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!

Rallye Monte Carlo 2021 Review –

Rallye Monte Carlo 2021 Review – Seb and Julien take their Eighth Monte Carlo Victory

 

Thursday

The first day saw just two stages. The starting line-up looked like this – Ogier, Evans, Tänak, Neuville, Rovanperä, Suninen, Sordo, Greensmith, Katsuta, Loubet.

 

First up was SS1 Saint-Disdier – Corps – 20.58 km first up! Ott was fastest in the stage, from Kalle and Elfyn. Thierry and Martijn started their first ever stage as a crew, going fourth fastest, 3.9 off their teammates best time. The big news was Teemu and Markko’s crash though, near the end of the stage. They were pushing hard and the stage was really wet in the last sector. The Finn put his tyres on the white line on a left hander, and the car slid into a bank which sent the car onto its roof, and then off the road backwards into a tree, leaving the broken rear wing on the road in bits. It was a huge shock and surprise and a big shame as well.

It was a second stage win for the Estonian crew in SS2 Saint-Maurice – Saint-Bonnet – 20.78 km, with Kalle only three tenths off, and Elfyn a further five seconds off in third. Thierry continued a good start, moving into fourth overall at the expense of Seb, who was suffering with a braking problem, which was holding him back from his ultimate pace.

Classification after Day One

1 O. Tänak M. Järveoja Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC 24:17.5
2 K. Rovanperä J. Halttunen Toyota Yaris WRC +3.3
3 E. Evans S. Martin Toyota Yaris WRC +8.5
4 T. Neuville M. Wydaeghe Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC +16.0
5 S. Ogier J. Ingrassia Toyota Yaris WRC +16.9
6 D. Sordo C. del Barrio Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC +42.7
7 P. L. Loubet V. Landais Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC +1:07.8

 

Let’s hear from the drivers.

Ott Tänak (1st)

“At the start, it was looking like quite a simple start to Monte-Carlo; we never started before in daylight and with consistent conditions. The second one, with more cuts and muddy places, was very demanding and with lots of surprises. We have more stability with the car compared to last year and definitely better feedback. Overall, in wet conditions, the Pirelli tyres have some grip and seem to have good performance but in other places, when you hit some mud or some dirt, the step is quite big. It’s something we still need to learn and get experience.”

Thierry Neuville (4th)

“Everything went quite OK in these opening stages. It was all pretty new for Martijn in the Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC, driving at fast speeds, so we have to be satisfied. We didn’t know what to expect with no shakedown or testing together, but it worked well. We have some things to improve with the in-car communication over the weekend, but he has done a good job so far. I was able to drive at a good rhythm without taking any big risks. The first stage went well but we perhaps lost a bit too much on the second one. Tomorrow is a much longer, trickier day and I expect a more difficult tyre choice; we look forward to it.”

Dani Sordo (6th)

“This is not the way we were hoping to start this rally. I had a weird feeling from the car right from before the first stage. There was a noise that I have never heard before, perhaps in the differential, it sounded like something was not fixed properly. We need to check to see what it is. The rally is very long and tomorrow we are expecting some different conditions but honestly, I wanted more from today. I was confident I could do well on the first stage which is why I think something is not quite right. We need to keep pushing.”

2021 FIA World Rally Championship
Rallye Monte-Carlo 2021 21-24 January 2021
Dani Sordo, Carlos del Barrio, Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC, Action during Day 1 of Rallye Monte-Carlo 2021
Photographer: Romain Thuillier
Worldwide copyright: Hyundai Motorsport GmbH

Toyota Gazoo Racing WRT

Sébastien Ogier (5th)

“I had a cautious start in the beginning of stage one, because I have very little experience with these tyres and I needed to get a bit of a feeling. Then in the middle of the stage I started to have this brake issue, and so then the rest of the loop was tricky. When you are not confident with the brakes it’s quite hard to drive on the limit. It’s not an ideal start but for sure we will keep fighting and I’m quite sure the car will be 100 per cent tomorrow morning and now it’s up to me to do my best. Tomorrow morning it will be a super early start with probably some tricky conditions, so there is still a long way to go in this rally.”

Elfyn Evans (3rd)

“It was a difficult couple of stages to open the rally. It was quite wet and we had a lot of surface changes, so the grip was changing all the time. To top it off we had a delay waiting to start the second stage, so we had to enter it with cold tyres and that was pretty difficult. Immediately we went into a narrow village with ice on the road, so it was very difficult to generate temperature and gain confidence. But we got through it. We have the possibility of more wintery weather tonight, so we’ll have to wait until the morning and see what conditions we’ll face.”

Kalle Rovanperä (2nd)

“The feeling was good in the first loop. The first stage was quite nice. It was my first time driving on wet asphalt with the new Pirelli tyres but the feeling was good. The second stage was much more tricky with the ice, but there the pace was also quite good and I enjoyed the challenge. I was a bit surprised about the pace because it didn’t feel so fast or a big push, but the car felt good. Tomorrow will be really tricky starting in the dark with ice and snow maybe but we’ll try to keep the same pace up.”

2021 FIA World Rally Championship / Round 01 / Monte Carlo Rally / 21-24 January, 2021 // Worldwide Copyright: Toyota Gazoo Racing WRT

M-Sport WRT

Teemu Suninen (DNF)

“Everything was going well and I had a really good feeling in the car. Then coming into a corner, I lost the line and touched the bank which sent us off the road. It’s a really big shame because the car was quick and everyone has worked really hard to be here. The pace was good and the car was looking really strong, so this isn’t the start to the season that any of us wanted – and with too much damage, we won’t be back tomorrow.”

Gus Greensmith (10th)

“It’s not been a great start for us and all of the confidence we had on the test seems to have gone amiss somewhere. I’m feeling really uptight and uncomfortable in the car, and not relaxed in my driving – so that’s something we’re going to have to try and solve for the morning. There could be some snow in first stage which will make the rest of the loop pretty tricky when it comes to the tyre choice. But they’re all really nice, flowing stages – especially the last one which is probably my favourite of the rally; so, let’s see if we can have some fun in there!”

Adrien Fourmaux (2nd WRC 2)

“We saw some very tricky conditions today with the grip levels changing all the time. We decided where to push and where to be a bit more cautious and I have to say that I was really pleased with my pace – especially on the last stage which is where we decided to push to make the most of our tyre choice. It was a really clean drive and to be only eight seconds away from the lead is nothing on a rally like this. For tomorrow we should see some snow and ice which means a lot can still happen – so we have to stay focused.”

 

Friday

The second day of this event saw five stages, totalling 104.70km. The start list looked like this – Ogier, Evans, Tänak, Neuville, Rovanperä, Sordo, Greensmith, Katsuta, Loubet.

It was all change in SS3 Aspremont – La Bâtie-des-Fonts 1 – 19.61 km, with Seb, Elfyn and Kalle locking out the top three fastest times and with that, Kalle was now leading from Elfyn and Seb. Overnight leader, Ott, fell to fourth overall, 8.7 seconds from the lead now. Also falling down the leaderboard was Gus in his Fiesta WRC. He was only 14th fastest, and dropped one place to eleventh overall.

