Rally Estonia Preview 2021

Rally Estonia Preview 2021

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

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

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

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

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

 

Let’s hear from the drivers.

Toyota Gazoo Racing WRT

Sébastien Ogier

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

Elfyn Evans

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

Kalle Rovanperä

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

Hyundai Motorsport

Thierry Neuville

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

Ott Tänak

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

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

Craig Breen

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

Oliver Solberg

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

Jari Huttunen

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

M-Sport Ford WRT

Gus Greensmith

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

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

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

Teemu Suninen

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

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

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

Adrien Fourmaux

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

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

Tom Kristensson

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

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

Let’s take a look at the stages.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Summary

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

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

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

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

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

Molly Taylor, M-Sport Fiesta Rally3 driver

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

gosia

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Classification after Day One

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

 

Let’s hear from the drivers.

Hyundai Motorsport

Thierry Neuville (1st)

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

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

Ott Tänak (3rd)

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

Dani Sordo (DNF, Super Rally)

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

Oliver Solberg (DNF)

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

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

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

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

Toyota Gazoo Racing WRT

Sébastien Ogier (4th)

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

Kalle Rovanperä (7th)

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

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

Elfyn Evans (DNF, Super Rally)

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

M-Sport Ford WRT

Gus Greensmith (5th)

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

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

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

Adrien Fourmaux (6th)

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

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

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

Saturday

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Classification after Day Two

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

 

Hyundai Motorsport

Thierry Neuville (1st)

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

Ott Tänak (4th)

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

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

Dani Sordo (13th)

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

Toyota Gazoo Racing WRT

Sébastien Ogier (3rd)

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

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

Kalle Rovanperä (7th)

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

Elfyn Evans (12th)

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

M-Sport Ford WRT

Gus Greensmith (5th)

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

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

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

Adrien Fourmaux (6th)

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

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

Sunday

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

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

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

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

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

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

Final Overall Classification – Safari Rally Kenya

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

 

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

 

Toyota Gazoo Racing WRT

Sébastien Ogier (1st)

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

Takamoto Katsuta (2nd)

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

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

Kalle Rovanperä (6th)

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

Elfyn Evans (10th)

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

Hyundai Motorsport

Ott Tänak (3rd)

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

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

Dani Sordo (12th)

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

Thierry Neuville (DNF)

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

M-Sport Ford WRT

Gus Greensmith (4th)

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

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

Adrien Fourmaux (5th)

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

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

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

My Thoughts

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

Safari Rally Kenya 2021 Preview

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Let’s hear from the drivers.

Toyota Gazoo Racing WRT

Sébastien Ogier

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

Elfyn Evans

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

Kalle Rovanperä

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

 

Hyundai Motorsport

Thierry Neuville

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

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

Ott Tänak

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

Dani Sordo

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

Oliver Solberg

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

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

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

 

M-Sport Ford WRT

Adrien Fourmaux

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

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

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

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

Gus Greensmith

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

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

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

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

 

Summary

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rally Italia Sardegna 2021 – Seb and Julien take victory

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

Friday

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Classification after Day One

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

 

Let’s hear from the drivers

Hyundai Motorsport

Ott Tänak (1st)

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

Dani Sordo (2nd)

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

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

Thierry Neuville (5th)

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

Toyota Gazoo Racing WRT

Sébastien Ogier (3rd)

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

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

Elfyn Evans (4th)

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

Kalle Rovanperä (DNF SuperRally)

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

M-Sport Ford WRT

Gus Greensmith (DNF, SuperRally)

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

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

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

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

Teemu Suninen (DNF, SuperRally)

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

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

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

Adrien Fourmaux (DNF, SuperRally)

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

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

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

Saturday

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Classification after Day Two

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

Let’s hear from the drivers

Toyota Gazoo Racing WRT

Sébastien Ogier (1st)

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

Elfyn Evans (2nd)

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

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

Kalle Rovanperä (30th)

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

Hyundai Motorsport

Thierry Neuville (3rd)

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

Dani Sordo (DNF, SuperRally)

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

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

M-Sport Ford WRT

Gus Greensmith (31st)

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

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

Adrien Fourmaux (34th)

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

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

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

Teemu Suninen (35th)

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

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

Sunday

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

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

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

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

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

 

Final Overall Classification – Rally Italia Sardegna

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

 

Let’s hear from the drivers then.

