Rallye Monte Carlo 2022 – Saturday’s Report, Seb Ogier and Ben Veillas move into the lead

With five stages and 96km of action, we were set for another really intense day of competition. The startlist looked like this, now running in reverse order – Solberg, Rovanperä, Katsuta, Greensmith, Breen, Tänak, Neuville, Evans, Ogier, Loeb.

Into the first stage then, SS9 Le Fugeret / Thorame-Haute – 16.80 km and Elfyn was fastest from Kalle and Ogier. It was Loeb’s turn to have a slow one, only setting the seventh best time and losing time to Ogier, the gap now just 6.5 seconds. There was drama again for Ott though, getting a puncture and losing three spots to Craig, Gus and Takamoto. The Estonian duo were now in eighth place. Of course, Elfyn’s great time meant that he’d closed the gap to Loeb to just 8.2 seconds.

Next stage then, into SS10 Saint-Jeannet / Malijai 1 – 17.04 km and Ogier was fastest from Elfyn and Kalle. The young Finn was definitely having a better day after his troubles on Friday and getting into a groove for sure. Ogier’s pace meant that he and Loeb now shared the lead after ten stages. There were contrasting fortunes for Craig and Gus. Gus suffered a mechanical problem and then a puncture in the stage, whilst Craig passed Thierry into fourth place.

The next one, SS11 Saint-Geniez / Thoard 1 – 20.79 km and it was smooth drive for Ogier who emerged from this one with a 5.4 second lead over Loeb. It was a disaster for Elfyn though who’s been setting some great splits throughout the stage. The Welshman slid off the road near the finish and the GR Yaris was stuck. His decision to go with studded tyres so nearly paid off with the lead. The stage was red flagged and this would mean that once the remaining cars had proceeded through, the car was moved and Elfyn could continue on and complete the rest of the day’s stages. Kalle continued to go well, setting the second fastest time, whilst Craig was third fastest and moved into third overall after the problem with Elfyn.

It got even better for Kalle SS12 Saint-Jeannet / Malijai 2 – 17.04 km as the Finn took the stage win from Loeb and Ogier. There were problems for Thierry, who was suffering with a damper problem and dropped back two places to sixth with Kalle and Takamoto both moving ahead into fourth and fifth place respectively.

So, to the final stage then, SS13 Saint-Geniez / Thoard 2 – 20.79 km and Kalle put his studded tyres to good work and set the fastest time, whilst Ogier and Oliver were second and third. Gus moved ahead of Thierry into fifth place as the Belgian battled through the stage with the returning problem with his front suspension as it attempted to break through the bonnet.

 

Classification after Day Three

1 S. Ogier B. Veillas Toyota GR Yaris Rally1 2:19:43.1
2 S. Loeb I. Galmiche Ford Puma Rally1 +21.1
3 C. Breen P. Nagle Ford Puma Rally1 +1:26.0
4 K. Rovanperä J. Halttunen Toyota GR Yaris Rally1 +2:03.8
5 G. Greensmith J. Andersson Ford Puma Rally1 +6:33.8
6 T. Neuville M. Wydaeghe Hyundai i20 N Rally1 +7:44.1

 

Let’s hear from the drivers.

Toyota Gazoo Racing WRT

Sébastien Ogier (1st)

“It has been a good day for us and a positive step forward compared to yesterday. Generally, I felt better in the car today. In the first stage this morning I struggled to use the hybrid system in the way I wanted, but it’s something new for everyone and I try to adapt my driving style to make it work. We managed to make a bit of a gap tonight with a slightly crazy tyre choice in the last stage. It has been such a close battle all weekend with Sébastien [Loeb] and knowing him after all these years, I guessed he would try something. I wanted to have a straight fight with the same tyres and see who was faster, even though it was not the best choice for the conditions. It was a bit challenging in the snow but it felt really good on the dry roads and I had a really good stage. But tomorrow is still long and still with the potential for tricky conditions.”

Kalle Rovanperä (4th)

“We changed the car quite a lot from yesterday and the balance is much better for my driving style, it’s much easier to drive. We have done a bit of everything on the setup, a lot of small steps which are finally paying off. It felt really nice to win two stages, and the last stage was particularly good for us. At the beginning of the rally, it was hard to look at the stage times, but now it’s nice to start enjoying the driving. I am happy to have made such a big step and now we’ll try to see what more we can do. It always helps when you finally get a positive feeling in the car because it gives you the confidence to drive a bit better and everything gets easier.”

2022 FIA World Rally Championship / Round 01 / Rallye Monte Carlo 2022 / 20-23 January 2022 // Worldwide Copyright: Toyota Gazoo Racing WRT

Elfyn Evans (26th)

“It is obviously frustrating what happened today. It was going pretty well up until then with a good morning overall and it was going well in SS11 as well. I’d made it out of the difficult part of the stage but then I just got caught out on a tricky right-hander. I had some information in my pace-notes but it seemed to spring out of nowhere and I just braked too late. The car was in a difficult position so thanks to the fans for all their help, they were really good. We got it back on the stage and got going again but we had lost so much time. After that it felt like a bit of a long afternoon. We didn’t want to do anything to jeopardise the Power Stage tomorrow when we will try to get some points.”

 

M-Sport Ford WRT

Seb Loeb (2nd)

I lost some time with my super softs, I had two crossed super softs and I didn’t really understand why, then in Sisteron, Seb was really fast in both runs, so nothing really major. The gap to the front is large, so we’ll see tomorrow.

Craig Breen (3rd)

It’s been a rally of attrition more than others in recent years, and I’ve been quite happy with the pace today, honestly, we’ve definitely increased it up since yesterday, I feel that if we had the same settings as we run yesterday as today, we’d be a level up. That was just a consequence of not having all the seat time in the test, my own fault entirely, but it’s good and I’ve been happy with that. We have a good tyre package for tomorrow as we used old tyres this afternoon, and this means that we have new sets available tomorrow. I’m looking forward to the new stages tomorrow.

Gus Greensmith (5th)

Yeah, from as good as things were yesterday to as bad as things were today. Nothing more could have gone wrong, engine issues, puncture, everything. Not a good day, but not much I could have done about it, I’m proud of my bodge, it’s got us to the end of the day and at least we can go again tomorrow.

 

Hyundai Motorsport

Thierry Neuville (6th)

“I don’t know what to say, really. We have made it through the day somehow after experiencing an ongoing issue with the front-right damper. At the start of the middle morning stage (SS10), the car suddenly felt like it was pulling to one side, but it was only at the end we realised that the top-mount fixation of the damper was gone. We kept fighting, although it was a bit of a struggle without lunchtime service. We had to carry out some repairs ourselves in between the two loops, but a few kilometres into SS12 the damper came through the bonnet. We then did some fixes on the road section before the final stage, but it gave up again in the final kilometres. It’s been a day of survival.”

