Acropolis Rally 2021, Rally of Gods – My thoughts

Well, what an incredible return of the Acropolis Rally to the calendar. It may not have been the rough event that it was in the past, but it was no less challenging.

Let’s take a look at the performances of each driver.

Toyota Gazoo Racing WRT

With Kalle taking such a strong victory, his second at the of the year, it’s fair to say the promise that he showed when he made his debut last year is definitely starting to bear out in some amazing results. Eight stage wins from the fifteen stages in total show complete domination, the kind that we would expect from any of the top drivers. If these results continue, then he could finish second or third in the championship.

2021 FIA World Rally Championship / Round 09 / Acropolis Rally Greece / 09-12, September 2021 // Worldwide Copyright: Toyota Gazoo Racing WRT

Now Seb opened the road throughout Friday, and he did really well to stay close to the top positions, and was ready to swoop for second place if Ott had any problems. Three stage wins confirmed the pace that Toyota had and showed that the team had made the most of their pre-event test. With this drive, he and Julien have pretty much put one hand on this year’s championship.

Finally, Elfyn had a tough Saturday with his gearchange problems, but he kept his head in the right place and delivered a very good result with some top times. It was the first time since he joined the team that he’d experienced any technical problems with the Yaris, which is pretty impressive. He even nearly took his first Powerstage win for a long time, only to be denied by Kalle at the last moment.

 

Hyundai Motorsport

When Ott was at one with his car, he was really quick in the way that we have witnessed over the years. Three stage wins was a good reward for the Estonian’s, and their first podium since his third in the Safari Rally Kenya. Far too long for a driver of his quality. It seems at least that the team have got on top of their suspension problems.

2021 FIA World Rally Championship
Round 09, Acropolis Rally
09-12 September 2021
Ott Tanak, Martin Jarveoja, WRC, Action during Day 3 of Acropolis Rally 2021
Photographer: Vincent Thuillier
Worldwide copyright: Hyundai Motorsport GmbH

Dani was kind of stuck in no-mans land, which was a surprise for the Spaniard. Still, it was a good start to the new partnership with Candido Carrera, and it will be interesting to see how things develop for the rest of this season.

Thierry took a single stage win, but just like Elfyn his pace was held back by technical problems, namely powersteering problems. He turned mechanic and fixed it, but had lost so much time with penalties and having to struggle with his car on the stages. He’s still in third place in the championship, but it probably fair to say that his championship hopes are over for this year. Now it will be all about where he can finish in the championship.

 

M-Sport Ford WRT

Finally, Malcolm’s team showed some pace, taking a second fastest time with Adrien on the last day. The Frenchman also suffered a technical problem, with him having to change the sparkplugs on the road section. This gave him and Renaud some huge time penalties and not only dropped him behind Gus, but also Elfyn. Up to that point, he’d been the fastest M-Sport driver all weekend.

Gus had a good weekend again, but was not quite on the pace of his teammate. Still, it was another decent weekend for the Brit and consistent pace brought him a more points. He’ll almost certainly be part of the team next year, given that he’s been testing the Puma Rally1 car.

In the WRC2 there was a great battle between Andreas and Marco in their Toksport run Fabia Evo’s. The Bolivian led at the end of Friday and Saturday, only to lose the lead each day. Andreas increased his lead on the final day and took a well-deserved victory, and thus extended his championship lead.

Finally, in WRC3, Chris held the lead for a while, before dropping back behind Yohan and then Kajetan. It was his first drive of the year with Toksport, the team that he won the ERC title in 2019 and ultimately brought him a deserved podium. Sadly, for Yohan, he was excluded from the results as his car when weighed was found to be overweight. A real shame considering his performance over the weekend, and the problem that he overcame after damaging his steering on the final stage and making a fix that meant that he could get back to the service park. The Frenchman has appealed the exclusion and we will have to await the outcome of this in the next few weeks. Emil took the final podium spot in the category as a result of the Citroen drivers’ exclusion.

Who was your driver of the rally? Let us know!

Acropolis Rally Sunday Review – Rally of Gods. Day Three

The final day then of this incredible event! Kalle had a huge lead coming into the last day. With just under 70km over three stages, there was still plenty of opportunities for things to happen!

The startlist looked like this – Loubet, Serderidis, Neuville, Evans, Greensmith, Fourmaux, Sordo, Ogier, Tänak, Rovanperä.

Into the first stage of the day then, SS13 Tarzan 1 – 23.37 km. There was drama for Adrien as he suffered a problem on the road section, meaning that he’d had to stop to change the spark plugs. He was 18 minutes late to the time control and picked up 3 minutes of time penalties as a result. This meant that his teammate picked up fifth overall, and also Elfyn moved up a place to sixth as well at the expense of Adrien. Kalle won the stage by a huge 14 seconds from Ott, with Seb a further 13.9 seconds back from Ott. In the WRC2 battle, Andreas got ahead of Marco once again and the gap was up to 6.8 seconds! The WRC3 top three was Yohan, Kajeten and Chris.

The following stage, SS14 Pyrgos – 33.20 km, again just a single run stage as well, and Ott denied Adrien and M-Sport a stage win, whilst Seb was third in the stage. With his pace, the Estonian now held a lead over the Toyota driver of 32.4 seconds. Adrien’s pace in the stage actually meant that he’s passed Elfyn who was sixth fastest, but the gap was just eight tenths of a second. Thierry passed Marco for ninth place, and was now just five seconds behind Andreas, the WRC2 leader.

To the final stage then, SS15 Tarzan 2 [Power Stage] – 12.68 km, a shortened version of the mornings first stage. The startlist was updated to this – Gryazin (WRC2), Bulacia (WRC2), Mikkelsen (WRC2), Serderidis, Neuville, Evans, Fourmaux, Greensmith, Sordo, Ogier, Tänak, Rovanperä.

Thierry was the first to go under nine minutes, and then his time was beaten by Elfyn. It was looking good for the Welshman to take the stage win, as the following drivers could not beat his time. Ott had drama on the start line as his car nearly didn’t fire up, and when it did there was blue smoke at first. Adrien had a spin in the stage, losing 12 seconds to Elfyn and he dropped behind into seventh. Kalle completed the stage, 1.2 seconds up on Elfyn, meaning that he took the stage win and maximum points in the powerstage with Elfyn second, Seb third. Ott and Dani rounded out the top five. Andreas took the WRC2 victory from Marco, and Nicolay on his first outing for M-Sport. Yohan took WRC3 honours from Kajeten and Chris third.

 

Well, there you have it. Kalle and Jonne have taken their second WRC victory from Ott and Seb. This has lifted them into fourth place in the championship, just one point behind Thierry and Martjin who are a now six points behind Elfyn. Seb now has a 44-point advantage over his Welsh teammate in the championship, with just three rounds left.

2021 FIA World Rally Championship / Round 09 / Acropolis Rally Greece / 09-12, September 2021 // Worldwide Copyright: Toyota Gazoo Racing WRT

Final Overall Classification – Acropolis Rally

1 K. Rovanperä J. Halttunen Toyota Yaris WRC 3:28:24.6
2 O. Tänak M. Järveoja Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC +42.1
3 S. Ogier J. Ingrassia Toyota Yaris WRC +1:11.3
4 D. Sordo C. Carrera Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC +3:01.0
5 G. Greensmith C. Patterson Ford Fiesta WRC +5:45.0
6 E. Evans S. Martin Toyota Yaris WRC +6:42.7
7 A. Fourmaux R. Jamoul Ford Fiesta WRC +6:54.4
8 T. Neuville M. Wydaeghe Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC +8:41.1
9 A. Mikkelsen E. Edmondson Škoda Fabia Evo +9:02.5
10 M. Bulacia M. Der Ohannesian Škoda Fabia Evo +9:19.2

 

Let’s hear from the drivers then.

Toyota Gazoo Racing WRT

Kalle Rovanperä (1st)

“I’m feeling really good to win here in Greece. It was a really tough rally to be honest, a long week with a lot of stages to recce and long nights watching the videos, so I feel really happy to be at the finish with this result. I felt good on Friday already, and then we did some setup changes to the car because the stages on Saturday were different, and I felt even better with the car. It came quite nicely; I could enjoy the driving a lot. A big thank you to the team, everybody did a great job and the car was running without issues. Hopefully we can take the same speed to Finland.”

2021 FIA World Rally Championship / Round 09 / Acropolis Rally Greece / 09-12, September 2021 // Worldwide Copyright: Toyota Gazoo Racing WRT

Sébastien Ogier (3rd)

“This is a very good result for us. The target this weekend was to maintain the lead we had in the championship and we actually increased it, which is very positive. I think we did a very clever rally. The conditions were challenging all the time. Obviously, I was not in the same pace as Kalle, he was really flying and on the next level compared to everybody, so congratulations to him for a well-deserved win. In the position I was in in the championship after Friday, my mindset was not to risk everything to win the rally, so I’m very happy with my third place.”

Elfyn Evans (6th)

“This was not our weekend but these things happen in rallying and it’s been very rare at this team to have an issue like we had on Friday. The feeling in the car was generally quite good. Getting sixth place in the end today was a bit of a gift with an issue that somebody else had this morning. Maybe it was not a perfect run on the Power Stage for us, but four bonus points is still a good addition and at least we managed to salvage something from the weekend.”

Hyundai Motorsport

Ott Tänak (2nd)

“At the end of a challenging weekend, it is good to come away with second place and another podium. We haven’t had the easiest rally, but we have worked hard to find improvements to get a better feeling from the car, and there have been some positive signs. Kalle has been on top form since the very start, so we have had to focus on confirming second place. We have made some bold decisions on tyres, which has only been possible because of the work of our weather crew. I’d like to say thanks to them for a great job. We know there is more work we need to do, but I think we’ve achieved all that was possible in Acropolis with second place.”

Dani Sordo (4th)

“This has been a tough weekend. The days on which we had to make our pace notes were difficult and as a result we didn’t have the confidence we needed. The conditions today were really nice, and I liked the stages, but it was difficult to follow the road at times. Fourth place was about the best we could manage, so we concentrated on securing the result, nothing more. This was the first WRC event with Cándido, and he has done a good job, but we will try to do better on the next one.”

Thierry Neuville (8th)

“We have given everything this weekend and we have fought hard from the start to the finish. Unfortunately, there is no compensation for all that work. Our rally was over with the power steering issues on Friday. Since then, our focus has been on recovering positions to try and salvage whatever we could from the rally. To be honest, I think we deserve more than this. We have put absolutely everything into it and haven’t got out of it what we should.”

2021 FIA World Rally Championship
Round 09, Acropolis Rally
09-12 September 2021
Thierry Neuville, Martijn Wydaeghe, Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC
Photographer: Dufour Fabien
Worldwide copyright: Hyundai Motorsport GmbH

M-Sport Ford WRT

Gus Greensmith (5th)

“The team have lived-up to the form that we have shown on rougher rallies this year and, although probably I could have hoped for more in terms of my finishing position, a top-five finish is a good thing for sure. I gave it everything I could.

Adrien hit problems early on this morning which you never like to see. We were having a great battle until that point, and he was at least able to continue and score good points.”

Adrien Fourmaux (7th)

“A mixed day for us really, after picking up penalties for being late this morning because of an engine issue. We were able to set second-fastest time on one stage, but that early problem allowed Gus to pull ahead of us and I was left to fight to hold my position.

“On the Power Stage, we made a mistake: unfortunately, I spun and had to reverse but I tried, I had a big push, but unfortunately we ended the rally in seventh place. It has been an amazing event to experience and I’m delighted for the team that we have shown our pace and got the cars home, I just am sorry to them not to be higher at the end.”

Jourdan Serderidis (10th)

“It was fun, so many people, so many fans from Greece and it was nice to come and the stages have been fantastic. It was great to be here and to get the car safely to the finish in the top 10 of the rally. The team has built a fantastic car, I want to thank them for an unforgettable event.”

Nikolay Gryazin (3rd, WRC2)

“It’s been okay, a lot of things to work with but at least we are on the finish. We have a lot to learn about the car and the team but a podium finish at our first attempt is certainly something to take away from our first Acropolis.”

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

1 S. Ogier 180
2 E. Evans 136
3 T. Neuville 130
4 K. Rovanperä 129
5 O. Tänak 106
6 T. Katsuta 66
7 C. Breen 60
8 G. Greensmith 44
9 D. Sordo 43
10 A. Fourmaux 36

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

1 Toyota Gazoo Racing World Rally Team 397
2 Hyundai Shell Mobis World Rally Team 340
3 M-Sport Ford World Rally Team 153
4 Hyundai 2C Competition 44

 

Next up is Rally Finland which takes place from the 1st to the 4th of October. Look out for my preview in the days before.

Acropolis Rally Saturday Review – Rally of Gods Report Day Two

Coming into day two, Kalle held a 3.7 second lead over Ott with Seb a further two tenths back from the Estonian. The startlist looked like this – Loubet, Serderidis, Neuville, Evans, Greensmith, Fourmaux, Sordo, Ogier, Tänak, Rovanperä.

Into the first stage then, SS7 Pavliani 1 – 24.25 km, and Kalle took full advantage of his road position winning the stage from Ott by 5.6 seconds, and Welshman Elfyn third a further 4.4 seconds back. Kalle now held a 9.3 second over Ott. Seb lost a little time only going fourth fastest and gap widening to Ott in their battle over second overall. There was a change in the lead in the WRC2 category, with Andreas setting the ninth best time in the stage, he passed Marco who was six seconds slower. The Norwegian was now twelve seconds ahead of the Bolivian. Chris Ingram remained in the lead of the WRC3 category, but there was a change in positions behind the Brit as Emil Lindholm passed Kajetan Kajtanowicz.