Toyota Gazoo Racing

Sébastien Ogier (1st)

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

Elfyn Evans (2nd)

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

Takamoto Katsuta (4th)

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

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

Kalle Rovanperä (25th)

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

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

Hyundai Motorsport

Thierry Neuville (3rd)

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

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

Jari Huttunen (5thOverall, 1st WRC2)

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

Dani Sordo (17th)

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

Ott Tänak (24th)

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

M-Sport Ford WRT

Gus Greensmith (7th)

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

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

Teemu Suninen (8th)

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

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

Adrien Fourmaux (6th, WRC2)

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

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

 

Citroen Racing

Mads Østberg (2nd WRC2)

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

Warren’s Thoughts

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

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

Friday

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Classification after Day One

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

 

Let’s hear from the drivers

Hyundai Motorsport

Ott Tänak (1st)

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

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

Dani Sordo (3nd)

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

Thierry Neuville (DNF)

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

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

Toyota Gazoo Racing WRT

Elfyn Evans (2nd)

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

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

Sébastien Ogier (5th)

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

Kalle Rovanperä (6th)

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

M-Sport Ford WRT

Gus Greensmith (7th)

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

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

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

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

Adrien Fourmaux (8th)

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

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

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

Teemu Suninen (3rd WRC 2)

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

Tom Kristensson (8th WRC 2)

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

 

Saturday

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Classification after Day Two

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

 

Let’s hear from the drivers after day two.

Toyota Gazoo Racing WRT

Elfyn Evans (1st)

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

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

Sébastien Ogier (3rd)

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

Kalle Rovanperä (DNF)

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

Hyundai Motorsport

Dani Sordo (2nd)

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

Ott Tänak (DNF)

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

Thierry Neuville (DNF)

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

M-Sport Ford WRT

Adrien Fourmaux (5th)

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

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

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

Gus Greensmith (6th)

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

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

Teemu Suninen (2nd WRC 2)

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

Tom Kristensson (9th WRC 2)

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

Sunday

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Final Overall Classification – Rally de Portugal

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

 

Let’s hear from the drivers.

Toyota Gazoo Racing WRT

Elfyn Evans (1st)

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

Sébastien Ogier (3rd)

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

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

Takamoto Katsuta (4th)

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

Kalle Rovanperä (22nd)

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

Hyundai Motorsport

Dani Sordo (2nd)

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

Ott Tänak (21st)

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

Thierry Neuville (36th)

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

Oliver Solberg (11th)

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

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

M-Sport Ford WRT

Gus Greensmith (5th)

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

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

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

Adrien Fourmaux (6th)

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

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

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

Teemu Suninen (2nd WRC2)

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

Tom Kristensson (9th WRC2)

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

 

Warren’s Thoughts

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

Rally de Portugal Preview 2021

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

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

Now here are the details of the stages.

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

Let’s hear from the drivers.

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

Toyota Gazoo Racing WRT

Sébastien Ogier

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

Elfyn Evans

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

Kalle Rovanperä

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

Hyundai Motorsport

Thierry Neuville

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

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

Ott Tänak

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

Dani Sordo

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

Ole Christian Veiby

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

Oliver Solberg

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

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

M-Sport Ford WRT

Gus Greensmith

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

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

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

Adrien Fourmaux  

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

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

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

Teemu Suninen

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

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

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

 

Summary

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

 

Friday

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Classification after Day One

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

 

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

 

Hyundai Motorsport

Thierry Neuville (1st)

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

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

Ott Tänak (4th)

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

Craig Breen (5th)

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

 

Toyota Gazoo Racing WRT

Sébastien Ogier (2nd)

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

Elfyn Evans (4th)

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

Kalle Rovanperä (DNF)

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

 

M-Sport Ford WRT

Adrien Fourmaux (6th)

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

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

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

Gus Greensmith (7th)

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

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

Teemu Suninen (3rd WRC 2)

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

Tom Kristensson (6th WRC 2)

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

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

 

Saturday

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Classification after Day Two

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

 

 

Let’s hear from the drivers

Toyota Gazoo Racing WRT

Sébastien Ogier (1st)

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

Elfyn Evans (2nd)

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

Hyundai Motorsport

Thierry Neuville (3rd)

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

Ott Tänak (4th)

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

Craig Breen (8th)

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

M-Sport Ford WRT

Adrien Fourmaux (5th)

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

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

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

Gus Greensmith (6th)

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

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

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

Teemu Suninen (2nd WRC 2)

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

Tom Kristensson (DNF)

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

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

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

 

Sunday

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Here’s the final standings.

