Acropolis Rally 2021, Rally of Gods – My thoughts

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

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

Toyota Gazoo Racing WRT

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

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

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

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

 

Hyundai Motorsport

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

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

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

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

 

M-Sport Ford WRT

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

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

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

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

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

Acropolis Rally Sunday Review – Rally of Gods. Day Three

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

Final Overall Classification – Acropolis Rally

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

 

Let’s hear from the drivers then.

Toyota Gazoo Racing WRT

Kalle Rovanperä (1st)

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

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

Sébastien Ogier (3rd)

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

Elfyn Evans (6th)

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

Hyundai Motorsport

Ott Tänak (2nd)

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

Dani Sordo (4th)

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

Thierry Neuville (8th)

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

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

M-Sport Ford WRT

Gus Greensmith (5th)

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

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

Adrien Fourmaux (7th)

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

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

Jourdan Serderidis (10th)

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

Nikolay Gryazin (3rd, WRC2)

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

Acropolis Rally Saturday Review – Rally of Gods Report Day Two

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Classification after Day Two

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

 

Toyota Gazoo Racing

Kalle Rovanperä (1st)

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

Sébastien Ogier (3rd)

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

Elfyn Evans (7th)

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

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

Hyundai Motorsport

Ott Tänak (2nd)

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

Dani Sordo (4th)

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

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

Thierry Neuville (10th)

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

M-Sport Ford WRT

Adrien Fourmaux (5th)

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

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

Gus Greensmith (6th) said:

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

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

Jourdan Serderidis (9th)

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

Nikolay Gryazin (3rd, WRC2)

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

 

Final day

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

Acropolis Rally – Rally of the Gods

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

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

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

Jari-Matti Latvala

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

Stage overview

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

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

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

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

Let’s hear from the drivers;

Toyota Gazoo Racing WRT

Sébastien Ogier

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

Elfyn Evans

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

Kalle Rovanperä

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

Hyundai Motorsport

Thierry Neuville

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

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

Ott Tänak

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

Dani Sordo

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

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

Oliver Solberg

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

M-Sport Ford WRT

Gus Greensmith

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

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

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

Adrien Fourmaux

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

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

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

Look ahead

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

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

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

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

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

Friday

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Classification after Day One

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

 

Let’s hear from the drivers

Hyundai Motorsport

Thierry Neuville (1st)

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

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

Craig Breen (2nd)

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

Ott Tänak (3rd)

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

Toyota Gazoo Racing WRT

Kalle Rovanperä (4th)

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

Elfyn Evans (5th)

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

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

Sébastien Ogier (6th)

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

M-Sport Ford WRT

Gus Greensmith (DNF, SuperRally)

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

Adrien Fourmaux (DNF)

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

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

Teemu Suninen (DNF, SuperRally)

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

Tom Kristensson (DNF)

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

Saturday

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Classification after Day Two

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

 

Let’s hear from the drivers

Hyundai Motorsport

Thierry Neuville (1st)

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

Craig Breen (2nd)

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

Ott Tänak (6th)

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

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

Toyota Gazoo Racing WRT

Elfyn Evans (3rd)

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

Kalle Rovanperä (4th)

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

Sébastien Ogier (5th)

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

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

M-Sport Ford WRT

Gus Greensmith (61st)

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

Teemu Suninen (DNF)

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

Sunday

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

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

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

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

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

Final Overall Classification – Ypres Rally Belgium

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

Let’s hear from the drivers then!

Hyundai Motorsport

Thierry Neuville (1st)

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

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

Craig Breen (2nd)

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

Ott Tänak (6th)

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

Jari Huttunen (1st in WRC2)

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

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

Oliver Solberg (DNF)

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

Toyota Gazoo Racing WRT

Kalle Rovanperä (3rd)

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

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

Elfyn Evans (4th)

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

Sébastien Ogier (5th)

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

Takamoto Katsuta (DNF)

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

M-Sport Ford WRT

Gus Greensmith (47th)

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

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

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

 

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

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

 

My Thoughts

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jon Armstrong (1st Junior WRC)

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

 

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

Ypres Rally Belgium 2021 Preview

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Let’s hear from the drivers.