Oliver Solberg (49th)

“We had the same issue with fuel fumes coming into the car as we have had on the previous days. In SS10, we lost concentration in the middle of the stage and went off the road at a medium speed right-hander. Miraculously, we got the car out and could continue the rally. I really didn’t think we would manage it – we had about 25 people pushing, pulling, and dragging the car out. Thankfully it was just cosmetic damage. We used the afternoon as another valuable learning experience. Setting the joint third-fastest time through a snowy SS13, equalling my best-ever stage result, was a nice way to end to a really difficult day.”

2022 FIA World Rally Championship
Round 01, Rallye Monte-Carlo
20-23 January 2022
Oliver Solberg, Elliott Edmondson, Hyundai i20 N Rally 1
Photographer: Dufour Fabien
Worldwide copyright: Hyundai Motorsport GmbH

Ott Tänak (DNF)

“The car felt OK today, there was no real drama. The puncture on the first stage was one of those things that happen. We continued but with no spare tyre left we had to keep things as tidy as possible. Unfortunately, in the final stage on the icy conditions, we made a very small, but ultimately costly mistake. We picked up some damage and that was it. We were leaking coolant and the engine was overheating so we had to stop the car on the road section. Unfortunately, we won’t be able to continue tomorrow but we are committed to learning from this challenging weekend to build for the rest of the season.”

Sunday

Well, we are set for 67km’s over four stages and no service again either. Who will emerge on top? Can Loeb fight back for M-Sport Ford, or will Ogier triumph again? We shall find out tomorrow!

Rallye Monte Carlo 2022 Preview – The Hybrid Era starts!

Time for the fiftieth world rally championship season to start with the new rules and new cars that were launched on Saturday evening. The driver movements are well documented as well, so let’s get on and review this incredibly iconic rally. With four days of competition ahead, lets take a look at the stages.

The 90th running of this event this year is based in Monaco instead of Gap and with 296km over 17 stages the challenge of this rally remains as tricky as ever. We may not see any snow, but there will almost certainly be ice on the stages making it a big challenge to stay on the road.

Shakedown takes place on Thursday the 20th of January with a short 2.29km stage that starts at 9:31 local French time.

Later the same day the opening ceremony takes place in Monaco followed by two stages run in the dark: Luceram / Lantosque (15.20km) and La Bollène-Vésubie / Moulinet (23.25km)

Friday’s itinerary consists of two attempts of Roure / Bevil (18.33km), Guillaumes / Péone / Valberg (13.49km) and Val-de-Chalvagne / Entrevaux (17.11km) with just a tyre fitting zone between the morning and afternoon loops

Saturday begins with Le Fugeret / Thorame-Haute (16.80km), before presenting the challenge of two passes of Saint-Jeannet / Malijai (17.04km) and Saint-Geniez / Thoard (20.79km)

Sunday features two loops of La Penne / Collongues (19.37km) and Briançonnet / Entrevaux (14.26km). The second pass of the latter will be the rally’s Power Stage.

The usual crews will be challenging for the podium spots I suspect.

Let’s hear from the drivers!

Toyota Gazoo Racing WRT

Team Toyota poses for a photograph during the WRC launch at the Hangar 7 in Salzburg, Austria on January 15, 2022.

Sébastien Ogier

“I’m at the beginning of a different stage in my career, and as I’m not taking part in the full championship the feeling is a little bit different to usual for me at this time of the year. But being part of this programme with TOYOTA GAZOO Racing is still exciting and going to Rallye Monte-Carlo is always special for me. I’m still a competitor and I still want to win, so I will be giving my best to perform. I know the team has been working very hard to be ready with this new generation of car and big steps have been made in every test. I’ve had the chance to do three days of testing in the GR YARIS Rally1 in December and another day last week, all to prepare for this event. It’s quite a big change and it’s an exciting challenge to try and adapt to that. But I think going to Monte Carlo will be a huge challenge for everybody: There’s more uncertainty than ever going into this rally.”

Elfyn Evans

“This is an exciting time in our sport and I’m looking forward to the challenge of these new cars. Since I first tested the GR YARIS Rally1 we’ve made some good progress, but it’s impossible to know where we stand relative to the competition until we get to Monte Carlo. So much has changed and it’s a clean sheet of paper. It’s not been easy to jump from a car that was so well-developed, where everything was coming quite easily, and into something that is a lot more unknown. The additional power from the hybrid system makes a huge difference and how you manage it could be worth quite a lot in certain cases. We’ve already learned a lot in testing and I’m sure we’re going to continue learning a lot during the year, starting in Monte Carlo. It’s a rally that’s always a bit of a lottery with the weather anyway, and now the base has moved south there’s a lot of new stages and different terrain to get to grips with.”

Kalle Rovanperä

“My feeling with the new car is good and we have some good preparation behind us. With any new car there are always many things to work on and to improve, but I feel we have been making good progress all the time. It’s been especially interesting to get used to the boost from the hybrid. It gives you much more power, and that’s usually a good thing, but it can also be a bit tricky in certain points if you’re not ready to use it. As a driver you need to think about how to use it and if you can do that better than the others it could make quite a big difference. Rallye Monte-Carlo is going to be quite special this year. It’s always a tricky rally but this year we are going to have a lot of new stages as well as a totally new car. Friday and Saturday are going to be long days without mid-day service and if you can get through those days without issues that will already be quite good.”

Hyundai Motorsport

2022 FIA World Rally Championship, WRC Launch 2022,
15 January 2022
X
Photographer: Vincent Thuillier
Worldwide copyright: Hyundai Motorsport GmbH

Thierry Neuville

“Our main target in Monte-Carlo is to finish and gain experience in the car. I don’t think we are going to have a completely dry event but I don’t think it will be full of snow either; as usual, we are expecting a mix of conditions. Because of this, it’s very hard to have the perfect tyre choice for all the stages, so it’s all about compromise next weekend – the driver who does it best is going to be the most competitive. Choosing the tyres is not so easy because you have to collect a lot of information, trust yourself and commit. It will be a challenge, but I like driving in these conditions, so it is going to be exciting.”

Ott Tänak

“I think there is some uncertainty heading to Monte-Carlo, so it is important that we get through the rally without any major issues and keep the car running so we gain as much experience as possible – that will be the priority. Rallye Monte-Carlo is not as much about pure performance; it is about the reliability and the small decisions you make. Of course, we want to finish well and score many points for the championship this weekend. The very first stage in the dark with the new car will certainly be an adventure.”

Oliver Solberg

“Starting my first WRC campaign in Monte-Carlo is going to be very exciting. I think we have realistic expectations for the event – the most important part for us is just finishing and helping the team as much as possible. Rallye Monte-Carlo is an event where everything can happen; a stage can start with snow and end with tarmac, so it’s a very interesting and unpredictable way to begin the season with the new cars, but it’s also very exciting. I know I will take some time to find my feet but I have the best guys in the team to learn from.”

M-Sport Ford WRT

Sebastien Loeb

“It’s a radical change of scenery after spending three weeks on the Dakar Rally but it’s still very exciting to be at the start of the Monte Carlo Rally, especially with the WRC’s new hybrid era.

“I’m also proud of this collaboration with Malcolm’s team, working with them has been talked about throughout my career but never quite managed to happen, so thank you all, M-Sport, Ford Performance and Red Bull for finally making this happen on such an amazing event.