Following that stage was the single run of SS8 Gravia – 24.81 km, and the top three again was Kalle, Ott and Seb. Kalle unleashed a serious amount of pace, extending his lead a further seven and a half seconds to sixteen seconds. Seb was now almost fourteen seconds behind Ott, the gap widening between them. Marco remained behind Andreas in the WRC2 category, but there was another change in the WRC3 positions. Chris remained at the head, but Yohan Rossel moved from fourth to second, jumping both Kajetan and Emil who were now third and fourth respectively.

There was a second single run stage to follow, with SS9 Bauxites – 22.97 km up next. Once again, Kalle added a further 4.6 seconds to his lead over Ott and Seb was just 1.3 slower than Ott and they remained second and third overall. Elfyn was making excellent progress up the field, setting the fourth fastest time, just 8.8 slower than Kalle and jumping four positions into ninth overall. He was also just 29.2 seconds from Marco who was holding eighth. There was a change in the lead of WRC3, with Yohan passing Chris and also creating a decent gap over the Brit as he emerged from the stage 6.8 seconds to the good.

The final stage before the lunchtime service, SS10 Eleftherohori 1 – 18.14 km and Ott had a terrible stage, only setting the sixth best time, eighteen seconds slower than Kalle won the stage from Seb and Thierry. The Finn now held a massive 39.7 second lead over the Estonian, whose lead over Seb had come down to just 3.6 seconds. After Kalle finished the stage, it was red flagged, as there were spectators standing in the wrong places.

After the lunchtime service, SS11 Pavliani 2 – 24.25 km was won by Seb from Ott and Kalle. The Frenchman’s pace brought him a little closer to Ott, the gap now just two and a half seconds between them. Marco was fastest in WRC2 from Andreas and brought the gap between them to just 3.2 seconds. Yohan continued to pull away from Chris in WRC3, the gap now almost thirty seconds between them.

The final stage then of the day, SS12 Eleftherohori 2 – 18.14 km, and Ott flew through, with Kalle second fastest and Seb third. The gap between Seb and Ott was now 9.4 ahead of the championship leader. Marco passed Andreas again for the WRC2 lead, with a time four seconds faster than his Norwegian Toksport teammate. This battle will continue tomorrow. Finally, Yohan moved further into the WRC3 lead as Kajetan passed Chris as well, the Pole moving into second place.

Classification after Day Two

1 K. Rovanperä J. Halttunen Toyota Yaris WRC 2:36:52.8
2 O. Tänak M. Järveoja Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC +30.8
3 S. Ogier J. Ingrassia Toyota Yaris WRC +40.2
4 D. Sordo C. Carrera Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC +2:09.4
5 A. Fourmaux R. Jamoul Ford Fiesta WRC +3:19.2
6 G. Greensmith C. Patterson Ford Fiesta WRC +3:35.0
7 E. Evans S. Martin Toyota Yaris WRC +5:51.9
8 M. Bulacia M. Der Ohannesian Škoda Fabia Evo +7:09.0
9 A. Mikkelsen E. Edmondson Škoda Fabia Evo +7:09.8
10 T. Neuville M. Wydaeghe Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC +7:47.6

 

Toyota Gazoo Racing

Kalle Rovanperä (1st)

“It was really enjoyable for us on the first loop of stages today. They were four difficult stages and I was a bit surprised that the time gaps were so big, but I also felt that we did a good job in the car. We also had a bit of a different tyre choice to the others and that was good for us: Overall I just had a bit more confidence on the hard tyres. For the second loop we made some setup changes to gain a bit of protection for the rough conditions, and we lost quite a bit of traction, but it was still quite good, and we were being wise and not doing anything stupid. There is still a long way to go to the end of the rally, so let’s see what we can do tomorrow.”

Sébastien Ogier (3rd)

“This morning I was pretty consistent. Not extremely fast, but it was good enough to make our third place more secure from behind, which was the main target for the day. If we can finish on the podium tomorrow it will be another big step to the title. Kalle was extremely fast this morning and took a big lead, so well done to him for a very strong day. The afternoon loop was better for me. It’s always important to keep a bit of pressure on, we are not that far from second place. Tomorrow it will not be wise to take more risk but with many kilometres still to go, things can always happen. Those stages will be with all-new pacenotes for everybody and we recce’d it mostly in the fog, so it won’t be easy.”

Elfyn Evans (7th)

“It was a quite OK day today and I enjoyed the driving to be honest, even if it’s quite difficult when you’re no longer in a proper fight. Still, we had a target to move into the best overall position possible and from that side the goal of the day was achieved. I don’t think there’s a chance to climb up any further providing those ahead don’t have any trouble now, but we want to try and bring those points home tomorrow and add to the tally in the Power Stage if we can.”

2021 FIA World Rally Championship / Round 09 / Acropolis Rally Greece / 09-12, September 2021 // Worldwide Copyright: Toyota Gazoo Racing WRT

Hyundai Motorsport

Ott Tänak (2nd)

“I wouldn’t say the final stage was a turning point, but we have certainly been working hard to find solutions and feeling in the car. We have been trying different things with the tyre choice, going a bit more extreme, to try and keep the pace and retain our advantage over Séb (Ogier). So far that’s the maximum we’ve been able to do, but tomorrow will be another story. We still want more confidence and pace in the car, but there are three tricky long stages to go, so everything is still possible. I will for sure be doing my best to find a good rhythm in the car.”

Dani Sordo (4th)

“We have completed many kilometres today, so it has been a long and hard Saturday with very difficult conditions. We are still holding our fourth place, like yesterday, but a bit further away from the top-three. At the beginning of the day, I realised it was hard to catch them, so we focused on maintaining our place and not making any mistakes. If I’m honest, I can’t say I am entirely happy; I am in the middle of nowhere on the classification, and it’s difficult when you look at the times from the top-three. Still, we have managed our pace and it will be important to have another clean day tomorrow.”

2021 FIA World Rally Championship
Round 09, Acropolis Rally
9-12 September 2021
Dani Sordo
Photographer: Austral
Worldwide copyright: Hyundai Motorsport GmbH

Thierry Neuville (10th)

“Our objective today has been to close the gap to the WRC 2 cars, which we have been able to do. This morning, there was a lot of road cleaning in the stages, and it was pretty challenging. In some stages the R5 cars could go quicker than us, but this afternoon the conditions were more equal. As a result, we could find a good rhythm and make up some positions. It will continue to be tough on the final day, especially being so early on the road, but we are going to give it our all and try to get through without any mistakes.”

M-Sport Ford WRT

Adrien Fourmaux (5th)

“Today’s stages were much less risky in terms of the big rocks that we saw yesterday and we could push a little more. The car was good from the beginning but after a slight change to the differential in service I felt better still and this was shown in my stage times.

“We are in a very positive place for the team so far. It’s still a long way to go of course but we can consider the two first days to be a success and hopefully we can stay out of trouble and bring at least fifth place back”

Gus Greensmith (6th) said:

“I would have preferred to have more soft tyres on the car today, I think I could have pushed a little harder in some places with the extra grip, but we are very limited in terms of the number of the soft compound we are allowed to use.

“The stages this morning were very different to how we saw them on the recce – where it was so wet and foggy we could barely see them at all in places! Today was bright sunshine and gave ideal conditions to go quicker but without the experience of doing the recce in these conditions our notes couldn’t be as accurate as we needed them to be and we had to stay a bit within ourselves.”

Jourdan Serderidis (9th)

“There were no heroics from me today to be honest, I very much wanted to get through the stages, enjoy the experience and keep the car on the road. The stages were absolutely beautiful today, fast and flowing a lot of the time and the scenery for the fans is unbelievable. There were so many out there today, it was fantastic. We slipped back one place but it is still a day to remember.”

Nikolay Gryazin (3rd, WRC2)

“The day went well for us and we were able to push a little harder in the afternoon to set some good times. Everything is still new and exciting in that way we are learning the team and the same for them with us. Certainly, the Ford Fiesta Rally2 gave good confidence and even though some of the stages were tricky because the recce conditions were poor it was an enjoyable day and now, we hope to hold on to reach the podium.”

 

Final day

Sunday sees 69km over three stages, with the iconic Tarzan stage the first stage for the day. Can Kalle wrap up his second victory? The stages start at just after 6am UK time!

Acropolis Rally Friday Review 2021 – Rally of the Gods. Day One

Kalle Rovanperä took the lead on day one of Rally Acropolis, and has a 3.7 second lead over Ott Tänak and Seb Ogier holds third after a very good drive after opening the road throughout the first day. Marco Bulacia holds the WRC2 lead and Chris Ingram leads WRC3.

Friday

Heading into the five stages for today with 89km of competitive action. The startlist looked like this –Ogier, Evans, Neuville, Rovanperä, Tänak, Greensmith, Sordo, Fourmaux, Loubet, Serderidis.

The first stage of the day then, SS2 Aghii Theodori 1 – 17.54 km and after Seb set the fastest time early on, it came down to Ott to set beat Seb and move into the lead. Welshman, Elfyn Evans who was second on the road was just 1.7 from the lead, but fell from second overall to third. Thierry fell from fourth to sixth. He was struggling with the pace, after taking two spare tyres in the car it was causing issues with the handling. At M-Sport Adrien was the faster of the two drivers, and he moved up into seventh overall.

Into SS3 Loutraki – 19.40 km and it was an amazing stage from Kalle as he went fastest from Dani and Ott. The young Finns pace took him from fourth into the lead over Ott which was second. Former rally leader, Seb, fell to third place. It was a bad start to the stage for Elfyn though, who gained a 40 second penalty for being 4 minutes late at the time control. He was now in sixteenth place.

Kalle continued to set the pace in SS4 Aghii Theodori 2 – 17.54 km, winning the stage from Ott and Seb. He’d extended his lead over Ott to 3.8 seconds as well. Elfyn, who was struggling with his gearbox stuck in one gear. Incredibly he was still seventh fastest in the stage, only 30 seconds slower than Gus. Thierry was also suffering technical problems, and the power steering had failed in the i20! The Ypres winners fell to twenty-sixth place overall. What a disaster for them. All of these problems meant that Adrien and Gus rose to fifth and sixth overall. In addition to this, the WRC2 and WRC3 crews were now into the top ten, with Andreas leading WRC2 and Chris Ingram, WRC3.

The single run of SS5 Thiva – 23.27 km saw Seb set the best time from Thierry and Dani. The Frenchman’s pace lifted him into second overall, just 2.8 seconds from Kalle. In the WRC2 battle, Marco moved ahead of Andreas with an incredible time that was just two seconds slower than Gus. Quite amazing pace from the Bolivian!

The final stage of the day then, SS6 Elatia – 11.65 km and Thierry had solved his problems clearly and he was fastest from Ott and Kalle. The Estonian’s pace lifted them back ahead of Seb into second overall. Pierre-Louis went off the road. Despite all his problems, Elfyn had made it to the end of the day and again he was going well, only 2.8 slower than Gus. Marco was going really well and increased his lead over Andreas to 5.4 seconds as they battled over the WRC2 lead.

Classification after Day One

1 K. Rovanperä J. Halttunen Toyota Yaris WRC 1:01:57.1
2 O. Tänak M. Järveoja Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC +3.7
3 S. Ogier J. Ingrassia Toyota Yaris WRC +3.9
4 D. Sordo C. Carrera Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC +23.9
5 A. Fourmaux R. Jamoul Ford Fiesta WRC +54.2
6 G. Greensmith C. Patterson Ford Fiesta WRC +1:23.3

 

Let’s hear from the drivers

Toyota Gazoo Racing WRT

Kalle Rovanperä (1st)

“It was a nice day today. We started more carefully, but then I could push a bit more and was enjoying it. It was really challenging conditions, with quite a lot of cleaning for us once others dropped back and we were running second on the road. Today when it was dry the conditions are more what I expected here, and the stage we did two times was really rough, so you need to take care of the car and the tyres. Tomorrow is going to be a completely different story after the weather we had earlier in the week: There is one stage that we did the recce for almost completely in fog, so it was really difficult to make the pacenotes, and there could be more grip changes and damp places.”

2021 FIA World Rally Championship / Round 09 / Acropolis Rally Greece / 09-12, September 2021 // Worldwide Copyright: Toyota Gazoo Racing WRT

Sébastien Ogier (3rd)

“I am delighted to be third tonight and so close to the lead. Of course, I was pretty pessimistic starting this day given our road position and the conditions, I was thinking it could be a tough one, but I think I did everything I could and managed to stay out of trouble. We were really on the limit in some sections and also a bit clever in some rough parts. It has been enjoyable to drive. Funnily enough the only stage I didn’t enjoy was the one that I won, SS5, where the grip was really inconsistent. I need to focus on myself and not on the fight for the win as we are in a good position in the championship and I cannot afford to go full risk. But today the feeling was great in the car, and if the feeling is good, I can go for it.”

Elfyn Evans (16th)

“Obviously it was not the day we hoped for today. We tried to do whatever we could to resolve the issue and obviously the team were working pretty hard behind the scenes to find a solution as well, but there’s only so much you can do in that situation, so it was a frustrating few stages this afternoon. The only positive is that we could get back to service tonight. The championship situation for me is worse than it was this morning, but at the end of the day, these things happen in rallying and it’s a really rare occurrence in this team: I don’t think I’d had one technical issue like this since I joined. I’m quite sure it’s fixable for tomorrow.”

