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

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

Friday

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Classification after Day One

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

 

Let’s hear from the drivers then.

Toyota Gazoo Racing WRT

Kalle Rovanperä (1st)

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

Sébastien Ogier (4th)

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

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

Elfyn Evans (5th)

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

Hyundai Motorsport

Craig Breen (2nd)

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

Thierry Neuville (3rd)

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

Ott Tänak (DNF, SuperRally)

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

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

M-Sport Ford WRT

Gus Greensmith (DNF, SuperRally)

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

Teemu Suninen (6th)

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

Adrien Fourmaux (4th WRC2)

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

Tom Kristensson (6th WRC2)

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

Saturday

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Classification after Day Two

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

 

Let’s hear from the drivers.

Toyota Gazoo Racing WRT

Kalle Rovanperä (1st)

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

Sébastien Ogier (4th)

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

Elfyn Evans (5th)

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

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

Hyundai Motorsport

Craig Breen (2nd)

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

Thierry Neuville (3rd)

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

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

Ott Tänak (32nd)

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

M-Sport Ford WRT

Teemu Suninen (6th)

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

Gus Greensmith (33rd)

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

Adrien Fourmaux (4th WRC2)

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

Tom Kristensson (5th WRC2)

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

Sunday

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Final Overall Classification – Rally Estonia

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

 

Let’s hear from the drivers then!

Toyota Gazoo Racing WRT

Kalle Rovanperä (1st)

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

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

Sébastien Ogier (4th)

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

Elfyn Evans (5th)

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

Hyundai Motorsport

Craig Breen (2nd)

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

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

Thierry Neuville (3rd)

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

Ott Tänak (31st)

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

M-Sport Ford WRT

Teemu Suninen (6th)

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

Gus Greensmith (32nd)

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

Adrien Fourmaux (4th WRC2)

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

Tom Kristensson (5th WRC2)

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

My Thoughts

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Next

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

Rally Estonia Preview 2021

Rally Estonia Preview 2021

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

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

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

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

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

 

Let’s hear from the drivers.

Toyota Gazoo Racing WRT

Sébastien Ogier

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

Elfyn Evans

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

Kalle Rovanperä

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

Hyundai Motorsport

Thierry Neuville

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

Ott Tänak

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

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

Craig Breen

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

Oliver Solberg

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

Jari Huttunen

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

M-Sport Ford WRT

Gus Greensmith

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

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

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

Teemu Suninen

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

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

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

Adrien Fourmaux

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

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

Tom Kristensson

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

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

Let’s take a look at the stages.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Summary

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

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

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

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

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

Molly Taylor, M-Sport Fiesta Rally3 driver

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

gosia

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

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

Rally Croatia 2021 Review – Seb and Julien take a last gasp win!

The first running of this event as a World Championship Rally saw a brilliant challenge for the crews and teams. The twenty stages over the three days saw a really good mix of fast sections and technical parts. This brought the strengths and weaknesses of the different cars, with the Yaris WRC suited to the twisty sections and the longer i20 WRC able to show the pace on the faster sections.

 

The story of shakedown was that Elfyn set the pace from Thierry and Kalle. Leading the young drivers was Taka, with Adrien and Gus. The top WRC2 driver was Teemu with Nikolay and Mads second and third in that category.

 

Friday

The start list looked like this – Rovanperä, Neuville, Ogier, Evans, Tänak, Breen, Katsuta, Greensmith, Fourmaux, Loubet.

The action started with a short stage. SS1 Rude – Plešivica 1 – 6.94 km and there was drama immediately! Pushing hard young Finn Kalle, went off the road on the exit of a right-hander and there was no way back to the road. The car had gone through the trees at the side of the road, and they were out. Seb Ogier also ran wide at the same place and slid along the same part of the road, but did go completely off like his younger teammate, and managed to make it to the stage end in fifth place. Thierry won the stage from Ott and Elfyn, just 2.8 seconds between the top three.

Into SS2 Kostanjevac – Petruš Vrh 1 – 23.76 km, and Thierry was quickest from Elfyn and Seb, who moved up into third place. Ott dropped two places, after loosing time with the stage being quite slippery. Craig was also another to lose out and was now in fifth.

Seb won SS3 Jaškovo – Mali Modruš Potok 1 – 10.10 km with his teammate Elfyn setting the exact same time as his French teammate whilst Thierry was third and still held the lead. The gap between the three was just 11 seconds. Further back, our three young drivers, Taka, Adrien and Gus held sixth, seventh and eighth.

Thierry took SS4 Pećurkovo Brdo – Mrežnički Novaki 1 – 9.11 km with Elfyn remaining the closest challenger to the Belgian with just half a second between them at the end of the stage, whilst Seb was a further half second back. There was a change in positions further back with Gus and Pierre-Louis both moving up into seventh and eighth and Taka dropping to ninth after braking too late and running wide. Holding an impressive sixth overall was Adrien Fourmoux, just 2.3 behind his compatriot Pierre- Louis.

After the break, SS5 Rude – Plešivica 2 – 6.94 km was taken by a resurgent Ott, with Thierry and Seb setting the second and third best times. Adrien and Gus were holding sixth and seventh for M-Sport. Thierry suffered a half spin, but as mentioned was still quick enough to go second fastest.

Into SS6 Kostanjevac – Petruš Vrh 2 – 23.76 km and it was a stage win for Seb, beating Elfyn and Thierry as the three of them continued their battle at the top of the standings. Taka remained in ninth overall after a spin in a slippery section.

SS7 Jaškovo – Mali Modruš Potok 2 – 10.10 km was taken by Seb with Thierry second fastest. Seb’s time took him a little closer to the Belgian. Elfyn remained there or thereabouts with the third best time in the stage and the gap was closing a little too under eight seconds.

The final stage of the day, SS8 Pećurkovo Brdo – Mrežnički Novaki 2 – 9.11 km was taken by Seb from Ott and Thierry. Seb’s pace meant that he moved ahead of Elfyn who was only fourth fastest. Further back, Adrien was going really well, setting the fifth best time. The Frenchman’s debut at the top was going really well.

 

Classification after Day One

1 T. Neuville M. Wydaeghe Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC 55:36.8
2 S. Ogier J. Ingrassia Toyota Yaris WRC +7.7
3 E. Evans S. Martin Toyota Yaris WRC +8.0
4 O. Tänak M. Järveoja Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC +31.9
5 C. Breen P. Nagle Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC +54.8
6 A. Fourmaux R. Jamoul Ford Fiesta WRC +1:14.7
7 G. Greensmith C. Patterson Ford Fiesta WRC +1:21.7
8 P.L. Loubet V. Landais Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC +1:31.5

 

Let’s hear from the drivers at the end of day one.

 

Hyundai Motorsport

Thierry Neuville (1st)

“I am pretty pleased with the day; it was tough for everybody out there. This morning, when Kalle (Rovanperä) went off, our main goal was to benefit from the good road position and build up a gap, which we were able to do. In the afternoon, we wanted to maintain that gap. Of course, it’s always the target to extend the lead but I struggled in some parts; being first on the road we had sections with lots of gravel, no traction, and we had a bit of a spin too. We lost maybe six seconds during the day, but we have increased our overall lead slightly from lunchtime service, so we have to be pleased with that. Everyone will keep pushing tomorrow. The stages are challenging but I like them so hopefully I can stay in the lead.”

2021 FIA World Rally Championship
Round 03, Croatia Rally
22-25 April 2021
Thierry Neuville
Photographer: Austral
Worldwide copyright: Hyundai Motorsport GmbH

Ott Tänak (4th)

“I have been improving during the day, and that’s the main thing to take away from today. It is definitely a very demanding event, so it’s important to feel comfortable in the car. I have not been able to get that feeling but, step by step this afternoon, we found a good direction. Generally, we are not too far off and anything is still possible. I know the places where we can improve; we just need to find the solutions to feel more comfortable.”