“For this rally, I will certainly be less prepared than the other drivers but the feeling with the Puma Hybrid Rally1 was immediately very good and everything just came together. I am looking forward to having fun this weekend with Isabelle, my new co-driver, and the whole M-Sport team.”

Craig Breen

“It is always something very special competing on Rallye Monte Carlo, but to be doing it for the M-Sport Ford World Rally Team, is a dream come true! The team has done an unbelievable job building and developing the Puma Hybrid Rally1 and it really shows. It is by far the best rally car I have ever driven and with the addition of the hybrid unit, it is going to add another dimension to the rally. Paul and I are relishing the challenge and are really looking forward to the year ahead with M-Sport and Ford.”

Adrien Fourmaux

“For Rallye Monte-Carlo, we will try to do our best, feel the car and understand its level of performance compared to the others. It will be the first time here in the top category of the WRC, I have been here previously in the Fiesta Rally2, my first appearance was already a top ten overall finish! I love these roads; I have performed quite well in the past so I have good hopes. By the way it’s a new era for everyone so we’ll need the perfect match between the car’s reliability and driving skill to perform well until the end of the rally. We hope to deliver the best result as we can, everything is possible!”

Gus Greensmith

“I’m excited to be a part of the 2022 M-Sport Ford World Rally Team as we head into the most significant rule change in WRC history. The team has done a great job developing the new car, and I feel really comfortable driving it. We’re all confident the car should be a lot more competitive than recent years, which will hopefully give us more opportunities to fight near the front. I was happy with my improvements last season, and I want to build on that going into 2022. I was within a second of my first stage win last year, and I feel that with the new package, this is definitely an achievable goal, and we also want to try to push for our first podium as well. Monte Carlo has always been a tricky opener for the championship, but I have done the rally a few times now, and with the new car feeling so good, I am really looking forward to the challenge. It will be essential to build the speed throughout the weekend, especially with this being Jonas and I’s second rally together. Thanks again to all the team for all the hard work they have put into the Puma Hybrid Rally1, and I hope we can repay them with a good result in Monte.”

Summary

Well, we are set for another gripping season of top-level rallying. Which team have done the best job with the new regulations and who will take victory this weekend? Make sure that you are following the action online and pop back at the end of each day for my daily reports.

Rally Finland 2021 – My Thoughts

Well, what an amazing rally that we witnessed last weekend. Let’s take a look at the performances of the crews over the weekend.

 

Well, first up Elfyn Evans and Scott Martin. Nine stage wins, with four in a row on Saturday morning set up their best victory of their careers. It was the kind of drive that we would expect to see from Ott or Seb and have brought to the stages over the recent years. The key thing with this drive was that it happened in Finland. Elfyn took stage wins and second overall in 2017, so we knew that he could score a good result at this rally. The other thing to consider is the way that he responded to his closest challenger throughout the rally. Ott did what he could to put pressure on his former M-Sport teammate, but Elfyn had an answer every time. He’d gone in a different setup route with his Yaris, and was far more comfortable than his teammates, and able to put the car where he wanted, allowing him to produce this result. Never forget, he’s the first Welshman to win in Finland. It’s brought him right back into the championship fight, now only twenty-four points behind Seb Ogier.

2021 FIA World Rally Championship / Round 10 / Rally Finland / 28 September – 4th October 2021 // Worldwide Copyright: Toyota Gazoo Racing WRT

Next up is Ott Tänak and Martin Järveoja. Seven stage wins for double Rally Finland winner showed that Hyundai were really benefitting from the 2019 championship winners understanding of the challenges of this event. Normally that kind of performance would likely deliver the victory, but no matter what he did, Elfyn and Scott always had an answer to the Estonian duo. Never-the-less they’d delivered Hyundai their first ever podium at this event, and for that they should be applauded. This certainly bodes well for the future.

2021 FIA World Rally Championship
Round 10, Rally Finland
01-03 October 2021
Ott Tanak, Martin Jarveoja, WRC, Action during Day 3 of Rally Finland 2021
Photographer: Vincent Thuillier
Worldwide copyright: Hyundai Motorsport GmbH

Okay, lastly, we have to talk about Craig Breen and Paul Nagle. The Irish duo came to this rally as podium finishers in the past. Craig took third in 2016 when he was with Citroen and Paul was Kris Meeke’s co-driver when they won this rally in 2016, also for Citroen, so we knew that if they could get comfortable out there, that a top result was on, and so it was. They led early on and for a crew only doing a part season, they were really on it. Once Elfyn and Ott stepped up their pace in their battle though a crew that is only doing a part season was not likely to be able to challenge those that are in their cars full-time. Mind you, they had one over their other teammates, Thierry and Martijn, and that is why this drive to third place has to be shouted about. Of course, the great news is that Craig and Paul have signed for M-Sport Ford for two years, starting next year to spearhead their championship challenge with the new Puma Rally1 car.

2021 FIA World Rally Championship
Round 10, Rally Finland
1-3 October 2021
Craig Breen
Photographer: Austral
Worldwide copyright: Hyundai Motorsport GmbH

Let’s look at the other points finishers then, starting with Esapekka Lappi and Janne Ferm. Fourth place for the 2017 winners was a good result for a crew that last competed the Yaris WRC at the end of 2018, not forgetting that he last drove a WRC at the end of 2020 with M-Sport at Rally Monza. For a crew of such quality, it must have been very hard to be away, but with this result it shows that they deserve to be at the top of this sport. Of course, it was announced on the 7th of October that he will be back at Toyota sharing a car with Seb from next year. This is great news for them and of course for the championship.

2021 FIA World Rally Championship / Round 10 / Rally Finland / 28 September – 4th October 2021 // Worldwide Copyright: Toyota Gazoo Racing WRT

Let’s talk about Seb Ogier and Julien Ingrassia. They weren’t really on the pace to be honest, until they adopted Elfyn’s setup. Obviously, it was always going to be very hard for them what with opening the road throughout Friday’s stages. Once they did take those settings, they were quicker but the damage had been done early on and fifth was the best that they could get. Of course, a time penalty was handed to them after Seb didn’t do his helmet strap properly for stage twelve, but I think even without that I’m not sure that they would have got fourth anyway. To add to their woes, the power problem on the powerstage meant that they only took the points for fifth place.

2021 FIA World Rally Championship / Round 10 / Rally Finland / 28 September – 4th October 2021 // Worldwide Copyright: Toyota Gazoo Racing WRT

At M-Sport, Gus and Chris and Adrien and Alex weren’t really on the pace, but to be honest for them to just complete the rally without any problems and mistakes on a very challenging event, they certainly managed that well. Of course, it was to be expected that Gus and Chris who have more experience with this car on this surface would finish ahead of his teammate. For Adrien with a new co-driver alongside him and also competing in a WRC Fiesta on this event for the first time, it’s fair to not have expected a massive result from them.

