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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Classification after Day Two

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

 

Let’s hear from the drivers

Toyota Gazoo Racing WRT

Elfyn Evans (1st)

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

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

Sébastien Ogier (5th)

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

Kalle Rovanperä (38th)

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

Hyundai Motorsport

Ott Tänak (2nd)

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

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

Craig Breen (3rd)

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

Thierry Neuville (DNF)

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

Oliver Solberg (DNF)

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

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

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

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

Sunday

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

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 – 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.

Ypres Rally Belgium 2021 Preview

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Let’s hear from the drivers.

Toyota Gazoo Racing WRT

Sébastien Ogier

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

Elfyn Evans

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

Kalle Rovanperä

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

Hyundai Motorsport

Thierry Neuville

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

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

Ott Tänak

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

Craig Breen

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

Oliver Solberg

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

Jari Huttunen

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

M-Sport Ford WRT

Gus Greensmith

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

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

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

Adrien Fourmaux

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

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

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

Teemu Suninen

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

Tom Kristensson

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

My Thoughts

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

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

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

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

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

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.

 

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

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

 

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

 

Friday

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Classification after Day One

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

 

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

 

Hyundai Motorsport

Thierry Neuville (1st)

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

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

Ott Tänak (4th)

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

Craig Breen (5th)

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

 

Toyota Gazoo Racing WRT

Sébastien Ogier (2nd)

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

Elfyn Evans (4th)

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

Kalle Rovanperä (DNF)

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

 

M-Sport Ford WRT

Adrien Fourmaux (6th)

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

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

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

Gus Greensmith (7th)

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

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

Teemu Suninen (3rd WRC 2)

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

Tom Kristensson (6th WRC 2)

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

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

 

Saturday

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Classification after Day Two

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

 

 

Let’s hear from the drivers

Toyota Gazoo Racing WRT

Sébastien Ogier (1st)

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

Elfyn Evans (2nd)

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

Hyundai Motorsport

Thierry Neuville (3rd)

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

Ott Tänak (4th)

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

Craig Breen (8th)

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

M-Sport Ford WRT

Adrien Fourmaux (5th)

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

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

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

Gus Greensmith (6th)

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

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

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

Teemu Suninen (2nd WRC 2)

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

Tom Kristensson (DNF)

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

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

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

 

Sunday

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Here’s the final standings.

Final Overall Classification – Croatia Rally

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

 

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

Toyota Gazoo Racing WRT

Sébastien Ogier (1st)

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

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

Elfyn Evans (2nd)

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

Takamoto Katsuta (6th)

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

Hyundai Motorsport

Thierry Neuville (3rd)

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

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

Ott Tänak (4th)

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

Craig Breen (8th)

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

M-Sport Ford WRT

Adrien Fourmaux (5th)

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

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

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

Gus Greensmith (7th)

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

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

Teemu Suninen (2nd WRC 2)

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

Warren’s Thoughts

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

Rally Croatia 2021 Preview – Back to Tarmac!

We come to the third round of this year’s championship with young Finn Kalle Rovanperä leading the title race from Thierry Neuville and Seb Ogier.

This event sees the crews face the challenge of making completely new notes for stages that they have not seen before. They will relish the challenge though, and will be looking forward to the return of competition.

Making their first start in a full Fiesta WRC will be Adrien Fourmaux and Renaud Jamoul. The French-Belgian crew are sharing the second Fiesta WRC with their teammates Teemu and Mikko. It will be interesting to see how they match up with Gus and his new co-driver Chris Patterson.

Also making his debut in the championship are 2019 European Rally Champions Chris Ingram and Ross Whittock with the Rally Warrior/ SXM Competition squad who are running a Skoda Fabia in the WRC3 class for the duo. By the time they make their start, they will have completed two tests as they look to start on the front foot.

There are twenty stages over the three days of the rally – Here’s the full details below.

 

Let’s hear from the drivers!

Toyota Gazoo Racing

Sébastien Ogier

“Croatia will be a new rally and I’m excited to still discover new things in this sport at this point in my career. It has been a long time since we had a full asphalt rally like this one, and the Yaris is a great car to drive on asphalt, so I’m sure it will be fun. From what I’ve seen so far, the roads could be quite challenging, maybe a bit dirty and narrow in places, so I’m sure there will be plenty of action ahead of us. The pre-event test was very important because we have new tyres this season and this was the first chance to drive the slick tyres on dry asphalt. I did a lot of runs, trying all of the different combinations of tyres and trying to be ready to make the best choices during the rally.”

Elfyn Evans

“Croatia is an all-new event so we don’t know exactly what to expect. We’ve been able to study videos of the stages to learn as much as we can, but nothing can substitute actually being there on the recce and seeing the route for real. The stages look quite mixed, with some wide fast parts and some very narrow bumpy parts, and there could be quite a lot of cutting. So it looks like we need to be quite adaptable to the different surfaces and different character of stages that we’ll face. We don’t have masses of experience with this car on dry asphalt or with the Pirelli tyres, so in testing we were trying quite a few different settings. But the feeling in the car was generally positive straight away from the first runs.”

Kalle Rovanperä

“I’m really happy with how the has season has started for me and hopefully we can carry on the same way. I’m not feeling any pressure even though I’m leading the championship: It’s only been two rallies and we have a long season ahead. For sure it’s nice to be in this position but we have to work hard to try to stay in the fight. I’m excited for Croatia: It will be the first time for me on a proper asphalt event with the Yaris, as so far, I’ve only had events with winter conditions like Monza and Monte Carlo. I’m hoping that we can have dry weather like we did on the test. The stages look really nice, but if it’s raining, I think there will be a lot of mud on the road and that will be tricky.”