Craig Breen (5th)

“It’s been quite a difficult start to this rally, which is our first tarmac event in a WRC car for some time. In some places we felt things were getting better, but we struggled in others. Our pre-event test was held on a completely different type of road – wide, fast and with grip – so the reference has not been the same. This is all part of the learning process. I have some ideas what to do tomorrow in order to find improvements, mainly on the differentials side. We’ll see if we can make that work. There are a lot of stages still to go in this rally.”

 

Toyota Gazoo Racing WRT

Sébastien Ogier (2nd)

“I am pleased with how well we reacted today after a difficult start this morning. We had a big moment on the first stage on the same corner that Kalle went off: I was surprised that this corner was even more slippery than the rest and we went a bit wide, and unfortunately, we had a tyre come off the rim at that point so we lost some time there. I also went with a setup this morning that I had not tried in our pre-event test and was not super-happy with it, but then I went back to something I knew and immediately felt better. We had a good afternoon and we are in the fight and now we have to keep that momentum up tomorrow.”

Elfyn Evans (4th)

“It’s not been a perfect day to start the rally but overall, it has been pretty solid. I think the morning loop was pretty good in some very challenging and changeable conditions. This afternoon was not bad, but I was just losing a few seconds in every stage more or less, and especially relative to Seb who had a good afternoon. Overall, the car has been working well and we have a few ideas to maybe try and improve things for tomorrow, and of course we will keep fighting.”

Kalle Rovanperä (DNF)

“The first stage was really tricky and really slippery for everybody and this was creating a bit too much understeer. Near the end of the stage on the last downhill section I was still trying to push a bit. In this one fast right-hander it was especially slippery: The grip just disappeared, I had a bit too much speed and we went off the road and had quite a big crash. The good thing is that myself and Jonne are OK. I’m really sorry for the team. It was my mistake and I need to learn from this for the future.”

 

M-Sport Ford WRT

Adrien Fourmaux (6th)

“I have been taking so much enjoyment from driving this car on these stages, and I am so glad to say that I already have two top-five stage times! That was one of my goals for the weekend, and it’s great to see that we could achieve that already on the first day.

“The stages are so difficult – there is only a very fine line to follow and if you’re a bit early or a bit wide then you’re straight in the dirt. I’ve made a few small mistakes like this, but I’ve also seen quite a few lines like this as well – so maybe I’m not the only one!

“We made a big improvement from one pass to the other today, and I hope that we can do the same again tomorrow. Honestly, it’s been amazing driving this car on these crazy stages. I need to stay focused, but I can’t wait to do it all again tomorrow!”

Gus Greensmith (7th)

“It’s been a good day for us, and I’m really happy to see the turnaround from where I was in Monte to where I am now. There’s still some time to be found in the new pacenote system and getting used to having less information in there – but I can see a clear way forward now, and that’s really promising.

“I’m still losing some time here and there, but we’re looking at seconds rather than 10s of seconds now – so that’s a massive improvement. I’ve really enjoyed my day out there, and we’ll do some more work tonight to hopefully see another improvement tomorrow.”

Teemu Suninen (3rd WRC 2)

“It’s a big shame that I made the mistake this morning otherwise we would have been challenging for the win – but it has still been quite an okay day for us. The pace is there and we’ve proved that the Fiesta can challenge for the top results. There’s still a long way to go with two interesting and tricky days rallying, so anything can happen!”

Tom Kristensson (6th WRC 2)

“I had a really good feeling going into that third stage this afternoon, but I was a bit out of the line going into the first left-hander. It was a very fast corner that went immediately right, and I was too early. We touched a small stone which pulled the car into a spin, and then hit a bigger rock on the outside which damaged the cooling package.

“Hopefully the damage isn’t too much and we’ll be able to start tomorrow because I was really pleased with our performance today. We had a great day with brilliant progress and a really good feeling in the car. So hopefully we can start again with big smiles tomorrow.”

 

Saturday

With eight stages ahead of the crews, totalling 121.92 km’s, there remained a big challenge for them all. The start list looked like this – Katsuta, Loubet, Greensmith, Fourmaux, Breen, Tänak, Evans, Ogier, Neuville.

The first stage, SS9 Mali Lipovec – Grdanjci 1 – 20.30 km was won by Seb, from Adrien and Elfyn. Thierry’s lead evaporated after he could only manage the sixth best time, and he dropped to third overall. The Belgians teammate, Craig suffered a puncture, and he pulled over to change the wheel dropping from fifth to ninth.

Into SS10 Stojdraga – Gornja Vas 1 – 20.77 km, and we had a different winner, with Taka setting the pace from Seb and Elfyn. The Hyundai’s loss of pace continued with former leader Thierry could only manage the eighth best time and was now over fifteen seconds from the lead. There was a change in positions further down, with Pierre-Louis passing Gus for sixth overall.

Elfyn took SS11 Krašić – Vrškovac 1 – 11.11 km from a resurgent Thierry and Taka continued his good form in the morning stages with third fastest. The leader, Seb, could only manage the fourth best time, but remained at the head of the field by a reduced amount. Adrien was consolidating his fifth overall with another good time.

Seb fought back and won SS12 Vinski Vrh – Duga Resa 1 – 8.78 km from Ott and Elfyn. Seemed that Ott was dealing with the wayward handling of the i20 better than Thierry. Top M-Sport driver so far, Adrien was fourth in this one having further increased his advantage over Pierre-Louis to almost 30 seconds.

After the break, SS13 Mali Lipovec – Grdanjci 2 – 20.30 km, Thierry found some pace with a change in the tyres that they were running, and set the fastest time, whilst Adrien and Ott were second and third. The Frenchman was loving the downhill slalom in this stage, and was therefore really in the groove. Seb suffered a puncture near the end of the stage, and slid wide. Gus also went well, setting the fourth best time and closed the gap a little to sixth placed Pierre-Louis.

Into SS14 Stojdraga – Gornja Vas 2 – 20.77 km, and Taka was making this stage his own, winning from Elfyn and Thierry. The top three remained Seb, Elfyn and Thierry, however the lead was definitely reducing. Meanwhile, Pierre-Louis went off after loosing the rear on a left-hander and the car came to a rest down a bank which was too steep to get back up. The Frenchman was now out for the rest of the day.

Seb hit back in SS15 Krašić – Vrškovac 2 – 11.11 km taking the win, but Thierry set the same time and was now closing the gap to Elfyn ahead and the lead down to under 10 seconds. Gus was happy with the pace that he was showing and clearly the new partnership with Chris was going well.

The final stage of the day then, SS16 Vinski Vrh – Duga Resa 2 – 8.78 km, and Seb rounded it off with another stage win, but only by four tenths of a second over Elfyn and Thierry in third. Taka was fourth fastest and closed the gap a little to Gus who was holding sixth overall.

 

Classification after Day Two

1 S. Ogier J. Ingrassia Toyota Yaris WRC 2:06:35.8
2 E. Evans S. Martin Toyota Yaris WRC +6.9
3 T. Neuville M. Wydaeghe Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC +10.4
4 O. Tänak M. Järveoja Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC +37.8
5 A. Fourmaux R. Jamoul Ford Fiesta WRC +1:29.5
6 G. Greensmith C. Patterson Ford Fiesta WRC +2:23.8
7 T. Katsuta D. Barritt Toyota Yaris WRC +2:46.5
8 C. Breen P. Nagle Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC +3:51.8

 

 

Let’s hear from the drivers

Toyota Gazoo Racing WRT

Sébastien Ogier (1st)

“It’s been a strong day with a good rhythm in the car. This morning I think we made the right call with the tyres, and the feeling with the car was great. We managed to take the lead, but not with a big gap. In the afternoon, the puncture in the first stage cost us 10 seconds, but the big positive is the great rhythm that we’ve had and we are in the lead tonight. It’s still really close, which means we will have to keep pushing tomorrow. There are still close to 80 kilometres to go and 10 seconds between three drivers is not much, so it’s going to be exciting.”