Toyota Gazoo Racing WRT

Sébastien Ogier

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

Elfyn Evans

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

Kalle Rovanperä

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

Hyundai Motorsport

Thierry Neuville

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

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

Ott Tänak

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

Craig Breen

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

Oliver Solberg

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

Jari Huttunen

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

M-Sport Ford WRT

Gus Greensmith

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

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

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

Adrien Fourmaux

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

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

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

Teemu Suninen

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

Tom Kristensson

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

My Thoughts

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

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

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

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

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

Rally Estonia Review 2021 – Kalle and Jonne take their maiden win!

Thursday’s evening stage, SS1 Visit Estonia Tartu 1 – 1.64 km, the typically short stage to start most European event, was won by Kalle, with Craig and Teemu second and third fastest. Championship contenders, Seb and Elfyn were 10th and 19th fastest respectively but only a few seconds from the leader.

Friday

Coming into the first full day of competition, the start list looked like this – Ogier, Evans, Neuville, Tänak, Katsuta, Rovanperä, Greensmith, Breen, Suninen, Loubet.

SS2 Arula 1 – 12.68 km saw Ott take the stage win and move into the lead as expected really. His teammate, Craig was just 1 second or so from Ott’s time and this moved him into second overall, whilst Kalle who was third, dropped from the lead to third. A fun aspect of this stage was that there was a section of snow laid alongside a section of the stage which saw two cross-country skiers racing from one end to the other in the same direction as the cars as they came through from a left-hander!

The was a change in the lead though at the end of SS3 Otepää 1 – 17.05 km. Craig was equal fastest with Kalle with Seb third fastest. Craig was now the leader from Kalle and Thierry. Two drivers dropped down the leaderboard and for different reasons. Elfyn made an error, going straight on at a junction when he should have gone right, but at least his car was undamaged. It was the Estonian that had the biggest problem though. Ott suffered a puncture on the front and this ripped up the side of the car and even removed one of the headlights. A big shame for him.

Next up was SS4 Kanepi 1 – 16.54 km and Kalle moved into the lead deposing Craig, whilst Takamoto was third fastest and moved into third overall. Elfyn was also quick, going fourth, with Seb fifth fastest. Thierry dropped a couple of places down to fifth after getting a puncture on the left rear with about 7km’s left of the stage. Teemu also suffered a puncture, exactly the same as the Belgian but at least he was able to complete the stage. His teammate, Gus, ground to a halt in the stage. The engine just died. He got the car running again after some time was lost, and then Craig who was next to start the stage came through and was running in Gus’ dust and losing time. Gus pulled out of the stage and this allowed Craig to finish the stage. Unfortunately, Ott and Martin were out though. The home favourites had gone off into a field and sustained two punctures, and with no spares it was game over for them. Also, to retire were Oliver Solberg and Jari Huttunen. Oliver suffered an overheated engine, whilst Jari rolled his i20 Rally2 car. Also, to retire was Takamoto and Dan, after Dan suffered a back injury after a heavy landing during the stage. A really big shame after setting such a good time.

The final stage then of the morning loop, SS5 Kambja 1 – 17.85 km, and the top three was Kalle, Craig and Elfyn. The top five overall was now Kalle, Craig, Seb, Thierry and Elfyn. In the WRC2 category Mads led by just eight tenths of a second over Andreas, with Nikolay in his Polo holding third. Unfortunately, Molly Taylor and Seb Marshall were out, after an accident. What a shame for the pairing in their Fiesta Rally 4.

After the service and lunch break, the rerun of SS6 Arula 2 – 12.68 km was again won by Kalle, who was looking increasingly comfortable, with Craig second fastest, just 1.4 seconds behind and Thierry in third and faster than Seb as the Belgian looked to move onto the final step of the podium positions. Elfyn also seemed to be getting on better, going just seven tenths slower than Seb with the fifth best time. The rain came but didn’t affect things too much. In the WRC2 category, Mads lost 22 seconds and the lead, after getting a puncture and fell from the lead to second place, and was now 15.9 from the leader who was now Andreas.

Into SS7 Otepää 2 – 17.05 km, and it was the young Finn in his Yaris who continued to set the pace, and he increased his lead again over Craig by another 1.7 seconds, whilst Thierry closed the gap some more to Seb, after taking a further 2.4 from the Frenchman with the result that the gap was now under 3 seconds between them.