Final Overall Classification – Croatia Rally

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

 

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

Toyota Gazoo Racing WRT

Sébastien Ogier (1st)

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

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

Elfyn Evans (2nd)

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

Takamoto Katsuta (6th)

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

Hyundai Motorsport

Thierry Neuville (3rd)

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

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

Ott Tänak (4th)

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

Craig Breen (8th)

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

M-Sport Ford WRT

Adrien Fourmaux (5th)

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

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

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

Gus Greensmith (7th)

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

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

Teemu Suninen (2nd WRC 2)

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

Warren’s Thoughts

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

Rally Croatia 2021 Preview – Back to Tarmac!

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

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

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

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

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

 

Let’s hear from the drivers!

Toyota Gazoo Racing

Sébastien Ogier

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

Elfyn Evans

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

Kalle Rovanperä

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

 

Hyundai Motorsport

Thierry Neuville

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

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

Ott Tänak

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

Craig Breen

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

 

M-Sport Ford WRT

Gus Greensmith

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

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

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

Adrien Fourmaux

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

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

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

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

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

 

Teemu Suninen

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

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

Tom Kristensson

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

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

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

Summary

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

Classification after Day One

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

 

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

Hyundai Motorsport

Ott Tänak (1st)

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

Craig Breen (2nd)

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

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

Thierry Neuville (4th)

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

 

Toyota Gazoo Racing WRT

Kalle Rovanperä (3rd)

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

Elfyn Evans (5th)

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

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

Sébastien Ogier (9th)

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

 

M-Sport Ford WRT

Teemu Suninen (6th)

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

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

Gus Greensmith (10th)

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

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

Saturday

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Classification after Day Two

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

 

Hyundai Motorsport

Ott Tänak (1st)

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

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

Thierry Neuville (3rd)

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

Craig Breen (4th)

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

 

Toyota Gazoo Racing WRT

Kalle Rovanperä (2nd)

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

Elfyn Evans (5th)

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

Sébastien Ogier (22nd)

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

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

M-Sport Ford WRT

Teemu Suninen (8th)

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

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

Gus Greensmith (9th)

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

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

 

Sunday

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

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

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

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

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

Final Overall Classification – Arctic Rally Finland

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

 

Let’s hear from the drivers!

Hyundai Motorsport

Ott Tänak (1st)

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

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

Thierry Neuville (3rd)

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

Craig Breen (4th)

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

Oliver Solberg (7th)

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

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

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

 

Toyota Gazoo Racing WRT

Kalle Rovanperä (2nd)

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

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

Elfyn Evans (5th)

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

Takamoto Katsuta (6th)

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

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

Sébastien Ogier (20th)

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

 

M-Sport WRT

Teemu Suninen (8th)

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

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

Gus Greensmith (9th)

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

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

 

Warren’s Thoughts

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

Arctic Rally Finland 2021 Preview

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

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

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

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

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

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

251.08: Competitive distance in kilometres

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

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

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

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

 

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

Let’s hear from the drivers.

Toyota Gazoo Racing WRT

Sébastien Ogier (Driver car 1)

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

Elfyn Evans (Driver car 33)

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

Kalle Rovanperä (Driver car 69)

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

Hyundai Motorsport

Thierry Neuville (Car number 11)

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

Ott Tänak (Car number 8)

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

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

Craig Breen (Car number 42)

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

M-Sport Ford WRT

Teemu Suninen (Car number 3)

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

Gus Greensmith (Car number 44)

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

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

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

Other key competitors

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

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

Oliver Solberg (Car number 2) 2C Compétition

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

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

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

 

Summary

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

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

Enjoy!