Elfyn Evans (2nd)

“This morning was a really strong loop for the whole team, but Seb was a little bit stronger than I was. We tried a setup change last night which didn’t really suit the dirtier sections. Then I had a frustrating first stage for us to open the afternoon loop, but after that things got much better. I changed another setting and found some confidence for the remainder of the loop. We’ve been playing with the car during the rally and now I’ve found a place where I’m happy, and I’m looking forward to tomorrow. It won’t be a case of a Sunday drive, with two very difficult stages to be done twice, so there’s quite a lot of mileage to go and it’s still all to play for.”

Hyundai Motorsport

Thierry Neuville (3rd)

“After an eventful morning, which was hampered by a wrong tyre choice, we did what we could to recover in the afternoon loop. The car was certainly working much better with the right tyres and the times improved too. We had a decent run, but it is really difficult to catch up a lot. Unfortunately, we were only able to gain time on one of the stages. Still, it was a trouble-free afternoon and it’s good to back in the fight for victory. The pressure is on, everybody is pushing hard and that will continue to be the case on the final day. If I want to win, I need to do a little bit more. We need to have a good think tonight to see what we can find. Anything is still possible and every day there are plenty of surprises. It’s not over until it’s over, so let’s go for it.”

Ott Tänak (4th)

“There’s no hiding from the fact that it’s been a tricky weekend for us. We have been consistent, but we’ve been missing the crucial final bit that gives us the performance we need to fight at the front. We didn’t have the right tyre choice this morning, particularly for the first stage, but even without that we’ve still not been on the pace we need to be. There’s not much we can do to improve that for tomorrow, but it’s still a decent day of rallying to come with two proper challenging stages – and plenty to focus on.”

Craig Breen (8th)

“We woke up this morning really looking forward to the day ahead, but that ended quickly, just 100 metres into the first stage when we picked up a puncture. It took the wind out of my sails, if I’m honest. With only one spare tyre we couldn’t take any risks for the rest of the loop. I tried to build my confidence for the afternoon as the car felt better than yesterday, but on some of the hairier parts it just didn’t fit like a glove on my hands. We can try some changes overnight, some smaller subtle things to help find the confidence and to allow us to let go a bit. I feel like I’m still having to hold back in places, which is a real pity because with the weather as it is, and with the profile of these stages – especially this afternoon – it really feels like back home. I know I have more to give.”

M-Sport Ford WRT

Adrien Fourmaux (5th)

“This has been a perfect day for us and I’m really happy with how everything has gone. We really focused on the first stage of the loop which is an amazing piece of road and so enjoyable to drive – especially the downhill section towards the end where it feels just like you’re skiing from left to right.

“We worked more on this stage than any of the others and it was great to see that when we really focus the pace can already be right at the top. Then on the other stages we were being a lot more careful as it’s easy to make a mistake.

“There have already been more positives than we expected this weekend, and I’m really, really happy with that. All of my targets have already been achieved, and I’m just sad that we only have one more day to drive this amazing car!”

Gus Greensmith (6th)

“It was a bit frustrating this morning when we weren’t quite on the same pace we had yesterday. To be fair, the car has been really good all weekend but I was just struggling a bit with the notes and adjusting to not having as much information in there.

“But all I needed was a bit of a reset, which came from three people in the team – and I’m sure you can guess who those three were! They told me just to enjoy myself a bit more and stop complaining when the time isn’t quite there.

“And they’re so right – I’m still doing the best job in the world and as soon as I relaxed everything felt a lot better and we set some much better times this afternoon.”

Teemu Suninen (2nd WRC 2)

“This is quite a tricky rally but I’m really enjoying the challenge. Today has been good and we’ve had a good feeling in the car with some top times, but it’s going to be a tough day tomorrow with a really big fight. It’s a proper day with narrow stages and big crests, and we will need to push hard to keep the second position. But this is what we plan to do and I will just try to do my best.”

Tom Kristensson (DNF)

“This isn’t the start to the season that we wanted, and I’m so sorry for the mistake I made today. We had a small issue with the pacenotes at the beginning of the stage. We found our pace again, but I was struggling with my focus and it was a millisecond of lost concentration that resulted in quite a heavy crash. The car is quite badly damaged, but the most important thing is that me and David are both okay.

“It was completely my fault and I’m really, really sorry for the team. I was living a dream, and it turned into a nightmare – but these things can happen and I know that I need to put it behind me and focus on the positives to come back stronger. I’m sorry that I didn’t show my full potential this weekend, but I hope we can come back and prove it at the next rally.

“I want to say a big thank you to everyone who is following me on this journey, and to the team who have been brilliant to work with this weekend. Good luck to Adrien, Gus and Teemu – and I hope they can all bring home a good team result tomorrow.”

 

Sunday

The final day then, and this was not a normal final day that we have seen in the past. The startlist looked like this – Loubet, Breen, Katsuta, Greensmith, Fourmaux, Tänak, Neuville, Evans, Ogier.

Four stages and 78.58km’s remained between the crews and the finish line. There was drama as Seb headed out to the first stage though. I’m sure you’ve seen the videos, but to summarise the Toyota and another road car collided leading to damage to the co-driver’s door. The door was badly bent out of shape at the top, but the crew were allowed to continue to compete.

Elfyn won SS17 Bliznec – Pila 1 – 25.20 km from Thierry and Seb and the gap was now just 4.2 seconds between the teammates. Gus lost a lot of time with an issue with the brakes and was getting caught by Taka and the gap between them was now down to less than 10 seconds.

The push from the young Welshman continued in SS18 Zagorska Sela – Kumrovec 1 – 14.09 km as he took another stage and with Seb only third fastest and seven seconds slower than his teammate, we had a new overall leader in Elfyn. Another driver moving up the leaderboard was Taka. Sadly, Gus dropped a lot of pace after suffering a further problem with his car. He’d lost all hydraulic pressure, with the result that his paddle-shift and handbrake systems both failed and he was now in seventh.

Thierry took SS19 Bliznec – Pila 2 – 25.20 km by just four tenths of a second from Elfyn and Seb. Elfyn’s lead was now 3.9 seconds over his teammate. All the other positions were really settled as we came down to the final stage of the rally. The good news was that Gus had fixed the hydraulic problem with his Fiesta and he was back up to pace, notwithstanding the brake problem.

The final stage then, SS20 Zagorska Sela – Kumrovec 2 [Power Stage] – 14.09 km and there was a subtle change to the running order – Mikkelsen, Bulacia, Suninen, Østberg, Loubet, Breen, Greensmith, Katsuta, Fourmaux, Tänak, Neuville, Ogier, Evans.

Craig held the fastest time for a while, as Gus, Taka, Adrien and Ott came through but couldn’t beat his time. Thierry finished next, but was not able to beat the time either as he’d run wide just before a right-hand corner. Finally, Seb came through and beat Craig’s time, so we were just awaiting Elfyn to finish. Well, what unfolded in the following minutes was incredible. The Welshman was going even faster than Seb, and then at the final corner of the stage before the long run to the flying finish Elfyn ran wide onto the grass. When he crossed the line, he’d lost his advantage and also his earlier time gain and was only fourth fastest. Seb had taken the win by just six tenths of a second, the third closest in history!

Here’s the final standings.

Final Overall Classification – Croatia Rally

1 S. Ogier J. Ingrassia Toyota Yaris WRC 2:51:22.9
2 E. Evans S. Martin Toyota Yaris WRC +0.6
3 T. Neuville M. Wydaeghe Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC +8.1
4 O. Tänak M. Järveoja Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC +1:25.1
5 A. Fourmaux R. Jamoul Ford Fiesta WRC +3:09.7
6 T. Katsuta D. Barritt Toyota Yaris WRC +3:31.8
7 G. Greensmith C. Patterson Ford Fiesta WRC +3:58.8
8 C. Breen P. Nagle Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC +4:28.2
9 M. Østberg T. Eriksen Citroën C3 R5 +10:00.8
10 T. Suninen M. Markkula Ford Fiesta R5 +10:29.3

 

Here’s the thoughts of the drivers after this amazing rally.