The following stage, SS8 Kanepi 2 – 16.54 km saw Craig hit back, winning the stage by 1.2 seconds from Kalle and Thierry third again a full 3.4 seconds faster than Seb and with that took third position from the world champion by just half a second! In the WRC2 category, Andreas continued to lead, with Mads going second fastest in the stage and Adrien third. Mads was given a 10 second penalty though, after jumping the start and was now down to third place, with Nikolay now into second place. Just eight seconds covered second to fifth as well. Anything could happen in this battle.

The final stage then of Friday, SS9 Kambja 2 – 17.85 km and our top three was Kalle, Craig and Thierry. There was a change of positions between Teemu and Pierre-Louis, with the Finn passing the Hyundai i20 driver for sixth overall after the Frenchman lost grip in a corner and went off. He completed the stage in road mode after that. There was more drama for Sean Johnston and Alex Kihurani who rolled out in their Citroen C3 Rally2 car after running a little wide in the left-hander just before. They were holding a good position in the category and had just moved into seventh place in the previous stage. The stage was stopped, as their car was blocking the road completely. They were taken to hospital to be checked over as they suffered some cuts and bruises and also some temporary sight loss.

Classification after Day One

1 K. Rovanperä J. Halttunen Toyota Yaris WRC 1:06:54.4
2 C. Breen P. Nagle Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC +8.5
3 T. Neuville M. Wydaeghe Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC +53.4
4 S. Ogier J. Ingrassia Toyota Yaris WRC +59.4
5 E. Evans S. Martin Toyota Yaris WRC +1:15.1
6 T. Suninen M. Markkula Ford Fiesta WRC +3:14.9
7 P.L Loubet F.Haut-Labourdette Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC +3:21.5

 

Let’s hear from the drivers then.

Toyota Gazoo Racing WRT

Kalle Rovanperä (1st)

“It has been a really nice day today. We were pushing really hard all the time and almost always on the limit. I did start a bit more carefully in the first stage this morning, and then I tried to clean up the driving and be fast all the time. It’s been a nice battle; I’m really enjoying it. The gap is really small still and I’m sure that tomorrow will be another big fight. Generally, the feeling is good, and I hope we can do something with the setup to find more grip for the second pass than we had this afternoon.”

Sébastien Ogier (4th)

“I am extremely happy with my day today. I have been on the limit; the car was working well and no mistakes. I couldn’t really have expected better from this day. There was very loose gravel so being where we are tonight, only six seconds off the podium, is really good. I’ve enjoyed the day. Now we have to carry on with the same rhythm tomorrow. It will be challenging with new stages and some different characteristics, so it won’t be easy, but let’s see what we can do with a much better road position.”

2021 FIA World Rally Championship / Round 07 / Rally Estonia / 15-18 July, 2021 // Worldwide Copyright: Toyota Gazoo Racing WRT

Elfyn Evans (5th)

“It’s not been the day we wanted. This morning I made a couple of clumsy mistakes in the second stage and gave away quite a lot of time, and in this rally, you can’t really afford to do that. Apart of that, it’s been going OK but I haven’t been fully at one with everything. The car has the pace to do it but it’s just not quite clicking for me at the moment. We’ll make some minor changes tonight to try and find some more confidence, and I’m looking forward to a new challenge tomorrow.”

Hyundai Motorsport

Craig Breen (2nd)

“I am very happy with what we’ve achieved today. It’s been a really nice day and we are definitely in the mix. Paul has been awesome in the co-driver’s seat and the car has been amazing all day. The feeling of driving these cars on roads like this is something very special, and even more so this year because the second pass stood up really well. I’ve had a good ding-dong with Kalle all day, it’s a nice fight. It still doesn’t quite feel like home, certainly when you consider these guys are in the WRC cars each event, whereas I am more used to driving the R5. But we have finished today well, and we’ll try to carry this good rhythm into Saturday, with the first two stages completely new.”

Thierry Neuville (3rd)

“With the exception of our puncture in the morning loop, everything was working fine today. We had a good rhythm and could achieve what we set out to. Our target was to catch Sébastien and to increase the gap over him by the end of the day. Of course, we had a small advantage with our road position but it’s definitely going to be a tough fight all weekend. We know the target is to maintain the provisional podium position, to keep the car on the road, and to secure a good result for the team.”

Ott Tänak (DNF, SuperRally)

“Unfortunately, we were forced to retire from the rally today after we picked up two punctures in the Kanepi stage. We already had one in the previous run, which cost us time and positions but from the beginning of SS4 I went wide in a corner and, basically, I went into the field. During that I knocked off two tyres, and with no spares it was not possible to continue. The team will prepare the car for us to continue tomorrow.”