Takamoto with, with another temporary co-driver as we await Dan Barritt’s return actually led the rally after the first stage, but then he fell back after his 360-degree spin, and then had a mistake on Saturday meant that he restarted on Sunday. Still, for his debut in a Yaris WRC on this rally, there were some positives for the Japanese driver, who actually considers this rally as a home event, mainly as he has lived in Jyväskylä for a number of years. He will return though with some good experience and will likely have some good results in the future.

Finally, the crews that didn’t finish the rally. Thierry and Martijn were not really at this one. Sadly it’s the kind of performance that we have got used to from Thierry at this event, and it’s really odd as well. It’s not like he’s not fast and consistent on gravel rallies. I’m sure that he and the team will be working hard to figure out what it is about this particular rally so that he can get onto the pace. I think that without this, he may never win the drivers’ world title that he really wants.

Kalle and Jonne came to this rally with big hopes, but after showing some good pace, suffered a small accident that had big consequences, with him picking up a back injury. The crew came back just to complete most of the stages, kind of like a fast recce, but didn’t complete the powerstage. It’s not like they were going to push hard for the points in there. They will return though and will almost certainly stand on the podium at some point.

 

Well, who was your driver of the event? Let us know in the comments section below!

Rally Finland Day Three Report – Elfyn and Scott take Victory!

The last day then of this autumnal Rally Finland, and with 45.7km over four stages. The startlist looked like this – Katsuta, Rovanperä, Fourmaux, Greensmith, Ogier, Lappi, Breen, Tänak, Evans.

Just a couple of things to update you on. Seb Ogier was handed a one-minute time penalty for not having his helmet strap done up properly on stage 12. Takamoto and Kalle both returned to the action for Toyota under the SuperRally rules. For the young Finn, he would be taking it easy, as he had a sore back after his off yesterday. Both drivers would be looking just to get experience of these two stages for the future.

Well, into SS16 Laukaa 1 – 11.75 km and it was a fastest time for Ott who was looking to put pressure on Elfyn. The Welshman was not having any of this though and although second fastest kept the time loss to just four tenths of a second. He didn’t think it was a good stage though, saying he could have gone better in places, and that it was low grip. Craig started the stage well, but suffered a spin in a slow speed junction and did a 360 spin to get facing the right way.

The following stage, SS17 Ruuhimäki 1 – 11.12 km and the first run of what would be the power stage and Ott would be denied by Elfyn who extended his lead by a further 3.5 seconds to 12.2! Ott was second and Craig third. Kalle was taking it so easy out there that he was only eighteen quickest. The battle for the win in WRC2 continued between Teemu and Mads with the Finn pulling away a little from the Citroen driver.

What followed in SS18 Laukaa 2 – 11.75 km was amazing as Elfyn had clearly learnt from the earlier running of this stage, beating Ott’s time by two tenths of a second and therefore extending his lead! Esapekka was third on the stage. Nikolay was fastest in the WRC2, but it was good news for Teemu who now had a lead of 14.1 over Mads.

The final stage then, SS19 Ruuhimäki 2 [Power Stage] – 11.12 km and as usual there was a change in the running order. Gryazin (WRC2), Linnamäe (WRC2), Prokop (WRC2), Huttunen (WRC2), Østberg (WRC2), Suninen (WRC2), Katsuta, Fourmaux, Greensmith, Ogier, Lappi, Breen, Tänak, Evans.

Takamoto set the early benchmark and the two M-Sport crews came through slower. What was a surprise was that Seb was slower as well! He was suffering a problem with his car and losing time! Esapekka came through and beat Takamoto’s time, before Ott completed with the best time. What would Elfyn do? Would he go for the fastest time, or just settle for the points for victory? We got the first hint at the first split and the Welshman was up by seven tenths of a second. It increased to one second at the second split as well. Finally, when he crossed the line, he’d beaten Ott’s time by 1.7 seconds! What a drive from Elfyn and Scott! Just amazing!

2021 FIA World Rally Championship / Round 10 / Rally Finland / 28 September – 4th October 2021 // Worldwide Copyright: Toyota Gazoo Racing WRT

Final Overall Classification –Rally Finland

1 E. Evans S. Martin Toyota Yaris WRC 2:19:13.7
2 O. Tänak M. Järveoja Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC +14.1
3 C. Breen P. Nagle Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC +42.2
4 E. Lappi J. Ferm Toyota Yaris WRC +58.8
5 S. Ogier J. Ingrassia Toyota Yaris WRC +2:54.4
6 G. Greensmith C. Patterson Ford Fiesta WRC +5:02.3
7 A. Fourmaux A. Coria Ford Fiesta WRC +6:22.9
8 T. Suninen M. Markkula Volkswagen Polo GTI +9:52.1
9 M. Østberg T. Eriksen Citroën C3 Rally2 +10:07.8
10 E. Lindholm R. Hämäläinen Škoda Fabia Evo +10:52.8

Let’s hear from the drivers!

Toyota Gazoo Racing WRT

Elfyn Evans (1st)

“It feels pretty special to win for the team on its home rally. After a difficult rally for me in Estonia on roads with similar characteristics, it feels really good and especially the way we managed to do it. We made some changes to the car in our test and I found great confidence with it pretty early on Friday. I’m really happy and thankful for the team for all their work, it’s been a great weekend. I feel fortunate to have been able to drive this car on these roads, and to take the win is extra special. It’s a positive result in terms of the championship. The drivers’ title is still a long shot for me, but we’ll keep giving our best on every event.”

2021 FIA World Rally Championship / Round 10 / Rally Finland / 28 September – 4th October 2021 // Worldwide Copyright: Toyota Gazoo Racing WRT

Sébastien Ogier (5th)

“Today for us was all about trying to get some more points in the Power Stage. Unfortunately, we had a problem just after the start of the stage, so we couldn’t set a good time. This was not our rally but that’s how it is sometimes. We have to move on. We are still in a good position in the championship and I am really looking forward to Spain and to asphalt. I know what I have to do there. Elfyn did very well this weekend, so well done to him.”

Kalle Rovanperä (34th)

“For us we just had to drive through the stages today. The team did a great job fixing the car yesterday but the damage was quite big and the car wasn’t a hundred percent, so we had to take care not to jump or stress the car too much. I also had pain in my back from yesterday. So we just drove through to be there to score some manufacturers’ points if it was needed. Congratulations to Elfyn, he did an amazing job. For me this was a difficult weekend where we had been expecting a lot, but I’m looking forward to Spain.”

Hyundai Motorsport

Ott Tänak (2nd)

“It has been great fun to be competing in Rally Finland, the first time for me on these roads with this car. Hyundai didn’t have a great track record in this event in previous years, however this weekend we were fighting for stage wins and for victory for most of the event. We almost made it, but we know what we can achieve now. Coming back next year – admittedly with a new concept of car – we will try to go one better.”