Toyota Gazoo Racing WRT

Sébastien Ogier (1st)

“It has been a real rollercoaster of emotions this weekend. The most important thing is that everyone is safe after what happened this morning on the road section; this was my main concern when it happened. I also thought my rally could be over, but the car was not too badly damaged and we could carry on. I’m not sure I believed it was possible to still win after everything that happened, but I think everybody knows that I never give up and I tried to keep fighting until the end. I feel for Elfyn who did a good job this weekend and was especially strong this morning. But we had good pace this weekend and just had some issues that slowed us down at times. It’s nice to share the podium in another one-two for the team.”

2021 FIA World Rally Championship / Round 03 / Rally Croatia / 22-25 April, 2021 // Worldwide Copyright: Toyota Gazoo Racing WRT

Elfyn Evans (2nd)

“To come second is never the way you want to finish when you go into the last stage with the lead. Obviously, Seb had a very, very strong last stage and unfortunately for us we made an error on what was basically the last proper corner. It’s frustrating but at the same time it’s a solid result, and a very good result for the team. They have done a great job to give both Seb and I a fantastic car this weekend. We fought tooth and nail all the way through and it was good fun.”

Takamoto Katsuta (6th)

“I’m pretty happy about this weekend. Of course, some stage times were very good, but I’m not so happy about my performance at some other times. So, it’s quite up and down, but this is part of the learning to become a better driver. The two stage wins on Saturday were very good and especially on the second loop because then I had similar conditions to the other drivers behind. Compared to Friday it was a big step and I think this just came with experience. I hadn’t driven on these sorts of roads much before this rally so I had not so much confidence and I couldn’t know what was going to happen. With every stage I was learning and that was making me more comfortable and confident. Thank you to my gravel crew Juho and Craig and to the whole team.”

Hyundai Motorsport

Thierry Neuville (3rd)

“We have tried our absolute best all weekend, pushing hard and on the limit of the car’s performance. Right up until the Power Stage, we never gave up in what was a very close battle for the victory. Unfortunately, I overshot a junction in the stage which lost us at least three seconds, but even without that it would not have been quite enough. The pace between the frontrunners has been so incredibly close. But we gave it everything we had, and I’ve had a good feeling with our car on these tricky tarmac stages. We enjoyed the rally and Martijn did a great job; it’s not been easy for the co-drivers this weekend, so we have to take some positives away.”

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 (4th)

“This has not been the level of performance that we would have expected or hoped for coming to this rally. I enjoy tarmac rallies but throughout the weekend it has been far out of my comfort zone. It’s just not felt natural, and we’ve lacked the performance edge we needed. It is clear that there is a job for me to do, but we can take some consolation from the job that Thierry has done this weekend.”

Craig Breen (8th)

“It has been a disappointing weekend overall. It was pretty much game over after our puncture on Saturday morning, just 100 metres into the first stage. It’s difficult to go 150% on these tricky stages. We have worked hard to make it feel like home inside the car, but it just hasn’t been the case. At times, it has felt nice, and we’ve been able to give it a push, like in the Power Stage, but globally we needed more. Having said that, I have enjoyed the rally, I’ve learned a lot and definitely have a lot of food for thought.”

M-Sport Ford WRT

Adrien Fourmaux (5th)

“I’m so happy with our weekend and the only disappointment is that the rally is now over! It’s been a big challenge on the Croatian roads but I have enjoyed every kilometre; and taken a lot of pleasure from driving this car on these stages.

“We showed good speed throughout the weekend and honestly there were more positives than we had been expecting. We improved our pace a lot and I achieved all of my goals and more.

“I want to say a big thank you to everyone in the team, and I am so grateful to M-Sport and Red Bull for this incredible opportunity – and to everyone who has supported me over the past four years.”

Gus Greensmith (7th)

“The majority of the weekend has been pretty positive, and I was really happy to see the turnaround from where I was in Monte to where I am now. There’s still some time to be found, but I can see a clear way forward and everything seems to be working well.

“I was fairly confident of maintaining sixth place today, so it was a shame to lose that with the technical issues this morning. But all in all, I’ve really enjoyed the weekend and looking forward to seeing what we can do at one of my favourite events next time out in Portugal.”

Teemu Suninen (2nd WRC 2)

“It’s been a really challenging rally but, in the end, I would say that our performance was pretty good. We didn’t get a test in dry conditions so we had to learn a lot through the early stages. It was a shame to have lost some time with a mistake on Friday, but we found a way to drive fast and show the performance of the car which was good.”

Warren’s Thoughts

Well, let’s start at Toyota first. After the disappointment of Kalle crashing out on Friday morning’s first stage, Elfyn, Seb and Takamoto had a great rally! They all took stage wins and there was a fantastic fight between Seb and Elfyn for victory which was only decided on the final stage. It’s great to see a team allow their drivers to fight like this, and just shows that the trust they place in them is definitely well placed. For Elfyn to miss out on victory is hard to take, but nevertheless, he took a well deserved second place, placing him third in the drivers’ championship standings.

2021 FIA World Rally Championship / Round 03 / Rally Croatia / 22-25 April, 2021 // Worldwide Copyright: Toyota Gazoo Racing WRT

At Hyundai Thierry was in a strong position at the end of Friday’s stages and the tyre choices that were taken on Saturday really held the Belgian back from the best pace that he can produce. It was interesting to see that when the i20 was not at it’s best, Ott was actually quicker than Thierry. The Estonian’s were at no point comfortable with their car, and the best they could manage was fourth overall. One thing that can be certain, they will be back on the pace next time out. Finally, Craig who was competing on tarmac for the first time for a while saw a puncture really end his hopes of a good result. He and Paul certainly hoped to show better pace, as the roads were very similar to those in Ireland, but they just couldn’t get comfortable with the car.

 

Finally, M-Sport had a very good event for their young drivers. Adrien showed really great pace setting two second fastest times on his favourite stage, and looked comfortable in the Fiesta WRC. Gus and Chris also enjoyed a very good first rally together, setting some good times and only really losing out with a couple of problems with his car. Nevertheless, I’d say that it was his best performance to date in a full WRC car, and that can only bode well for the future. Teemu also produced a very good performance in the Fiesta WRC2, the kind that we have become used to with him.

 

Next event is Rally Portugal which runs from the 20th of May to the 23rd of May.

 

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

1 S. Ogier 61
2 T. Neuville 53
3 E. Evans 51
4 O. Tänak 40
5 K. Rovanperä 39
6 C. Breen 24
7 T. Katsuta 24
8 A. Fourmaux 12
9 G. Greensmith 12
10 D. Sordo 11

 

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

1 Toyota Gazoo Racing World Rally Team 138
2 Hyundai Shell Mobis World Rally Team 111
3 M-Sport Ford World Rally Team 42
4 Hyundai 2C Competition 28

Rally Croatia 2021 Preview – Back to Tarmac!

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

Sébastien Ogier

“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.”

Elfyn Evans

“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.”

Kalle Rovanperä

“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.”

 

Hyundai Motorsport

Thierry Neuville

“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.”

2021 FIA World Rally Championship
Round 01, Rallye Monte-Carlo
21-24 January 2021
Thierry Neuville, Martijn Wydaeghe, Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC
Photographer: Dufour Fabien
Worldwide copyright: Hyundai Motorsport GmbH

Ott Tänak

“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.”

Craig Breen

“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

Gus Greensmith

“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.”

Adrien Fourmaux

“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.”

 

Teemu Suninen

“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.”

Tom Kristensson

“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.”

Summary

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.

 

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

Classification after Day One

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

 

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

Hyundai Motorsport

Ott Tänak (1st)

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

Craig Breen (2nd)

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

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

Thierry Neuville (4th)

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

 

Toyota Gazoo Racing WRT

Kalle Rovanperä (3rd)

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

Elfyn Evans (5th)

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

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

Sébastien Ogier (9th)

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

 

M-Sport Ford WRT

Teemu Suninen (6th)

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

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

Gus Greensmith (10th)

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

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

Saturday

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Classification after Day Two

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

 

Hyundai Motorsport

Ott Tänak (1st)

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

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

Thierry Neuville (3rd)

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

Craig Breen (4th)

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

 

Toyota Gazoo Racing WRT

Kalle Rovanperä (2nd)

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

Elfyn Evans (5th)

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

Sébastien Ogier (22nd)

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

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

M-Sport Ford WRT

Teemu Suninen (8th)

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

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

Gus Greensmith (9th)

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

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

 

Sunday

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

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

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

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

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

Final Overall Classification – Arctic Rally Finland

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

 

Let’s hear from the drivers!