Seb struck back in SS4 Chalancon – Gumiane 1 – 21.62 km, winning the stage from Kalle and Elfyn, and moved into the lead from his younger Finnish teammate, and now had a lead of 3.3 over Elfyn, with Kalle a further 6.4 back, but still holding third overall. Gus had a much better stage, setting the seventh best time and climbing back into tenth overall.

The Frenchman took SS5 Montauban-sur-l’Ouvèze – Villebois-les-Pins 1 – 22.24 km as well, from Elfyn and Ott. Kalle had taken a ten second penalty for arriving at the next stage late, and this meant that former rally leader Ott was now back into third overall. Further down the leaderboard, Takamoto and Gus swapped positions, with the Japanese driver back in front and back in the top ten. Seb now held a 11.3 second lead over Elfyn in their battle over the win.

After service, everything changed! The second run of SS6 Aspremont – La Bâtie-des-Fonts 2 – 19.61 km saw Seb have a puncture, and he spun on one of the hairpins and was only twelfth fastest. Top three was Elfyn, 6.9 ahead of Ott with Thierry a further 2.8 behind his Estonian teammate. Takamoto was also on the move up the leaderboard, after setting the fifth best time in the stage and was now in eighth overall, gaining two places at the expense of Adrien Fourmoux and Pierre-Louis. So, what of Seb? Well, he was now in third, 23.4 behind Elfyn.

The last stage of the day, SS7 Chalancon – Gumiane 2 – 21.62 km, now run-in daylight saw things improve for Seb though. He was a massive 16 seconds faster than Elfyn, reducing Elfyn’s’ advantage to just 7.4 seconds. After a troubling day for Dani, he found a rhythm, and was just 1.3 from Seb and second fastest, with Kalle third. Takamoto was making eighth overall his position, going fourth quickest. Meanwhile, Gus was also moving up, and was now in tenth overall.

 

Classification after Day Two

1 E. Evans S. Martin Toyota Yaris WRC 1:33:57.5
2 S. Ogier J. Ingrassia Toyota Yaris WRC +7.4
3 O. Tänak M. Järveoja Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC +25.3
4 K. Rovanperä J. Halttunen Toyota Yaris WRC +53.1
5 T. Neuville M. Wydaeghe Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC +59.1
6 D. Sordo C. del Barrio Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC +1:49.6

 

Let’s hear from the drivers

Toyota Gazoo Racing

Elfyn Evans (1st)

“Even though we’re leading I’m not completely satisfied with the day, to be honest. Seb has driven very well today and it’s been difficult to keep up with his times. In some sections I was able to do quite well, but when the surface gets more slippery, I’m struggling to feel the grip and I don’t get the confidence to push more in those areas. Hopefully we can make some changes and be in a better position in those conditions tomorrow. It’s been a difficult rally with the conditions so far and it sounds like there’s the possibility for more interesting weather overnight, so it’s not going to be easy all the way to the end.”

Sébastien Ogier (2nd)

“After the difficult start yesterday, I was able to wake up this morning and have a good rhythm from the first kilometres. It was a difficult start on the first stage with some fog and a lot of icy sections. But I was happy with the car and it was much more enjoyable to drive now that I had the confidence. This afternoon the roads were more muddy as expected, but with the winter tyres on it was still nice to drive. I think we were pretty unlucky in the penultimate stage where we lost a lot of time, but other than that I think we’ve done the best we could do today. I came here to win this rally and I’m going to do everything to make that happen.”

2021 FIA World Rally Championship / Round 01 / Monte Carlo Rally / 21-24 January, 2021 // Worldwide Copyright: Toyota Gazoo Racing WRT

Kalle Rovanperä (4th)

“I had a good feeling this morning. It started with a tricky stage but we managed quite well. Then we had a small issue on the road section and we couldn’t make it on time to the next stage but at least we got it fixed. In the first stage after service in the beginning there was a really big cut with a lot of mud: I was expecting a bit more grip from the tyre, and we had a spin and took us some time to get back on the road. I’m pretty happy with the driving, but with the time penalty and this small off it’s quite a big gap we have given away.”

 

Hyundai Motorsport

Ott Tänak (3rd)

“It’s been a bit of a mixed day with some tricky conditions. In some places, things have felt consistent, but then you have sections where the grip changes a lot and it’s difficult to figure out and find the limit. I tried my best, but I am lacking confidence at times and this is not the place to be a hero. In the final stage of the afternoon, we had no visibility with a misted-up screen, so things got extra complicated.”

2021 FIA World Rally Championship
Round 01, Rallye Monte-Carlo
21-24 January 2021
Ott Tanak, Martin Jarveoja, Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC
Photographer: Dufour Fabien
Worldwide copyright: Hyundai Motorsport GmbH

Thierry Neuville (5th)

“We ended the day with a really nice stage and an incredible job from Martijn. I have been feeling increasingly confident after a less than easy morning. We didn’t make the best tyre choice in the opening loop so we had to make the most out of it. We tried to stay cautious as the conditions have been really difficult. A top job at midday service, with a strong team spirit, allowed us to tackle the afternoon stages in a more positive manner. It still wasn’t a really big push because it’s tricky to catch back the time lost from the morning.”

Dani Sordo (6th)

“Conditions have been difficult, and it’s honestly been a challenge to find the grip and the confidence. I have struggled a lot, although we had a better run this afternoon. We lost a lot of time this morning which will be hard to catch back, but we keep on doing what we can. I can’t say I am happy with the performance but our time in the final stage shows that I can set good pace when I feel comfortable and confident in the car.”

 

M-Sport WRT

Gus Greensmith (10th)

“For some reason things just aren’t clicking for us this weekend. The car is good, it’s just the driver and I wish I had the answer as to why things aren’t going right. Normally I really enjoy these conditions. I’ve won here before and I’d see challenging, changeable conditions like this and think, great, I can make some time here. But this weekend, I just don’t seem to have the confidence.

“We’re still here which is the most important thing – and we’re getting the mileage and the experience which is definitely a positive. But it’s not the weekend we anticipated after such a good feeling on the test. We’ll have another look through the data tonight to try and identify where to improve, and hopefully that will be the case tomorrow.”

 

Adrien Fourmaux (2nd WRC 2)

“It’s been another really tricky day out there, but we had good pace and can only be happy with our performance. The conditions were so difficult and dirty with almost every cut full of gravel – so we had to compromise. We set a fastest time, but sometimes we also had to back off the pace as it’s so easy to make a mistake.

“The conditions aren’t going to get any easier tomorrow and they could be even trickier if we have snow and ice – so we need to stay focused. We’ve done a good job so far, and just need to continue like that tomorrow.”

 

Saturday

With three stages on the third day, and the first run in the dark, there had been some changes in the conditions. Snow had fallen, and we were seeing a much more normal challenge out there for the crews. The starting line-up looked like this – Loubet, Greensmith, Katsuta, Sordo, Neuville, Rovanperä, Tänak, Evans, Ogier.

Into SS9 La Bréole – Selonnet 1 – 18.31 km then, and we saw Seb take advantage of his experience going through the stage 17.8 seconds faster than Elfyn who was second and Dani who was getting some confidence in the conditions going third fastest. Gus was also finding some confidence, and set the fifth best time. Unfortunately, it was going wrong for Ott, who picked up a puncture on the stage, and dropped more than a full minute and fell to fifth overall as well.