2021 FIA World Rally Championship
Round 10, Rally Finland
01-03 October 2021
Ott Tanak, Martin Jarveoja, WRC, Action during Day 3 of Rally Finland 2021
Photographer: Vincent Thuillier
Worldwide copyright: Hyundai Motorsport GmbH

Craig Breen (3rd)

“It’s a proud moment to finish on the podium in Rally Finland, and to have been part of the team’s best result in this event. I can’t honestly believe that we’ve taken three podiums in a row! It has been a really good weekend for us, and I have loved every single second. Of course, I’d have loved to have gone to that extra level, and to fight for the win. We’re not quite there yet, but it’s so much better than it has been.”

 

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

1 S. Ogier 190
2 E. Evans 166
3 T. Neuville 130
4 K. Rovanperä 129
5 O. Tänak 128
6 C. Breen 76
7 T. Katsuta 68
8 G. Greensmith 52
9 D. Sordo 43
10 A. Fourmaux 42

Rally Finland Day Two Report – Elfyn and Scott lead for Toyota!

Day two then and the crews faced 151km over nine stages. The start list looked like this – Fourmaux, Greensmith, Katsuta, Ogier, Neuville, Rovanperä, Lappi, Evans, Tänak, Breen. Super Saturday is how it was described and with some long stages throughout the day. There would be a service break as well.

First up then, SS7 Kakaristo – Hassi 1 – 18.17 km, and Elfyn was fastest from Craig by two tenths, with Ott a further second or so back. These three were our leaders, with the Irishman still a good chunk ahead of Ott and Elfyn. Kalle moved ahead of Esapekka and the gap between them was just 1.6 seconds. Oliver rolled out of the rally on this stage.

The following stage, SS8 Päijälä 1 – 22.61 km, saw Elfyn take another stage win, but it was such a great time, that it took him from third into the lead! Ott was 4.2 off the Welshman’s pace and Craig 6.8 off and he now held a lead of nine tenths over Craig, with Ott 2.3 seconds back. The battle for fourth between the young Finns continued, with Kalle keeping EP behind him. Unfortunately, we lost Takamoto after he went off the road and couldn’t continue. The demise of the Japanese driver meant that Teemu who was leading WRC2 in his Polo moved into the top ten.

Elfyn made it three in a row, winning SS9 Arvaja 1 – 13.49 km from Kalle and Craig. His lead over Craig was now four seconds, with Ott a further two seconds back. Thierry remained ahead of Seb despite losing 1.6 to the Frenchman as they battled over sixth place. Gus and Adrien remained seventh and eight just gaining good experience for the future.

The last stage then before service, SS10 Patajoki 1 – 20.55 km and Elfyn was fastest again, 1.6 seconds ahead of Craig again with Ott, who was not comfortable with the stage conditions a further 2.1 behind Craig. It was a brilliant set of stage wins for the Welshman as he looked to take a first Rally Finland win as well. Unfortunately, we lost Kalle who lost control of his car on a lefthander and went of the road into a pile of dirt on the right. It was game over for him.

After the break, SS11 Kakaristo – Hassi 2 – 18.17 km was Ott’s though from Elfyn and Craig. Elfyn was only six tenths slower than the Estonian though and the gap between them remained 9.1 seconds, and Craig was still holding second overall with a reduced time difference to his teammate.

Into SS12 Päijälä 2 – 22.61 km and Ott was fastest from Elfyn and Craig and this meant that the Estonian had now passed his teammate for second place. The gap to Elfyn remained a very healthy 7.9 seconds. In the WRC2 category, Mads was fastest from Teemu, but the Finn remained 10 seconds ahead of the Citroen driver.

Well, it was another stage win for Ott in SS13 Arvaja 2 – 13.49 km as he continued to find good pace, but he was only two tenths faster than the leader, so Elfyn’s lead was barely touched. Esapekka was third fastest and was making fourth place his. Mads continued to reduce the gap to Teemu in their fight over the category lead.

2021 FIA World Rally Championship / Round 10 / Rally Finland / 28 September – 4th October 2021 // Worldwide Copyright: Toyota Gazoo Racing WRT

The light was starting to fade as SS14 Patajoki 2 – 20.55 km and Elfyn broke early-stage pacesetters Seb’s time, and then Craig and Ott came through and were not able to beat his time. The Welshman had increased his lead over former M-Sport teammate to 9.1 seconds. However, there was drama for Thierry as he landed heavily and he lost his light pods from the front of his car. There was other damage, mainly to his cooling system, and he pulled over in an access road. He was out and any hopes of this year’s title have gone with this result.

The final stage of the day, SS15 Harju 2 – 2.31 km and there was a slight change in the running order with Elfyn going last. Ott eclipsed early pace setter Seb’s time, but it was great to see Elfyn match Ott time as they set identical times.

Classification after Day Two

1 E. Evans S. Martin Toyota Yaris WRC 1:57:46.7
2 O. Tänak M. Järveoja Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC +9.1
3 C. Breen P. Nagle Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC +19.5
4 E. Lappi J. Ferm Toyota Yaris WRC +44.8
5 S. Ogier J. Ingrassia Toyota Yaris WRC +1:23.7
6 G. Greensmith C. Patterson Ford Fiesta WRC +4:16.9
7 A. Fourmaux A. Coria Ford Fiesta WRC +5:31.5

 

Let’s hear from the drivers

Toyota Gazoo Racing WRT

Elfyn Evans (1st)

“I’m pretty happy tonight, it’s been a strong day. It was a good morning for us, the car was working well and I just tried to keep a good rhythm. We made some minor changes last night to improve a few areas that weren’t working quite so well yesterday, and now I have a car that gives quite a lot of confidence, which helps a lot here and makes it easier to push like we have. There was a little bit of time dropped in some of the stages this afternoon but overall, we can be happy with the day. There’s still quite a way to go tomorrow, so we just have to focus stage-by-stage and keep doing what we’ve been doing.”

2021 FIA World Rally Championship / Round 10 / Rally Finland / 28 September – 4th October 2021 // Worldwide Copyright: Toyota Gazoo Racing WRT

Sébastien Ogier (5th)

“This morning it was still difficult for me, the speed was pretty much the same as yesterday. The championship has been too much in the back of my head and I was not daring enough. But at lunchtime we made a setup change which made the car much more enjoyable to drive. It gave me more confidence and the times were quite good if you consider that we were still running quite early on the road. So this is a positive: At least I have some answers now for my lack of pace at the start of the rally and we could find a solution. Elfyn is doing a really strong rally and can close up in the championship, but I still have the Power Stage tomorrow to try and recover some more points.”

Kalle Rovanperä (38th)

“The first couple of stages this morning were again quite tricky on the bigger roads, the grip level was really low and it was not suiting my setup and driving so well. On the third stage which was more technical and with more grip, straight away the feeling was really good and we could set quite a good time. Then on the next stage I made a mistake in a really simple corner: The cut was deeper than I expected, and it pulled us sideways towards the inside. I tried to save it from spinning but there wasn’t enough space and when we came back to the road, we went into this pile of sand on the other side. It has been a tricky weekend for me but hopefully we can restart tomorrow.”

Hyundai Motorsport

Ott Tänak (2nd)

“The pace has been quite good today; I was trying hard on every stage. In the afternoon, the grip was higher so it was easier to manage the car and I could push a bit more. I tried to put as much pressure as possible on Elfyn and push him hard, so that if he is able to win then it will be because he deserves it. But from first thing tomorrow morning we will try our best to battle for the victory.”