Hyundai Motorsport

Ott Tänak (2nd)

“It has been a struggle today, and difficult to find the feeling and confidence in the car. I have tried my best to keep up the pace with the leaders, but we need to look for some improvements tomorrow if we are to stay in this fight. I have felt a bit out of my comfort zone today, so it’s hard to get to the limit without risking having a moment or a surprising situation, especially on a new rally like this when you don’t know the conditions and need the car to behave as you expect. Even so, it’s nice to be back here, driving on stages with a nice character. We’ve had amazing support from the crowds; it shows that the rally means something in Greece and this rally deserves to be on the championship.”

2021 FIA World Rally Championship
Round 09, Acropolis Rally
9-12 September 2021
Ott Tanak
Photographer: Austral
Worldwide copyright: Hyundai Motorsport GmbH

Dani Sordo (4th)

“I can’t say I am fully happy with the day, or with being fourth on the classification; we always want to be higher up. I made a small mistake at the start of SS3 this morning and went a little bit before the start, so we got a ten second penalty. I was a bit excited to get going. Apart from that, it went OK. I lost a lot of time in some small parts, so there was room for improvement. It is my first WRC event with Cándido in the co-driver seat, and I am pleased with how it’s gone so far. We have a very long day tomorrow, so we have to push ourselves more.”

Thierry Neuville (18th)

“We have had a lot of problems, so it’s been a bit of a day to forget. We got hit by electrical trouble from the start this morning, and then had an issue with a leaking power steering. I was more of a mechanic than a driver at times today. We realised there was an issue in the tyre fitting zone, and our one goal was to repair the damage. We just didn’t have enough time. We managed it in the end, and I am proud of the job that we did to fix the car in time for the final two stages. Our only hope now is to try and catch back P7, or possibly P6, that’s about the best we can do. It’s going to be tough but we’re going to do our best and keep our motivation high until the end.”

M-Sport Ford WRT

Adrien Fourmaux (5th) said:

“It was really tough, honestly. Some places we are enjoying but it’s about 75% really hard, rough conditions but it’s really an incredible rally and an enjoyable challenge.

“We knocked off the rear bumper and diffuser early on in the morning, and with no service we had to just live with the car when it was lacking downforce at the rear as a result of this damage. You really felt this on the faster stages later on in the day but overall, it was very good for us to end the day in fifth place, now we can make the repairs in service and then push again for the rest of the event.”

Gus Greensmith (6th)

“It was quite tricky with the weight of two spare wheels in the back on the morning stages because the extra weight affected the handling a lot more than on some other events. I was able to get more comfortable with the car and push on from there and overall, it was a good start to the event for us.

“On the second pass through the stages I felt more confident in the conditions and that was reflected in my pace. It’s been a very encouraging day for us overall. The Rally Acropolis is really a bucket list item for any rally driver, and to come here. I want to get the car right in service this evening and then go again tomorrow.”

Jourdan Serderidis (9th)

“Every stage I am learning more about this car. The stages are very narrow and complicated – all the more so at WRC speeds. But to be inside the top 10 on my home event is a fantastic start and I look forward to push a little from here through the rest of the event.”

Nikolay Gryazin (3rd, WRC2)

“I’m very happy and excited. The car is a big change for me but I will be working on my pace to see where we end up. It has been a positive first day, I made a couple of small mistakes early on but third place overnight is positive for us.”

Saturday sees the crews tackle 132km six stages with two stages repeated and it all starts at 6:33am UK time!

Acropolis Rally – Rally of the Gods

When this event was last held in 2013, we had three manufacturers represented, with Volkswagen, Ford and Citroen all entering a number of cars based on the Polo, Fiesta and DS3. All three manufacturers were represented on the podium, with Jari-Matti Latvala winning for VW, Mads Ostberg in second for Citroen and Thierry Neuville third for M-Sport Ford.

Thierry Neuville (BEL) / Nicolas Gilsoul – Ford Fiesta RS WRC. Day one, 2013 Acropolis Rally

Only three drivers from the last event will be returning as competitors, with Seb Ogier, Thierry Neuville and Dani Sordo having competed last time out. Jari-Matti Latvala returns as a team principle, but I bet he’d love to be competing.

Jari-Matti Latvala

“It’s great to have the WRC back in Greece. The last time that the Acropolis Rally was on the calendar, I actually won it, and it’s an event that I like a lot myself. You have to really think about your driving because it can be rough in places and the tyre wear is quite high. Some of the stages close to Lamia have not been used for 16 years, so they will be completely new for all of the current drivers. We know that the organisers have been working on the roads quite a lot, and the road condition seems to be much better than in the past. There’s a lot of loose gravel on top, though, so opening the road could be pretty challenging. Although this is another new rally on the calendar, we do have some good Acropolis Rally experience within the team, and I hope this helps us to have a successful event.”

Stage overview

Acropolis Rally kicks off with shakedown on Thursday morning, followed by a ceremonial start in the famous Acropolis citadel and a street stage in the city centre.

After staying overnight in Athens, crews tackle five stages on Friday before heading north to Lamia for evening service: two passes of Aghii Theodori (17.54km) and one each of Loutraki (19.40km), Thiva (23.27km) and Elatia (11.65km).

Saturday is the longest day on the itinerary with six stages totalling 132.56km. Pavliani (24.25km) and Gravia (24.81km) are followed by a tyre fitting zone for Bauxites (22.97km) and Eleftherohori (18.14km). Following service, Pavliani and Eleftherohori are repeated.

Three stages bring the rally to a close; Tarzan 1 (23.37km) and Pyrgos (33.20) – the longest stage of the rally – are run before a tyre fitting zone. A shortened Tarzan 2 (12.68km) acts at the event’s Power Stage.

Let’s hear from the drivers;

Toyota Gazoo Racing WRT

Sébastien Ogier

“It’s nice that the WRC is going back to Greece. The Acropolis Rally is one of these events which made the history of the WRC, and we’ve missed it now for a few years. It’s definitely a country I love and I’m looking forward to going back there. Of course, we can have some idea of what to expect from the past, but it will be a new event in the sense that I think everybody will have to write new pacenotes, and it’s always nice when everybody starts from the same level like that. I know it will be a rally where opening the road will be challenging, but it’s nice to be in the position we are in the championship and we’re going to do everything we can to maintain this gap. That will be our target.”

Elfyn Evans

“I’ve done the Acropolis once before, back in 2012, but that was with a two-wheel drive car. It’s obviously going to be a very different experience going there now with a World Rally Car, and there will be a lot of new pacenotes to write. So, it’s more or less like going to a brand-new rally for me, even though Scott does have a bit more experience there. The route has a lot of stages that will be used just once, which is unusual, and that means there will be a lot of road cleaning to contend with – as with any dry gravel rally. We don’t know exactly what we’re going to be facing, but we’re going there to get the best result possible, as always.”

Kalle Rovanperä

“It’s nice to be going to another classic event in the WRC. I know that previously the Acropolis was always a really tough event. This year, from the videos we have seen, the roads look to be in a better condition than in the past, and I think it’s going to be quite an interesting event. With many stages being driven only once, it’s going to be really important to have a good setup for those first-pass conditions when it’s a bit more slippery, so this was the main focus of our pre-event test. Hopefully we can have the pace to fight for the podium places again. We just need to try and have a clean rally and see what we get.”

Hyundai Motorsport

Thierry Neuville

“Acropolis Rally is going to be a tough event. When I was competing there back in 2012 and 2013 it was one of the roughest rallies – together with Argentina at that time. I always enjoyed it. We tested in Greece two years ago to prepare for Rally Turkey, so we have some knowledge of the terrain there. The stages have some very twisty profiles with a lot of loose stones, hot temperatures and it could be very similar to the rough conditions of Turkey. It will be very challenging as not only do you need to go flat out, but you also need to manage the car and the tyres. Strategy will be very important, but that’s something we like. We have high expectations for another good result, and we are looking forward to it.”

Thierry Neuville (BEL) – Ford Fiesta RS WRC. Shakedown, 2013 Acropolis Rally

Ott Tänak

“It’s been a long break since the last WRC rally in Greece eight years ago. Acropolis Rally is an event with a lot of history and tradition behind it. It’s an event which belongs to the WRC, and it is good to be back. The last time I competed there was back in 2012 – a long time ago, but I have some great memories. Acropolis Rally is a good replacement for Rally Turkey which is normally the roughest event of the year. I think it’s going to be a really nice event; it will be quite demanding, but the stages are really special and flowing. I can’t wait to be back and bring home a good result.”

Dani Sordo

“Acropolis Rally was one of the roughest rallies when I competed there in the past but, overall, it is a nice rally with good stages. Normally the main challenges are the rocky surface, which is really demanding on the tyres and the high temperatures. You can have a lot of issues in this rally but now we have other similar rallies on the calendar such as Portugal and Sardinia that are similarly demanding, so maybe we are more prepared for this kind of event. Our road position is advantageous when we look at the big picture; it is good to start at the back and we will try to make the most of our running order on the first day. I can’t wait to start it. It will be the first rally with Cándido alongside me and I hope we can get a good result.”

2021 FIA World Rally Championship
Round 05, Rally de Portugal
3-6 June 2021
Dani Sordo
Photographer: Austral
Worldwide copyright: Hyundai Motorsport GmbH

Oliver Solberg

“I can’t wait to take the Hyundai i20 N Rally2 to Greece. I did quite a lot of testing with the car on the gravel, so I know the potential and the speed it has. We have to remember though; we are still early in the life for the car so we have to make sure we are making a lot of kilometres. I think this is a rally where you drive more with your head than with the heavy right foot; there will be lots of big rocks waiting, especially on the second loop of stages. This is going to be especially true on the first day because we have no service in lunchtime. It’s going to be fantastic.”

M-Sport Ford WRT

Gus Greensmith

“The Acropolis is on my list of events I want to do before I stop so it’s a rally I’ve been looking forward to for a very long time. I tend to enjoy rough rallies and I’ve done my best to prepare by watching old footage to get an idea of what it’s going to be like. I’ve also done nine days in a heat chamber in anticipation of the very high temperatures although the forecast is now for 30 degrees centigrade rather than 40, which is still warm but nothing out of the normal.

“If we compare the Acropolis to Turkey, we’ve seen that everyone is flat out all the way through. It means you have to commit in the rough stuff but also show a degree of mechanical sympathy because the bedrock will be hard for the suspension and the tyres. Usually when it’s rough anything can happen so it’s an exciting situation to be in.

“There are a lot of single-use stages, which means it won’t be as rough as it has been in previous years because you don’t have the second pass and we’ll have a good road position. Friday should therefore be a very good day for us and I plan to maximise the opportunities. We’ve got a good car for rough conditions and I feel we can have a very strong rally.”

Adrien Fourmaux

“Like most of the time, it’s a new rally for me but I do remember playing it on PlayStation when I was younger! Some drivers have some experience, but it was eight years ago and the cars have changed a lot since then. I’m just trying to prepare as I do for the other rallies, working on the videos and my physical and mental training. We had an issue on the last rally in Belgium, so we want to go back to our positive attitude from the beginning of the season and keep taking the experience.

“The Acropolis is in the WRC next year, so we need to get the experience of all stages. I know it will be hot, really tough with big rocks in the middle of the road that you don’t expect. It will be a big challenge and you can expect punctures, maybe some mechanical damage.

“I will take the experience from Turkey and Safari, which can also help me with the set-up of the car. I was probably too careful with the car on the Safari on the Friday but I know more about the limits of the car on rough rallies, that it’s really, really strong. I know many things can happen on this type of event so I will do my rally, do my best and try to do some good stage times. But the most important thing is to be at the end with no issue and have a good result. It was a good rally for M-Sport in the past and hopefully it will be the same in 2021.”

Look ahead

It’s going to be an interesting rally, with a very challenging set of stages which will be rough. Also, with some stages run only once, this will bring another unknown aspect to the event, and it will be the crew that best controls their pace on the hot stages that will take the win.

Hopefully Hyundai won’t suffer the rear suspension problems that they have in the other gravel events from this season, and we’ll get a good fight between all the top crews. Road position will be really important, so perhaps we’ll see Dani, or Ott at the top. Within the Toyota team, Elfyn will want to take win if he can and close the gap to Seb in their fight for the championship.

The M-Sport Ford team don’t have the drivers to fight at the front, so will have a plan I imagine like Safari Rally to get through the event, and this may mean that they’ll pick up positions as other crews drop out with problems.

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

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

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

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

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

Friday

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Classification after Day One

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

 

Let’s hear from the drivers.