Hyundai Motorsport

Ott Tänak (1st)

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

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

Thierry Neuville (3rd)

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

Craig Breen (4th)

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

Oliver Solberg (7th)

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

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

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

 

Toyota Gazoo Racing WRT

Kalle Rovanperä (2nd)

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

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

Elfyn Evans (5th)

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

Takamoto Katsuta (6th)

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

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

Sébastien Ogier (20th)

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

 

M-Sport WRT

Teemu Suninen (8th)

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

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

Gus Greensmith (9th)

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

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

 

Warren’s Thoughts

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

Arctic Rally Finland 2021 Preview

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

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

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

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

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

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

251.08: Competitive distance in kilometres

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

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

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

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

 

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

Let’s hear from the drivers.

Toyota Gazoo Racing WRT

Sébastien Ogier (Driver car 1)

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

Elfyn Evans (Driver car 33)

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

Kalle Rovanperä (Driver car 69)

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

Hyundai Motorsport

Thierry Neuville (Car number 11)

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

Ott Tänak (Car number 8)

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

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

Craig Breen (Car number 42)

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

M-Sport Ford WRT

Teemu Suninen (Car number 3)

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

Gus Greensmith (Car number 44)

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

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

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

Other key competitors

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

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

Oliver Solberg (Car number 2) 2C Compétition

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

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

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

 

Summary

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

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

Enjoy!

Rally Estonia 2020 Review – Ott Tänak wins on home soil!

It all started with shakedown on Friday morning. Ott Tänak was quickest, ahead of Seb, Esapekka and Kalle. Elfyn was sixth. The pace of the young Estonia world champion on home soil was clear to see. Every time he went out, he got faster and faster.

 

Then it was back to the service park, and time to get the cars ready for the first stage of the event. Normally the service park is full of fans, but of course, they were not there. Covid still having its impact on things.

 

Stage one then, a short 1.28 km blast in Tartu, and it was a win for Esapekka Lappi, with Seb Ogier matching the young Finn, and Ott Tanak just one tenth back in third. Elfyn Evans was six tenths back in fifth place.

The top three had this to say ;

Esapekka Lappi 1st

“It didn’t feel that good to be honest,” explained the Finn. “This is not what the stages will be tomorrow but we had a good shakedown and a good opening stage, so I’m looking forward.”

Seb Ogier 2nd

“It’s good to be back and fighting. Everything is ready, the car feels good and we’ve had good preparations, so let’s go for it.”

Ott Tänak 3rd

“It’s special. It will be a tough few days, the competition will be tight but it’s definitely our opportunity so we need to make the best of it,” he said.

 

Saturday

This would see the first full day of action, with five stages covering 147.19 km’s just south of Tartu.

Kalle Rovenpera blasted through SS2 Prangli 1 – 20.93 km in a time of 9 minutes, 52 seconds, with Craig Breen just 1.3 seconds behind. Overnight leaders Seb and Esapekka were 6th and 7th fastest respectively, and fell to 5th and 7th on the overall leader board.  Elfyn went well, setting the third fastest time, and moved into 3rd place overall.

Into SS3 Kanepi 1 – 16.88 km, and it was Ott Tänak who took his opportunity to hit the front, setting a time of 8 minutes 16 seconds, 5.6 faster that Craig Breen, and the Estonian jumped three positions, and into the lead! Kalle, who was leading into this had dropped 28.9 seconds in the stage. He’d suffered a puncture on the right rear of his Yaris, and was now in eight overall. Still holding second and third were Craig and Elfyn.

Next up was SS4 Otepää 1 – 9.30 km. Ott was now in his element, winning this stage, but only by one tenth of a second from Craig, and Thierry getting into the groove too, giving Hyundai a 1-2-3 not only in the stage, but overall, too. The Belgians pace pushed Elfyn down to fourth overall, now 12 seconds off the lead.

Seb was quick in SS5 Mäeküla 1 – 14.76 km, setting a time of 7 minutes and 46.2 seconds in the stage, with Kalle 6 tenths off in second. Ott was third, staying in the lead, now 6.4 ahead of Craig who was having a fantastic morning. Seb’s pace in the stage moved him up one place overall to fourth at the expense of Elfyn. After his puncture earlier, Kalle was also on the move, now into seventh.

Thierry took his first stage win of the rally in SS6 Elva 1 – 11.72 km, just 7 tenths of a second faster than Kalle and Ott third fastest. The top three overall was still held by Ott, Craig and Thierry. Kalle’s pace now meant that he’d moved up another position into sixth, at the expense of his teammate Katsuta Takamoto.

It was now time for the lunchtime break, so the cars all headed back to the service park.

When the afternoon stages started, there was a change to the running order.  Greensmith, Loubet, Suninen, Lappi, Katsuta, Rovanperä, Evans, Ogier, Neuville, Breen, Tänak.

Seb Ogier set the fastest time, going through SS7 Prangli 2 – 20.93 km in a time of 9 minutes, 45.3 seconds, with leader Ott just six tenths off and second fastest. Kalle was continuing his fight back up the leaderboard, setting the third fastest time. Elfyn suffered a tyre delamination on a straight part on the stage, near the end, losing 4.2 seconds.  It was not a good stage for Thierry who’d hit something in the stage, and had ripped his right rear wheel and suspension. The Belgian lost a minute in the stage, and didn’t stop for an interview. Unfortunately, it was game over for Thierry, and he retired from the event. Seb was now in third place, 14.9 seconds from the lead.

Into SS8 Kanepi 2 – 16.88 km next, and Ott was really in the groove. 3.3 seconds faster than Kalle, with Elfyn third, 3.8 seconds slower. The damage to his Yaris, clearly not holding him back! The top placed M-Sport driver was Esapekka Lappi, who was in seventh overall.

Craig Breen took stage SS9 Otepää 2 – 9.30 km, with a time of 5 minutes. Ott was eight tenths off and second fastest, and Kalle third. The rally leader was looking very comfortable out front, but the stage winner was also really enjoying his i20 WRC.

The Irishman took SS10 Mäeküla 2 – 14.76 km as well, with a time of 7 minutes 40 seconds, with Kalle once again second fastest. Ott’s overall lead reduced to 9.8 seconds, after he completed the stage, fifth fastest. Elfyn once again was third fastest. Makes you wonder what he’d be doing with a car that wasn’t damaged.

The final stage of the day, SS11 Elva 2 – 11.72 km was taken by Kalle, with a time of 5 minutes 58 seconds, and 1.8 seconds faster than the leader Ott. Gus Greensmith had a big moment, with a spin in the stage, but he got away with it. The top three remained the same and Ott had increased his lead over Craig to 11.7. Elfyn was actually getting closer to Seb, who was 4 seconds slower than the Welshman.

 

Well, it had been a pretty good day for three of our four championship challengers, with only the Belgian losing out. Here’s the top ten at the end of Saturday.

Classification after Day One

1 O. Tänak M. Järveoja Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC 1:15:08.4
2 C. Breen P. Nagle Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC +11.7
3 S. Ogier J. Ingrassia Toyota Yaris WRC +28.7
3 K. Rovanperä J. Halttunen Toyota Yaris WRC +34.9
5 E. Evans S. Martin Toyota Yaris WRC +36.8
6 T. Katsuta D. Barritt Toyota Yaris WRC +1:01.9
7 E. Lappi J. Ferm Ford Fiesta WRC +1:41.7
8 T. Suninen J. Lehtinen Ford Fiesta WRC +1:50.9
9 P.L. Loubet V. Landais Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC +2:15.2
10 G. Greensmith E. Edmondson Ford Fiesta WRC +3:03.1

 

Let’s hear from the drivers then!