2021 FIA World Rally Championship
Round 10, Rally Finland
1-3 October 2021
Ott Tanak
Photographer: Austral
Worldwide copyright: Hyundai Motorsport GmbH

Craig Breen (3rd)

“I’m really proud of what we’ve done so far, managing to do these two full days without making any mistakes and staying consistent, so we have to be happy with that. It’s slightly frustrating to lose some time to the top two, but it’s just the case of them having that little bit extra today. It’s a short day tomorrow, but it’s one that still needs to be treated with respect. I would love to get another podium and make it three in a row, as that would be amazing for me and Paul. I’m looking forward to it.”

Thierry Neuville (DNF)

“Everything was going well, but a couple of kilometres into the stage on a fast left corner there was a compression which damaged the radiator. We immediately got a water pressure alarm and then three corners later I saw that the temperature was getting higher and higher, so we knew that it would be difficult to go to the end. We tried our best to solve the issue, but the leak was too big and we had to retire the car. It is a shame as it had been a good day, but unfortunately there was nothing we could do.”

Oliver Solberg (DNF)

“I am so sorry and disappointed with what happened. This is not at all what we needed and I am gutted for everyone in the team.

“Everyone in Hyundai Motorsport and RedGrey have worked so hard to prepare a very good car and the test we had was perfect. So, it’s just a big disappointment!” The accident happened on the first run through Kakaristo-Hassi. “The accident came in quite a fast corner.”

“Over a small jump the car bottomed out and sent us in the ditch, then we rolled.  Like I said, this is just such a disappointment – especially after such a positive result in Finland at the start of the season [on Arctic Rally Finland]. I came to make some experience of this event and I can’t do that now. I am sorry for this for this.”

2021 FIA World Rally Championship
Round 10, Rally Finland
01-03 October 2021
Oliver Solberg / Craig Drew
Photographer: Jordi Rierola
Worldwide Copyright: Hyundai Motorsport GmbH

Sunday

One more day then with 45.7km’s over four stages, including the Power Stage. Can Elfyn and Scott hold on for a famous victory? Only four non-Scandinavian drivers have won this rally in the past. Elfyn could become the first Welshman to win? We’ll find out tomorrow!

Rally Finland, Day One Report – Craig and Paul lead for Hyundai

The first day of the 70th running of Rally Finland saw almost 90km over six stages. The startlist looked like this – Ogier, Evans, Neuville, Rovanperä, Tänak, Katsuta, Breen, Fourmaux, Greensmith, Lappi. It was great to see the 2017 winner back in a Yaris WRC!

The short first stage, SS1 Harju 1 – 2.31 km saw Takamoto with his new co-driver Aaron Johnston set the fastest time from Thierry and Esapekka. Only 1.9 seconds covered the top nine positions as well. It was game one! Quickest of the M-Sport drivers was Adrien with a top five time as well! Mads led the WRC2 category from Jari and Nikolay, whilst Emil was leading WRC3 from Pepe and Teemu.

Into SS2 Ässämäki 1 – 12.31 km then, the first long stage and Takamoto had a huge moment in the stage with a 360 spin. He managed to keep it out of the scenery and finished the stage with the tenth best time. Craig set the fastest time from Ott and Elfyn and now just 1.8 seconds covered the top three as they all moved up a place and were now the top three overall. Esapekka, Thierry, Adrien and Seb all dropped down the leaderboard.

Ott won the following stage, SS3 Sahloinen – Moksi 1 – 21.37 km from Craig and Esapekka. The Finn’s pace took him into third overall as well, deposing Elfyn down to fourth. Championship leader, Seb, was not having a good day though, with him only eighth best time and holding seventh overall. After Takamoto’s moment earlier, he was now making his way back up the leaderboard and was now ahead of both Gus and Adrien and holding eighth place.

The first afternoon stage, SS4 Ässämäki 2 – 12.31 km after the tyre fitting zone saw Ott win the stage from Kalle and Craig. The Estonian still held the lead from his teammate, but there was a change for third place with Elfyn passing Esapekka after the Finn was only sixth fastest. It certainly wasn’t over though, as the top six was covered by just 9.7 seconds.

We had a new stage winner with Craig winning SS5 Sahloinen – Moksi 2 – 21.37 km from Kalle and Ott. The Irishman’s time cut the gap to Ott to just 1.5 seconds. Meanwhile Kalle and Esapekka had just moved ahead of Elfyn into third and fourth respectively. In WRC2 Nikolay was fastest from Teemu and Mads. The Russian’s time took him ahead of Teemu and into second place in the category.

The final stage then of the day SS6 Oittila – 19.75 km, and this started just as the sun was starting to set as well. Elfyn was fastest from Esapekka and Craig. The Welshman’s time took him back ahead of Esapekka and into third, but the big moment was for Craig who jumped into the lead after Ott was just sixth fastest in the stage. The Irishman’s pace meant that he now had a lead of 2.8 seconds. The drama of the night stage had paid off as well, with the top five now covered by just 7.9 seconds. Everything had closed up at the end of the day.

2021 FIA World Rally Championship / Round 10 / Rally Finland / 28 September – 4th October 2021 // Worldwide Copyright: Toyota Gazoo Racing WRT

Classification after Day One

1 C. Breen P. Nagle Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC 43:51.3
2 O. Tänak M. Järveoja Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC +2.8
3 E. Evans S. Martin Toyota Yaris WRC +6.1
4 E. Lappi J. Ferm Toyota Yaris WRC +6.7
5 K. Rovanperä J. Halttunen Toyota Yaris WRC +7.9
6 T. Neuville M. Wydaeghe Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC +31.3
7 S. Ogier J. Ingrassia Toyota Yaris WRC +33.6
8 T. Katsuta A. Johnston Toyota Yaris WRC +46.9
9 G. Greensmith C. Patterson Ford Fiesta WRC +1:20.6
10 A. Fourmaux A. Coria Ford Fiesta WRC +1:48.9

 

Let’s hear from the drivers

Hyundai Motorsport

Craig Breen (1st)

“It sounds pretty good to be rally leader this evening. We have had an amazing day and I’ve enjoyed every second of it. The stages are really nice, and especially the final one in the dark. I have always questioned what Finland would be like in night conditions and now we know – absolutely incredible! The later runners were a bit more in darkness, and I actually had some moments at the start. We lost a bit of rhythm, missed a couple of junctions but nothing terrible; I enjoyed the last part inside the forest, and it was nice to see the time at the end. I think everyone is going to find a little something extra tomorrow, so we’ll try to take any opportunity that comes our way.”

2021 FIA World Rally Championship
Round 10, Rally Finland
1-3 October 2021
Craig Breen
Photographer: Austral
Worldwide copyright: Hyundai Motorsport GmbH

Ott Tänak (2nd)

“It has been a surprisingly good day and very consistent. On the small narrow roads, we were a bit handicapped and lost a lot, but on the fast and flowing parts we were on the pace. The improvements in the car on these fast roads are down to the efforts of the team, who have been working hard; they’ve done their job well and the performance here is better than it has been for them in the past. My pre-event test was not fully representative, so I had to make some changes to the car to find some confidence. Thankfully, it was a better direction. Tomorrow, we have some tough stages and a long loop, so it’s definitely going to be the big day of the weekend.”