Hyundai Motorsport

Thierry Neuville (1st)

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

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

Ott Tänak (3rd)

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

Dani Sordo (DNF, Super Rally)

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

Oliver Solberg (DNF)

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

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

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

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

Toyota Gazoo Racing WRT

Sébastien Ogier (4th)

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

Kalle Rovanperä (7th)

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

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

Elfyn Evans (DNF, Super Rally)

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

M-Sport Ford WRT

Gus Greensmith (5th)

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

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

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

Adrien Fourmaux (6th)

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

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

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

Saturday

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Classification after Day Two

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

 

Hyundai Motorsport

Thierry Neuville (1st)

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

Ott Tänak (4th)

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

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

Dani Sordo (13th)

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

Toyota Gazoo Racing WRT

Sébastien Ogier (3rd)

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

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

Kalle Rovanperä (7th)

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

Elfyn Evans (12th)

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

M-Sport Ford WRT

Gus Greensmith (5th)

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

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

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

Adrien Fourmaux (6th)

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

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

Sunday

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

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

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

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

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

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

Final Overall Classification – Safari Rally Kenya

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

 

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

 

Toyota Gazoo Racing WRT

Sébastien Ogier (1st)

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

Takamoto Katsuta (2nd)

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

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

Kalle Rovanperä (6th)

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

Elfyn Evans (10th)

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

Hyundai Motorsport

Ott Tänak (3rd)

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

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

Dani Sordo (12th)

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

Thierry Neuville (DNF)

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

M-Sport Ford WRT

Gus Greensmith (4th)

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

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

Adrien Fourmaux (5th)

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

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

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

My Thoughts

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

Safari Rally Kenya 2021 Preview

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Let’s hear from the drivers.

Toyota Gazoo Racing WRT

Sébastien Ogier

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

Elfyn Evans

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

Kalle Rovanperä

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

 

Hyundai Motorsport

Thierry Neuville

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

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

Ott Tänak

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

Dani Sordo

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

Oliver Solberg

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

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

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

 

M-Sport Ford WRT

Adrien Fourmaux

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

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

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

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

Gus Greensmith

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

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

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

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

 

Summary

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rally Italia Sardegna 2021 – Seb and Julien take victory

There was more drama on the Island of Sardegna. Here’s the story of how Seb and Julien came through to take an impressive win.

Friday

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

Into the first stage then, SS1 Filigosu – Sa Conchedda 1 – 22.29 km and just like in Portugal Ott was fast out of the blocks, winning the stage from Kalle and Seb. Actually, the Frenchman’s pace considering he was first on the road was pretty impressive to be only 9.6 seconds from the lead. The day didn’t start as well however for Elfyn who was just not comfortable out there. The fight was on for the lead between Ott and Kalle. At M-Sport it didn’t go well for Teemu who went off the road and was stuck and out for the day.

Ott also took SS2 Terranova 1 – 14.36 km from Seb and Kalle. Further down the leaderboard, Elfyn was making some progress, moving ahead of Thierry and into sixth, but the Welshman definitely wanted more.

The Estonian continued his top pace at the front winning SS3 Filigosu – Sa Conchedda 2 – 22.29 km, winning the stage from Dani and Kalle. In fact, the double winner for the last two years found that his pace brought him into third overall as well, with Seb dropping to fourth, but certainly not out for the fight for a podium. Thierry was also on the move up the leaderboard, passing Elfyn for sixth.

The final stage of the morning and yes, you guessed it. Ott was fastest again in SS4 Terranova 2 – 14.36 km from Dani and Seb. Sadly, Kalle’s time at the top of the standings came to an end as he suffered a technical problem with his Yaris. Now everyone except for Thierry moved up one place but the Belgian managed to gain two positions, moving from sixth to fourth in one go.

After the service break, Ott continued his winning form setting the fastest time in SS5 Tempio Pausania 1 – 12.08 km from Seb and Thierry. Fourth fastest was Elfyn, who was finding some rhythm out there, and this moved him ahead of Takamoto who suffered a stall in the stage and the Welshman moved into fifth overall. With the departure of Teemu earlier, Gus was holding his own out there and sat in seventh overall.

The next stage, SS6 Erula – Tula 1 – 14.97 km saw Dani go fastest from Ott and Seb and this meant the Spaniard moved ahead of the world champion and into second overall. Meanwhile, Thierry and Elfyn continued their fight for fourth overall, with the Belgian holding a resurgent Elfyn at bay for now.

Dani also took SS7 Tempio Pausania 2 – 12.08 km, but his teammate was just three tenths off and the gap between them remained a large 25 seconds. Elfyn broke into the top three for the first time and with Thierry just seventh fastest after getting a puncture, the Welshman moved into fourth overall. Gus also had a great stage, going fifth fastest.

The final stage then, SS8 Erula – Tula 2 – 14.97 km, and Dani was equal quickest with Thierry and Ott third. The Belgian would have been quicker if he’s not stalled in the stage. The Hyundai drivers had won every stage of day one, putting the good road position to good use. The fact that two Toyota drivers held third and fourth though, meant that they were in a good position to benefit from problems. There was drama for Gus however, as just after the start of the stage for him, he suffered transmission failure and he couldn’t complete. A big shame as he had driven really well all day.

Classification after Day One

1 O. Tänak M. Järveoja Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC 1:26:58.0
2 D. Sordo B. Rozada Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC +19.4
3 S. Ogier J. Ingrassia Toyota Yaris WRC +36.2
4 E. Evans S. Martin Toyota Yaris WRC +1:02.0
5 T. Neuville M. Wydaeghe Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC +1:03.2
6 T. Katsuta D. Barritt Toyota Yaris WRC +1:26.1

 

Let’s hear from the drivers

Hyundai Motorsport

Ott Tänak (1st)

“Generally, it has not been a bad day for us. Things ran quite smoothly, and I had a nice feeling with the car since the beginning. I was able to maintain a good rhythm and to enjoy myself, pushing at the same time. Knowing the road order of our rivals, we knew it was definitely our opportunity to build up a gap. Apart from the final stage, when we had a bit of a tyre scare, I would say it’s been good, and we could achieve what we wanted. It also showed us that we always need to keep going, to grow the gap as much as possible, and so we will keep pushing tomorrow.”

Dani Sordo (2nd)

“I am pleased to end this opening day in second place. On the whole, we have had a positive Friday, with some small issues in the morning turning into a competitive afternoon. On the opening stages, I was not too happy with my pace notes. There were some places where I missed confidence and lost time as a result. There were some new profile stages, which made things more difficult and identified areas where we needed to improve. We had to manage our tyres well and couldn’t push like crazy. The car was moving around a lot on the softs, so with the hard compounds in the afternoon I felt more confident in myself, with improved grip and better pace notes; everything was a step forward. I also knew the stages from previous years, which really gave me the extra confidence I needed. A long way to go, but I’m satisfied with how we’ve started the rally.”

2021 FIA World Rally Championship
Round 05, Rally de Portugal
3-6 June 2021
Ott Tanak
Photographer: Austral
Worldwide copyright: Hyundai Motorsport GmbH

Thierry Neuville (5th)

“It was a difficult day for us. I struggled with confidence in the first stages. I didn’t get a good feeling, so we decided to go progressively throughout the day to get the speed. We changed a lot on the car, we went in the right direction with the settings. The car was a bit stiff this morning and we couldn’t get the traction, but things worked better this afternoon. Unfortunately, two punctures cost us a huge amount of time. I think we would have been able to close the gap to Sébastien without them. As a result, we lost a position on the road order for Saturday, but this rally is not over and maybe tomorrow is a positive turn and we might be free of issues.”

Toyota Gazoo Racing WRT

Sébastien Ogier (3rd)

“It’s been a very good day for us, I can be very happy with what we’ve done. The morning was especially strong. We were driving on two new stages and I think this helped us to make the difference. With Julien, we did a good job on the recce and had good pacenotes, and I felt confident and able to push. I was also very happy with the car, as we did some good setup changes after Portugal. This afternoon was a bit tougher, as I had expected, but most importantly we’re third overall and that will give us a better start position tomorrow. It’s a big gap to the leader, but it was a very strong performance for us today, so let’s see what we can do.”

2021 FIA World Rally Championship / Round 05 / Rally d’Italia Sardegna / 3-6 May, 2021 // Worldwide Copyright: McKlein

Elfyn Evans (4th)

“It was not a good start for us at all this morning. I struggled with the feeling in the car: We made a few changes after Portugal to try and improve things a bit, but it didn’t give me the confidence level that I had before, so it was difficult to settle down into a good rhythm. Things were definitely working better in the afternoon and I felt happier in the car. I was not so happy with the stage times still, but at least things are moving in the right direction and we’ll try to build on that tomorrow.”

Kalle Rovanperä (DNF SuperRally)

“It was a really nice start this morning. I had a good feeling in the car again and we could be back on a good pace. It felt really good; I didn’t even need to push so much, so it was really enjoyable. Then on SS4 we had an issue and had to stop. It’s sad that the day ended in this way because it was going well before that. But the team will be able to fix the car so we can restart tomorrow and try to find a similar feeling again for the rest of the rally.”

M-Sport Ford WRT

Gus Greensmith (DNF, SuperRally)

“To be honest, I’ve been quite happy with what I’m doing. We lacked a bit of pace in the first couple of stages because we didn’t have any opportunity to test here before the event and so we went with the same setup that we used in Portugal 10 days ago.

“At the start of the day, our suspension was too soft for the road conditions, which meant that I was lacking a bit of precision in the corners and didn’t want to push too hard. We were able to make a few adjustments on the road and you can see from the times that everything felt a lot better and we got a lot closer to the pace of the leaders, so overall it was a big positive.

“The stages are incredibly rough. At one point we actually had the jack break loose over some of the roughest ground, it broke the mount and the loose jack then caused an oil spillage near the exhaust but we got that cleaned up before there was a fire.

Other than that, the Fiesta was flawless until the final stage start, when the transmission unfortunately just took too much of a beating. I’m devastated as a top-five finish was absolutely within the car, and we will be going all-out when we restart tomorrow to show that same pace.”

Teemu Suninen (DNF, SuperRally)

“I pulled the handbrake and stalled the engine and then I really had no power to pull through the corner so just slid wide by two metres and we got stuck. The car started to get quite hot and we lost one sensor, after which it wasn’t running anymore. It should be quite an easy fix, basically from the outside of the car there’s just one mirror missing, but sadly we weren’t able to carry on today.

“The Ford Fiesta WRC felt so good, the difference between Rally1 and Rally2 is something really special, I was sure that a top five finish was possible.

“Fortunately, we will be able to restart tomorrow and although the prospect of good points has gone, I believe we can show the true potential pace that we have throughout the next two days and show how fast the car is through these stages. “

Adrien Fourmaux (DNF, SuperRally)

“It was a small mistake this morning, which was in part inexperience on gravel. Unfortunately, there was a big stone in the verge on the inside of the bend where I tried too tight a line, which meant that our battle for victory in WRC2 ended on the second stage of the rally.

“We will restart under SuperRally tomorrow and I hope to show some good stage times as we make a recovery.

I’m really sorry to the team and all our partners that we won’t be in the fight for victory this weekend but I am confident that with the repairs made by the team today we will be able to show the performance of the Ford Fiesta Rally2 is on all surfaces.”

Saturday

Start list looked like this – Suninen, Rovanperä, Greensmith, Loubet, Katsuta, Neuville, Evans, Ogier, Sordo, Tänak.

Ott picked up at the same pace that we saw from the Estonian in SS9 Coiluna – Loelle 1 – 15.00 km and he won the stage from Elfyn with Seb third fastest. The champions pace brought them closer to Dani who was holding second place. In fact, Elfyn, Seb and Thierry who were behind Dani, were all quicker than the Spaniard.

At last, we had a different car and driver winning a stage with Seb winning SS10 Lerno – Monti di Alà 1 – 22.08 km from Ott and Elfyn. Seb’s pace brought him into second overall with Dani falling to third. Elfyn also closed the gap a little to Dani, but the gap remained large at over 20 seconds. Takamoto had a huge moment, whacking a huge rock that was in the middle on the road with the middle of the front of his Yaris! The whole front of the car lifted up, but amazingly they got away with it not causing any big damage.

Elfyn won SS11 Coiluna – Loelle 2 – 15.00 km from Seb and Ott. The Welshman was building a lead over Thierry who was holding fourth place, the gap between them now over ten seconds, whilst also closing on Dani. At M-Sport Gus was going well after his restart, setting the seventh best time, quicker than Takamoto who had a better road position.

There was drama for Ott on the next stage, SS12 Lerno – Monti di Alà 2 – 22.08 km as the Estonian hit a rock on the line! This broke the rear suspension, and that was that. All the hard work had been undone again for the former champions. Top three in the stage was Seb, Thierry and Elfyn and the Belgian closed the gap a little to the third placed Welshman. Another driver to fall from a good position was Gus who stopped in the stage with a mechanical problem.

After the service break the next stage, SS13 Bortigiadas – Aggius – Viddalba 1 – 14.70 km saw Seb take another stage win from Dani and Elfyn and the gap opened up a little between them all. Further down the standings, Jari and Mads battle for the lead in the WRC2 category saw the Finn pass the Norwegian and they held sixth and seventh overall as well.

Top three on SS14 Sedini – Castelsardo 1 – 13.03 km was Seb, Thierry and Elfyn, with Dani fourth, meaning that they both closed a little on the Spaniard who still held second overall. Mads and Jari continued their fight for the WRC2 lead and Mads closed the gap to Jari to just 12.6 seconds.

Into SS15 Bortigiadas – Aggius – Viddalba 2 – 14.70 km saw more drama for Hyundai, with Dani sliding wide and dropping his right wheel into a culvert at the edge of the road, the resulting impact wreaking the tyre and suspension. In fact, it was such a huge impact, that the car was pitched into a roll of sorts and ended up on its side. It was unusual to see the Spaniard to make such a mistake, but it’s worth noting that this stage had not been used since the early 2000’s. Top three in the stage was Seb, Elfyn and Thierry and they also held the top three overall positions.

