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.

Ypres Rally Belgium 2021 Preview

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Let’s hear from the drivers.

Toyota Gazoo Racing WRT

Sébastien Ogier

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

Elfyn Evans

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

Kalle Rovanperä

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

Hyundai Motorsport

Thierry Neuville

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

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

Ott Tänak

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

Craig Breen

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

Oliver Solberg

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

Jari Huttunen

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

M-Sport Ford WRT

Gus Greensmith

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

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

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

Adrien Fourmaux

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

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

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

Teemu Suninen

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

Tom Kristensson

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

My Thoughts

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

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

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

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

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

Rally Estonia Preview 2021

Rally Estonia Preview 2021

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

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

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

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

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

 

Let’s hear from the drivers.

Toyota Gazoo Racing WRT

Sébastien Ogier

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

Elfyn Evans

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

Kalle Rovanperä

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

Hyundai Motorsport

Thierry Neuville

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

Ott Tänak

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

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

Craig Breen

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

Oliver Solberg

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

Jari Huttunen

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

M-Sport Ford WRT

Gus Greensmith

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

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

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

Teemu Suninen

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

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

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

Adrien Fourmaux

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

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

Tom Kristensson

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

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

Let’s take a look at the stages.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Summary

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

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

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

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

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

Molly Taylor, M-Sport Fiesta Rally3 driver

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

gosia

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Classification after Day One

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

 

Let’s hear from the drivers.

Hyundai Motorsport

Thierry Neuville (1st)

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

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

Ott Tänak (3rd)

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

Dani Sordo (DNF, Super Rally)

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

Oliver Solberg (DNF)

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

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

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

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

Toyota Gazoo Racing WRT

Sébastien Ogier (4th)

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

Kalle Rovanperä (7th)

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

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

Elfyn Evans (DNF, Super Rally)

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

M-Sport Ford WRT

Gus Greensmith (5th)

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

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

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

Adrien Fourmaux (6th)

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

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

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

Saturday

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Classification after Day Two

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

 

Hyundai Motorsport

Thierry Neuville (1st)

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

Ott Tänak (4th)

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

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

Dani Sordo (13th)

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

Toyota Gazoo Racing WRT

Sébastien Ogier (3rd)

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

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

Kalle Rovanperä (7th)

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

Elfyn Evans (12th)

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

M-Sport Ford WRT

Gus Greensmith (5th)

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

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

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

Adrien Fourmaux (6th)

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

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

Sunday

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

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

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

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

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

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

Final Overall Classification – Safari Rally Kenya

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

 

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

 

Toyota Gazoo Racing WRT

Sébastien Ogier (1st)

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

Takamoto Katsuta (2nd)

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

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

Kalle Rovanperä (6th)

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

Elfyn Evans (10th)

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

Hyundai Motorsport

Ott Tänak (3rd)

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

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

Dani Sordo (12th)

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

Thierry Neuville (DNF)

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

M-Sport Ford WRT

Gus Greensmith (4th)

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

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

Adrien Fourmaux (5th)

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

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

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

My Thoughts

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

Safari Rally Kenya 2021 Preview

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Let’s hear from the drivers.

Toyota Gazoo Racing WRT

Sébastien Ogier

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

Elfyn Evans

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

Kalle Rovanperä

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

 

Hyundai Motorsport

Thierry Neuville

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

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

Ott Tänak

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

Dani Sordo

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

Oliver Solberg

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

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

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

 

M-Sport Ford WRT

Adrien Fourmaux

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

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

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

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

Gus Greensmith

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

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

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

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

 

Summary

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Classification after Day One

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

 

Let’s hear from the drivers

Hyundai Motorsport

Ott Tänak (1st)

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

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

Dani Sordo (3nd)

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

Thierry Neuville (DNF)

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

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

Toyota Gazoo Racing WRT

Elfyn Evans (2nd)

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

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

Sébastien Ogier (5th)

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

Kalle Rovanperä (6th)

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

M-Sport Ford WRT

Gus Greensmith (7th)

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

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

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

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

Adrien Fourmaux (8th)

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

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

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

Teemu Suninen (3rd WRC 2)

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

Tom Kristensson (8th WRC 2)

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

 

Saturday

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Classification after Day Two

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

 

Let’s hear from the drivers after day two.