Hyundai Motorsport

Ott Tänak – Car 8

“We have definitely returned to WRC action properly today, and it’s very special to be competing on our home roads. It has been a challenging and demanding day with a lot of new stages – high-speed and rough – with some surprises in places. I feel like I’ve done a whole rally already! We have had to be sensible and drive with caution to get through the day, especially in the middle of this afternoon’s loop where conditions were quite rough. But I also pushed at times to build a gap at the front. The car has been performing well and the feeling has definitely been there, but we can’t risk anything.”

Craig Breen – Car 42

“I am really happy to be in the fight here in Estonia. I find it hard to express just how much I have been enjoying driving the Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC on these stages. It’s been amazing. We felt it was important to get through the morning loop in a good position, and I was pleasantly surprised by how quickly everything came together from the opening kilometres. We got really into the groove in the afternoon, taking two stage wins which was an incredible feeling. The car was doing everything I asked of it; it was absolutely joyous to drive and what we strive for – perfection! When I see the work that has been done by the team in recent weeks and months, this is really a reward for all their efforts. We have to keep this rhythm tomorrow – a podium would be very, very nice indeed!”

Thierry Neuville – Car 11

“A tough and challenging day, which unfortunately ended early for us, as we were kicked off the line in very fast and quite rutted left-hander in SS7. I tried to recover the car but unfortunately there was something on the outside that broke the lower rear suspension arm and the wheel. It was not possible to fix the car, so we had no choice but to retire. We were finding our rhythm in the morning and the times were coming. We had a stage win in SS6 and a Hyundai 1-2-3 overall at the end of the first loop. We have to keep our heads high; there are some good events still to come and we are capable of taking important points, starting with the Power Stage tomorrow. We have seen that our car has improved a lot, which is very positive. The team has done an incredible job, it’s just unfortunate we missed our chance this weekend.  It’s not over until it’s over, so we will keep pushing.”

 

Toyota Gazoo Racing

Sébastien Ogier – Car 17

“It was a good morning for me. It was fun to drive and the conditions were nice even though we were opening the road and I was quite close to the lead. Unfortunately, this afternoon the car didn’t feel so great, we made a bad call with the setup in the service. It worked in the first stage of the loop because it was a very fast one, but otherwise we were lacking grip this afternoon. I also ended SS7 with a damaged tyre and had no spares for the rest of the afternoon, so I couldn’t push too hard. In the final stage I was really losing the grip from the tyres and I stalled in a junction. But tomorrow is another day! I hope we can have a clean day and let’s see what we can do.”

Elfyn Evans – Car 33

“The day started very well for us; everything was working well in the car. Later in the morning I made a few small errors and that cost me my rhythm a little bit. I think the conditions were also very slippery and then I was braking too early or braking too late and it’s very costly when you’re driving like that. In the afternoon, we were nearing the end of the first stage of the loop and the tyre let go. We only lost a few seconds but we had to do the rest of the loop with no spare wheel, so we were trying to balance good speed with not taking crazy risks. We have to keep on it tomorrow and hopefully we can have a good day.”

2020 FIA World Rally Championship / Round 04 / Rally Estonia / September 4-6, 2020 // Worldwide Copyright: Toyota Gazoo Racing WRT

Kalle Rovanperä – Car 69

“Today was really nice, aside from the tyre issue that we had. It was a surprise for us because we didn’t hit anything and I didn’t even feel it for a long time. If you lose a lot of time in this kind of rally it’s not easy to catch up so it was a difficult situation. But otherwise we had a nice pace and I was enjoying the driving. I’m quite happy that I could be on the pace all the time without taking any risks on these fast roads. You have to be really confident here and my confidence in the car is good. Tomorrow we will just continue in the same way and see how it goes.”

 

M-Sport WRT

Esapekka Lappi – Car 4

“It’s good to be back behind the wheel, but it’s not been an easy day for sure. It felt good to set the fastest time last night, but we weren’t able to continue that today. We’ve been trying to keep the speed up, but it’s been difficult. Now we just need to be smart and see what we can learn to improve tomorrow.”

Teemu Suninen – Car 3

“It’s good to be back in the rally, but we’re not where we wanted to be this weekend. After a long break without driving it took a while to get back into the rhythm. Once we did that the driving actually felt quite good, but still we were missing something. We will try a few things tomorrow – with the car and with the driving – and hopefully we can make some improvements.”

Gus Greensmith – Car 44

“Any day in a rally car is a good day, but I was hoping for a little bit more to be honest. Realistically we knew it would be tough, and after the first few stages I knew that I just had to focus on my own rally. I wanted to progress and that’s what we did. We were about a second a kilometre off my team mates in the morning, and by the afternoon we’d got that down to two tenths – so I’m happy with that, but there is still more to find.”

 

Sunday

The final day then, and Hyundai had fixed Thierry’s car, so that he could restart. The start list looked like this. Neuville, Greensmith, Loubet, Suninen, Lappi, Katsuta, Evans, Rovanperä, Ogier, Breen, Tänak. Rain overnight was reported, and would make the grip levels different!

Elfyn won the first stage of the day SS12 Arula 1 – 6.97 km, and edged a little closer to Seb in their battle for third place. Ott still held a 13 second lead over Craig, with Seb now 29 seconds from the lead.

Into SS13 Kaagvere 1 – 15.46 km, and Kalle won the stage with a time of 8 minutes 42 seconds, just 2 seconds faster than Ott and Craig third in the stage, who had picked up where he’d left off at the end of Friday, driving really quickly, but also with consistency! Sadly, Katsuta would roll out of the event on this stage. A big shame for the Japanese, who’d driven really well, and he was almost through the stage as well.

Seb Ogier won SS14 Kambja 1 – 20.04 km, 1.8 seconds faster than Kalle, with Elfyn third through the stage. Craig was seven tenths faster than Ott, setting the fourth fastest time, and rally leader fifth in the stage. In the battle to be the top M-Sport car, Teemu took six seconds out of the gap to Esapekka, with the gap between the Fiesta WRC drivers now just 3.8 seconds.

Seb also won SS15 Arula 2 – 6.97 km, and was now stretching the gap to Elfyn. Ott and Craig were second and third fastest, whilst Kalle matched the time of Craig in the stage. The fight between the two M-Sport drivers continued as well, but in the end, there was just one tenth of a second between them.

The penultimate stage then, SS16 Kaagvere 2 – 15.46 km, and Kalle took it, with Seb and Ott second and third fastest. The battle between Teemu and Esapekka took a new twist. Pushing hard in his number 4 Fiesta, Esapekka had a spin, and avoided the trees thankfully. Teemu was now ahead of his teammate, with a 9.9 second lead.

Well, time for the final stage then, SS17 Kambja 2 [Power Stage] – 20.04 km. Kalle was fastest, from Elfyn and Ott. Seb and Craig rounded out the points scorers in the stage. It was disaster for Thierry though. He suffered an electrical problem, and could not push hard through the stage.

 

Let’s hear from the drivers!

Hyundai Motorsport

Ott Tänak 1st

“I am happy to take this first win for Hyundai Motorsport. It means a lot, especially in my home event. There was a lot of pressure this weekend, to be honest, and moments of stress which are now relief! The first WRC event in Estonia was one that I had to win, while also knowing it would be my first with Hyundai Motorsport. It was extremely important to bring it home. I couldn’t afford any mistakes, taking no risks but also performing with the required pace to win; bringing all of that together was a real challenge. We had to use this chance to catch back points for the championship, and thankfully we were able to use it well. My thanks to the whole team, who have all been working very hard during the past months; it’s been a truly great job and we must keep on pushing because we’ve shown what we can achieve.”

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

Craig Breen 2nd

“What an incredible weekend! I took it easy in the Power Stage, to make sure we made it through safely. I probably didn’t mean to take it that easy, but this is a great result. From the opening kilometres of the rally, everything just clicked. The car has done absolutely everything I’ve asked of it and has given me the confidence I needed. The man beside me, Paul, has done a fantastic job and I’d like to thank everyone who has made this possible. I feel like I’m starting my career all over again; I’ve certainly not forgotten how to do it and I want to do it even more!”

