I’m hoping that we can have dry weather like we did on the test. The stages look really nice, but if it’s raining, I think there will be a lot of mud on the road and that will be tricky.”
“I always look forward to tarmac events. This time it is a new one for everybody; none of us has been previously competed in Croatia. Also, for the teams, we have no experience of these stages. It’s going to be a challenging event but I think everybody likes the fact that it is new. Because it is our first time at Croatia Rally, there is a lot of hard work for us to do as soon as we arrive to ensure we are as prepared as possible.”
“I have never been to Croatia and I haven’t seen any footage, so currently it’s all new information. Hopefully it will be a proper event; I have heard that the roads should be good fun there. It seems that there will be a few tarmac events in the championship this year, so it is a surface we need to be strong on. We will aim to hit the ground running from the beginning and continue our positive momentum from Finland.”
“Croatia brings the first tarmac round of the season and a new event for everybody. It’s honestly quite difficult to find any information about the rally, but it looks like it will be an interesting event, hopefully with some nice weather, and some stages in the mountains. I’m definitely really looking forward to my first proper event on tarmac with the Hyundai i20 WRC in the championship. It should be a nice event.”
M-Sport Ford WRT
“I’m really looking forward to getting back behind the wheel and with Chris sitting alongside it feels like a completely fresh start to the season. I want to thank Elliott for the time we spent together. He’s a great co-driver and a good friend, but at this point in my career I can only benefit from the experience someone like Chris will bring to the car. It’s all about ironing out those small mistakes, and with his help I believe I can do that.
“We’ve already spent quite a few days together in the workshop and going through the pacenotes, but this weekend’s test will be our first time sitting together in the rally car. It will take some time to get used to one another, but he’s been great to work with so far and I can already see that experience coming to the fore with ideas and suggestions about what we can do to improve.
“Hopefully that will all come together for a strong result next week. I want to deliver a consistent performance with no mistakes, and I see no reason why we won’t be able to do that. We know that the Fiesta is a quick car on Tarmac which automatically gives you that extra bit of confidence, and the new engine will make a positive difference as well.”
“I’m really excited to take this next step in my career and want to thank M-Sport and Red Bull for the opportunity; as well as the FFSA and all my partners, family and supporters – because without all of them I wouldn’t be here today!
“This won’t be my first time behind the wheel of the Fiesta WRC as we drove it at Rally Legend last year and also at the pre-event test for Arctic Rally – but this will be my first time driving against the world’s best drivers in the FIA World Rally Championship.
“There will be a lot to learn, but I’m really looking forward to it and will focus on gaining as much knowledge and experience as I can.
“We have a pre-event test this weekend to really get to grips with the car and dial into the Croatian roads which will be completely new to everyone. From what I’ve seen, the stages look really interesting – fast and narrow and quite technical in places. It’s going to be a big challenge, but one that I’m excited to experience.
“I’m looking forward to rallying on pure asphalt again and even more so behind the wheel of this car! I can’t wait to get started and am looking forward to seeing where we are and how we can improve throughout the weekend.”
“It’s great to be competing at next week’s Rally Croatia. This event wasn’t on my calendar at the start of the year, and I want to thank Malcolm and Rich for finding a way for me to compete. The more time I get behind the wheel of any rally car the better, and I’m looking forward to experiencing this new event and discovering the Croatian stages.
“Of course, the WRC 2 category is really competitive at the moment and I’ve not driven the Fiesta Rally2 in a really long time – but it’s all good experience and I’m looking forward to the challenge and what I hope will be a really good battle at the head of the field. It will also be good to rediscover a car without centre differential – so that I can be ready for any 2022 testing the team might need in the coming months.”
“I’m really excited to start this next stage of my career. This is such a fantastic opportunity for me and having worked so hard to be here I plan to make the most of every second. It was always my plan to drive my prize Ford Fiesta Rally2 in the FIA World Rally Championship, and to do that as part of M-Sport’s WRC 2 team is really special. There will be a lot to learn, but I’m in the best place to do that and really looking forward to our first event together.