Toyota Gazoo Racing WRT

Elfyn Evans (1st)

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

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

Sébastien Ogier (3rd)

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

Kalle Rovanperä (DNF)

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

Hyundai Motorsport

Dani Sordo (2nd)

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

Ott Tänak (DNF)

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

Thierry Neuville (DNF)

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

M-Sport Ford WRT

Adrien Fourmaux (5th)

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

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

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

Gus Greensmith (6th)

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

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

Teemu Suninen (2nd WRC 2)

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

Tom Kristensson (9th WRC 2)

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

Sunday

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Final Overall Classification – Rally de Portugal

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

 

Let’s hear from the drivers.

Toyota Gazoo Racing WRT

Elfyn Evans (1st)

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

Sébastien Ogier (3rd)

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

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

Takamoto Katsuta (4th)

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

Kalle Rovanperä (22nd)

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

Hyundai Motorsport

Dani Sordo (2nd)

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

Ott Tänak (21st)

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

Thierry Neuville (36th)

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

Oliver Solberg (11th)

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

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

M-Sport Ford WRT

Gus Greensmith (5th)

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

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

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

Adrien Fourmaux (6th)

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

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

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

Teemu Suninen (2nd WRC2)

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

Tom Kristensson (9th WRC2)

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

 

Warren’s Thoughts

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

Rally de Portugal Preview 2021

After missing out on the roads in Portugal last year, round four sees the first of four gravel events in a row and will have a big say in the destination of this season’s crown. When this event last ran in 2019 Ott took a good win from Thierry, whilst Seb was third with Citroen at the time.

FIA World Rally Championship 2019 / Round 07 / Rally Portugal / 30th May – 2nd June, 2019 // Worldwide Copyright: Toyota Gazoo Racing WRC

Now here are the details of the stages.

After shakedown on Thursday, the 2021 Rally de Portugal will open with a ceremonial start in Coimbra.

Friday features two loops of Lousã (12.35km), Góis (19.51km) and Arganil (18.82km), separated by a tyre fitting zone, followed by Mortágua (18.16km) and the Lousada super special (3.36km).

Saturday features over 165km of rally action. Crews will complete two passes of Vieira do Minho (20.64km), Cabeceiras de Basto (22.37km) and Amarante (37.92km) – the longest individual stage of the rally – before the Porto Foz super special (3.30km).

The Sunday comprises five stages: two runs of Felguieras (9.18km) and Fafe (11.18km) with just a single pass of Montim (8.75km).

 

Thursday May 20
Shakedown 4.60km (2.85 miles) 1030
Ceremonial Start Coimbra 2030

Friday May 21
SS1 Lousã 1 12.35 kilometres (7.67 miles) 0808
SS2 Góis 1 19.51 kilometres (12.12 miles) 0908
SS3 Arganil 1 18.82 kilometres (11.69 miles) 1008
Regroup Arganil 1043
SS4 Lousã 2 12.35 kilometres (7.67 miles) 1231
SS5 Góis 2 19.51 kilometres (12.12 miles) 1331
SS6 Arganil 2 18.82 kilometres (11.69 miles) 1438
SS7 Mortágua 18.16 kilometres (11.28 miles) 1605
SS8 Lousada SSS 3.36 kilometres (2.08 miles) 1903
Service Exponor 1950

Saturday May 22
SS9 Vieira do Minho 1 20.64 kilometres (12.82 miles) 0808
SS10 Cabeceiras de Basto 1 22.37 kilometres (13.90 miles) 0908
SS11 Amarante 1 37.92 kilometres (23.56 miles) 1024
Service Exponor 1205
SS12 Vieira do Minho 2 20.64 kilometres (12.82 miles) 1438
SS13 Cabeceiras de Basto 2 22.37 kilometres (13.90miles) 1538
SS14 Amarante 2 37.92 kilometres (23.56 miles) 1654
SS15 Porto-Foz SSS 3.30 kilometres (2.05 miles) 1903
Service Exponor 1923