The penultimate stage of the day, SS10 Saint-Clément – Freissinières – 20.48 km, had a very interesting outcome. Pierre-Louis was first through the stage, and had set a very good time. The fresh snow on the stage had given the young Frenchman good confidence. As the other crews came through, they couldn’t beat that time, but finally, Thierry and Martijn took their first stage victory as a duo. As the top drivers came through, they found that the conditions were such that they couldn’t get anywhere the times set earlier.

Top three was Thierry, Pierre-Louis and Dani. Top three overall remained, Seb, Elfyn and Kalle, but Thierry was now just 1.4 seconds from taking the third place from the Finn. It was a disaster for Ott though. He had another puncture! What a nightmare for the 2019 champ. He stopped to put the wheel rim back on, so that he and Martin would have a tyre on a rim to drive back to service.

Elfyn took the last stage of the day, SS11 La Bréole – Selonnet 2 – 18.31 km. He and Seb had swapped and the Welshman, meaning that Elfyn was last to complete, and was the only driver on the second run to drop below 12 minutes, setting a time, 1.3 seconds faster than Seb. Kalle was third, and increased the gap over Thierry to seven seconds over their battle for the final podium position.

 

Classification after Day Three

1 S. Ogier J. Ingrassia Toyota Yaris WRC 2:16:31.9
2 E. Evans S. Martin Toyota Yaris WRC +13.0
3 K. Rovanperä J. Halttunen Toyota Yaris WRC +56.8
4 T. Neuville M. Wydaeghe Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC +1:03.8
5 D. Sordo C. del Barrio Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC +2:11.3
6 T. Katsuta D. Barritt Toyota Yaris WRC +4:43.1

 

Let’s hear from the drivers!

Toyota Gazoo Racing WRT

Sébastien Ogier (1st)

“It has been a good day, although not perfect. The first stage went very well in super tricky conditions. I really pushed hard so I was happy to cross the finish line and keep the car on the road with that kind of speed. The second stage was much more difficult for us. The conditions were really extreme and I had absolutely no grip, and we lost quite a lot of time compared to the drivers running at the front of the road order. Maybe we also didn’t do the perfect job with the tyre management but they are new and we’re still learning about them. In the final stage the conditions had changed a lot since the first pass and also since the gravel crew went through, but it was a clean drive for me. Most importantly we are in the lead and that’s what we need to keep now.”

Elfyn Evans (2nd)

“It has been a bit of frustrating day for me. I didn’t start off too well in the first stage this morning. Once I got my rhythm the time was not so bad, but Seb was obviously very strong. In the second stage it seemed to polish a lot and as later runners we seemed to have a lot less grip. Still, our time was quite close to Seb’s, although we had a small stall at a hairpin which cost us a handful of seconds. The last stage was difficult because the gravel notes were telling you it’s much worse than what you were seeing on the road. I tried to stay clean and out of trouble and it seemed OK. There was more to get out of it today and I wasn’t brave enough really, but of course it’s about finding a balance in these conditions. We’ll keep the pressure on tomorrow.”

2021 FIA World Rally Championship / Round 01 / Monte Carlo Rally / 21-24 January, 2021 // Worldwide Copyright: Toyota Gazoo Racing WRT

Kalle Rovanperä (3rd)

“It was a nice start this morning, the first stage went quite well. I was quite careful in the tricky conditions but the time compared to others was good. The second one was really tricky, it felt good but I think the road was getting much slower all the time and we lost some time there. The last stage was tricky because I had a problem with my earplugs, so Jonne had to scream all the time so I could hear the notes! But I think it was a good run – we were faster than the driver behind us so it was enough.”

 

Hyundai Motorsport

Thierry Neuville (4th)

“It has been another tricky, challenging day but we have been constantly improving in the car. It was a difficult start; I wasn’t feeling comfortable in the first stage and not in the rhythm but that improved in SS10. I tried to be as efficient as possible in the car, looking for traction and keeping it clean. There was a mid-section where I felt I had more grip so I could push a bit more. Still, I was surprised to see the time, especially after we lost a lot in that opening stage. It was our first stage win of the season and the first for Martijn, which was nice after the progress we have made this weekend. The target has been to get mileage and get used to working with each other. Monte is the best school you can get!”

2021 FIA World Rally Championship
Round 01, Rallye Monte-Carlo 2021
21-24 January 2021
Thierry Neuville
Photographer: Austral
Worldwide copyright: Hyundai Motorsport GmbH

Dani Sordo (5th)

“Today was all about the grip and getting the car to the end. We knew the opening stage would be ‘interesting’ with lots of ice when we heard the comments of the gravel crew this morning. We changed to a softer car set-up to get a better feeling. The first stage was difficult to read the road, as we knew it would be, with some slippery places and other parts less so. I lost a bit of confidence in the middle of the second stage, so I didn’t push as much there. We didn’t have any problems and it’s been important to get through today with no mistakes. We took the final stage slowly because it’s so easy to go off the line, so we took no risks.”

Ott Tänak (DNF)

“Unfortunately, another early finish to Monte for us. On the first stage, I hit a stone – or something similar – and damaged the wheel, which caused a puncture. It was my mistake, something I didn’t notice during the recce. From the very beginning of the second stage, we had a slow puncture, so it was a long way to come back on the rubber. We tried to put the first damaged tyre back on the car to make the road section, but it didn’t last. Nothing much more we could do. We made it to service but had to retire the car. With no opportunity to re-join tomorrow that’s the end of the rally for us.”

 

M-Sport WRT

Gus Greensmith (8th)

“It’s been pretty icy out there today! There was quite a lot of grip on the compacted snow at the start of the first stage and I didn’t feel as though I was making the most of it – but to be fair, the splits were pretty okay.

“I didn’t commit as much as I could after that. I wasn’t sending it into the entry of the corners as much as I could, but the driving did feel better. There’s still a lot more confidence to be found out there, so let’s see if we can find some of it tomorrow.”

Gus and Elliott found some pace on the snow and ice. Photo credit M-Sport WRT

Adrien Fourmaux (2nd WRC 2)

“Just after a long right-hander there is a small left, and I was already focused on the next corner. I took the cut, but there was a rock on the inside which I hit and picked up a puncture. We had to do almost the whole stage on the rim and lost a lot of time.

“It was frustrating because we had a really strong second place and didn’t have to push too much – but that’s rallying. I made a little mistake, and now we need to push a little bit more to keep our second place and keep Éric behind us.”

Adrien and Renaud at speed. Photo credit, M-Sport WRT

Sunday

The last day then. There were some penalties handed out to some. Here is the running order – Loubet, Greensmith, Katsuta, Sordo, Neuville, Rovanperä, Evans, Ogier.

The first stage, SS12 Puget-Théniers – La Penne 1 – 12.93 km, saw ice on the road, and the first two crews in both slid wide and hit the scenery early in the first sector. They were however able to continue. In terms of the battle between Kalle and Thierry, with the Belgian setting the second fastest time and Kalle getting a puncture, the Hyundai crew took third place. Seb was fastest, whilst Elfyn was third in the stage and now 21 seconds from the leader, and holding second overall. The drive of the stage, I think, was Oliver Solberg and Aaron Johnston who were fourth fastest, just 15 seconds slower than the fastest time in their Hyundai i20 Rally2 car.