2021 FIA World Rally Championship
Round 07, Rally Estonia
15-18 july 2021
Ott Tanak, Martin Jarveoja, Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC
Photographer: Dufour Fabien
Worldwide copyright: Hyundai Motorsport GmbH

M-Sport Ford WRT

Gus Greensmith (DNF, SuperRally)

“We had a very good start to the day with the fifth fastest time, which I was very pleased with because it was a big improvement on where we were last year, so I felt like I was doing a very good job in the car. It was the same going into the second stage of the loop but, unfortunately, we had a failure related to the engine. We managed to nurse it through but eventually we had to retire in the third stage of the loop because it was more than likely going to cause damage to the engine and risk whether we would be able to compete for the rest of the weekend. I’m very disappointed but let’s see what we can do tomorrow.”

Teemu Suninen (6th)

“It was generally and okay day. I did my best, but we had quite a challenging day. Tomorrow we try to do good job with no mistakes.”

Adrien Fourmaux (4th WRC2)

“It has been quite tricky in some places today and I didn’t want to make any mistakes. Okay, it wasn’t the best loop for me this morning but in the afternoon, I found some pace and that’s the main thing. Tomorrow is another long day so it’s good for the experience.”

Tom Kristensson (6th WRC2)

“We had a fantastic day, we developed our driving, we developed the car and the feeling is absolutely amazing. Today was for me to get into the maximum speed and learn the surface, learn the tyre and learn how really fast you can drive in this car on these roads. We had an awesome day, we are in our speed without any mistakes, any moments, no issues with the car and we are very happy and looking forward to continuing the rally tomorrow.”

Saturday

With 132km of action over nine stages, would it be a tricky day for the crews? The start list looked like this – Greensmith, Tänak, Loubet, Suninen, Evans, Ogier, Neuville, Breen, Rovanperä.

Well, what we saw from Kalle was an amazing stage win in SS10 Peipsiääre 1 – 23.53 km. The young Finns started the stage eight and a half seconds ahead of Craig and Paul and emerged with a twenty-two second lead! Ott and Craig were second and third fastest, but what a time from Kalle and Jonne! Further down the leaderboard, Seb closed the gap a little to Thierry in their battle over third place.

Into SS11 Mustvee 1 – 12.28 km, and the top three was Ott, Kalle and Craig, with only three tenths between Ott and Kalle. Elfyn had a much better stage, going fourth fastest and keeping his teammate honest! The WRC2 category Andreas was fastest and continuing to build a lead over Mads. They both held ninth and tenth places in the overall classification as well.

Ott made it two out of two in SS12 Raanitsa 1 – 22.76 km, eclipsing Kalle again, but not by much! Craig fell further back from Kalle by 10 seconds, but was still holding second overall, a good 45 seconds ahead of third placed Thierry. Seb was third fastest and doing what he could to close the gap to Thierry ahead.

Ott also won SS13 Vastsemõisa 1 – 6.70 km from Seb and Craig, whilst rally leader Kalle was fourth fastest. It was a really good stage for WRC2 leader, with Andreas setting the seventh best time beating both Teemu and Gus!

Into the afternoon stages then and the Estonian’s continued their amazing pace, winning SS14 Peipsiääre 2 – 23.53 km from Kalle and Craig. There was a change in the WRC2 category with Adrien getting passed by Marco who now held third place in the category.

Ott also won SS15 Mustvee 2 – 12.28 km from Kalle and Thierry, whilst Craig was sixth fastest and a further 8.7 seconds behind, the gap between Kalle and him now 45.6 seconds! There was some action and position change in the WRC2 category though with Adrien setting a faster time than Marco, with the Frenchman now back into third place.

Into SS16 Raanitsa 2 – 22.76 km and Ott again was fastest from Thierry and Seb. The top two were fourth and fifth in the stage. In the WRC2 category, Marco was fastest from Mads and the Bolivian’s pace brought him back into third place, back ahead of Adrien.

Thierry won SS17 Vastsemõisa 2 – 6.70 km from Ott and Kalle. The Belgians pace meant that the gap widened between him and Seb who still held fourth overall. Mads won the WRC2 category from Marco and Adrien, and the battle between the Bolivian and Frenchman continued with them setting the exact same time through the stage.