Sunday May 23
SS16 Felgueiras 1 9.18 kilometres (5.70 miles) 0708
SS17 Montim 8.75 kilometres (5.43 miles) 0753
SS18 Fafe 1 11.18 kilometres (6.94 miles) 0838
SS19 Felgueiras 2 9.18 kilometres (5.70 miles) 1004
Fafe Regroup 1033
SS20 Fafe 2 11.18 kilometres (6.94 miles) 1218
Finish Matosinhos 1420

Let’s hear from the drivers.

FIA World Rally Championship 2019 / Round 07 / Rally Portugal / 30th May – 2nd June, 2019 // Worldwide Copyright: Toyota Gazoo Racing WRC

Toyota Gazoo Racing WRT

Sébastien Ogier

“It’s great to be going back to Portugal. It’s one of the most special rallies for me personally: It was where I achieved my first WRC victory in 2010, and we have had several wins since then as well. Portugal is also a country where there is a huge passion for motorsport and especially rallying, and we always have fantastic support there. This time, we know we will probably have to face tough conditions opening the road, but Portugal is a place where we can have rain at this time of year, and that is always what you hope for in this situation. We actually had pretty wet conditions during my pre-event test day. It means I haven’t yet driven the new Pirelli gravel tyres so much in dry conditions, and we know that being clever with the tyre choice and managing them as well as possible is going to be an important part of this rally.”

Elfyn Evans

“Portugal is always a nice event and I’m looking forward to going back there for the first gravel rally of the year. We have had four very different events to start the season and almost four different surfaces to contend with. As on the previous rounds, we will again be getting used to the new tyres in Portugal. Everything felt good in the pre-event test, but one consideration is that we won’t have as many soft tyres to use during the rally as in previous years, and that could affect how we make our tyre choices over the weekend. It’s been quite a while since the last gravel rally in Sardinia last year, so it’s hard to predict how it will go, but we’ll be there to give it our best shot like always.”

Kalle Rovanperä

“After our retirement in Croatia it was nice to be back in the car just a few days later for our pre-event test in Portugal. It actually took some time to get back into the feeling – just because it had been so long since I had last driven on gravel. Overall, though I left with a good feeling from the car and from the new gravel tyres. I am excited to go to Portugal and compete on gravel again. I think it is an event that can suit me quite well, and I enjoyed it last time I was there in 2019 and we won our category. After Croatia, I think my approach will be a bit more sensible, but hopefully we can find a good speed straight away and fight for a good result.”

Hyundai Motorsport

Thierry Neuville

“Rally de Portugal has always been a highlight in the WRC calendar, especially its atmosphere. We usually have hundreds of thousands of spectators on the stages as well as the famous Fafe stage on Sunday. Obviously, this year the situation could be different, but the stages are still looking great. It is going to be challenging and long rally. There is a lot of mileage to do and at the end there will be only one winner, so we have to be on top form to put ourselves in contention for victory.”

2019 FIA World Rally Championship
Round 07 Rally de Portugal
30 may – 02 June 2019
Portrait, Day 2, Thierry Neuville, Nicolas Gilsoul, Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC
Photographer: Fabien Dufour
Worldwide copyright: Hyundai Motorsport GmbH

Ott Tänak

“We have been busy preparing for our first gravel event of the season. Our aim is to bounce back after a tricky and unrepresentative weekend in Croatia. Portugal generally has soft and sandy roads; it can get quite rough on the second loop as the gravel becomes increasingly disturbed as each car passes through. The Fafe stage on Sunday is very specific and demanding, but it is one of the stages we all look forward to. Altogether, it is a tricky event, but we are more than ready to tackle it head-on.”