Onto SS13 Briançonnet – Entrevaux 1 – 14.31 km, and it was a second stage win for Thierry and Martijn, with Elfyn and Scott setting the second fastest stage and Seb third. The gap came down a little between Elfyn and Seb, but only a little over a second. There was drama for the drivers who opened the stage, with Pierre-Louis sliding into a barrier filled with snow, but getting away with it. At the same point and he set the fourth fastest time. Gus had the same problem, and hit the barrier harder with the left rear and the car spun to the point that the front was facing the barrier. Gus had to manoeuvre the car and lost quite a lot of time. Another to spin was Takamoto, who ended up setting a similar time to Gus, with the two of them fifteenth and sixteenth on the timesheets.

The rerun of SS14 Puget-Théniers – La Penne 2 – 12.93 km saw Seb take the stage win, with Dani and Thierry second and third fastest. Elfyn was fourth, and although Thierry was faster, the gap between the two of them remained just a little under 30 seconds.

Onto the last stage then, SS15 Briançonnet – Entrevaux 2, the power stage. Gus set the early benchmark, which was first eclipsed by Dani. Then Kalle cam through with the fastest time, but said that it would not be fast enough to take the stage victory. Thierry was next, but didn’t set the best time, unlike last year. Elfyn came through and was a 1.2 from Kalle’s time. Sadly, Pierre-Louis who was pushing hard got stuck in a snowbank, and ended up losing about two minutes. A big shame, but it was the first time that he had competed in this event, and there were some promising times.  Finally, Seb came through, and took the fastest time, 3.3 faster than Kalle. The top five was Seb, Kalle, Elfyn, Thierry and Dani.

 

Final Overall Classification – Rallye Monte-Carlo

1 S. Ogier J. Ingrassia Toyota Yaris WRC 2:56:33.7
2 E. Evans S. Martin Toyota Yaris WRC +32.6
3 T. Neuville M. Wydaeghe Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC +1:13.5
4 K. Rovanperä J. Halttunen Toyota Yaris WRC +2:33.6
5 D. Sordo C. del Barrio Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC +3:14.2
6 T. Katsuta D. Barritt Toyota Yaris WRC +7:01.3
7 A. Mikkelsen O. Fløene Škoda Fabia R5 +7:23.6
8 G. Greensmith E. Edmondson Ford Fiesta WRC +8:21.1
9 A. Fourmaux R. Jamoul Ford Fiesta R5 +9:15.8
10 E. Camilli F. Buresi Citroën C3 R5 +10:41.0

 

Let’s hear from the drivers!

Toyota Gazoo Racing WRT

Sébastien Ogier (1st)

“This is a perfect start to the season. Watching this rally as a kid gave me the dream to become a driver one day. If I could have only one record, for sure I would take this one. It has a lot of meaning for me, and this is also the reason I was quite emotional on the podium. The Yaris WRC has been fantastic this weekend: I had such a good feeling in the car. I think it was a good decision to do one more year. The team is great, so a huge thanks to all of them. The first stage this morning was incredible: There were so many grip changes and it was impossible to read because it was like black ice. The gravel crew went through the stage two hours earlier and there was nothing there at the time, just a little bit of frost. So, it was really surprising. It is never the easiest to manage a lead and especially on this rally, but we did it.”

Elfyn Evans (2nd)

“It was a tough final day with very challenging conditions, as it has been throughout the weekend really. Maybe I didn’t push quite enough to really challenge Seb for the victory, he was very very good this weekend. It’s his home rally so it was always going to be tough – but credit to him. And as a team it’s a fantastic start to the year. We can be happy with the points, but of course you always want more and hopefully next time I can be a bit stronger. I don’t think I quite had the feeling this weekend. Perhaps at the start of the year it was better not to risk everything to try to win, but we know if we want to challenge for the title, we’ll have to do that during the year. However, I feel we’ve got a really strong car and a very strong team to go with it.”

Kalle Rovanperä (4th)

“I would say the conditions were really quite extreme this morning. The first stage was really tricky with the ice and then then we had snow in the second stage. I think I was a bit unlucky with the tyre damage but that’s also rallying sometimes. In the Power Stage we had a nice time. I was a bit surprised because I wasn’t really pushing on the maximum. I just picked up the pace a bit more, and it was good to have proper points from there too. Overall it was a really nice weekend from my side because I didn’t do so many kilometres on asphalt last year. We were a lot faster than on this rally last year and more consistent also, so it was a good weekend with just a bit of bad luck.”

 

Hyundai Motorsport

Thierry Neuville (3rd)

“A challenging start to the new season for us, especially after a late co-driver change. We were able to find a solution to be competitive and, step by step, Martijn and me were able to find more confidence in the car to improve our collaboration and to improve our speed day by day. To finish on the podium is a satisfying result considering the situation we have faced. The job in the car has been really impressive considering the difficulties of Monte.”

Dani Sordo (5th)

“We haven’t had a very good rally, so to take some manufacturers’ points away is some consolation. From the beginning, we have not really been on the pace and I am not particularly happy with myself, to be honest. We have faced some incredibly tricky stages and there have been some parts where I have just lacked confidence. The only thing we’ve been able to do is survive: to bring the car home and to score points for the team. At the end of the year, they could be very important. We need to reset and go to the next one with full power. It is sad to finish my partnership with Carlos; we’ve had some good results over the years, and it’s been great to work with him.”

 

M-Sport WRT

Gus Greensmith (8th)

“It goes without saying that this wasn’t the weekend we wanted. I had a lot of confidence after the test and was really looking forward to this rally – but as soon as we got to that first stage the confidence just went to zero.

“So much work went on behind the scenes to get us here, and with the preparation we had I know we should have been better. Teemu proved on the first stage that there were no issues with the car – it was just the driver. I have to learn from this weekend, and work hard to get back to where I know we should be.”

Adrien Fourmaux (2nd WRC 2)

“It was a really nice rally for us and I’m really happy with our performance. We had very good pace and it was nice to be able to fight with Andreas – a guy who has so much speed and experience in this sport.

“I also have to say thank you to the team because they did a perfect job all weekend and really deserve this result. To finish in the top ten made it even better, and I look forward to continuing the fight at the next rally.”

 

2C Competition

Oliver Solberg (DNF)

“We came here to make experience,” said Oliver. “Of course, like always, I wanted to push hard and set some good times and I think we have done that. I wanted to finish and it’s very frustrating not to be back in Monaco this afternoon, but it was a small mistake.

“The car is fine and if we had some more people around, we could have come to the finish. OK, sometimes it’s like this. I won’t think so much to this. Instead, I take the positives.

“The time in the first stage on Sunday was really cool, to be fourth fastest overall was something special – it’s my best ever time on a WRC round. The conditions were so complicated there with a lot, a lot, a lot of black ice in places; every time you were going to the corner, you were asking yourself: “How will it be? Will the grip be there?”