Now to the final stage of the day, SS16 Sedini – Castelsardo 2 – 13.03 km and Elfyn topped the times from Seb and Thierry. Mads closed the gap even further to Jari to just 2.7 seconds as well, after the Norwegian set a time good enough to place seventh in the stage.

Classification after Day Two

1 Sébastien Ogier/Julien Ingrassia (Toyota Yaris WRC) 2h50m33.1s
2 Elfyn Evans/Scott Martin (Toyota Yaris WRC) +38.9s
3 Thierry Neuville/Martijn Wydaeghe (Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC) +1m01.6s
4 Takamoto Katsuta/Dan Barritt (Toyota Yaris WRC) +4m01.2s
5 Jari Huttunen/Mikko Lukka (Hyundai i20 R5) +8m09.6s
6 Mads Østberg/Torstein Eriksen (Citroën C3 Rally2) +8m12.3s
7 Yohan Rossel/Alexandre Coria (Citroën C3 Rally2) +8m57.5s
8 Pepe López/Diego Vallejo (Škoda Fabia Rally2 evo) +9m35.3s
9 Jan Solans/Rodrigo Sanjuan de Eusebio (Citroën C3 Rally2) +9m45.0s
10 Marco Bulacia/Marcelo Der Ohannesian (Škoda Fabia Rally2 evo) +10m13.1s

Let’s hear from the drivers

Toyota Gazoo Racing WRT

Sébastien Ogier (1st)

“So far it’s been a perfect weekend for us. We were really strong yesterday and then today we did everything we had to do. We had good consistent pace this morning and a bit of a different tyre choice, which I think paid off. The chance to take the lead was not solely in my hands, but we took it, and then we had a strong afternoon where we could increase the gap. Now we can try to drive even more safely tomorrow. We have some more new stages tomorrow, so we’ll have to stay focused until the end and finish the job.”

Elfyn Evans (2nd)

“Today has been a good step forward from where we were yesterday. We really had to work hard to overcome the difficulties that we had, and now we’ve managed to find a place where I’m very, very happy in the car. The stages have been difficult and our rivals have had some incidents, and our better pace has meant we’ve moved up to second place. Tomorrow we will still need to be on our best: It will be challenging with the new stages but I’m looking forward to it.”

2021 FIA World Rally Championship / Round 05 / Rally d’Italia Sardegna / 3-6 May, 2021 // Worldwide Copyright: Toyota Gazoo Racing WRT

Kalle Rovanperä (30th)

“It’s always good to get straight back into the car like we did this morning, and it was good learning for us to experience the conditions as the second car on the road. The morning was actually quite nice: It was a bit damp, so there was not so much road cleaning and I really enjoyed it. The afternoon was more difficult, with tricky stages and a lot of cleaning. Tomorrow we will be aiming for the Power Stage and trying to score some points there. It’s a new stage and a tricky stage, but let’s see what we can do.”

Hyundai Motorsport

Thierry Neuville (3rd)

“The gap to Elfyn Evans in second place is quite big. I tried to get closer to him on some stages, but I just didn’t have the speed I needed. We tried some settings, changing the dampers among other things, but we couldn’t get everything working together as we needed. I struggled to find the performance despite having the feeling of being on the edge. I haven’t been able to do much more, but tomorrow we will try our hardest and see what we can save from this weekend.”

Dani Sordo (DNF, SuperRally)

“The second day of Rally Italia Sardegna did not go to plan for us. We were involved in a battle for second place but were forced to retire on the penultimate stage. We hit a stone outside the road, something we didn’t see during the recce. We are really disappointed, not only for ourselves, but for the whole team, but sometimes these things happen in rally, and it’s like that. We will now concentrate on what we can achieve tomorrow to try and score some points in the Power Stage.”

2021 FIA World Rally Championship
Rally Italia Sardegna 2021 3-6 June 2021
Dani Sordo, Borja Rozada, WRC, Action during Day 2 of Rally Italia Sardegna 2021
Photographer: Romain Thuillier
Worldwide copyright: Hyundai Motorsport GmbH

M-Sport Ford WRT

Gus Greensmith (31st)

“The morning started well. We continued to make good progress with the setup of the car and I was feeling a lot more comfortable this morning. I feel like from my side of things we’ve had a very good day whilst we’ve been out there it seems we’ve been a lot more competitive with our rivals so I’m happy and we can move forward tomorrow to build on that.

“Obviously it’s very frustrating to have had another issue interrupt that progress but from where we started this event to where we are now in terms of pace, I am looking forward to getting out there again tomorrow and getting some more good mileage.”

Adrien Fourmaux (34th)

“It was important that we should put the disappointment of yesterday behind us, and to be able to run at the front and win two stages in WRC2 was really fantastic for us. I’m really happy.

“Of course, it is bittersweet because our pace is strong enough to potentially challenge for the win, were it not for yesterday’s incident, but we have to take pride in what we are achieving and to make sure that we learn from every kilometre to the finish.

“The Ford Fiesta Rally2 has been faultless all day, I was able to feel a really good rhythm in the car and together with the team I think that we have done all that we can to show how strong our performance collectively.”

Teemu Suninen (35th)

“It’s been quite tricky. Actually, some stages were not so slippery, not too much loose gravel, but then some other stages have been a bit harder. Even when we have been through stages for the second time and you hope that a lot of gravel has been swept away, the quick line is very narrow and the penalty for going off that line means that it is hard to commit and risk damaging the car.

“I’ve been playing about with my driving style at times, trying a few things just to get my performance back up to the level that I know I can produce. Getting the Ford Fiesta back on to the podium in the WRC this season is my target and so the mileage that we are able to get can only contribute towards our performance later in the season. “

Sunday

The start list looked like this for the final day, with just four stages to run– Suninen, Greensmith, Rovanperä, Tänak, Sordo, Katsuta, Neuville, Evans, Ogier, Huttunen (WRC2).

Into SS17 Arzachena – Braniatogghiu 1 – 15.25 km then and Elfyn picked up from where he ended Saturday, going fastest from Ott who was returning under super rally rules, whilst Seb was third. The top three remained unchanged however. There was a change in the lead for the WRC2 category though, with Mads setting the sixth fastest time and passing Jari and also moving into fifth place overall!

Thierry won SS18 Aglientu – Santa Teresa 1 – 7.79 km, whilst Elfyn remained quick with the second fastest time, just three tenths slower, and Seb third. Disaster hit for a very angry Mads though. Somehow, he picked up a puncture, and once again fell behind Jari. He and Torstein let rip after the flying finish, both verbally and physically, and Jari was now 17.4 ahead with two stages left.

Elfyn took SS19 Arzachena – Braniatogghiu 2 – 15.25 km from Seb and Thierry. The Welshman had now taken his lead over the Belgian to more than 30 seconds. Meanwhile, Mads found some big pace again, setting the fifth best time, faster even than Teemu in a full WRC Fiesta, and Mads was now just 2.1 seconds behind the WRC2 category leader.

Final stage then, SS20 Aglientu – Santa Teresa 2 [Power Stage] – 7.79 km and Thierry took the stage win from Ott, with Kalle third, Seb fourth and Dani fifth. Going through the water splash, Elfyn’s engine cut out, and it took almost 20 seconds to get the engine running again. He crossed the line 18 seconds slower than the Belgian. He still secured second place behind Seb, whilst Thierry was third. The battle for the win in the WRC2 category between Jari and Mads went down to the wire, and the Finn in his i20 Rally2 was the victorious driver and with it an overall fifth position as well!

 

Final Overall Classification – Rally Italia Sardegna

1 S. Ogier J. Ingrassia Toyota Yaris WRC 3:19:26.4
2 E. Evans S. Martin Toyota Yaris WRC +46.0
3 T. Neuville M. Wydaeghe Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC +1:05.2
4 T. Katsuta D. Barritt Toyota Yaris WRC +6:11.2
5 J. Huttunen M. Lukka Hyundai i20 R5 +9:31.7
6 M. Østberg T. Eriksen Citroën C3 R5 +9:39.2
7 Y. Rossel A. Coria Citroën C3 R5 +10:37.7
8 P. López D. Vallejo Škoda Fabia Evo +11:03.7
9 J. Solans R. Sanjuan Citroën C3 R5 +11:26.3
10 M. Bulacia M. Ohannesian Škoda Fabia Evo +11.34.6

 

Let’s hear from the drivers then.

Toyota Gazoo Racing

Sébastien Ogier (1st)

“This has been an incredible weekend for us: We could not have expected to come away from Sardinia a result like this. To have one-two for the team, starting first and second on the road, is a fantastic achievement. I’m also very happy that we managed to find a better feeling with the car and react after Portugal, where maybe the speed was not as great as we wanted. Unfortunately, in the Power Stage we had a misfire briefly after a watersplash which was very aggressive, but we still took two bonus points which is good for the championship. If we can keep this rhythm up, we can be confident, but of course it’s never that easy.”

Elfyn Evans (2nd)

“Second place is a great result that we definitely would have taken after our struggles on Friday morning. This morning we didn’t have such a huge gap behind us so it was good to be able to extend that advantage further, and it’s probably just as well given what happened later on in the final stage. We seemed to take in some water and I wasn’t sure it was going to clear, but thankfully it did and it quickly went back to full power after that. It’s a slight disappointment not to take any extra points from the Power Stage because of that, but at the same time I’m relieved to hang on to second place.”

Takamoto Katsuta (4th)

“I am pretty happy with what I have done during this rally. I learned a lot and there were a lot of positives also. On Saturday especially there were so many things happening and I had a lot of moments; I almost went off when we hit a big rock that was right on the line. But we were able to finish the rally and that was the main thing. It was good experience for me and good learning that I can take onto the next event.”

2021 FIA World Rally Championship / Round 05 / Rally d’Italia Sardegna / 3-6 May, 2021 // Worldwide Copyright: Toyota Gazoo Racing WRT

Kalle Rovanperä (25th)

“Our aim today was to get as many points as we could from the Power Stage. Our starting position still made it a bit tricky, as there was some cleaning to do with only two World Rally Cars in front of us. So, I had to make my own lines in many places and lost a bit of time with that, but I tried to push a lot and we came away with the third fastest time. Overall, it was a really disappointing weekend from our side, but we just have to move forward. The positive thing is that the feeling in the car is good again after Portugal, and hopefully we can continue like this.”

2021 FIA World Rally Championship / Round 05 / Rally d’Italia Sardegna / 3-6 May, 2021 // Worldwide Copyright: Toyota Gazoo Racing WRT

Hyundai Motorsport

Thierry Neuville (3rd)

“There were a few things that came together that didn’t work properly for us this weekend. I’d like to extend my thanks to the team, including everyone in the workshop, because after Portugal they had one-and-a-half days to repair the car; they made everything like new. I am sorry to them that I wasn’t able to deliver a better result, but we bring home a podium at the end of a disappointing weekend for everyone. There are better times to come.”

2021 FIA World Rally Championship
Rally Italia Sardegna 2021 3-6 June 2021
Thierry Neuville, Martijn Wydaeghe, WRC, Action during Day 3 of Rally Italia Sardegna 2021
Photographer: Romain Thuillier
Worldwide copyright: Hyundai Motorsport GmbH

Jari Huttunen (5thOverall, 1st WRC2)

“It is an unbelievable feeling to win here in Sardinia after a long break. We have had some issues this weekend and the pace is not really what we wanted, but we’ve made it through and done enough to take the WRC 2 win – my first in the Hyundai i20 R5. It’s been a good rally and a tough battle for the victory with Mads, who had shown to be a bit faster than us this weekend. We have focused on keeping the car on the road and not taking any risks. A great result for us and Hyundai Motorsport N.”

Dani Sordo (17th)

“The only positive at the end of this tough weekend is that we have been able to take some points for the manufacturer’ championship. In some stages, our speed was OK but there’s not much more we can say. We go home a bit disappointed but sometimes rallying is like this.”

Ott Tänak (24th)

“We know what happened on Saturday and it needs no extra explanation. It has not been a happy weekend, for sure, but the Hyundai Motorsport team has done a great job to get me up to this level. The car is really fast, it’s improved a lot, so there is nothing stopping us.”

M-Sport Ford WRT

Gus Greensmith (7th)

“I think I was pretty happy with my driving this weekend, one or two stages were particularly good, it’s obviously a shame to then have technical issues that prevent that progress coming through in the overall results.

“I think that we can take heart from the reliability that the other two cars have shown this weekend. Clearly mine have been isolated incidents and in review and planning for the next event we will be able to move forward and keep aiming to get in amongst the top five.”

Teemu Suninen (8th)

“We could be happier, obviously, the first day wasn’t very good for us and that was a big shame but we have been able to build a good rhythm through Saturday and Sunday and to learn more about the performance of the Pirelli tyres on gravel.

“It was also a good learning to run first on the road as well, because you can really make up time when you know how to approach the stages with no markers and no line. You always want to take away more than what you learn from an event but on an event like this just reaching the finish can feel like an achievement. “

Adrien Fourmaux (6th, WRC2)

“Our goal is to push in all the stages and to keep the pressure on throughout the rally, and the incident on Friday was a combination of things related to readjusting back from the WRC car to the Rally2 and a little bit my experience. The difference in the aerodynamics on the cars is huge and I learned a big lesson as a result.