Dani Sordo

“Portugal is always special for me because it is so close to Spain. I really like the roads and the ambience. In previous years, I have always enjoyed an extra boost from the many spectators lining the stages. It is unlikely to be quite the same this year, due to the circumstances, but I am pleased we have the chance to compete in any case. I am excited to return to Portugal. I like the stages; they have a little bit more grip, although Fafe is quite slippery. We are set for an exciting weekend.”

Ole Christian Veiby

“I’ve always enjoyed Rally de Portugal, it’s both fast and rough, and the atmosphere is normally incredible. I have many good memories from the rally, and I have been quick there before. Winning at Rali Terras d’Aboboreira was a great start for the preparations ahead of Rally de Portugal. It’s been nearly eight months since we last time competed on gravel, so it was good to get some mileage on stages similar to what we will have for the rally. It’s always helpful to get a feeling of the speed, to find the pace. I’m looking forward to compete together with Oliver for the first time – it’s good to finally have him onboard with us!”

Oliver Solberg

“Rally de Portugal will be very exciting. It’s a really cool event, one I’ve always dreamed about doing. It’s a classic and a big part of the history of WRC. It has many famous stages and the Fafe jump is very special. It’s fantastic that we might have some spectators back and get some proper emotions and atmosphere on the stages. It will be my first time with the Hyundai i20 R5 on gravel as well as our first event for WRC 2, which will hopefully be a lot of fun.”

“Being in the WRC2 race is something else which is cool for this event. I watched the fight on the last few events and it’s really close with some incredible drivers in there. Like I said, it’s my first time driving the Hyundai i20 R5 on gravel, so let’s see what we can do.

M-Sport Ford WRT

Gus Greensmith

“When I look at this rally, I think more to how I enjoy being behind the wheel rather than how tough the rally actually is. It’s pretty cool to come to a country that loves rallying so much and it’s the event of the season that I look forward to the most because of this.

“It’s the first event I’ve done before in a WRC car so it’s the first event I can draw experience from. You want a car that can generate the grip and find the traction on the first pass, which tends to be quite loose, but then also has the stability on the second pass when the base of the road becomes quite hard and rough.

“I always set myself targets and a top five is realistic. We would have finished fifth in Croatia until the unfortunate technical issue meant we lost time. But it was a good step forward and I want to make the same step again in Portugal, particularly following the co-driver change, which was a positive from Croatia. But to achieve a top five at this level everything has to be done right and I can’t be making any mistakes, so that’s the focus.”

Adrien Fourmaux  

“I’m just really happy and really excited to start, like I have been since Rich told me I would be doing this rally. I was here as a spectator in 2019 but this will be my first time competing on this rally and I know it will be a big challenge. But I hope to have a good pace and enjoy all the week, like I did in Croatia.

“I have no big expectations, it’s the same goal as Croatia. The top six or top seven with good pace on some stages and some top-five times would be a good result for me. I am quite confident for this, but I am still learning. My favourite surface is gravel and I have done some good rallies on gravel, including Rally GB in 2019 when I finished second in WRC2.

“For my preparation I have been watching a lot of videos from the last few years on WRC Plus. It looks quite rough in some places with a lot of rocks on the road for the second pass. The first pass looks sandy on some stages, really soft gravel. But everything looks amazing and I’m sure it’s going to be a really nice rally. And, of course, the jump of Fafe is one of the most famous jumps of the season for sure.”

Teemu Suninen

“It’s quite a tricky rally and on the rough side. If it’s really warm and we are running further back on the starting list, we might see quite a lot of aggressive bedrock, which is hard for the tyres and something we have to manage. Still, it’s not too rough for the cars, so basically, we have to go flat out but keeping in mind the tyres.

“My memories of Portugal are good. I started my first world championship rally not in Finland in Portugal and it’s always been one of my favourite rallies, where I have some good results.