“But I was able to find a rhythm and deal with the changing grip. It was nice because we were fifth fastest overall on the last stage on Saturday as well. Trying to forget the last stage, it’s been a fantastic event and almost the perfect way to start our time with Hyundai Motorsport in the WRC.”

 

Warren’s Thoughts

Well, it was a perfect start for Seb and Julien at the start of their final season. If you think about what happened in stage five, with the puncture and spin on the ice, the way that the world champions came back was incredible. They took eight stage wins including the power stage, meaning they’d taken the full points as well.

Elfyn and Scott drove really well too. A second podium finish on this event and one place better than last year showed how much they’d shown they could compete at the top, and they took two stage wins as well. They led for a short while again, just like last year, but were caught by a fired up Seb and Julien. It was a very good drive and they will once again be championship contenders.

Kalle and Jonne were also very good, and improved on their fifth place with fourth this year. It could have been a podium, but after their punctures, it slipped away from them. However, it was still a good drive and just like his teammates, an improvement from last year.

 

Thierry and his new co-driver Martijn settled in really well, and took two stage wins along the way. To secure a podium on their first ever event together is quite amazing, and I suspect that we will see them in the car on the next event.

Elsewhere in the Hyundai team, Dani with Carlos in the car for the final time, found it hard to get settled in the conditions, and then when things started to gel, the team suffered the retirement of Ott and then I suspect that the drivers were told to bring the cars to the end.

For the second year in a row, Ott and Martin really didn’t have things their way. It started well with two stage wins on Thursday, but once he hit the problems with the punctures, it really didn’t end well. He will hope that the next event is better.

Making their debut in a Hyundai i20 WRC 2020 spec car, Pierri-Louis Loubet and Vincent Landais had an up and down event. The Corsican had never competed in this rally before, but certainly had their good moments, with some top three times, but their crash also took any hope of points away. They re-joined and then on the final stage, were pushing on when they slid off the road, losing any hope of points in the power stage.

 

At M-Sport, it was a rally to forget. With Teemu and Markko crashing out on stage two and no hope of a restart, the Finns part season did not get off well. This left Gus and Elliot as the only remaining Fiesta WRC in the field, and they were all at sea. The young Brit was really hard on himself. There were moments however, when things came together and they showed what they could do. At least there wasn’t the large mistake from last year and they managed to complete all the stages.

Adrien and Renaud in their Fiesta R5 took second in the Rally 2 category, as they started their season well, taking ninth overall as well. They will be looking forward to the moment that they step into the Fiesta WRC.

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

1 S. Ogier 30
2 E. Evans 21
3 T. Neuville 17
4 K. Rovanperä 16
5 D. Sordo 11
6 T. Katsuta 8
2021 FIA World Rally Championship / Round 01 / Monte Carlo Rally / 21-24 January, 2021 // Worldwide Copyright: Toyota Gazoo Racing WRT

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

1 Toyota Gazoo Racing World Rally Team 52
2 Hyundai Shell Mobis World Rally Team 30
3 M-Sport Ford World Rally Team 10
4 Hyundai 2C Competition 8

 

Next event is the Artic Rally in Finland, which takes place from the 26th to the 28th of February. It is a replacement for the cancelled Rally Sweden. Pop back closer to then to read my preview for round two!

Rallye Monte Carlo 2021 Preview

It’s time for the new season, and with twelve rounds planned for this year and some new rounds as well, with Rally Croatia, Ypres Rally, Safari Rally and Rally Japan all looking to hold events throughout the year, subject to the current Covid pandemic.

 

Looking at the teams then, we see that Toyota Gazoo Racing have a completely unchanged line-up, with 2020 Champions Seb Ogier and Julien Ingrassia, Elfyn and Scott, Kalle and Jonne still in the cars, whilst Katsuka and Dan will be also doing their first full season, as part of the Toyota Development program.

 

At Hyundai Motorsport, Ott and Martin start their second season with the Korean world champions, whilst there was shock this week as Thierry and Nicolas split after ten years together. Martijn Wydaeghe is joining Thierry, and it will be interesting to see how their partnership develops. Sharing the third car will be Dani and Craig, with the Spanish driver competing this weekend.

 

Lastly, M-Sport will have Gus Greensmith doing his second full season, whilst Teemu and Adrien will share a car throughout the year. The young Finn will start in this first round, and Mikko Markkula is named as Teemu’s co-driver. M-Sport will continue its role in the sport, giving young drivers their chance at the top with Adrien making his debut in the top class, and then also competing in the WRC2 category.

 

This first round of the year sees 15 stages over the three days. Because of the Covid restrictions, the stages will all be completed by early afternoon. Here is the full stage schedule and stage map.

Sébastien Ogier

“Everybody knows that Rallye Monte-Carlo is the rally that I want to win the most. But it’s a rally that you have to face with a lot of humility because it’s always challenging with the conditions and you have to be really clever to win it. This year it will feel different to usual: For me there has always been massive support, but even if they will not be there physically at the side of the road, I’m pretty sure my supporters will cheer from in front of the TV and I will try to make them happy. I’m more prepared for this season having done some rallies in the Yaris WRC, and that gives me more confidence. Still, we will need to adapt to the new tyres, especially on Monte-Carlo when we have a bigger package available than any other event. But I’m looking forward to it because for me it’s an interesting aspect of rallying: To try and make the best tyre strategy and use them as best as you can.”

Elfyn Evans

“It was a strong first season for me with the team in 2020, but of course there was an element of discovery at some points as well. Now, 12 months in, I’m a bit more familiar with my surroundings and that should make things easier to start the year. But it’s always very competitive, so we have to continue to make improvements and to want to be better all the time. There’s a few classics on the calendar that always draw your eye and which you think that it would be cool to win, and Rallye Monte-Carlo is obviously one of those. Normally the stages are very nice and I really enjoy the driving, but of course the conditions can make it quite difficult – especially when it’s dark and there’s snow and ice about and it’s really difficult to judge how much grip you have. In testing with the new Pirelli tyres, I had two quite different days in terms of conditions, and that’s been good to explore the various options that we have available on this rally.”

2020 FIA World Rally Championship / Round 01 / Rallye Monte Carlo / Jan 23-26, 2020 // Worldwide Copyright: Toyota Gazoo Racing WRT

Kalle Rovanperä

“It has been a really short off-season this year; it basically feels like we’re just going to the next event, not like we’re starting a new season. I learned a lot last year but the season was too short and I still haven’t driven so many kilometres in this car. I’m hoping that we can drive much more this year and then the feeling will get better all the time. Rallye Monte-Carlo has always been the trickiest rally on the calendar. I want to try to be better than last year and to push a bit more, but it’s always very easy to make a mistake. Hopefully we can have a clean rally and a good result. It has been interesting to test with the Pirelli tyres in proper Monte conditions: We have had dry conditions as well as snow and ice, and I have had quite a good feeling.”

 

Hyundai Motorsport

Ott Tänak

“Monte is always a challenge, perhaps the biggest one of the season. It’s the first event of the year and you’re always a bit more anxious, nervous, and unsure of what to expect. The weather is always changeable so it’s a place where you can expect to see everything at the same time, as it was in our first rally of 2020; you need to get a feeling for the year ahead.”

