Acropolis Rally 2021, Rally of Gods – My thoughts

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

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

Toyota Gazoo Racing WRT

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

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

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

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

 

Hyundai Motorsport

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

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

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

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

 

M-Sport Ford WRT

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

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

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

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

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

Acropolis Rally Sunday Review – Rally of Gods. Day Three

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

Final Overall Classification – Acropolis Rally

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

 

Let’s hear from the drivers then.

Toyota Gazoo Racing WRT

Kalle Rovanperä (1st)

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

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

Sébastien Ogier (3rd)

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

Elfyn Evans (6th)

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

Hyundai Motorsport

Ott Tänak (2nd)

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

Dani Sordo (4th)

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

Thierry Neuville (8th)

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

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

M-Sport Ford WRT

Gus Greensmith (5th)

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

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

Adrien Fourmaux (7th)

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

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

Jourdan Serderidis (10th)

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

Nikolay Gryazin (3rd, WRC2)

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

Acropolis Rally Saturday Review – Rally of Gods Report Day Two

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Classification after Day Two

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

 

Toyota Gazoo Racing

Kalle Rovanperä (1st)

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

Sébastien Ogier (3rd)

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

Elfyn Evans (7th)

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

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

Hyundai Motorsport

Ott Tänak (2nd)

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

Dani Sordo (4th)

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

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

Thierry Neuville (10th)

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

M-Sport Ford WRT

Adrien Fourmaux (5th)

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

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

Gus Greensmith (6th) said:

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

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

Jourdan Serderidis (9th)

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

Nikolay Gryazin (3rd, WRC2)

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

 

Final day

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

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

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

Friday

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

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

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

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

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

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

Classification after Day One

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

 

Let’s hear from the drivers

Toyota Gazoo Racing WRT

Kalle Rovanperä (1st)

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

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

Sébastien Ogier (3rd)

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

Elfyn Evans (16th)

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

Hyundai Motorsport

Ott Tänak (2nd)

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

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

Dani Sordo (4th)

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

Thierry Neuville (18th)

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

M-Sport Ford WRT

Adrien Fourmaux (5th) said:

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

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

Gus Greensmith (6th)

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

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

Jourdan Serderidis (9th)

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

Nikolay Gryazin (3rd, WRC2)

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

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

Acropolis Rally – Rally of the Gods

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

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

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

Jari-Matti Latvala

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

Stage overview

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

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

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

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

Let’s hear from the drivers;

Toyota Gazoo Racing WRT

Sébastien Ogier

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

Elfyn Evans

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

Kalle Rovanperä

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

Hyundai Motorsport

Thierry Neuville

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

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

Ott Tänak

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

Dani Sordo

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

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

Oliver Solberg

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

M-Sport Ford WRT

Gus Greensmith

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

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

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

Adrien Fourmaux

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

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

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

Look ahead

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

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

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

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

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

Friday

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Classification after Day One

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

 

Let’s hear from the drivers

Hyundai Motorsport

Thierry Neuville (1st)

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

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

Craig Breen (2nd)

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

Ott Tänak (3rd)

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

Toyota Gazoo Racing WRT

Kalle Rovanperä (4th)

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

Elfyn Evans (5th)

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

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

Sébastien Ogier (6th)

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

M-Sport Ford WRT

Gus Greensmith (DNF, SuperRally)

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

Adrien Fourmaux (DNF)

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

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

Teemu Suninen (DNF, SuperRally)

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

Tom Kristensson (DNF)

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

Saturday

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Classification after Day Two

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

 

Let’s hear from the drivers

Hyundai Motorsport

Thierry Neuville (1st)

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

Craig Breen (2nd)

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

Ott Tänak (6th)

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

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

Toyota Gazoo Racing WRT

Elfyn Evans (3rd)

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

Kalle Rovanperä (4th)

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

Sébastien Ogier (5th)

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

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

M-Sport Ford WRT

Gus Greensmith (61st)

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

Teemu Suninen (DNF)

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

Sunday

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

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

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

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

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

Final Overall Classification – Ypres Rally Belgium

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

Let’s hear from the drivers then!

Hyundai Motorsport

Thierry Neuville (1st)

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

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

Craig Breen (2nd)

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

Ott Tänak (6th)

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

Jari Huttunen (1st in WRC2)

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

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

Oliver Solberg (DNF)

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

Toyota Gazoo Racing WRT

Kalle Rovanperä (3rd)

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

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

Elfyn Evans (4th)

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

Sébastien Ogier (5th)

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

Takamoto Katsuta (DNF)

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

M-Sport Ford WRT

Gus Greensmith (47th)

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

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

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

 

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

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

 

My Thoughts

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jon Armstrong (1st Junior WRC)

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

 

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