The last stage then of Saturday, SS18 TV3 Tartu 2 – 1.64 km and there was some drama for Craig, who hit a large rock in the stage, but made it to the end of the stage. He didn’t stay at the stage end for long and was gone! There was definitely something leaking from his car. Seb, Thierry and Elfyn were the fastest in the stage, and Kalle who was equal third fastest now held a 50 second lead from Craig.

Classification after Day Two

1 K. Rovanperä J. Halttunen Toyota Yaris WRC 2:17:46.8
2 C. Breen P. Nagle Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC +50.7
3 T. Neuville M. Wydaeghe Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC +1:20.9
4 S. Ogier J. Ingrassia Toyota Yaris WRC +1:38.8
5 E. Evans S. Martin Toyota Yaris WRC +2:02.2
6 T. Suninen M. Markkula Ford Fiesta WRC +6:14.3
7 P.L Loubet F. Haut-Labourdette Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC +7:32.5

 

Let’s hear from the drivers.

Toyota Gazoo Racing WRT

Kalle Rovanperä (1st)

“It’s been a really nice day and it feels good to be in this position tonight. We know the first stage this morning was the most difficult stage of the rally, a really technical stage with brand new pacenotes, and we prepared really well for that knowing that we could make some difference. It didn’t feel so good, but it was clean and I was trying to push and the time was really good. After that we could make a gap and then manage it on the second pass, where the conditions were quite rough. There were some tricky places with big ruts but we managed it quite well. Tomorrow is going to be a long day still: In this position we need to be focused all the time to not make any mistakes but still have a good rhythm.”

Sébastien Ogier (4th)

“Yesterday I was really happy with the job I did; today it was not my best day ever. But we are on target because I stayed ahead of Elfyn and he is my nearest rival in the championship. This morning I was too careful and driving a bit too much with my head, but then this afternoon the conditions were very difficult with big ruts in the first two stages. When you want to be fully in control and not take any risk, these are not the conditions you want to have, so I preferred to take it easy. Most importantly we are still there in a good position for the championship and tomorrow we have the chance to get some extra points from the Power Stage.”

Elfyn Evans (5th)

“Today I was still trying to find the sweet spot and I think we continued to make some small steps with the setup during the day, and generally the feeling was better in the afternoon. We haven’t got a lot to show for that in terms of improving our position in the rally, but at least we’re taking some steps in the right direction and that’s a positive with an eye on Rally Finland later in the year. Tomorrow we’ll focus our efforts on the Power Stage and try to come away with some more points.”

2021 FIA World Rally Championship / Round 07 / Rally Estonia / 15-18 July, 2021 // Worldwide Copyright: Toyota Gazoo Racing WRT

Hyundai Motorsport

Craig Breen (2nd)

“We have completed the day relatively unscathed, and I think we can be happy with what we’ve achieved. Given our experience, it was always going to be tough, but we’ve tried to feel more comfortable in the car. It still feels a bit alien at times, and we haven’t been able to let it go full banzai. We have to realistic and happy; it’s been a good weekend so far. The splits on the faster sections have been good, it’s in the narrower parts where we need to gain additional confidence. These things take time and ultimately when you’re rallying with people who have been in the car week-in, week-out, it’s tough.”

Thierry Neuville (3rd)

“It was a positive day for us. We had a good, clean rhythm in the car, always controlling the speed and able to gradually build up our advantage over Ogier. We had a decent run through today’s stages, which included some tricky new tests. We played things sensibly as it’s crucial to stay in the game. Third place overnight is not a bad result, but there is still a day to go. We need to keep clear of mistakes, avoid any issues and try to bring back some good points for the team.”

2021 FIA World Rally Championship
Round 07, Rally Estonia
15-18 july 2021
Thierry Neuville, Martijn Wydaeghe, Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC
Photographer: Dufour Fabien
Worldwide copyright: Hyundai Motorsport GmbH

Ott Tänak (32nd)

“Everything has gone fine today, with no major issues. We might not be in the fight for victory, but we have still had some fun on these stages. We have tried to keep a good rhythm. In the second loop, the stages were quite demanding, but the car was working well, and we had an OK feeling. I kept going as best I could, and we were able to set some good times. If you take it slow, it’s not as interesting. We have also used the day to learn some things.”