Thierry Neuville

“Monte-Carlo is always a tricky event to start the season, mainly due to the conditions we can face. It’s a tarmac event but obviously, during the winter period, we can come across black ice, snow, slush, rain. It’s one of the only events where we have four tyre choices as well. The last two editions were great for the team, missing out on the win by two seconds in 2019 and then scoring our first victory in 2020. It will be my first event with Martijn as my co-driver and we are working hard to get ready although it is set to be a very challenging event for both of us.”

2020 FIA World Rally Championship
Round 01, Rallye Monte-Carlo
23-26 Janvier 2020
Thierry Neuville
Photographer: Austral
Worldwide copyright: Hyundai Motorsport GmbH

Dani Sordo

“For me this is one of the most challenging rallies of the year. The conditions can change quickly; in the same stage you can have snow, ice and dry conditions. It is always important to make wise tyre choices, and to have really good information from the gravel and weather crews. There’s a lot of things going on around you that you need to get to work in Monte-Carlo. This is my final rally with Carlos, and we want to go out on a high.”

 

M-Sport Ford WRT

Teemu Suninen

“It’s great to be at the start of another season and I want to say a big thanks to the team for their continued trust in me. It was really good to get a couple of days’ testing, and we tried to focus on gaining as much knowledge and experience as possible – both of the conditions and set-up, but also of the Pirelli tyres which we’ll be using for the first time this year.

“Mikko wasn’t able to join me on the test and we’ve not sat together since 2018, but I’m sure it will all come back to us once we get going – and we plan to give it our very best. Anything is possible on an event like Rallye Monte-Carlo, and we plan to make the most of every opportunity and push for the best possible result.”

Gus Greensmith

“There’s nothing quite like Rallye Monte-Carlo, and it will always be a special event for me. It’s where I secured my first victory, and I really enjoy the challenge which is unlike anything else on the calendar. There’s no other rally that gives as much satisfaction behind the wheel, and I can’t wait to get back out there and see what the Monte has to offer us this year!

“But as rewarding as this event is when you get it right, it can also be really unforgiving. Experience counts for a lot, so it was good to get some testing under our belts – getting the mileage and learning as much as we can about the conditions and the new Pirelli tyres. As always, it’s going to be a big challenge – but one that I’m really looking forward to.”

Adrien Fourmaux

“Every year Rallye Monte-Carlo provides a really big challenge, and it’s great to be starting my season at this legendary event again this year. The conditions are always tricky, and I expect this year to be no different. But it’s those conditions that create some fantastic stories – and I hope that we will be the subject of one of those stories this year!

“We’ve been getting really close to securing a WRC 2 victory with the Ford Fiesta Rally2. We have everything we need to make it happen, and it would be great to achieve it this week – at what will effectively be my home round of the FIA World Rally Championship.”

 

Look back to Monte Carlo 2020

We saw a fight for victory between Toyota teammates Seb and Elfyn and Hyundai’s Thierry. The Belgian took his first Monte win, something that he’d threatened to do for a few years. We had three different leaders over the three days, with Seb leading at the end of day one, Elfyn at the end of day two, and then Thierry make his charge, and took the lead with two stages left on Sunday and took victory by 12 seconds.

 

Summary

We are set then for the return of the championship, and many fans will be tuning in to watch on WRC Plus. Who will be challenging for the top positions then? Well, almost certainly the crews that have some continuity, with Ott and Martin, Seb and Julien, Elfyn and Scott and dare I say it, Dani and Carlos. Drivers with new co-drivers like Thierry and Teemu will likely have work to do to get up to speed. One advantage that the Finns have in the M-Sport run Fiesta is that they have worked together before.

In terms of points finishers, I can see that Gus will want to get his second year at the top level, off to a flyer and will hope for a top ten finish, and the drivers that he will be fighting with, well you can take it for granted that any of the crews from the top teams will be the who they are battling.

Anyway, enjoy the event, and pop back to check out my review!!

Rally Monza 2020 – Sébastien Ogier and Julien Ingrassia take Victory!

After Thursday’s shakedown and the short first stage, SS1 Sottozero The Monza Legacy – 4.33 km we had Seb, Thierry and Ott as our top three. The championship leader was 2.7 seconds from the lead in fourth.

Friday

This day saw action across 74km of stages around the Monza race track and included some sections on the banking and the service roads and some of the carparks within the grounds of the track.

First up was SS2 Scorpion 1 – 13.43 km and the top three was Dani, Esapekka and Kalle. This led to some changes on the leaderboard, with Dani moving into the lead, Esapekka into second. Seb was now in third, with Kalle ahead of Elfyn who was fifth.

The teams were running 15-minute breaks between the stages with SS3 Scorpion 2 – 13.43 km run again. The top three fastest drivers were Esapekka, Dani and Thierry, and now the Esapekka was leading, with Dani now in second place and Andreas in a Skoda R5 in third overall! Championship rivals and teammate Seb and Elfyn held fourth and sixth respectively.

SS4 Cinturato 1 – 16.22 km, the first proper stage was won by Elfyn, with Esapekka second fastest and Dani matching the time set by the M-Sport driver. Seb and Elfyn both climbed up the standing into third and fourth positions.

SS5 Cinturato 2 – 16.22 km was taken by Seb, from Kalle and Elfyn. Esapekka was still leading from Dani, with Seb’s pace bringing him closer to second overall. Sadly, Teemu was out of the rally after suffering an engine problem that could not be fixed.

The final stage of the day, SS6 PZero Grand Prix 1 – 10.31 km and Dani won the stage, beating Esapekka who was only sixth fastest with the result that the Finn was now in second place, with the Spaniard crew now taking the lead. Ott was third fastest and was catching Elfyn in the battle over fourth overall.

Day One

1 D. Sordo C. del Barrio Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC 53:29.3
2 E. Lappi J. Ferm Ford Fiesta WRC +1.0
3 S. Ogier J. Ingrassia Toyota Yaris WRC 12.0
4 E. Evans S. Martin Toyota Yaris WRC +17.1
5 O. Tänak M. Järveoja Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC +17.7
6 K. Rovanperä J. Halttunen Toyota Yaris WRC +24.8

 

Let’s hear from the drivers at the end of Day One.

Hyundai Motorsport

Dani Sordo 1st

“Today was a really tough day but we end it on the top of the classification, which is positive. We had a good start with a stage win on the opening test, but we lost a bit of time in the muddy sections which didn’t suit us as much. We tried to keep pushing to be at the front. Tomorrow, if it is as snowy as it currently seems, road position will be important to be further back and to see the cleaner lines. We made some important changes to the car to give me more confidence and improved handling, but in these conditions, it is never easy. We have had a good start but let’s see what happens.”

2020 FIA World Rally Championship
Round 07 Rally Monza 03-07 December 2020
Action, Day 1, Dani Sordo, Carlos Del Barrio, Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC
Photographer: Fabien Dufour
Worldwide copyright: Hyundai Motorsport GmbH

Ott Tänak 5th

“The conditions we have faced today have been unique and some of the toughest of the year. Driving on tarmac with some gravel section is tricky at the best of times but, in this weather, you can’t imagine how demanding it is – especially with no gravel crew. We have had to read the road by ourselves, focusing on the surface to see where the grip would be. You have to be 100% on it to find the limit because if you push too much, there’s always one place that can catch you out. We have made it through and had a clean run to end the day. There was a lot of rain and aquaplaning, so it was far from easy. During the day I found some improvements; now and then the feeling with the car has been nice. Tomorrow’s stages might be even more difficult but if there’s anything more interesting than what we’ve seen today, I want to see it!”