“We decided to push a bit more with the setup on Saturday, we tried a few different things to get to the point where I felt comfortable to really push and the result was two stage wins, which I think the team deserved for all their efforts this weekend. “

 

Citroen Racing

Mads Østberg (2nd WRC2)

“We have to be happy with coming away with a second place after this weekend. This rally was extremely rough. We fought really hard to even get to the end and luckily, we were able to repair the different issues we ran into. We are unlucky not to win the rally but considering the time penalty of one minute, two stages with rear issues and a puncture is not so bad. It has been a hard weekend and I am exhausted. Estonia next is not as rough so I hope we can build on the good pace and speed that we have and have a clean rally.”

Warren’s Thoughts

Well, what a rally with so many talking points! Let’s start first with Toyota. Seb and Julien showed again why they are so fast. Five stage wins throughout the weekend, and the pace that they had on day one won them this event when Ott and Martin’s challenge came to an end. Elsewhere in the team, Elfyn struggled on the soft tyres, but when he went onto the hard tyres, he found his form and took four stage wins. This earnt him his second place and he was able to hold off and gap Thierry as well. Kalle was also fast, and without his technical problems may well have challenged for a podium. Takamoto matched his best result to date, and survived a huge moment with a rock! The Japanese driver is definitely improving, and will continue to improve throughout his first full season.

What can I say about Hyundai? Well, it was a disaster for them. Thierry secured a podium, but was beaten by Elfyn. He could not keep up with the Welshman. For Ott though, it was tough to take a retirement for the second event in a row whilst in a place of absolute domination. Six stage wins, but only took 4 championship points ultimately. Dani came into the event as a two-time winner and held a good second place, plus three stage wins as well. It was a surprise to see him make the mistake that he did, but that is the way motorsport goes sometimes.  The Hyundai is clearly very fast, but lacks some inherent strength, particularly in the rear suspension.  Kris Meeke said that to give away so many points to their rivals, was not good for their hopes for either world titles. We shall see how things go in the next few events and see if they can close the points gap that has developed.

Finally at M-Sport, their weekend didn’t start well with Teemu beaching the car on his return to the Fiesta WRC. It was a big shame for the Finn who has scored his best result on this event in 2019, and is only competing in the full WRC category occasionally this year. For Gus, it was a case of what might have been. He showed good pace out there, but was let down with mechanical and electrical problems. The young Brit will be hoping that at the next few rounds allow him to score some good results.

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

1 S. Ogier 106
2 E. Evans 95
3 T. Neuville 77
4 O. Tänak 49
5 T. Katsuta 48
6 K. Rovanperä 44
7 D. Sordo 30
8 C. Breen 24
9 G. Greensmith 22
10 A. Fourmaux 20

 

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

1 Toyota Gazoo Racing World Rally Team 231
2 Hyundai Shell Mobis World Rally Team 182
3 M-Sport Ford World Rally Team 82
4 Hyundai 2C Competition 28

 

Next round sees the championship return to Kenya for the Safari Rally! Over the final weekend of June from the 24th to 27th! Pop back the week before for the preview for this very special return!

Rally Italia Sardegna 2021 Preview

The championship returns to the stunning island of Sardegna less than two weeks after the end of Rally de Portugal. It’s a very quick turnaround for the teams, and pretty unusual for the World Rally Championship.

This event was run very late last year, with Dani Sordo taking victory from Thierry and Seb. Hyundai will hope that they can fight back after a disappointing Rally de Portugal, which saw their three drivers all lead at different points but ultimately only take a second place after troubles for Ott with broken suspension and Thierry who broke his suspension after a crash on Friday. Oliver Solberg was set to make a second start in an i20 WRC but with his dad having caught covid 19, he’s had to withdraw from the rally. A big shame for the youngster.

Of course, Toyota and Elfyn were there to pick up a very good win in Portugal and the team now hold the top two positions in the drivers’ championship and a big lead in the teams’ championship. Will they be able to challenge for victory this time? Not sure on this, given Seb and Elfyn will be first and second on the road, and will not have the cleanest of roads, but they will target the top five. The Welshman finished fourth last year after opening the road on Friday, courtesy of his championship lead at the time.

M-Sport will hope for a good start like last year where they held the top positions early in the rally, and Teemu who returns to a top car finished in second place last year, and will hope for a similar result. Certainly, would be great to see M-Sport’s drivers take a top result on the island. Gus will have another different co-driver in the car, with Stuart Loudon stepping in, as Chris Patterson is not available for this event.

A look at the stages

After a shakedown on Thursday morning in Loiri, the 2021 Rally Italia Sardegna will begin with a ceremonial start in Alghero.

The schedule on Friday consists of two loops of Sa Conchedda (22.29km) and Terranova (14.36km) in the morning, followed by a service point, and then two loops of Tempio Pausania (12.08km) and Tula (14.97km) in the afternoon.

On Saturday, the crews will first complete two passes of Loelle (15.00km) and Monti di Ala’ (22.08km), before twice tackling Viddalba (14.70km) and Castelsardo (13.03km), again with a service point between the morning and afternoon sections.

The final day comprises of two stages, both of which will be run twice: Braniatogghiu (15.25km) and Santa Teresa (7.79km). The second pass of Santa Teresa will be the rally’s Power Stage, offering bonus points to the drivers and manufacturers.

Let’s hear from the drivers.

Toyota Gazoo Racing WRT

Sébastien Ogier

“I’m sure that Sardinia will be another demanding rally for us, opening the road again like in Portugal. But honestly, I am happy to be leading the championship: I always try to take as many points as I can, and this will be the aim in Sardinia too. The result in Portugal was positive, even though I was not so satisfied with our pace. But it was the first time driving with the new tyres on gravel, and hopefully as we gain a bit more understanding with them, we can see how to extract some more performance already in this next event.”

Elfyn Evans

“Portugal was obviously a great result for us. We made good progress with the car setup and our understanding of the tyres throughout the weekend, but even though it’s quite a tight turnaround, I think we probably all have a few ideas as to how we can improve the package for Sardinia. It’s not going to be an easy weekend given our road position, and that might be more of a disadvantage than it was in October last year if we have warm and dry conditions like expected, but we’re going to give it our best shot as always.”

Kalle Rovanperä

“After Portugal I really hope that we can have a better rally in Sardinia. The stages there are quite demanding and I’m not sure whether suit my style so well, even though I did win there in WRC2 in 2019. Last year it was quite a tricky event for us, but I really want to improve there and show some better pace and I have already been studying the stages quite a lot in preparation. In Portugal I struggled a lot on the first pass when the grip was lower, but we used the Sunday to test some different setups ready for Sardinia and hopefully we can use what we learned there.”

Hyundai Motorsport

Thierry Neuville

“Rally Italia Sardegna is a brilliant event at which the whole team has always been very strong. A few of us have won there before, and we’ll be hoping to get back on the top step again. This year will be a bit of a change as we are going back to Olbia, where we have been in the past, but the stages will be more or less the same. It will certainly be a challenging event, but hopefully we can bounce back and deliver a strong team result in some beautiful weather.”

Ott Tänak

“Rally Italia Sardegna is definitely one of the toughest events of the season. The stages can get very rough there with lots of bedrock coming through, so it certainly presents a lot of challenges. Especially with the new tyres this year there will be quite a lot to discover. However, we showed a lot of pace on the gravel in Portugal, so I hope we can take that across to Italy and battle for the win once again.”

2020 FIA World Rally Championship
Round 06, Rally Italia Sardegna
8 – 11 October 2020
Dani Sordo
Photographer: Austral
Worldwide copyright: Hyundai Motorsport GmbH

Dani Sordo

“The last two years competing at Rally Italia Sardegna have delivered really good results for me. On both occasions, I have managed to win the rally, so it is an event that I really like. I feel very comfortable there, plus I will have an advantage with road position on the first day, so I am definitely looking forward to it. It was great to get on the podium at Rally de Portugal, but we will be going to Sardinia to fight for the win.”

Jari Huttunen

“I am very excited to return to the cockpit of the Hyundai i20 R5 at Rally Italia Sardegna. It has been a long break for me, and we only have limited opportunities to prepare for the rally with a one-day test on Monday. I have only competed in this event once before – last year – and I won in WRC 3, so I have very nice memories and high expectations of this year’s entry into WRC 2.”

M-Sport Ford WRT

Gus Greensmith

“Portugal was just about getting back to where I can be and I’m hoping for more of the same in Sardinia. Although it’s more technical, Sardinia is fairly similar to Portugal in that we’ll start the rally on the set-up I finished Portugal with, which worked well.

“The set-up is a very similar premise to Portugal. We want the car to be driving from the front, we don’t want to be losing time sliding because the stages are so narrow and twisty and technical that the more you are facing forward the faster you are going. We know the car can be fast here from previous years and both Teemu and I can count on good road positions for day one. I’ve not had much luck on this rally so I’m hoping for third time lucky.

“Chris can’t attend for personal reasons but I’ve competed with Stuart before in Germany. We did a few stage-winning times so clearly we’re pretty hand in a car together.”

Teemu Suninen

“I’ve always enjoyed driving in Sardinia. It’s on the rough side of a gravel rally but the car can take the roughness, although you need to manage your tyre wear and that will be a big point. Normally I have had good results in Sardinia. I won’t try the Pirelli tyre until shakedown, which is a challenge, but I will take the challenge and get the maximum out of the weekend.”

“It helps that we start in Sardinia straight after Portugal, but the others will have a one-week advantage over me because I did Portugal in the Rally2 car. They know the whole package and there’s not much I can do about that so I need to make a big difference out of my road position, which will be good for the first day if it stays dry.”

“I’m really excited to be back in the Ford Fiesta WRC. It’s enjoyable to drive and I would say it’s easier going from the Rally2 to the WRC rather than in the other direction. We have the aero and it’s easier to go with the paddleshift. But it’s easier to wear out the tyres because we have 100hp more and you can have too much wheelspin. That can make the rally more difficult but I’m here to learn the tyres and have a clean rally.”

Adrien Fourmaux

“I will discover again the Rally2 Fiesta after two rallies in the World Rally Car. But it’s my third time in Sardinia and I expect to be able to fight with the top drivers in WRC2 and why not fight for the win. I hope with the knowledge of the car that I have from before that I will be able to adapt quite quickly. Even if it’s a different car to the WRC, it’s still four-wheel drive. But the big difference is the speed in the very fast sections.”

“Without all the aero of the World Rally Car it can be a bit less stable but then we have less power so it’s not a problem. We use the paddle to change the gears with the WRC car but in the Rally2 we use the gear stick, so I have to remember to change my habits. I can be very proud of my performances in Croatia and Portugal, where I had to discover everything. Now I have a different job to do, but I am confident I can do it well so I get more chances in the World Rally Car in the future.”

Summary

Well, anyone could take victory on the island from the Hyundai team, and it’s certainly what they will what, given the lead that the Toyota drivers hold over them. I guess the question will be, can the M-Sport team get in the mix and challenge at the front? If all goes well, then I’m sure that they can. In the WRC2 category, there is some really good talent as well, with Mads, Adrien, Nicolay, Andreas and others in the mix. Finally, Chris and Ross continue their WRC3 challenge, and after scoring a very good third place finish in that category, they will be hoping for even better this time out.

Rally de Portugal Review 2021 – Elfyn and Scott take victory!

It was a rally to forget for Hyundai, with all three of their drivers leading at different points throughout the weekend. However, it was Elfyn and Scott in their Yaris WRC that came through to take their fourth career victory. Here’s the story, stage by stage how it happened.

Friday

The startlist looked like this heading into the first day of action – Ogier, Neuville, Evans, Tänak, Rovanperä, Katsuta, Fourmaux, Greensmith, Sordo.

It was a 1-2-3 for Hyundai in SS1 Lousã 1 – 12.35 km, with Ott leading Dani and Thierry, whilst Gus and Elfyn were equal fourth fastest. Meanwhile our championship leader was only eighth fastest, 5.1 down on the leaders, and the slowest of the Toyota drivers, perfectly understandable given that he was opening the road.

The was a change in the lead after SS2 Góis 1 – 19.51 km, as Dani went a little over three seconds faster than Ott, whilst Thierry remained third fastest in the stage and overall, as well. Seb lost another 11 seconds in this stage, but still held eighth. Kalle moved up into fourth overall as well after a good time.

Into SS3 Arganil 1 – 18.82 km, and Dani opened up his lead over Ott and Thierry remained in third. There was a change further down the top ten though with Elfyn jumping up to fourth overall as Kalle slipped down the order to seventh. Gus’s good pace earlier was ruined after getting a puncture and dropping 51 seconds and two places from seventh to ninth.

The following stage SS4 Lousã 2 – 12.35 km was all about those two young drivers, with Kalle winning the stage from Gus and Dani third. The young Finns pace lifted him up into sixth and ahead of Adrien Fourmaux. Elfyn was holding fourth overall at this point 18.5 seconds from the leader who was still Dani.

Dani won SS5 Góis 2 – 19.51 km from Thierry and Kalle. Ott was off the pace with the seventh fastest time and was passed by his teammate Thierry. Takamoto also passed Elfyn for fourth place after the Japanese driver set the fourth best time. Seb was also on the move up the leaderboard as well, moving into seventh ahead of Adrien.

Ott won SS6 Arganil 2 – 18.82 km from Thierry and Elfyn and the Welshman’s pace moved him back ahead of his teammate. Top M-Sport driver was Adrien who was holding eighth overall ahead of his teammate Gus.