Thierry Neuville (6th)

“From our side, the day was going quite ok, and we were in the fight up to the final night stage. I struggled to see the road at the end in the darkening conditions. I was quite fast in the first two splits, but the last section was very challenging, and I couldn’t commit as I would have liked. Up to that point, I had a good rhythm in the car and could push, so if we can pick up that level of performance tomorrow then we’ll see what we can do. Nothing is lost yet. We have to try and do the best we can to close the gap and if not, then we’ll try to keep our position and enjoy the stages.”

Toyota Gazoo Racing WRT

Elfyn Evans (3rd)

“I’m relatively happy with how it went out there today. The feeling has generally been good in the car. There are some areas where I’ve struggled a little bit more and we still need to work on, but overall, I’ve enjoyed the day. We obviously had a strong time in the final stage; it’s never easy driving in the dark and especially at these speeds, but the pacenotes were working quite well and I just went with the rhythm. Tomorrow’s a massive day with four rather different stages, and two of them are brand new. It’s close now in the top five, and anything can still happen, so we have to keep doing our best and see what comes.”

2021 FIA World Rally Championship / Round 10 / Rally Finland / 28 September – 4th October 2021 // Worldwide Copyright: Toyota Gazoo Racing WRT

Kalle Rovanperä (5th)

“It has been a really demanding day with tough conditions and a lot of new pacenotes. I think it was a difficult day for everybody with the grip level, which was really low. For us the first pass was not easy but we will try to improve the setup for that for tomorrow, and the times were better on the second pass. It is really close and everything is still open. Of course, after pushing really hard the whole day you would prefer the time gap to be the other way around, but we will try to do something about that tomorrow.”

Sébastien Ogier (7th)

“It was not a great day for me today. We were hoping for better. There should be at least three cars in front of us tomorrow, so hopefully that will be better for us, but we need to understand exactly why we had no pace today. For sure, part of the time loss today was down to road position but that was not the only reason. I have to understand if I was just too slow or if there is something we can do with the car setup. The grip was not fantastic but I still enjoyed the driving, so I was surprised to be losing so much. The night stage I was expecting to be very challenging but actually this one went better than I expected; our lights were working well there.”

Tomorrow

Day two sees the longest day of the rally with 151km over nine stages. Pop back at the end of tomorrow for the full day’s report. Can Craig stay in the lead, or will we see Ott and Kalle move into the lead? One thing is for sure. It will be an amazing day.

Rally Finland 2021 Preview – Big jumps and fast gravel!

We return to Finland for the second time this year, but the first time on the gravel roads since 2019. It’s been too long, but it is good to return! Also returning to a full world rally machinery is Esapekka Lappi and Janne Ferm. The 2017 Rally Finland winners are back in a Toyota Yaris and have recently tested that car. It’s been too long for them out of one of these cars, and I am glad that they are back.

With 287.11km of competitive kilometres over nineteen stages and run much later than usual, it will be an interesting event. Here’s a look at the stages. The last two stages on Friday and Saturday will be run as the sunsets.

Secto Rally Finland itinerary:
Friday October 1
Shakedown, Vesala 0801
SS1 Harju 1 2.31km (1.43 miles) 1338
SS2 Ässämäki 1 12.31km (7.64 miles) 1436
SS3 Sahloinen-Moksi 1 21.37km (13.27 miles) 1526
SS4 Ässämäki 2 12.31km (7.64 miles) 1708
SS5 Sahloinen-Moksi 2 21.37km (13.27 miles) 1758
SS6 Oittila 19.75km (12.27 miles) 1900

Saturday October 2
SS7 Kakaristo-Hassi 1 18.17km (11.29 miles) 0816
SS8 Päijälä 1 22.61km (14.04 miles) 0914
SS9 Arvaja 1 13.49km (8.38 miles) 1038
SS10 Patajoki 1 20.55km (12.76 miles) 1128
Service Jyväskylä 1243
SS11 Kakaristo-Hassi 2 18.17km (11.29 miles) 1516
SS12 Päijälä 2 22.61km (14.04 miles) 1614
SS13 Arvaja 2 13.49km (8.38 miles) 1738
SS14 Patajoki 2 20.55km (12.76 miles) 1828
SS15 Harju 2 2.31km (1.43 miles) 2000

Sunday October 3
SS16 Laukaa 1 11.75km (7.30 miles) 0835
SS17 Ruuhimäki 1 11.12km (6.90 miles) 0938
SS18 Laukaa 2 11.75km (7.30 miles) 1101
SS19 Ruuhimäki 2 11.12km (6.90 miles) 1318

 

Let’s hear from the drivers.

Toyota Gazoo Racing WRT

Sébastien Ogier

“Rally Finland is another rally that I love to drive. At this time of year, it could be a different challenge and a bit more difficult than what we are used to. We will discover more in our test just before the rally. For sure we can expect some colder conditions, and I have to say I am hoping for some dampness as well so we have less of a disadvantage opening the road. The Yaris WRC was born on Finnish roads so it should perform well there but I am expecting tough competition as well, including from my team-mates. Nothing is decided in the championship yet so let’s see what approach we will take on this rally, but I’m looking forward to driving those roads in this car.”

Elfyn Evans

“Finland is one of my favourite rallies on the calendar and I always enjoy the feeling of driving there. For me it’s actually been over three years since I last competed there, having missed the event in 2019, so I’m really looking forward to being back on those stages. At this time of year there will be a few new challenges which will be interesting, with the potential for different weather conditions and the fact we’ll be doing some stages in the dark. Our test before the rally will be quite important, as much for getting back up to speed on those roads as for deciding on car setup. For myself the drivers’ championship looks more difficult now but our approach won’t change, and I’ll go to Finland trying to do my best like always.”

Kalle Rovanperä

“Driving Rally Finland in a World Rally Car is going to be one of the coolest things for me in my career so far. A home rally is always different and Rally Finland is something special: It’s normally a really nice event and you can really feel the atmosphere there. Now that it’s later in the year, the conditions could be really difficult if it’s wet and muddy. That could change things a bit but I’m really looking forward to it, and it’s going to be really nice to see the fans cheering for us on the stages. It helps to have three really good rallies under our belt going there, but I think that it’s going to be a tight fight. Hopefully we can have a good weekend.”

Hyundai Motorsport

Thierry Neuville

“Rally Finland is a very popular event – in the past, it seemed only Scandinavians could win there, but other drivers have recently been getting faster in Finland as well. I haven’t been able to win it yet, but I have finished on the podium once in the past. It is a very nice event, but it’s one of the tougher ones for me. I am always fast at technical rallies where road position is very important, however in Finland the goal is to keep it flat and it’s very different to my natural driving style. However, I am able to adapt, and this is where the recce plays a vital role; you need to have a lot of trust in your pace notes and just go for it. We know we have what it takes to finish on the podium, so that’s our target for next weekend.”