“I want to be as ready as I can be so we’ve been pretty busy over the past couple of weeks with a fairly intense period of practice and preparation. I drove M-Sport Poland’s Ford Fiesta Rally3 at Rallye Sanremo last weekend, and then stayed in Italy for some pacenote practice with my gravel crew. We had also planned to test in Italy but when we got to the test road it was completely full of snow and had to make a quick change! We’re now going to try and test in Slovenia, before heading to Croatia for an official test with the M-Sport team.
“It’s been a busy few weeks, but hopefully all worth it and we’ll be able to make the most of the experience and show good progress throughout the weekend.”
We are set then for an exciting rally. Who could take the victory then? Well, it’s hard to look past any of the Toyota crews. Both Seb and Elfyn are capable of winning on this surface and Kalle will be quick as well. Could he take his first win? Well, he will be opening the road, and will have potentially the best road conditions for the first runs through Friday’s stages.
It’s fair to say that Ott and Thierry will also be quick as well this weekend, as both have won on tarmac before, and the Belgian took part in Rally Sanremo as part of his preparations for Croatia as he and his new co-driver looked to get more time in competition together. Craig and Paul will also be competing for Hyundai this weekend.
With a young driver line-up at M-Sport, the team are not likely to be challenging for victory, but will be looking to set some good times on the stages as Gus and Adrien continue their development at the top of rallying world.
The 2019 European Champions will be making their first start in the WRC at this month’s Rally Croatia for a team named Rally Warrior. They are a brand-new team, and they will be going up against some more experienced drivers and teams. Never-the-less, there is no doubting the quality of this duo, and they will be a crew to watch, and they will know the car that they are about to take this opportunity, having driven a Skoda Fabia Evo Rally 2 to the ERC title.
If you read my interview with Chris from last years Autosport International, you will know that Chris and Ross crowdfunded their drive to the 2019 ERC title. If you haven’t, I recommend that you check it out. The good news is that this deal is for two seasons, and is fully supported by a number of big backers, giving them a fantastic platform to be able to concentrate all of their preparations on the events, and not have all these distractions for getting backing organised for events.
Chris has joined forces with the vastly successful SXM Competition team from Belgium to pilot a Škoda Fabia Rally2 Evo. “As a team we wanted to do another program in WRC-3, because this is the highest level of motorsport. I was very honoured that Chris contacted me to see if we could have a collaboration, said Fred Miclotte from SXM Competition. “I have known Chris and Ross already for some time and I’m sure they form a fantastic team together. I think that we all have the same goal for 2021. We all want to show our potential and that’s why I believe so much in it.”
Let’s hear from Chris.
What does this opportunity mean to you?
“It means the world to me and I’m so fortunate. When you grow up in a country that produced Richard Burns and Colin McRae, two of the best rally drivers that ever lived, it’s a massive source of inspiration. When you’ve got the kind of passion for this sport that I have you want nothing more than to try to get to the WRC and achieve just a fraction of what they did. Of course, they were world champions and obviously that’s the ultimate goal, but it takes time, talent and a phenomenal amount of hard work to get that far. It also needs financial support and I wouldn’t be here without my main sponsor, CarFinance 247. I’m going to give it everything I’ve got, just like I’ve done throughout my career.
“There have been some really tough moments to get this far but it feels so special to be able to say I’m a World Rally Championship driver,” said Ingram. “I’ve given everything I have to get this opportunity and I have so many people to thank and so much to be grateful for.
“Winning the ERC title in 2019 opened up lots of doors and I was close to landing a really good drive in 2020. The pandemic slammed all those doors shut, but I never gave up and never stopped believing my dream would come true. I’m so lucky to have this chance. “It’s a two-year programme and I can’t lose sight of that fact. It’s been almost 18 months since I last drove a top-level rally car so I’ve got to build up my confidence, learn the events and adapt to the championship because it’s the biggest thing I’ve ever done. The World rally rounds are another level. I’m going to give it everything.”