Thierry Neuville DNF

“It has definitely not been our weekend, and we didn’t really deserve it to be honest. Our target today was to salvage some points from the Power Stage, but we had an issue ahead of the start, which meant we couldn’t drive at speed. The issue on Saturday was also unfortunate as we were kicked out of the line and hit something on the outside. We saw the videos from other crews at the same place, and it was similar for everyone, it was just we lost a wheel. Disappointing but the next one will be better.”

 

Toyota Gazoo Racing WRT

Sébastien Ogier 3rd

“It’s a positive result for us. To finish on the podium is good for the championship. For sure there is a bit of frustration for us as we know that we could have done better this weekend, there was some potential that we didn’t manage to exploit. To win here would have been difficult but we had the ability to be much closer or at least in second place. I also would have liked to get more from the Power Stage but it was the roughest stage of the weekend and when I feel it’s too risky to go for it, I don’t dare and prefer to secure the podium. Still it’s nice to score some good points in a difficult weekend.”

Elfyn Evans 4th

“I’m not fully satisfied at the end of the rally but we come away with fourth overall and second place in the Power Stage. There was obviously good pace there at points but I was just unable to deliver it consistently. We made some changes overnight and in the slippery conditions this morning it seemed to be a bit better. Then I struggled when it got quite rough, but it seems to always be a compromise here. Like always there’s some things we can work on but at the end of the day we’re here after a difficult weekend with a decent haul of points.”

Kalle Rovanperä 5th

“I’m really happy. My weekend was really good in terms of the pace and the driving. I think I did everything I could and I didn’t make any mistakes, even when driving on this very fast pace. We had some bad luck and it was just not our weekend but that’s rallying sometimes. The Power Stage was quite nice, I had a big push there but it was still a clean run so I’m happy. A big thanks to the team because the car was great to drive.”

 

M-Sport WRT

Teemu Suninen 6th

“It’s been a really difficult weekend for us. It took a while to get back in the rhythm, but it was good to be back after such a long time away. We were trying our best and today the times were a bit better, but we know that there is still some work to do. Now I’m looking forward to Turkey and Sardinia. We were strong at both those rallies last year, and I hope it will be the same again this year.”

Esapekka Lappi 7th

“Firstly, I have to say that the organisers have done a fantastic job this weekend. Everything worked smoothly with no problems and it really was an amazing job from everyone involved. It was good to be back in the rally car and to show some pace in the beginning, but after that it became a really challenging weekend for us. There is a lot of work to do on these type of stages, but hopefully in Turkey and Sardinia we can be stronger.”

Gus Greensmith 8th

“We knew it wasn’t going to be an easy weekend as we didn’t have the same experience or preparation as some of the other guys. But we were able to make some improvements throughout the weekend and the times got better the more kilometres we did. Also, a big thanks to everyone at M‑Sport. They’ve been working really hard, and it was a big effort from everyone here and back in Cumbria.”

Final Overall Classification – Rally Estonia

1 O. Tänak M. Järveoja Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC 1:59:53.6
2 C. Breen P. Nagle Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC +22.2
3 S. Ogier J. Ingrassia Toyota Yaris WRC +26.9
4 E. Evans S. Martin Toyota Yaris WRC +41.9
5 K. Rovanperä J. Halttunen Toyota Yaris WRC +1:18.7
6 T. Suninen J. Lehtinen Ford Fiesta WRC +2:39.6
7 E. Lappi J. Ferm Ford Fiesta WRC +2:52.0
8 G. Greensmith E. Edmondson Ford Fiesta WRC +4:53.8
9 O. Solberg A. Johnston Volkswagen Polo R5 +7:38.6
10 M. Østberg T. Eriksen Citroën C3 R5 +8:17.3
2020 FIA World Rally Championship
Round 04, Rally Estonia
04-06 September 2020
Ott Tanak, Martin Jarveoja, Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC, Craig Breen, Paul Nagle
Photographer: Helena El Mokni
Worldwide copyright: Hyundai Motorsport GmbH

Summary

It had been an impressive drive from Ott and his co-driver Martin. They had taken the lead in stage three, and produced a consistent drive to take his first victory for Hyundai Motorsport, and a win on home soil!

Craig and Paul repaid Andrea Adamo, with a very good drive to second place, winning a stage, and even at points reducing the gap to Ott. I suspect that we will see Craig and Paul in the i20 again this year. For Thierry, it was a case of what could had been. Holding third place, a mistake saw him have to retire, and then when he was going for power stage points, a car problem meant that he’d fail to score any points.

At Toyota, we saw all three drivers win stages, and with the demise of Thierry, Seb scored a good third place. Elfyn took a good fourth place, despite a puncture, which damaged the left-hand rear corner of his Yaris. Kalle also had a very good event, taking fifth position. A penalty for a technical infringement cost him a minute, and with it, a potential podium finish.

At M-Sport, after leading early on after stage one, had an eventful rally. All three drivers suffered spins, with Teemu scoring a sixth place with Esapekka in seventh. Gus Greensmith finished in eighth place, he mostly set stage times that kept him in the lower reaches of the top ten, but set his best stage result in stage sixteen, setting the seventh best time.

 

2020 FIA World Rally Championship for Drivers’ Standings

1 S. Ogier 79
2 E. Evans 70
3 O. Tänak 66
4 K. Rovanperä 55
5 T. Neuville 42
6 T. Suninen 34
7 E. Lappi 30
8 C. Breen 25
9 S.Loeb 8
10 T. Katsuta 8

 

2020 FIA World Rally Championship for Manufacturers’ Standings

1 Toyota Gazoo Racing World Rally Team 137
2 Hyundai Shell Mobis World Rally Team 132
3 M-Sport Ford World Rally Team 83

Rally Estonia! The WRC restarts after a long break!

After the early end of Rally Mexico, and the cancellation of a number of events throughout May, June, July and August, the WRC returns to action with it’s first event in Estonia. It is a rally that has only taken place ten times, with the first event taking place in 2010.

Now, what can we say about this new event to the championship? There will be seventeen stages held over the three days, covering 232 km’s.

Shakedown and stage one take place on Friday the 4th of September. Shakedown is at 9:01am on a stage called Abissaare, and then there is a short 1.28 km stage in Tartu in the evening. Saturday sees ten stages, covering 73 km’s starting just before 8am local time and finishing after 6pm. Then on Sunday there are six stages, covering the remaining 84 km’s. This is quite different to the normal final day, which normally sees a couple of stages in the morning. There are six stages on the final day, starting at 7:35 am, and the power stage at 13:18. It’s a much earlier start for a final day.

 

Here’s the full stage list.

Time      No.         Stage name                        Distance

4th September

09:01     —           Abissaare [Shakedown] 5.51 km

Leg 1 — 1.28 km

4th September

19:08     SS1         Tartu                                     1.28 km

Leg 2 — 146.40 km

5th September

07:40     SS2         Prangli 1                               20.23 km

08:21     SS3         Kanepi 1                               16.89 km

09:08     SS4         Otepää 1                              9.60 km

10:00     SS5         Mäeküla 1                           14.76 km

11:19       SS6         Elva 1                                     11.72 km

14:37     SS7         Prangli 2                               20.23 km

15:18     SS8         Kanepi 2                               16.89 km

16:08     SS9         Otepää 2                              9.60 km

17:00     SS10       Mäeküla 2                           14.76 km

18:19     SS11       Elva 2                                     11.72 km

Leg 3 — 84.96 km

6th September

07:35     SS12       Arula 1                                  6.97 km

08:09     SS13       Kaagvere 1                          15.46 km

09:08     SS14       Kambja 1                              20.05 km

10:49      SS15       Arula 2                                  6.97 km

11:28      SS16       Kaagvere 2                          15.46 km

13:18      SS17       Kambja 2 [Power Stage] 20.05 km

 

Okay, let’s hear from the drivers! It’s been a while!