Thierry Neuville DNF

“It was not the end to the opening day that we wanted to have. After a mistake this morning, we were aiming to climb back up the ranking, pushing hard. We went too close to a concrete block in the chicane in SS4 (Cinturato), which damaged the suspension. We were losing time but the car was still driveable, the steering was OK and the rim and tyre too. Unfortunately, in the water splash, too much water got into the car and the engine stalled; we were not able to restart so had to stop the car where it was. I am really disappointed for the team that I wasn’t able to do the job I should have done, but – as always – we keep our heads up and try to improve. The team is going to fix the car so we can continue tomorrow.”

 

Toyota Gazoo Racing WRT

Sébastien Ogier 3rd

“It has been an eventful day for us. We had good pace but there were also some small mistakes and issues which cost us some time. However, the most important thing is that tonight we are still in the fight for the win and that’s what matters. Tomorrow there is going to be even more room to make differences with our rivals with the very tricky conditions that await us in the mountains. Our road position should be good as well if there is fresh snow. Let’s see what we can do.”

Elfyn Evans 4th

“Overall, today’s been reasonably OK. There’s been no mistakes, and no time lost. Perhaps it was not spectacularly fast either, but I feel that in the difficult conditions it was important to strike a balance between going quickly and also not making mistakes. We’ve seen a lot of standing water, especially in the ruts throughout the second pass of the stages, so that’s been tricky. It looks like we’re going to have another very challenging day tomorrow. It’s been winter conditions out on the the stages today but I believe it’s changing hourly, so we have to wake up in the morning and see what awaits us.”

Kalle Rovanperä 6th

“I think the plan today was to drive without any big risks, and we didn’t do any mistakes, basically. There was only one bad stage time on the second stage this morning where we lost a bit too much; otherwise, it was quite good. The conditions were extremely tricky with the standing water. In the afternoon it was starting to be really difficult, but we chose the snow tyre like many of the others and it worked really well. Tomorrow is going to be really tricky: I think we have to see the conditions in the morning and then we decide what we do in terms of tyre strategy.”

 

M-Sport WRT

Esapekka Lappi 2nd

“It’s been a very good day for us. It’s been a while since we were in this position and it doesn’t even matter that we’re not leading at the end of the day – just to be here challenging for that lead is a really positive thing for the whole team. We have a good starting position for tomorrow, and we will definitely try and take back the lead. We have nothing to lose and I will try to do my best. We know that it will be a very tricky day, but normally I am quite good on snow so let’s see what we can do.”

Teemu Suninen DNF

“I was struggling with the rhythm yesterday, but today started well and we had a really good feeling in the car. The first sector was quick, but after that we had an issue with the engine. I want to say thanks to the team who tried everything to try and fix it, but in the end it proved terminal and we had to retire. It’s a real shame as I had a good rhythm this morning and looking at EP we could have been really strong here. Hopefully EP can continue as he is and bring home a good result for the team – we all deserve that after this tough year.”

Gus Greensmith – Restart

“After a bit of a cautious start we made some set-up changes and it felt a lot better. Then nothing silly – I just went through a gate post and my wheel was too open. I tapped the inside post and it pulled the whole suspension. It was a bad outcome for a small mistake, but it is what it is and we’ll aim to get back out there tomorrow.”

 

Saturday

Seven stages awaited the crews on Saturday, with three in the morning and four in the afternoon, totalling 126km of action.

First car into SS7 Selvino 1 – 25.06 km was the restarting Gus Greensmith, but it was Kalle who when pushing on slid wide into a bank, and ended up facing the wrong way. He got his Yaris WRC turned round and completed the stage sixth fastest. The top three was Seb, Dani and Elfyn and this meant that Seb had now moved into the overall lead, pushing Dani and Esapekka down into second and third respectively. Elfyn was now just a couple of seconds behind the Finn.

SS8 Gerosa 1 – 11.09 km followed and Dani fought back to retake the lead as Seb was only eighth fastest, whilst Elfyn passed Esapekka for third overall. Elfyn was doing what he needed to do for the world championship by keeping Seb in sight.

Into SS9 Costa Valle Imagna 1 – 22.17 km and it was a stage victory for Elfyn, whilst Seb retook the lead from Dani. Ott was also moving up the leaderboard, as Esapekka dropped down into fifth place. In the battle for the manufacturer’s championship, it was looking good for Toyota to regain the championship that Hyundai had won last year with Seb, Elfyn and Kalle in good positions.

The only thing to say about SS10 Selvino 2 – 25.06 km was that it was cancelled, but not before three cars had entered the stage. Gus, Ole Christian and Katsuka were all in the stage, but first Gus crashed, hitting the barrier has he came out of a right-hand corner, which sent the car over the road into the side of the hill and up, before it rolled onto its roof and then back across the road to the left and over the barrier. Ole Christian Veiby making his first start in a i20 WRC then came to the same part of the road and slammed into the barrier ripping the front nearside suspension and wheel from the car and sending the car spinning down the road, with it ending the up sideways across the road. It was at this point that Katsuka arrived on the scene and had to wait for the Hyundai to be moved out of the way before he continued to complete the stage. The rest of the crews completed the stage, but not at competition speed.

The SS11 Gerosa 2 – 11.09 km was where the championship suddenly was up in the air for Elfyn. The Welshman who had up till this moment completed every single stage so far this year had slid off the road. The snow had been coming down, and was settling on the road. As he approached the right hander he was on the left-hand side of the road and then the rear of the car stepped out as he went round the corner. He floored the throttle to get the car straightened up, but the car continued to slide sideways and then slid off the side of the road. There was no way back onto the road, and Elfyn climbed out the car grabbed his coat and headed back down the stage to warn his teammate and title rival.  Seb was next on the road and as he came to the section where Elfyn and Scott had slipped off the road to see the Welshman standing just before the section warning him about the conditions. Seb slowed enough to make it around, but it was close – He nearly didn’t make it around. He completed the stage and now just need to finish the rally in the top three to be able to take his seventh world title. The stage was won by Umberto Scandola in his Hyundai i20 R5, with Seb second fastest and Ott in third.

The next stage, SS12 Costa Valle Imagna 2 – 22.17 km was cancelled. The snow had been coming down for about an hour and the organisers took the decision as Katsuka and Dan were waiting at the startline.

Therefore, it was time to head back to the Monza track and prepare for the final stage of the day which was using parts of the Monza Grand Prix track.

SS13 PZero Grand Prix 2 – 10.31 km was held in very wet conditions, with the rain coming down and Dani won the stage not only beating Katsuka, but also increased his slender margin over Ott to 4.3 seconds in their battle over the runner up spot. Katsuka’s time stood for a long time, as he was first to complete the stage.