” You’ve secured a two-year programme. How important is that?
“It’s vital. Experience is so important in the WRC, which is so tough and competitive. And you only get experience by getting to the finish of each event you start. So, in year one, the objective is to keep a calm head, not do anything stupid, learn as much as possible and complete as many kilometres as possible. Points and podiums on top of all that would be a massive bonus, but there’s no pressure on me to do that. The only pressure is to get myself in a position where I can go for top results in year two.”
Why are you worthy of this chance?
“I’m totally committed, totally determined and I’ve won two of the main titles below WRC level. I have sacrificed everything personally to be able to chase my rally dreams. It has been a challenging road to say the least just to get to this point, we had to launch a crowdfunding bid just so Ross and I could get to the final rounds of our European championship-winning season but thankfully we made it and lifted the trophy. I train hard and push myself to be the best that I can be and I am so grateful the people who have helped me to get this far.”
You’ve used your social media channels to promote HUMEN, The Men’s Mental Health Movement. Why?
“I achieved a dream when I became European champion. However, competing against some of the fastest rally drivers on some of Europe’s most dangerous roads wasn’t the challenging part. I was struggling, fighting and overcoming a much harder battle with my own mental health. I hope that by being open about my challenges it will help other men to get talking. I have struggled with hard times in my personal life. I became very depressed when everything hit me all at once, financial pressures, relationships, family illnesses and the thought I couldn’t continue my career. Going home just a few days after each rally and even after winning the ERC, I would get so depressed with my personal life and sink into a very dark place, as I didn’t seek help. Men should talk.”
What are biggest challenges you’ll need to overcome in the WRC?
“I’ve not driven a powerful rally car since November 2019, all the events I’m planning to do will be new for me, it’s a new team and I’m up against the best drivers in the world. I know it’s not going to be easy but I’ve never had it easy in my career. I’m looking forward to facing all of the challenges head on as always and I feel confident in the knowledge I have a fantastic team around to support Ross and myself.”
I for one am glad that Chris and Ross have this chance to compete in the greatest championship in the world, and will be keeping a close eye on their progress.
At Autosport International Show last month, I sat down with Chris Ingram, the first British winner of the European Rally Championship for over fifty years.
This is what the rising British star had to say.
Describe your journey in rallying so far. How did that even start?
My dad was passionate rally driver in the eighties, he did road rallies and when he made a bit of money with his business in the early 2000’s he got back into it and rallied in the UK national championships, performing in world rally cars. He took me to watch a rally in Yorkshire and I just fell in love with the sport as a ten-year-old kid. It was my life from then. All day at school, I was drawing pictures of rally cars, and getting told off. Every single story I had to write was about rallying, Colin McRae or whatever.
That’s how it started, and then as I got into my teenage years I really wanted to get behind the wheel, and to be honest, I didn’t have any expectations of doing anything, I just loved the sport. It wasn’t like I was a spoilt kid, but my dad helped me start in the Junior 1000 championship in 1.0 litre cars for drivers between the age of 14 and 17. I had a Citroen C1. We pretty much built that ourselves in our shed. It was basically a road car with a rollcage. We did that championship and ran the car ourselves and won it, and then entered the British Championship. Unfortunately, my dad had some tough times in his business, so I had to go on my own and find sponsors but that all worked out by the skin of its teeth. It was 2012 was when I started, when I was seventeen. When I was nineteen, I got the chance with Renault Sport to drive in the European Rally Championship, with some great backing from them to drive a Twingo R2, which is the first year of the ERC Junior Championship, I crashed the car on the circuit of Ireland, but I was lying eight overall, plus tenth overall against R5 cars, I got awarded the Colin McRae Trophy. That was the first time that I’d shown proper top-class pace.