Seb took his first stage win of the weekend in SS7 Mortágua – 18.16 km from Elfyn who actually set the same time as his teammate. This was done, because the Welshman got caught behind Thierry who’d hit a bank after losing control of his car, and he’d damaged his right rear wheel and suspension. Gus took third fastest as he started to show some quality pace out there, and this meant that he moved ahead of his French teammate into seventh. Thierry would attempt to fix the problem but the damage was too much and he would have to retire from the rally.

The final stage of the day then, which was the super special, SS8 SSS Lousada – 3.36 km, and the top three was Ott, with Seb second and Gus in third. Dani was off the pace with only the seventh best time and fell from the lead to third. Ott was now in the lead from Elfyn with Dani holding third.

Classification after Day One

1 O. Tänak M. Järveoja Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC 1:22:35.0
2 E. Evans S. Martin Toyota Yaris WRC +6.0
3 D. Sordo C. del Barrio Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC +9.0
4 T. Katsuta D. Barritt Toyota Yaris WRC +15.4
5 S. Ogier J. Ingrassia Toyota Yaris WRC +24.0
6 K. Rovanperä J. Halttunen Toyota Yaris WRC +28.9
7 G. Greensmith C. Patterson Ford Fiesta WRC +1:02.3
8 A. Fourmaux R. Jamoul Ford Fiesta WRC +1:33.5

 

Let’s hear from the drivers

Hyundai Motorsport

Ott Tänak (1st)

“It hasn’t been trouble-free by any means, so it is positive to be leading the rally. We did what we could to get the best out of the car on these gravel roads, but it was a demanding day. Although we took some stage wins, I felt that there was still room for improvement at times. We tried to manage the tyres and find a better feeling into the afternoon loop. A puncture in SS5 limited our options, so we focused on getting through the day. It was great to be back rallying in front of fans again.”

2021 FIA World Rally Championship
Round 04, Rally de Portugal
20-23 May 2021
Ott Tanak, Martin Jarveoja, Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC
Photographer: Dufour Fabien
Worldwide copyright: Hyundai Motorsport GmbH

Dani Sordo (3nd)

“I have enjoyed being back in a WRC car, alongside my new co-driver Borja, on these Portuguese stages. It has been great to see some spectators too, who are an important part of this rally. We had a decent morning loop, making the most of our road position to take some stage wins. The car was working well. Unfortunately, we had a much tougher afternoon, including an engine stall in SS7 which saw us lose the lead. We also had some tyre-related issues, which was clear to see on the Super Special, so I couldn’t push more. We have to be satisfied with our position today and target a more consistent performance on Saturday.”

Thierry Neuville (DNF)

“Unfortunately, we had to retire following a pace note in SS7 that was too optimistic. It was too fast and when I saw the corner, I tried to correct it but there was something like a tree stump that pulled us onto our side. It is disappointing because we started really well this morning, despite being second on the road. The target was clearly to fight for the win. Everything was going firmly to plan until SS7. We tried our best to fix things on the road section but sadly the suspension was damaged, so it was game over for the day.”

2021 FIA World Rally Championship
Round 04, Rally de Portugal
20-23 May 2021
Thierry Neuville, Martijn Wydaeghe, Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC
Photographer: Dufour Fabien
Worldwide copyright: Hyundai Motorsport GmbH

Toyota Gazoo Racing WRT

Elfyn Evans (2nd)

“It’s been a long and difficult day out there. We’ve had the new gravel tyres to get to grips with and it’s been tough to make the right choices. It was quite damp this morning but we’re very limited with how many soft tyres we have. We were quite often mixing tyres and therefore it’s been difficult to feel totally comfortable behind the wheel. But we seemed to have escaped trouble when others have found it, and on the back of that we find ourselves in a really strong position overnight. I struggled a bit for consistency this morning, but after that it was a bit better this afternoon and now, we’re looking to make some small improvements to try and fight for that win over the rest of the rally. It’s going to be a challenging day tomorrow but I’m looking forward to it.”

2021 FIA World Rally Championship / Round 04 / Rally Portugal / 20th-23rd May, 20211 // Worldwide Copyright: Toyota Gazoo Racing WRT

Sébastien Ogier (5th)

“For most of today, running first on the road was a bit the same like always: trying our best but always losing time on every stage. Luckily there was one stage this afternoon which saved us a little bit, SS7. I really did not expect to be fastest in this stage: It was the dirtiest stage of the day with a lot of loose and dry gravel. The fact I opened the road all day gave me the chance to save the tyres more than the others, we benefited from a lot of trouble for our competitors and we managed to do a good time. For sure, it looks a bit better now, we’re back in the fight for the podium at least. It’s still very open I believe tomorrow is the longest day of the event and it should be a bit more interesting for us having some cars running in front of us on the road.”

Kalle Rovanperä (6th)

“Overall, today was quite difficult but we managed to do some good times too. In the morning I felt that the setup was not quite right for what I need: We haven’t done enough kilometres yet on the new tyres in these conditions and I was not sure which way to go. But when we could see what we needed to change, we were able to change the setup a bit in the middle of the day. After that the afternoon was better, but we also had an issue with the tyres which cost us a lot of time. I think we now know which direction to go in with the car setup and hopefully it will work out much better tomorrow.”

M-Sport Ford WRT

Gus Greensmith (7th)

“We worked really hard on the test last weekend and the ideas we came up with have brought this car alive for me and that’s really pleasing. I felt the tyres overheated a bit on SS2, so I was trying to manage them a bit and I was clearly too cautious in places.

Gus and Chris had a good day one, even though they had the technical problems.

“It was a shame about the puncture on SS3 because, otherwise, we shouldn’t be too shy of the podium, but we were able to keep the focus and keep going and I was happy with my driving and what I’ve achieved so far. I’ve spent 50 per cent of the day inside the top three stage times so it’s been positive.

“As soon as Chris came into the car, he showed me the bits where I was going wrong and where I needed to make changes. We’ve worked really hard on those areas and everything seems to be becoming a lot better. The progression’s a lot quicker than I expected it to be and I’m enjoying it.”

Adrien Fourmaux (8th)

“It was a really nice loop this morning, just so enjoyable and the car was amazing to drive, so much fun. But we’re here to learn so I was focusing on doing that and going forward in a good direction.

“This afternoon was another challenge, another new experience. I was surprised how rutted the road was and I was afraid to have a puncture. But looking at the whole day, I’ve been really happy with my stage times and with my driving.

“In a corner that was tightening on SS7, the rear wheel was just a bit in the dust and we had a big spin. We were lucky that the car had no real damage, just a puncture, but everything was okay and we are hoping for another good day on Saturday and for more experience.”

Teemu Suninen (3rd WRC 2)

“It’s been a really good day for us, but it’s been quite tricky with a lot of rough places and we had to be quite clever. We’ve been on a really good pace and we’ve been fighting for the seconds with two other drivers. We lost 10s in Mads Østberg’s dust on SS3 when I couldn’t see anything, but let’s see if we can get the time back. The Fiesta Rally2 is proving to be really competitive in these conditions and I look forward to understanding it on gravel even more over the next two days.”

Tom Kristensson (8th WRC 2)

“We had some problems earlier in the day. They became a thorn in our side and we slid down into a ditch on SS4 and were unable to get back up. We’ll give it another go tomorrow.”

 

Saturday

The startlist for Saturday looked like this – Neuville, Fourmaux, Greensmith, Rovanperä, Ogier, Katsuta, Sordo, Evans, Tänak.

First up was SS9 Vieira do Minho 1 – 20.64 km and Ott was quick out of the blocks, adding seven and a half seconds to his lead over Elfyn who was second in the stage and Dani who was third. Seb was on the move though, and after setting the fourth best time, he passed Takamoto and was now in fourth overall.

The Estonian was quickest in SS10 Cabeceiras de Basto 1 – 22.37 km from Elfyn and Dani. Ott’s lead was now approaching 20 seconds over the Welshman. There was a change on the leaderboard, with Takamoto now moving into fourth after Seb suffered a small spin.

The final big stage of the morning SS11 Amarante 1 – 37.92 km was again won by Ott from Elfyn and Dani, and Ott’s lead increased again a little. Seb brought down Tatamoto’s lead down to just half a second in their battle over fourth overall.

After the lunchtime break for service, Elfyn hit back and won the stage from Ott, but could only reduce the gap by a little. Dani remained in third, but there was a change in position between Seb and Takamoto as the champion moved back into fourth.

Ott won SS13 Cabeceiras de Basto 2 – 22.37 km from Kalle and Takamoto. Further back, Gus was having a technical problem with the throttle only working sometimes and he lost a further 49 seconds in the stage. He still held on to seventh place, as his teammate Adrien who had suffered a similar problem earlier in the day.

The second run of SS14 Amarante 2 – 37.92 km saw drama for Ott however, as his lead ended after his rear right suspension broke and while he attempted to get to the finish they had to stop and retire in the stage. Elfyn came through to take the stage win from Dani and Seb, and this was also now the top three as well.

The final stage of the day was won by Dani, with an amazing drive from Mads in his C3 Rally2 to the second fastest time, whilst Takamoto was third quickest. Elfyn was only twelfth and saw his lead over Dani cut to just 10.7 seconds. In fact, the fastest Brits were Chris and Ross in their Rally Warrior run Skoda Fabia Rally 2. There was a change in position between the M-Sport crews, with Adrien and Gus swapping places, and the French crew moving into fifth overall.

Classification after Day Two

1 E. Evans S. Martin Toyota Yaris WRC 3:07:09.1
2 D. Sordo B. Rozada Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC +10.7
3 S. Ogier J. Ingrassia Toyota Yaris WRC +1:04.2
4 T. Katsuta D. Barritt Toyota Yaris WRC +1:05.7
5 A. Fourmaux R. Jamoul Ford Fiesta WRC +4:21.8
6 G. Greensmith C. Patterson Ford Fiesta WRC +4:28.2

 

Let’s hear from the drivers after day two.

Toyota Gazoo Racing WRT

Elfyn Evans (1st)

“It feels pretty good to be leading the rally tonight. Overall, the day went pretty well for us. I struggled to find my rhythm a little bit at the start of the morning loop, but after that I was relatively happy. The conditions have been pretty tough out there but we seemed to get through it quite well. It’s obviously a shame for Ott and what happened to him, but now we find ourselves in quite a strong position. It’s still close so it’s all to play for tomorrow and it’s going to be a tricky day. But I’m looking forward to those stages and we will definitely give it our best shot”

2021 FIA World Rally Championship / Round 04 / Rally Portugal / 20th-23rd May, 20211 // Worldwide Copyright: Toyota Gazoo Racing WRT

Sébastien Ogier (3rd)

“It has been a difficult day for us today, but at least we have been able to climb up the order a little bit. This is the positive thing: that we are back in a podium position. That is mostly because we stayed out of trouble, but this is also part of the game. For sure, I cannot be very satisfied with my day as I did not have the pace I wanted. This was partly down to road position because we suffered again with a lot of cleaning effect, but I could also have been better with my tyre choices at some points. Still, I have some new tyres left for tomorrow and we have to use those as best as we can.”

Kalle Rovanperä (DNF)

“The morning loop was again quite difficult today, but once more on the afternoon loop when the grip was higher, I was really enjoying the car again: Everything was working normally and the stage times were again good. So, I think there is some work to do for me to find the feeling with the car in the more slippery conditions we find on the first loop. Unfortunately, we had a technical issue before the third stage of the afternoon and we had to retire for the day, but we think we can be back out tomorrow. It’s going to be tricky in the Power Stage because of our road position, but of course we’ll try to get as many points as possible.

Hyundai Motorsport

Dani Sordo (2nd)

“Our objective today was not only to defend our overnight position – third place – but also to keep an eye on the front so we could also try to make gains on the guys in front. We had some damage to the starter motor in the final stages, so we were a bit concerned to stall the engine. In the super special, I felt we had good grip so tried to keep it clean and not lose too much time. At the end, we could catch some time back to Evans and we’re now just ten seconds behind. He was a little bit faster today, but tomorrow is another day, with different stages; we need to work tonight on preparing carefully. I would like to win, so let’s see. It will be maximum attack.”

Ott Tänak (DNF)

“It was far from a great end after what had been a really nice and enjoyable day up to that point. I really enjoyed myself in the car, it was working nicely, and I was able to control everything. Unfortunately, we were forced to retire but hopefully the team will be able to fix it so we can return tomorrow ready to fight for some points.”

Thierry Neuville (DNF)

“Firstly, I would like to extend my thanks to the mechanics for preparing our car ready for today’s stages; it was not an easy job within the time, but they have again done a first-class job. Unfortunately, there were still some unresolved issues which made the car difficult to drive, so we took the decision to retire at lunchtime service in order to give it a thorough check. It doesn’t change our weekend, after the disappointment of yesterday; our target is still to push in the Power Stage tomorrow and to try and salvage some points for the drivers’ and manufacturers’ championships.”

M-Sport Ford WRT

Adrien Fourmaux (5th)

“The stages were really nice to drive today and driving my EcoBoost-powered Ford Fiesta WRC on gravel was just amazing, so I was enjoying myself a lot.

“It was not easy to be opening the road and I think it was worse in the second loop because of the line of the two-wheel-drive cars. It was hard to find the right driving style and the right set-up because of this. We have lost a lot of time but opening the road is part of the game and it’s good for the experience and for the future.

“Overall, we can be happy that we had a good pace for the last long stage. Honestly, it was a really tough day but really fun and I can’t wait to get more experience tomorrow.”