Toyota Gazoo Racing WRT

Sébastien Ogier / Julien Ingrassia – Car 17

“I’m happy that we are able to compete again after so long. Rally Estonia will be new for many of us, but I’m always excited to take on a different challenge. It’s certainly going to be a demanding rally with very fast roads. The Yaris WRC gives you good confidence at these speeds and after the testing we have done in Finland and in Estonia, I have a good feeling in the car. It was also important to have this event last week to help us prepare, because after such a long break it is not easy to find the limit straight away. We will be starting first on the road so we hope that the weather in September could maybe help us to not have too much of a disadvantage, and the target will be to try to fight as best as we can.”

Elfyn Evans / Scott Martin – Car 33

“It has been a long time since we have driven competitively. It’s been eased by the fact that we could at least do some testing and get back behind the wheel but there’s nothing like competition. Rally Estonia is new to the WRC and I was lucky enough to be there for last year’s event. Although the rally didn’t end so well for me, I did enjoy it and I know a little bit about what to expect. The roads are very, very fast: Similar to Finland in some ways but with a few less jumps, and even faster in some places. As I’ve seen from the testing we’ve done, the car feels strong on these high-speed gravel roads. We’re definitely hoping that we have a good package and hopefully we can get the most out of it.”

Kalle Rovanperä / Jonne Halttunen – Car 69

“The roads in Estonia are really fast and flowing but there are also some narrow and technical sections, so it’s going to be a really tricky rally. You have to be flat out most of the time but then you also have places where you need to be really precise. After the long break, it won’t be so easy to be up to speed in the beginning, but we have had some good testing to help us to be ready. We have been driving in some different weather conditions which has been useful experience for me. I have still only done three WRC rallies in this car and I still need to continue learning over the rest of the season, but this is a rally that should be good for me and I’m hoping for a good result.”

Ott and Martin won the event for Toyota in 2018 and 2019.

Hyundai Motorsport

Thierry Neuville / Nicolas Gilsoul – Car 11

“With the restart of the season, I think we all have hopes for a good result. After such a long break we want to come back and immediately deliver a strong performance. Rally Estonia is a new event and I did compete there back in 2012 but obviously the roads have changed a lot. It will be a challenging rally but with Ott and Martin as our teammates, I’m hoping we’re going to get a little advantage over the other teams.”

2019 FIA World Rally Championship
Round 09, Rally Finland
1 – 4 August 2019
Thierry Neuville
Photographer: Austral
Worldwide copyright: Hyundai Motorsport GmbH

Ott Tänak / Martin Järveoja – Car 8

“Of course, it’s nice to be back in the championship again. Having the first event back in Estonia is special for us. It’s a big thing for Estonia to run a WRC event. I really hope we have a home advantage and it’s most important we really use it. The target is very easy; we don’t know how long the season will be but for sure we have to take the maximum from every event now. It will be a short sprint so there is no way to hold back anymore.”

Craig Breen / Paul Nagle – Car 42

“I’m really looking forward to Rally Estonia. It’s an event where I have quite a bit of experience in comparison to other crews. This year will be my fifth time going there and I am definitely looking forward to being back in a WRC car again after this strange and long period without anything. I was fortunate enough to be back in competition soon after lockdown was lifted and already in June we were testing. This restart period has been quite busy; it’s great to get back to competing and some form of normality. I think we can perform well in Estonia, as fast rallies generally seem to suit us, so we’ll be aiming for some good results there.”

 

M-Sport Ford WRT

Esapekka Lappi / Janne Ferm – Car 4 

“It’s been a long time away from the action, so I’m really looking forward to getting back behind the wheel. I was at Estonia’s WRC Promotional event last year and the stages are really nice. They’re quite similar to Finland in some ways, and even faster in some places so the pace is going to be pretty much flat out!

“We know that we’re not in the same position as the other teams and we’ve not had the opportunity to do the same level of testing, but I did manage to drive Lõuna-Eesti Ralli which was really good fun. It was important to get that seat time, and our main objective next week will be to get back out there, get back up to speed, and enjoy rallying again.”

Elfyn and Scott competed last year for M-Sport.

Teemu Suninen / Jarmo Lehtinen – Car 3

“I did some simulator racing during lockdown, but I’m definitely ready to get back behind the wheel of the rally car now! It’s been a long time, and I’m really looking forward to Rally Estonia which will be a bit like a home rally for me now!

“We’ve not had a lot of seat time, but I drove Lõuna-Eesti Ralli with a Fiesta R5. That was quite a special rally for me as I organised everything myself – and it made me appreciate how much the team do for us on WRC events as there really is so much you have to think about.

“We also had a day testing the Fiesta WRC in Greystoke. The stages in Estonia are really fast so it was important to have that day getting back up to speed. And we stayed in Cumbria a few days afterwards too – exploring the Lake District with Rich and catching up with some of the guys before we head out to the rally.”

Gus Greensmith / Elliott Edmondson – Car 44

“I cannot wait to get back behind the wheel of the Fiesta WRC! We had a couple of days testing in Greystoke last week and I’d forgotten just how much I enjoy pushing the loud pedal in this car!

“We know that we’ve not had the same amount of seat time as some of the other guys, but this is still a learning year for me and the most important thing is to go out there and enjoy it.

“This will be my first time in Estonia and I’ve heard that the stages are incredible. I’m looking forward to experiencing them for myself, and will just aim to focus on my own event – and on learning and improving my times as the weekend goes on.”

Summary

Well, here we go! We are set for the resumption of the championship. In the last two years Ott Tanak has taken victory for Toyota in this event. We have to consider him for the win this weekend. He’ll have good competition from his former teammates Seb Ogier and Elfyn Evans, plus there is the intra team battle with Thierry Neuville. Then there is the M-Sport team, with two very fast Finns. It would be great to see them both in the mix for stage victories, and if they can, then they will be challenging for a podium finish.

Here’s a reminder of the championship standings.

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

Classification after Day One

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

 

Driver thoughts at the end of Friday.

Toyota Gazoo Racing WRT

Elfyn Evans (1st)

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

Kalle Rovanperä (3rd)

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

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

Sébastien Ogier (4th)

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

 

Hyundai Motorsport

Ott Tänak (2nd)

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

Thierry Neuville (6th)

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

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

Craig Breen (8th)

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

 

M-Sport Ford WRT

Esapekka Lappi (5th)

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

Teemu Suninen (7th)

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

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

Saturday

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

 

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

Classification after Day Two

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

 

Toyota Gazoo Racing WRT

Elfyn Evans (1st)

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

Sébastien Ogier (3rd)

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

Kalle Rovanperä (4th)

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

 

Hyundai Motorsport

Ott Tänak (2nd)

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

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

Thierry Neuville (6th)

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

Craig Breen (7th)

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

 

M-Sport Ford WRT

Esapekka Lappi (5th)

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

Teemu Suninen (8th)

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

 

Sunday

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

 

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

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

 

Final Overall Standings

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

 

Toyota Gazoo Racing WRT

Elfyn Evans (1st)

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

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

Kalle Rovanperä (3rd)

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

Sébastien Ogier (4th)

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

 

Hyundai Motorsport

Ott Tänak (2nd)

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

Thierry Neuville (6th)

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

Craig Breen (7th)

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

 

M-Sport Ford WRT

Esapekka Lappi (5th)

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

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

Teemu Suninen (8th)

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

 

Summary

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

Rally Sweden 2020 Preview

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

Stages & times

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

 

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

 

Throwback

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

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

Let’s hear from the drivers.

Hyundai Motorsport

Thierry Neuville

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

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

Ott Tänak

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

Craig Breen

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

 

Toyota Gazoo Racing WRT

Sébastien Ogier

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

Elfyn Evans

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

Kalle Rovanperä

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

 

M-Sport Ford WRT

Esapekka Lappi

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

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

Teemu Suninen

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

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

The R5 class

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

Adrien Fourmaux

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

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

Rhys Yates

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

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

Ole Christian Veiby

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

Nikolay Gryazin

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

Summary

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