Who was sitting alongside you?
Gabin Moreau, a French Co-Driver sat alongside, but early on, Michael Gilbey, who still rallying now. I changed my co-driver quite a lot in the early days. Like I said, when I won the Colin McRae Award, the doors opened up to Peugeot and I got a fully funded drive with them for two years in the same class, RT two-wheel drive, and that led to a fully funded drive with Opel Motorsport which was a massive opportunity, a proper German team. Working with those guys, both my speed a professionalism came on a lot, both inside and outside the car because I had to deliver for them, or it was game over, and then I won the Junior Championship with them in 2017, and that was when I was put back on my own. I had to move to R5, but there were no works drives, for someone my age, with no experience – No experience with R5 or WRC events, but I was very lucky to find a great team called Tok Sport who were based in the Nurburgring and they were really good and invested a lot in me, really believed in me.
They’d seen me in Rally GB when I competed in the Adam R2. In the dark and fog I was in the top five in WRC2 against twenty R5 cars, we were beating half of them at the end of Saturday. Set a couple of mad stage times, which caught their attention and they helped me compete in R5 to this day and same again in 2019 but I lost my main sponsor a week before the first rally but they believed in me that much, they helped as much as they can, rally by rally I had to find as much sponsorship as I could and made it through with crowdfunding on the last event where we raised £20,000 from rally fans who were all chipping in, which was unbelievable, and then to win the title on the very last stage of the last round to pay them all back was just the sweetest moment.
What was the points gap at the end?
It was nine points, but basically it was head to head with Alexey Lukyanuk the reigning champion going into the last rally. He had to win and me finish less than third. I was comfortably in second, he was leading, I got a puncture and dropped to third. I thought that’s okay, I’ve a minute and thirty second gap behind. We come to the last stage, it’s horrific weather is dark, there’s fog, it’s muddy, half the stages are on gravel with slicks, and a twenty-seven long stage to finish the rally, and I got a puncture halfway through and I thought, do I change this puncture, as it’s going to cost me at least a minute thirty to change because it’s dark and raining.
I don’t think I could have ever changed it in a minute and thirty if it was the best tyre change of my life, so I decided to carry on through to the end and we lost between and minute thirty and forty, but we’d actually stayed ahead of whoever was in fourth, a driver called Callum Devine was fifth and he’d had an amazing run and taken two minutes out of me, and he jumped onto the podium and I dropped to fourth. I realised this at the end of the stage, Chris Ross BRC radio saying you’ve lost the championship. I didn’t wait and we drove about 100 metres down the road to change the puncture and then a photographer came running down the road because Alexey Lukyanuk was running behind me as it was reverse order on the last stage of the rally and the photographer said Alexey Lukyanuk has had a puncture too and he’d dropped to second meaning that we’d won the title, so if he’d not got the puncture, he would have won the title by a point, but had a puncture and handed us the title. Plus, if we’d not got a puncture then we’d have won the rally, so it was just mad. A mental finish.
What was your favourite event from the championship?
Hungary was a horrible rally, in terms of tricky conditions, dangerous stages, but that’s one round I’ll never forget, so obviously that’s the highlight, but my favourite is the Azores, which is the most spectacular rally in the world. One of the stages runs along the volcano ridge, which means one side is a 500 metre drop into a lake and the other side is a 500 metre drop into the sea, it’s just spectacular. Just the most incredible in my opinion. That’s probably the best one.
What do you do to relax? Do you relax?
It’s hard. I find it hard to relax, because as soon as I won the championship, now I’ve got to find money for next year. So, I had a bit of time with my girlfriend over Christmas to try and chill out, but it’s very hard to, because this is everything to me. It’s not just my passion and dream that I’ll never give up on, if I wasn’t a rally driver, I’d have to reinvent myself and do something else as a job, so it’s everything.