M-Sport Ford WRT

Teemu Suninen (6th)

“The morning stages were super-tricky and I overshot one junction and stalled the engine, which cost a few seconds. There was some cleaning and there was always a risk you could break the car or make a mistake. I’ve enjoyed the driving but, honestly, it’s not really been a good day for me. In general, we’ve been lacking in performance so I can’t be satisfied.”

Gus Greensmith (33rd)

“It was tricky opening the road this morning like I knew it would be. But comparing my times against those of my team-mate when I was cleaning the road makes me think I did a pretty good job during the morning stages. We weren’t able to find the precision we had with the rear of the car yesterday during the morning loop, so we worked on getting the feeling back this afternoon. Overall, it’s been a tough day although I’m happy with the job I’ve done even though there’s a lot to improve on. We go again tomorrow and that’s the important thing.”

Adrien Fourmaux (4th WRC2)

“This morning was really interesting and the first two stages were quite technical compared to yesterday although I was happy with my morning loop. We had a spin in the first stage this afternoon, but we worked a lot on the road section with the set-up for the next stage and we were quite happy. I had a puncture on the front-right in the last stage but I don’t know how it happened. It’s a shame to lose time on this type of stage but there is still a long day tomorrow and many things can happen. Our position is not bad and we are going in the right direction.”

Tom Kristensson (5th WRC2)

“I expected a much better start to the day, but the first stage was a tough one, like it was for everybody else. But I focused on my pace and by the third stage I was back into it again. Then we had to stop on the fourth stage after Nikolay Gryazin’s roll. The car has been working perfectly and I have been learning quite a lot. I hate to drive for learning, I want to push for the win, but we just need to accept the situation and keep learning and improving.”

Sunday

The final day then and the crews faced 52km over six stages. The start list looked like this – Tänak, Loubet, Suninen, Evans, Ogier, Greensmith, Neuville, Breen, Rovanperä.

Ott, Thierry and Seb were the top three in SS19 Neeruti 1 – 7.82 km, and there was no movement in the top positions. The overall top two were pretty evenly matched as well. Mads took his C3 Rally2 to seventh in the stage and faster that Gus and Teemu again. These shorter stages some mean that these results sometimes pop up! In the WRC2 category, Adrien moved back into third ahead of Marco and onto the last podium position.

The top three in SS20 Elva 1 – 11.72 km was Ott, Thierry and Kalle. The Hyundai teammates set the exact same time as well. Kalle’s lead was now 54.4 seconds over Craig, and looking in great shape to take his first victory! Marco moved back into third ahead of Adrien in the WRC2 category.

Thierry, Seb and Elfyn were the fastest in SS21 Tartu vald 1 – 6.51 km. Once again, we saw one of the WRC2 cars ahead of a WRC, with Andreas eighth fastest and 1 tenth quicker than Teemu. The positions were all very static up and down the leaderboard.

Into SS22 Neeruti 2 – 7.82 km and Ott was fastest from Thierry and Seb. The gap between Seb and Elfyn widened some more to almost 35 seconds between the teammates. Marco set the best time in the WRC2 category and now the gap between him and Adrien was over six seconds. Mads continued to have brake problems, but was actually quicker than category leader Andreas! Perhaps the lack of brakes was helping!

Just two stages left then and SS23 Elva 2 – 11.72 km and Thierry was fastest from Seb and Ott. However, there was some drama for the Belgian who was given a 10 second penalty for being late to the stage and there would be more drama later too. Our young Finnish leader was controlling his pace out the front. Marco set the best time and this coupled with an off-road excursion for Adrien who went into a field, and just missing a small pond meant the Bolivian was now ahead of the M-Sport young driver by 22 seconds.

The final stage then, SS24 Tartu vald 2 [Power Stage] – 6.51 km and Ott set the pace, flying through and setting the benchmark, with the others coming through after him but not getting that close to his time. Thierry and Seb were the closest going second and third, whilst Elfyn and Kalle rounded out the top five each adding a few points to their championship challenges.

The biggest news though was that Kalle and Jonne has taken their first overall WRC win, and were now the youngest ever rally winners, taking that mantel from Jari-Matti Latvala!