“If we have good pace I am going to go for the win if there is any chance. The main thing is to bring good results for the car and try to get more podiums for the team and for me. WRC2 is very competitive this season with a lot of good drivers and I am really looking forward to the challenge. I can beat these drivers and have beaten them, but everything is possible. We just need to have really, really good rally to get a podium.”

 

Summary

We are set then for a very challenging rally, with the top drivers in the world. Road position will be key to the chances of the likely winner, which means that we need to look at Hyundai teammates Thierry and Ott as possible winners given their positions in the standings. Thierry will want to be comfortable in his i20 so that he can express the speed that we know that he has. If Ott can also get the car to how he wants it, then he will also be on the pace, and we know what that means. Both have their new contracts with the team, which gives them stability for the future.

At Toyota, Elfyn will hope that his position in the championship standings will give him the opportunity to push for a podium finish and perhaps even victory. Although Seb will be opening the road, he’ll have an eye on a good finishing position in the points and power stage points on Sunday. Kalle will want to get a finish after his early exit in Croatia last time out.

The two youngsters at M-Sport will be looking to gain good experience for the future. They will want to show good pace when they are comfortable, and it will be interesting to see which of them comes out ahead, whilst Teemu will be competing in the WRC2 category and biding his time till he gets to compete at the top level again.

Elsewhere there are other drivers competing, with Chris Ingram continuing his WRC3 program with Rally Warrior, and Esapekka Lappi also competing in a Skoda Fabia WRC2. Well worth keeping an eye out for their progress.

 

You can follow all the live action on WRC Plus and pop back for my full stage by stage review in the week following the event for anything that you might miss. Enjoy!

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

Classification after Day One

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

 

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

Hyundai Motorsport

Ott Tänak (1st)

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

Craig Breen (2nd)

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

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

Thierry Neuville (4th)

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

 

Toyota Gazoo Racing WRT

Kalle Rovanperä (3rd)

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

Elfyn Evans (5th)

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

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

Sébastien Ogier (9th)

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

 

M-Sport Ford WRT

Teemu Suninen (6th)

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

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

Gus Greensmith (10th)

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

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

Saturday

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Classification after Day Two

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

 

Hyundai Motorsport

Ott Tänak (1st)

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

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

Thierry Neuville (3rd)

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

Craig Breen (4th)

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

 

Toyota Gazoo Racing WRT

Kalle Rovanperä (2nd)

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

Elfyn Evans (5th)

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

Sébastien Ogier (22nd)

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

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

M-Sport Ford WRT

Teemu Suninen (8th)

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

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

Gus Greensmith (9th)

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

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

 

Sunday

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

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

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

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

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

Final Overall Classification – Arctic Rally Finland

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

 

Let’s hear from the drivers!

Hyundai Motorsport

Ott Tänak (1st)

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

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

Thierry Neuville (3rd)

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

Craig Breen (4th)

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

Oliver Solberg (7th)

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

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

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

 

Toyota Gazoo Racing WRT

Kalle Rovanperä (2nd)

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

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

Elfyn Evans (5th)

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

Takamoto Katsuta (6th)

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

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

Sébastien Ogier (20th)

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

 

M-Sport WRT

Teemu Suninen (8th)

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

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

Gus Greensmith (9th)

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

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

 

Warren’s Thoughts

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

Arctic Rally Finland 2021 Preview

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

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

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

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

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

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

251.08: Competitive distance in kilometres

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

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

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

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

 

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

Let’s hear from the drivers.

Toyota Gazoo Racing WRT

Sébastien Ogier (Driver car 1)

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

Elfyn Evans (Driver car 33)

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

Kalle Rovanperä (Driver car 69)

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

Hyundai Motorsport

Thierry Neuville (Car number 11)

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

Ott Tänak (Car number 8)

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

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

Craig Breen (Car number 42)

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

M-Sport Ford WRT

Teemu Suninen (Car number 3)

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

Gus Greensmith (Car number 44)

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

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

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

Other key competitors

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

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

Oliver Solberg (Car number 2) 2C Compétition

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

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

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

 

Summary

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

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

Enjoy!