In your mind, that’s harder, as you’ve got through these last ten years.
Yes, exactly and we’ve got so far that we’ve got to keep going now. I need to find the backing and support from British fans, that’s what we need to do now.
That’s one of the reasons that I wanted to talk to you, as feel that you’re a bit under the radar, and I’d become aware of you over the years.
Okay, if you could drive a world rally car from the past, right the way back to the early days in the championship, all those exotic cars in the Group ‘B’ and Group ‘A’ era, right up to the current types of car, which one would you pick?
Long pause from Chris as he pondered this question….
There’s some great cars and I think I’d struggle to answer this.
There are obviously the classic and legendary cars like the Quattro. I’ve been lucky enough to drive the 205 T16 Group ‘B’ car, which was an unbelievable experience.
Where did you drive that, and describe the experience?
At Race Retro three or four years ago. It was completely raw, you could feel everything that car was doing, and it was an absolute animal and you had to manhandle it, to get it round this tight stage that they’d set up, just the hardest work. I’m lucky that I get to work with Tuthill Porsche and with the old 911’s in Sweden. They own these classic legendary rally cars and they offer this completely unique experience, whereas probably most R5 cars are pretty similar to drive to be honest. But I’d still you know, like to drive a modern WRC machine like the Yaris, if I was to choose, I’d go with the latest spec car to be honest. If it had to be retro, maybe the Quattro, because it’s just so iconic, isn’t it, and I’ve driven the 205 anyway.
I drove Russell Brookes’ old Opel Manta, which is an honour, because he’s an absolute legend. That was an amazing opportunity as well. Much easier to drive the 205, but still harder than today’s cars. The difference is that back then, it was much more about car control, now you have to be more relaxed, you can’t drive these cars aggressively. You have to know the car and let the car do the work, and as long as you’re good at carrying speed, it’s all about technique. Turn in once, braking once, minimal inputs that’s the only way to drive, and very smooth.
Going from the Opel Adam, front wheel-drive and moving to something that’s got four-wheel drive like the Skoda, just explain how you adapted your style?
To be honest, the first time that I drove the R5 car it was easy, jumping out of the two-wheel drive which you had to wring its neck, when I got into the Skoda R5, I was like a PlayStation, it was unbelievably easy, which is crazy, isn’t it? This year I started to get too stressed because of all the pressure, and because of all of that and anxiety, not knowing if I was going to be able to carry on, I didn’t realise it at the time, but I brought that into my driving and I was tense and it started to become hard work again, physically difficult to feel the car because of all those things, I just wasn’t relaxed. The last few rallies, I got it back, and able to relax and it just flows so much easier when you’re relaxed, it’s mad how it works.
What are your hopes for this season?
To compete in a full season of WRC2, to find the funding and the target is always to win. There would be a lot of learning in the first year of WRC. I’d be competing against guys who’d done it several times, but we’d be doing everything to win, because if we can win the ERC and WRC back to back, which no-one’s ever done, then we can’t be ignored by the top teams. That’s the goal. The top teams are Toyota and Hyundai, and then M-Sport, they’ve probably got one works driver and then the other drivers are paying for their seats, so realistically Hyundai and Toyota. It’s a small market, but we need to give it everything.
What’s your thoughts on Seb Loeb still competing?
He’s a legend, and I can understand it from a manufacturer point of view, and there’s some other drivers which, they’ve had their chance dozens of times and they’ve not won, so hopefully more young talent will get a chance, and just because they’ve got big backing behind them, just raw talent. Streaming could be a good opportunity for me, if they’re keen to get young talent on board, not just names from the past. That’s the battle I’m having constantly, competing against guys that have been involved for so long, everyone knows who they are, so it’s very difficult, very hard.
Well, a big thank you to Chris for his time. One of many things that came across was his passion and drive to make it to the top of his chosen sport. I for one hope that he gets his opportunity and soon. It would be a crying shame if it did not happen.