Final Overall Classification – Rally Estonia

1 K. Rovanperä J. Halttunen Toyota Yaris WRC 2:51:29.1
2 C. Breen P. Nagle Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC +59.9
3 T. Neuville M. Wydaeghe Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC +1:12.4
4 S. Ogier J. Ingrassia Toyota Yaris WRC +1:24.0
5 E. Evans S. Martin Toyota Yaris WRC +2:07.1
6 T. Suninen M. Markkula Ford Fiesta WRC +7:07.3
7 P.L Loubet F. Haut-Labourdette Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC +8:48.3
8 A. Lukyanuk Y. Fedorov Škoda Fabia Evo +10:16.1
9 A. Mikkelsen O. Fløene Škoda Fabia Evo +10:29.9
10 M. Østberg T. Eriksen Citroën C3 R5 +10:46.6

 

2021 FIA World Rally Championship for Drivers’ Standings
After round 7

1 S. Ogier 148
2 E. Evans 111
3 T. Neuville 96
4 K. Rovanperä 82
5 O. Tänak 74
6 T. Katsuta 66
7 C. Breen 42
8 G. Greensmith 34
9 D. Sordo 31
10 A. Fourmaux 30
11 T. Suninen 17

 

2021 FIA World Rally Championship for Manufacturers’ Standings
After round 7

1 Toyota Gazoo Racing World Rally Team 315
2 Hyundai Shell Mobis World Rally Team 256
3 M-Sport Ford World Rally Team 125
4 Hyundai 2C Competition 36

 

Let’s hear from the drivers then!

Toyota Gazoo Racing WRT

Kalle Rovanperä (1st)

“It feels really good to take the win. We’ve been aiming for this, and I have to say a big thanks to the team. Even though this year has been difficult for me, they have been supporting me so well and the feeling inside the car and the team has been really good. It’s really nice to have this record as the youngest winner also. Jari-Matti told me that he wanted it to be me who would take it, so that means something to me; it’s really nice. Today I had a surprisingly good feeling, I didn’t feel so much pressure and I could drive normally, still with good pace. For sure, this result should help a lot now: When you can get a win, it helps to release a bit of the feeling and the pressure.”

2021 FIA World Rally Championship / Round 07 / Rally Estonia / 15-18 July, 2021 // Worldwide Copyright: Toyota Gazoo Racing WRT

Sébastien Ogier (4th)

“Today it was mostly full focus for the Power Stage, but in the end the conditions were really horrible in that stage. With huge ruts, it was not a stage to drive hard, it was just about surviving and trying to finish, but we still tried to get some extra points, which at least we managed. Overall, this weekend has been a positive step for the championship. Coming here first on the road we knew it would be difficult. We had a very strong Friday, then didn’t manage to turn that into a better result, but still, the most important thing is the points we took. I’m really happy for Kalle and Jonne taking their first win, so congratulations to them and the whole team.”

Elfyn Evans (5th)

“It’s been a difficult weekend overall for us. Today we tried to focus on the Power Stage and did what we could there, but unfortunately it wasn’t really the performance we wanted. It’s not been what we hoped or expected this weekend. I didn’t really gel with it from the start and I never found my rhythm. Obviously, that’s something we have to put right for the next events. But I’m very happy to see Kalle and Jonne get the win here, it’s very well deserved.”

Hyundai Motorsport

Craig Breen (2nd)

“I am quite happy with how the weekend has gone, and I am satisfied with our performance. We have carried good speed throughout the stages. OK, it’s not been enough to match Kalle, but we were able to consolidate our second place and brought it home to the end. I’ve enjoyed myself immensely from start to finish. All I need is a bit more time to go that extra one or two percent that I know we have within us.”

2021 FIA World Rally Championship
Round 07, Rally Estonia
15-18 july 2021
Craig Breen, Paul Nagle, Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC
Photographer: Dufour Fabien
Worldwide copyright: Hyundai Motorsport GmbH

Thierry Neuville (3rd)

“It has been a long weekend with 24 challenging stages – and a tough event for us. Our main target coming here was to keep our closest rivals, Sébastien and Elfyn, behind and we were able to achieve that. Obviously, it has not been enough to catch back the points gap, but we have edged a bit closer. From a team perspective, getting two cars on the podium is a positive to take away, and I can now look ahead to Ypres Rally Belgium, my home rally.”