Gus Greensmith (6th)

“We had a pretty stellar run through the first stage this morning. I was hesitating in places on the next stage and then I had quite a big moment on the final stage of the morning that cost me five seconds. The moment distracted me a bit, but I got back on the rhythm pretty quickly.

“We had hopes of making more progress in the afternoon so we’re obviously disappointed to have had some issues with the car. But we managed them the best we could and minimised the time loss, which is the most important thing and something we should be pleased about. I will try to get the time back tomorrow and the positive thing is the top five is still achievable.”

Teemu Suninen (2nd WRC 2)

“It’s been a great day when you consider we are second in WRC2 and have been able to show the performance of the EcoBoost-powered Ford Fiesta Rally2 on gravel. It was a big shame we got the puncture in the afternoon and I have to say it was tricky to manage the conditions at the end of the loop. Of course, we were hoping for a bit more but I can be happy with what we’ve been doing here. We kept the pressure on in the afternoon and the gap was not too big before we got the puncture.”

Tom Kristensson (9th WRC 2)

“We needed to start from fresh this morning and just try to get some experience and now we’ve got it. The first run through the long stage was very good for us and we were able to increase our speed during the stage. It was good experience with the tyres and a good experience with the car and we’re very happy to get to the finish of the day. We are enjoying and focusing totally on ourselves in the car. We need to continue like this.”

Sunday

The final day then. The start list looked like this – Neuville, Rovanperä, Tänak, Fourmaux, Greensmith, Katsuta, Ogier, Sordo, Evans.

Well, the first stage of the day, SS16 Felgueiras 1 – 9.18 km saw Elfyn fly through an amazing 8.9 seconds faster than Adrien and Gus who were second and third fastest and suddenly his lead over Dani had effectively doubled to over twenty seconds as the Spaniard could only manage the fourth best time. The returning Hyundai drivers Ott and Thierry were cruising through and set the 20th and 28th best time respectively, saving their tyres for later and the push for power stage points.

Elfyn also took SS17 Montim – 8.75 km, but not by as much, with Dani just 1.4 seconds behind, whilst Gus was third fastest and closed the gap to his teammate to just 9 tenths of a second. There were no changes to the top positions however.

The first run of SS18 Fafe 1 – 11.18 km saw Thierry take the stage from Ott and Elfyn. Gus was quicker than Adrien and passed him for fifth overall.

The penultimate stage, SS19 Felgueiras 2 – 9.18 km saw Elfyn set the best time, from Adrien and Dani. Gus was fourth and kept his teammate behind though. Takamoto’s challenge to Seb was over though as the Japanese driver lost 33 seconds in this stage, but kept his fourth overall position as the lead he held over Gus was large after the young Brit’s problems on Saturday.

To the final stage then, SS20 Fafe 2 [Power Stage] – 11.18 km and we saw the pace of Ott and Thierry come through, with the Estonian going fastest from his teammate, and Seb taking the third best time. Fourth and fifth were Kalle and Elfyn rounding out the points paying positions in the power stage.

Elfyn ended up winning the rally by over 28 seconds from Dani who saved Hyundai’s event, whilst Seb scored a well-earned podium.

2021 FIA World Rally Championship / Round 04 / Rally Portugal / 20th-23rd May, 20211 // Worldwide Copyright: Toyota Gazoo Racing WRT

Final Overall Classification – Rally de Portugal

1 E. Evans S. Martin Toyota Yaris WRC 3:38:26.2
2 D. Sordo B. Rozada Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC +28.3
3 S. Ogier J. Ingrassia Toyota Yaris WRC +1:23.6
4 T. Katsuta D. Barritt Toyota Yaris WRC +2:28.4
5 G. Greensmith C. Patterson Ford Fiesta WRC +4:52.7
6 A. Fourmaux R. Jamoul Ford Fiesta WRC +5:03.4
7 E. Lappi J. Ferm Škoda Fabia Evo +9:37.2
8 T. Suninen M. Markkula Ford Fiesta MkII +11:20.0
9 M. Østberg T. Eriksen Citroën C3 R5 +12:01.5
10 N. Gryazin K. Aleksandrov Volkswagen Polo GTI +12:35.8

 

Let’s hear from the drivers.

Toyota Gazoo Racing WRT

Elfyn Evans (1st)

“Obviously it’s a fantastic way to finish by clinching the win. It wasn’t all plain sailing all the way through the weekend, and we maybe weren’t the absolute fastest crew, but we still had really good pace and the performance was generally quite consistent. This morning we knew that there wasn’t such a big gap to second place, so we had to go out and give it our all. That’s what we did, and we managed to set a few good times just to build up a bit of an advantage. In Croatia it was quite painful to miss out so it feels good to get this one sealed with relatively little drama.”

Sébastien Ogier (3rd)

“Today we were focused on securing the third place overall and securing some bonus points in the Power Stage. We couldn’t get the maximum there but three points is certainly better than nothing, and 18 points overall from the weekend is a positive result. I don’t like when I’m not able to fight for the very top positions, but that was kind of expected coming here leading the championship and running first on the road, so we did what we could. We need to keep working and improve the pace for the next rally in Sardinia and see what we can do there, even though I expect it will again be challenging. Every time we score good points is a step towards the championship.”

2021 FIA World Rally Championship / Round 04 / Rally Portugal / 20th-23rd May, 20211 // Worldwide Copyright: Toyota Gazoo Racing WRT

Takamoto Katsuta (4th)

“For sure, I’m pretty happy about this weekend. It has been a tough rally and every stage has been quite tricky. I had one big moment on Saturday night but we could survive this without problems and the team did a great job as always to repair the car. It has not been an easy weekend and the last day especially was quite tough for me, but I could finish with the best result of my career and I’m very happy to fight with the top drivers like we did. I have definitely made a step forward compared to before. But, like I’m always saying, I still need to improve a lot, so I will continue to work hard to keep going in the right direction.”

Kalle Rovanperä (22nd)

“From my side the weekend has been a disappointment. We had many issues and lost some good points from this, but that’s rallying sometimes and we just have to continue onto the next one. Today we had the chance to test some different setups for the car in the first loop to help prepare for the next rallies. After that, we didn’t have such good tyres for the Power Stage compared to some other drivers. I really tried to push to the maximum that I could, and it was good that we got at least two points – it was just not really possible to get a better time with the tyres that we had.”

Hyundai Motorsport

Dani Sordo (2nd)

“I am very happy to come back to take second place in Rally de Portugal. Obviously, at the same time, I am a bit disappointed that I could not catch Elfyn for the win, but he was faster today. If you’re faster, then you win. To finish the rally and to take points for the manufacturers’ championship is important, and I am also delighted to share the first podium with Borja in our first WRC event as a crew.”

Ott Tänak (21st)

“It was a good feeling in the Power Stage to be back on the pace we showed yesterday. Since Saturday morning, we have started to find the feeling that we used to have. We are getting there. Looking at the positives, the pace is definitely improving. It’s been a long, hard job by many people, who have put in a lot of effort. This was our first gravel rally for a long time, so I don’t have much experience in the car; I still had to learn and understand a bit more. Hopefully now we are able to put the combination together. It’s now giving me a feeling of anticipation for the rest of the season. We’ve been working hard, so we expect results.”

Thierry Neuville (36th)

“After the dramas we have battled this weekend, we couldn’t have done any more today. I am really disappointed for the team not to have delivered in this rally. We had the pace and the car for victory but, unfortunately, I let everybody down with a mistake that started in the recce. We were too optimistic. We had bad conditions in the recce with fog and rain, and I misjudged the corner, which brought our rally to an early end. We are always motivated to do a good result, but we just weren’t able to achieve it in Portugal. We’re definitely going to go for it in Sardinia.”

Oliver Solberg (11th)

“It has been a difficult but enjoyable event with lots to learn with our new car, the Hyundai i20 R5, on gravel and in my first Rally de Portugal. It has been hard work over the weekend to get better and better. On Friday, we were learning about tyre combinations and the behaviour of the car on gravel. Normally I would push but I told myself to back off a bit and learn the pace notes. The speed was there on some stages.”

“When everything was working well, I could find confidence in the notes and a get into a rhythm. It was really good to take the fastest time in SS12 (Vieira do Minho). Of course, we had some small issues too, with the stall on Saturday which lost us some time. We took it easy on the final morning following an intercom issue on SS16. We wanted to save some tyres for the Power Stage, but we couldn’t go harder. We were on the limit, but it was a fantastic stage with the incredible Fafe jump. Not the overall result I had hoped for, but a fantastic Rally de Portugal nonetheless.”

M-Sport Ford WRT

Gus Greensmith (5th)

“It’s been a really good weekend, I’ve equalled my best result in the World Rally Championship so far, and things look good going forward and that’s important. We’ve had some issues but in terms of the pace and performance I’m really happy.

“We put in some good times and would have finished higher up the order had it not been for the puncture on Friday and problem with the engine on Saturday. But those things happen and only make you stronger and better as a driver.

“I want to say a big thank you to the team because they made a big difference in helping me make the step forward on this rally. Now we just need to keep it going on the next event in Sardinia and for the rest of the season.”

Adrien Fourmaux (6th)

“Honestly it was a really good rally for me and it was interesting to open the road yesterday. Okay, it was difficult for the pace but it was really good for the learning and I’ve learned so much with the car and everything this weekend and this what I am here to do.

“I really enjoyed the stages; they were so much fun and the car was really good. I can say only thank you to M-Sport for the opportunity to drive the EcoBoost-powered Ford Fiesta WRC.

“For sure it was a really difficult rally for my first time here and the knowledge of the stages of the others didn’t help us. But it’s part of the game and on the Felgueiras stage today, which hadn’t been used for many years, we were second fastest both times.”

Teemu Suninen (2nd WRC2)

“Finishing second in WRC2 is a really good result and it’s the same as the rally, which was also really good. I had a few struggles today, including a spin on the first stage this morning. But I was able to bring the car home to the finish and I could also show a good performance with the car and we can be happy with this. We can now focus on our next event in Sardinia when we will get the opportunity to drive the EcoBoost-powered Ford Fiesta WRC. It’s an event I know and like and I can’t wait to get there and get started.”

Tom Kristensson (9th WRC2)

“We had a tough rally, but it’s been a good final day with nice stages that were enjoyable to drive. The main target was to get to the finish, get the kilometres and get some confidence. For sure I need to find more confidence, but I’m enjoying driving the car and the team and the journey we are doing. We’ll start over fresh on our next event and keep making progress.”

 

Warren’s Thoughts

Looking at the performances at Toyota, Elfyn and Scott’s drive to victory was very well judged. they maintained good pace to stay close to the leader throughout Friday and Saturday and this gave them the lead when Ott and Martin had their problem on Saturday. They then laid down a real marker on Sunday’s first stage when they doubled their lead. It was a very good drive from the pairing. Seb and Adrien did a very impressive job as well, as we’ve come to expect from them. They did what they could on Friday and were quick when they had the opportunity, and picked up the positions when others had their problems. They continue to lead the title race. Takamoto and Dan drove to their best ever result of fourth overall and changed positions with their teammates a number of times throughout Saturday. Finally, Kalle and Jonne were having a good event and it was a shame that they suffered this technical problem that took them out of the running for a top ten finish. Still, they learnt a lot, and this has to bode well for the future.

 

At Hyundai it was a rally that got away from them. Thierry and Martijn were in a strong position, setting some great times, feeling confident out there but it all went wrong with one wrong pace note and that was it for their victory hopes. However, Ott and Martin were there to pick up the pieces and were driving well, building a big lead on Saturday morning, only for the suspension to break on them and that then put them out of the lead. A big shame for the 2019 champions. However, Dani and his new co-driver Borja had a great event, taking stage wins and scoring a very good result for themselves and the team. Finally, Oliver and Aaron took their debut on gravel in the WRC2 category and set some fantastic times and would have scored a well-deserved podium in the category were it not for a spin and getting beached on the edge of the road.

 

At M-Sport we saw a superb drive from Gus and Chris, with the paring scoring a brilliant fifth overall, but more than that setting a couple of very good top two fastest times. Were it not for the puncture and technical problems they would have been battling with Takamoto for fourth overall and that would have been an incredible result. It was a very good drive, and bodes well for the rest of the season. Their French teammates Adrien and Renaud also had a great debut on gravel with a full WRC car. Just like Gus, they had their problems but they stayed focused and came through for a well-deserved top six finish.

Final mention goes to Chris and Ross for their excellent drive to a WRC3 podium in their Rally Warrior run Skoda Fabia. They also finished in the top 15 which is an excellent result. The duo took a number on stage wins in the category, and they will be looking forward to their next rally.

Here’s a look at the championship standings for drivers and teams.

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

1 S. Ogier 79
2 E. Evans 77
3 T. Neuville 57
4 O. Tänak 45
5 K. Rovanperä 41
6 T. Katsuta 36
7 D. Sordo 29
8 C. Breen 24
9 G. Greensmith 22
10 A. Fourmaux 20

 

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

1 Toyota Gazoo Racing World Rally Team 183
2 Hyundai Shell Mobis World Rally Team 146
3 M-Sport Ford World Rally Team 64
4 Hyundai 2C Competition 28
2021 FIA World Rally Championship / Round 04 / Rally Portugal / 20th-23rd May, 20211 // Worldwide Copyright: Toyota Gazoo Racing WRT

 

Next rally is in only 8 days’ time as the teams move to the island of Sardegna for Rally Italia which is running from the 3rd to the 6th of June. Pop back soon for the preview for that event.