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

Ott Tänak

“The characteristics of this rally will be very different. There is a big part of the route that we haven’t seen previously, so we will need to put a lot of effort into our recce to ensure our pace notes are completely accurate. The weather could also change quite a bit, so this will keep us on our toes. As the last full gravel rally with this generation of WRC cars – in my opinion, they are probably the best ever – I will definitely enjoy this event. The roads are normally both fun and challenging at the same time, and as it is so fast with small gaps, we should have a great competition. Let’s see if we can take a third Rally Finland victory – we know our competitors and it will be tough, but we have worked very hard in the last two years so now is our chance to show we can fight in fast rallies.”

Craig Breen

“As a crew we tend to go well on events with this kind of profile, and I think this could be another strong event for us given our current form. The roads evolve every year, and as we’ve had a two-year break, I think we will notice a lot of changes. In terms of set-up, you need a car that gives you confidence to carry the speed on the roads, and a stable rear will enable you to really chuck the car into those long, fast corners and jumps. It’s the rally where you have to be the most committed. I’m still searching for my first win – it feels like it has been eluding us now for some time, but we are getting closer and Finland will present one of the better opportunities this year, so we will do everything in our power to make it happen.”

Jari Huttunen

“I am really looking forward to getting back into the Hyundai i20 N Rally2 in Finland. This will be my first WRC2 event on gravel with the car, so we might face a steep learning curve. I am hoping my existing knowledge of these roads will put me on the front foot next weekend, as I have finished on the podium in the past and taken a victory there. We have shown the car is capable of winning rallies in Ypres Rally Belgium, and I think we have the potential for another good result at this demanding and fast rally.”

Oliver Solberg

“This is probably the rally I have been looking forward to the most this year. I can’t wait to take the Hyundai i20 N Rally2 there – we saw we had good speed and we were leading in Greece. The roads are gravel again but they are very different from Acropolis and so much faster. One of the things I really look forward to is driving in the dark, which will add to the extra challenge. In terms of a result, I know there are some really fast guys who know almost every inch of these roads, so we have to be realistic. I am focused on taking the experience and enjoying driving the car. My new co-driver Craig is a good guy, a former team-mate and somebody I know well. I’m looking forward to working with him.”

WRC Rally Estonia 2021

M-Sport Ford WRT

Gus Greensmith

“Very much looking forward to Finland, it’s one of the rallies every single driver looks forward to. It’s probably the rally that gives each driver the most satisfaction, in terms of pure driving experience. Especially in these 2017 cars, it’s something remarkable. I am really grateful the last gravel stage I will drive this incredible 2017 machinery will be Ruihimaki. It’s been special to drive these cars and something I will never forget.

Adrien Fourmaux

“I am really happy and glad to be taking part in this famous rally. Rally Finland has always been an exciting rally for me, especially in terms of spectators, even in 2019 when I did the rally in a Fiesta R2. It will be my first time in Finland with four-wheel drive, and will be interesting to work with Alex for the first time together. It will be a big challenge but we will do our best and take all the experience we can from the event.

 

Summary

Well, who can win this weekend then? Well, it’s hard to look past Ott Tanak. If he gets comfortable in his i20, then he has to be one to consider. Joining his teammate as a possible winner is Craig. His co-driver Paul Nagle guided Kris Meeke to victory in 2016 – Perhaps Craig who has taken third in this event, and was Kris Meeke’s teammate in 2016 can go even better? Thierry who has scored a best result of second place in 2013 is probably the one driver that we would most surprised to win this weekend, given his recent results in Finland, but we shall see.

The world champion, Seb, will hope that a slightly damp first day will allow him to keep the gap to the leaders small and to then be able to unleash the performance of his Yaris on these stages. 2017 winner, Esapekka, will be hoping that his return to the top cars will bring him another victory. He knows the car very well, but he’s not sat in it since the end of 2018. Will this hold him back? Time will tell. Elfyn will look upon this event as a chance to show the speed that took him to second place in 2017, and perhaps he’ll take victory and join Kris Meeke as British winners? Finally, Kalle who is now a double winner at the top level has to be considered as a possible winner of this year’s event.

For the M-Sport drivers, Adrien will look upon this rally as a chance to gain experience for the future, but perhaps on the second run stages, will show some pace if he can get comfortable. Gus crashed out of this event in 2019, but with a new co-driver this year has shown good pace. Again, if he can get comfortable, then we should see some top times from him.

 

Well, it all starts on Friday morning. Keep up to date with our daily reports at the end of each day.

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

Friday

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Classification after Day One

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

 

Let’s hear from the drivers

Hyundai Motorsport

Thierry Neuville (1st)

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

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

Craig Breen (2nd)

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

Ott Tänak (3rd)

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

Toyota Gazoo Racing WRT

Kalle Rovanperä (4th)

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

Elfyn Evans (5th)

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

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

Sébastien Ogier (6th)

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

M-Sport Ford WRT

Gus Greensmith (DNF, SuperRally)

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

Adrien Fourmaux (DNF)

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

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

Teemu Suninen (DNF, SuperRally)

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

Tom Kristensson (DNF)

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

Saturday

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Classification after Day Two

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

 

Let’s hear from the drivers

Hyundai Motorsport

Thierry Neuville (1st)

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

Craig Breen (2nd)

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

Ott Tänak (6th)

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

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

Toyota Gazoo Racing WRT

Elfyn Evans (3rd)

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

Kalle Rovanperä (4th)

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

Sébastien Ogier (5th)

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

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

M-Sport Ford WRT

Gus Greensmith (61st)

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

Teemu Suninen (DNF)

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

Sunday

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

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

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

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

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

Final Overall Classification – Ypres Rally Belgium

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

Let’s hear from the drivers then!

Hyundai Motorsport

Thierry Neuville (1st)

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

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

Craig Breen (2nd)

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

Ott Tänak (6th)

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

Jari Huttunen (1st in WRC2)

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

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

Oliver Solberg (DNF)

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

Toyota Gazoo Racing WRT

Kalle Rovanperä (3rd)

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

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

Elfyn Evans (4th)

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

Sébastien Ogier (5th)

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

Takamoto Katsuta (DNF)

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

M-Sport Ford WRT

Gus Greensmith (47th)

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

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

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

 

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

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

 

My Thoughts

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jon Armstrong (1st Junior WRC)

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

 

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

Ypres Rally Belgium 2021 Preview

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Let’s hear from the drivers.

Toyota Gazoo Racing WRT

Sébastien Ogier

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

Elfyn Evans

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

Kalle Rovanperä

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

Hyundai Motorsport

Thierry Neuville

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

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

Ott Tänak

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

Craig Breen

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

Oliver Solberg

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

Jari Huttunen

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

M-Sport Ford WRT

Gus Greensmith

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

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

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

Adrien Fourmaux

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

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

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

Teemu Suninen

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

Tom Kristensson

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

My Thoughts

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

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

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

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

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

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.