Ott Tänak (31st)

“When you are not fighting for anything, it’s difficult to have the same focus as you usually would, so we have just concentrated on getting to the end of this rally. We were lacking time in the car because of our early retirement on Friday, but gradually we have made improvements over the past two days. We have been looking to learn some things, and I think if you look at the fact that we have taken some stage wins today – early on the road – I think we have found something. All in all, not the weekend we wanted but I have to say we’ve had some great support from the fans and we have had some new stages which have been interesting and at times demanding. We keep fighting.”

M-Sport Ford WRT

Teemu Suninen (6th)

“The first stage this morning was quite tricky with the grip level changing a lot. Sometimes it felt like you were on Tarmac because the grip was so high, but sometimes it was super-slippery so I was glad to finish. I had a moment on SS22 when the car just jumped from the ruts to the inside but nothing serious happened. Then on the last stage, I was struggling on the ruts and somehow, I got to the inside of the ruts on a right-hand corner and had to go back. But we were able to finish after a difficult weekend.”

Gus Greensmith (32nd)

“After the test I was pretty optimistic that we could achieve something good this weekend and after the first stage on Friday we showed that we could. It was a shame what happened with the engine-related issue but since then it’s been a good learning opportunity. I wasn’t happy with my time on SS20 so I made a few changes and I was a lot happier for the second pass. But I just want to say a big thank you to all the guys and girls at M-Sport who have been to Kenya and haven’t been home, haven’t seen their loved ones in all that time. It’s been a massive effort from them and I’m really grateful for what they’ve done.”

Adrien Fourmaux (4th WRC2)

“It was a really nice experience for us all weekend and I must say thanks to M-Sport. The car has been really good and I’ve been enjoying it all the time. I wanted to bring a better result for the team, at least a podium. We missed it but it was a really nice fight with the two other guys but we can be happy and it was a really good experience.”

Tom Kristensson (5th WRC2)

“It was a challenge to take care of the car with the changes of surface and conditions we encountered. For sure we wanted to push more but it was important to bring the car home safe and sound, we’ve adapted well and we’ve taken the mileage. Now we can analyse the work we’ve done and look to the work we will have to do in the future.”

My Thoughts

What a drive from Kalle and Jonne. They took the lead on stage four and never looked like they would lose it at any point. Then came the first stage on Saturday morning, stage 10 when they added 14 seconds to their lead over Craig. It was a brilliant time and really cemented their grip on the lead. The gap just continued to grow after that and they utterly deserved to take victory.

2021 FIA World Rally Championship / Round 07 / Rally Estonia / 15-18 July, 2021 // Worldwide Copyright: Toyota Gazoo Racing WRT

Let’s talk about Craig and Paul next. This was their first time in the i20 on gravel since the same rally last September when they took second behind Ott. That’s ten months ago. They also showed great pace and led the rally as well and the only thing holding them back was the lack of seat time in the car and on this kind of surface. It was a brilliant drive and one that shows that they deserve a full-time seat in the championship.

Thierry and Martijn took their road position and also some very good reliability with their i20 to a strong podium finish and beat the two crews that are ahead of them in the championship. It was a good drive from them to yet another podium this year and keeping the Toyota crews on their toes.

Seb and Julien opened the road on Friday and this held back their chances of a podium but they did well to take some stage wins and also crucially finished ahead of their closest challengers, Elfyn and Scott, and increased their lead as well.

Ott and Martin could have so much more from this event, but after going off and sustaining two punctures on Friday morning the challenge for the win was over. When they returned, we saw the amazing pace that we know that they can deliver, and it would have been an incredible battle between them and the Finns. Definitely one that got away from them and I suspect that this result will mean their championship challenge is over for this year.

At M-Sport, Gus and Chris were going really well, before suffering car problems early in the event. They returned on Saturday and drove well to complete the event and gain some very good experience for the future. Teemu and Markko drove well, getting to the finish as well, and scoring a good sixth place overall.

A mention for Takamoto and Dan. After setting a really good pace, particularly in stage three, but then after landing heavily in the stage and then Dan suffering a back injury, they had to pull out. At least he has the summer break to recover from this, which is a good thing.

Finally, a mention for the WRC2 category which saw Andreas and Ola take a good win from Mads and Torstein who suffered some big problems throughout with tyres and brakes, whilst Marco and David drove a quick and consistent rally to finish on the podium for the category.

Next

We now have the summer break for the championship and the next event will be Ypres Rally in Belgium, taking place from the 13th to the 15th of August, a fully tarmac event. Pop back in the day’s before for my preview.

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!