 

Hyundai Motorsport

Thierry Neuville

“I always look forward to tarmac events. This time it is a new one for everybody; none of us has been previously competed in Croatia. Also, for the teams, we have no experience of these stages. It’s going to be a challenging event but I think everybody likes the fact that it is new. Because it is our first time at Croatia Rally, there is a lot of hard work for us to do as soon as we arrive to ensure we are as prepared as possible.”

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

Ott Tänak

“I have never been to Croatia and I haven’t seen any footage, so currently it’s all new information. Hopefully it will be a proper event; I have heard that the roads should be good fun there. It seems that there will be a few tarmac events in the championship this year, so it is a surface we need to be strong on. We will aim to hit the ground running from the beginning and continue our positive momentum from Finland.”

Craig Breen

“Croatia brings the first tarmac round of the season and a new event for everybody. It’s honestly quite difficult to find any information about the rally, but it looks like it will be an interesting event, hopefully with some nice weather, and some stages in the mountains. I’m definitely really looking forward to my first proper event on tarmac with the Hyundai i20 WRC in the championship. It should be a nice event.”

 

M-Sport Ford WRT

Gus Greensmith

“I’m really looking forward to getting back behind the wheel and with Chris sitting alongside it feels like a completely fresh start to the season. I want to thank Elliott for the time we spent together. He’s a great co-driver and a good friend, but at this point in my career I can only benefit from the experience someone like Chris will bring to the car. It’s all about ironing out those small mistakes, and with his help I believe I can do that.

“We’ve already spent quite a few days together in the workshop and going through the pacenotes, but this weekend’s test will be our first time sitting together in the rally car. It will take some time to get used to one another, but he’s been great to work with so far and I can already see that experience coming to the fore with ideas and suggestions about what we can do to improve.

“Hopefully that will all come together for a strong result next week. I want to deliver a consistent performance with no mistakes, and I see no reason why we won’t be able to do that. We know that the Fiesta is a quick car on Tarmac which automatically gives you that extra bit of confidence, and the new engine will make a positive difference as well.”

Adrien Fourmaux

“I’m really excited to take this next step in my career and want to thank M-Sport and Red Bull for the opportunity; as well as the FFSA and all my partners, family and supporters – because without all of them I wouldn’t be here today!

“This won’t be my first time behind the wheel of the Fiesta WRC as we drove it at Rally Legend last year and also at the pre-event test for Arctic Rally – but this will be my first time driving against the world’s best drivers in the FIA World Rally Championship.

“There will be a lot to learn, but I’m really looking forward to it and will focus on gaining as much knowledge and experience as I can.

“We have a pre-event test this weekend to really get to grips with the car and dial into the Croatian roads which will be completely new to everyone. From what I’ve seen, the stages look really interesting – fast and narrow and quite technical in places. It’s going to be a big challenge, but one that I’m excited to experience.

“I’m looking forward to rallying on pure asphalt again and even more so behind the wheel of this car! I can’t wait to get started and am looking forward to seeing where we are and how we can improve throughout the weekend.”

 

Teemu Suninen

“It’s great to be competing at next week’s Rally Croatia. This event wasn’t on my calendar at the start of the year, and I want to thank Malcolm and Rich for finding a way for me to compete. The more time I get behind the wheel of any rally car the better, and I’m looking forward to experiencing this new event and discovering the Croatian stages.

“Of course, the WRC 2 category is really competitive at the moment and I’ve not driven the Fiesta Rally2 in a really long time – but it’s all good experience and I’m looking forward to the challenge and what I hope will be a really good battle at the head of the field. It will also be good to rediscover a car without centre differential – so that I can be ready for any 2022 testing the team might need in the coming months.”

Tom Kristensson

“I’m really excited to start this next stage of my career. This is such a fantastic opportunity for me and having worked so hard to be here I plan to make the most of every second. It was always my plan to drive my prize Ford Fiesta Rally2 in the FIA World Rally Championship, and to do that as part of M-Sport’s WRC 2 team is really special. There will be a lot to learn, but I’m in the best place to do that and really looking forward to our first event together.

“I want to be as ready as I can be so we’ve been pretty busy over the past couple of weeks with a fairly intense period of practice and preparation. I drove M-Sport Poland’s Ford Fiesta Rally3 at Rallye Sanremo last weekend, and then stayed in Italy for some pacenote practice with my gravel crew. We had also planned to test in Italy but when we got to the test road it was completely full of snow and had to make a quick change! We’re now going to try and test in Slovenia, before heading to Croatia for an official test with the M-Sport team.

“It’s been a busy few weeks, but hopefully all worth it and we’ll be able to make the most of the experience and show good progress throughout the weekend.”

Summary

We are set then for an exciting rally. Who could take the victory then? Well, it’s hard to look past any of the Toyota crews. Both Seb and Elfyn are capable of winning on this surface and Kalle will be quick as well. Could he take his first win? Well, he will be opening the road, and will have potentially the best road conditions for the first runs through Friday’s stages.

It’s fair to say that Ott and Thierry will also be quick as well this weekend, as both have won on tarmac before, and the Belgian took part in Rally Sanremo as part of his preparations for Croatia as he and his new co-driver looked to get more time in competition together. Craig and Paul will also be competing for Hyundai this weekend.

With a young driver line-up at M-Sport, the team are not likely to be challenging for victory, but will be looking to set some good times on the stages as Gus and Adrien continue their development at the top of rallying world.

 

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