Classification after Day Two

1 S. Ogier J. Ingrassia Toyota Yaris WRC 1:47:47.2
2 D. Sordo C. del Barrio Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC +17.8
3 O. Tänak M. Järveoja Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC +22.1
4 E. Lappi J. Ferm Ford Fiesta WRC +38.2
5 K. Rovanperä J. Halttunen Toyota Yaris WRC +1:10.1

 

Let’s hear from the drivers

Toyota Gazoo Racing

Sébastien Ogier 1st

“This was a very, very tricky day. The first loop was enjoyable actually: These mountain stages are very nice and when the conditions were fairly consistent with just a little bit of snow on top of the mountain, it was good fun. But this afternoon when the weather turned with much more rain and snow it was incredibly challenging and actually not really enjoyable to drive. It was just about surviving and trying to keep the car on the road. Where Elfyn went off, it could have happened to anybody. The grip change on this corner was just impossible to anticipate, honestly. In this moment I felt sorry for him, for sure. I would have enjoyed to fight until the end: It’s always more fun that way, and it was looking good for the team in both championships. Now I have an opportunity to clinch a seventh title tomorrow and that’s my target, and I try to finish the job tomorrow. It’s never over until it’s over.”

Elfyn Evans DNF, Rally2

“The snow really came down in the afternoon and the conditions were difficult. The first stage was going quite OK and then the stage was stopped. Then in the second stage of the loop, we were having quite an OK run. But the snow started to fall and I basically just got caught out by a surface change underneath the snow that you couldn’t see. I had it in my notes but ultimately the grip level change was far worse than I expected and there was no chance to stop for the next corner. Obviously, I’m feeling massively disappointed with the position we’re in now. I’m also very sorry for the team, as it’s a big blow to our hopes for the manufacturers’ title. On the drivers’ side it’s not completely over for me: There’s a glimmer of hope and obviously we’ll keep fighting tomorrow. It’s looking very unlikely now but we won’t give up until the end.”

2020 FIA World Rally Championship / Round 07 / ACI Rally Monza / 3-6 November, 2020 // Worldwide Copyright: Toyota Gazoo Racing WRC

Kalle Rovanperä 5th

“It was a tricky day but I think that was the case for everybody. We had a lot of snow and slush and there were a few places that were the trickiest I’ve ever been in with a rally car. In the first stage this morning when we reached the slush section, I made a mistake in one corner and we hit the bank. There was no big damage to the car, but enough for it to be a bit more tricky to drive. The afternoon was really difficult I would say. When the snowfall came the road, conditions changed totally. We were a bit unlucky that the first stage of the loop was cancelled as we were setting a good time there. But it was just good that we got through it and we are here tonight. We are too far away to catch anyone in front tomorrow without something happening, but I will just try to bring home as many points as we can for the team.”

 

Hyundai Motorsport

Dani Sordo 2nd

“It was another really difficult day. We expected it to be worse because when we saw the conditions yesterday it was already amazing. Honestly, we had one really bad stage today where we lost a bit of time. When the second loop started, I was at the back so perhaps we had worse conditions, but I can’t complain. It was disappointing to see Elfyn and Scott retire in the stage, but I am thankful to them for warning us to slow down. The snow was tricky, and it was the right decision to cancel the afternoon stage (SS12). Tomorrow, we have our focus on trying to secure the manufacturers’ title so we will try to drive safely; in these conditions it’s too easy for something to happen. If we could go flat out but safely that would be nicest!”

2020 FIA World Rally Championship
Round 07, Rally Monza
03-06 December 2020
Dani Sordo, Carlos Del Barrio, Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC
Photographer: Helena El Mokni
Worldwide copyright: Hyundai Motorsport GmbH

Ott Tänak 3rd

“This morning, I felt that things were easier than expected. The stages were a bit more consistent, but it was a very different story in the afternoon loop. All in all, it was something incredibly demanding. We were often not with the ideal tyres because we were expecting more rainy, wet conditions, but then – in the middle of the stage – suddenly there was white stuff on the ground. We had to discover this for the first time ourselves, which was far from straightforward. We made it through and the aim for tomorrow is to finish this rally cleanly.”

 

M-Sport WRT

Esapekka Lappi 4th

“Things didn’t go our way this afternoon and we were quite unlucky to be honest. For the first stage of the loop, I had the snow tyres on, and then it was cancelled. For the middle stage we had information that the stage was dry, and I took the snow tyres off. And for the last stage of the loop, I had the snow tyres on, and it was cancelled again.

“Still, I need to be happy with our performance. Our tyre choices have been good, even if the strategy wasn’t perfect, and I’ve really enjoyed driving this car on Tarmac in the forests again.

“We’re not too far away from the podium, but I realise 15 seconds is still quite a big gap at this level. Of course, the conditions will be tricky, but everyone already knows what to do and what tyres to choose as I’ve already taught them. But let’s see, and I’ll give it my best.”

Gus Greensmith – DNF

“Once we got up to speed and into our rhythm things were going pretty well. But that changed this afternoon when we went from having good grip to pure aquaplaning on slush at 155kph. And with that transition of conditions at that speed, we were passengers.

“Thankfully both myself and Elliott are okay, but I’m just sorry for the team. It was such an immediate change in conditions that there was nothing I could do – but I’m still sorry for the guys and girls at M-Sport who have all been working so hard this year.”

 

Sunday

Just three stages then to complete the event totalling 38km’s.

The first stage, SS14 PZero Grand Prix 3 – 10.31 km would be taken by Seb, with Kalle and Ott second and third fastest, whilst Dani who was fifth fastest in the stage was passed by Ott for second overall. Elfyn finished the stage in tenth, and was in 35th overall. Katsuta was fourth quickest in the stage, setting a very good time.

The first run of SS15 Serraglio 1 – 14.97 km, which would also be the final stage was won by Dani Sordo going through 2.9 seconds faster than Ott and retook second overall. The Spanish duo were working well together! Elfyn came through with the fifth best time in a dress rehearsal for the final stage and gained three places on the leader board, now in 32nd place.

Into the final stage then of 2020, SS16 Serraglio 2 [Power Stage] – 14.97 km, and Elfyn set the benchmark 11:07.9. Other drivers came through and did not beat it, and then finally, Katsuta came through to beat Elfyn’s time by 1.4 seconds. Ott emerged second fastest and this confirmed that Hyundai had won the manufacturer’s title for the second year in a row. The final points scorers in the stage were Esapekka and Dani. Last to finish the stage was Seb and Julien who had a minor drama when their wipers stopped working, but they started working again just before the end of the stage and they completed with the seventh fastest time. They are the 2020 World Rally Champions, their seventh World Crown!

2020 FIA World Rally Championship / Round 07 / ACI Rally Monza / 3-6 November, 2020 // Worldwide Copyright: Toyota Gazoo Racing WRC

Final Overall Classification – Rally Monza

1 S. Ogier J. Ingrassia Toyota Yaris WRC 2:15:51.0
2 O. Tänak M. Järveoja Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC +13.9
3 D. Sordo C. del Barrio Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC +15.3
4 E. Lappi J. Ferm Ford Fiesta WRC +45.7
5 K. Rovanperä J. Halttunen Toyota Yaris WRC +1:11.1
6 A. Mikkelsen A. Jaeger Škoda Fabia R5 +3:56.2
7 O. Solberg A. Johnston Škoda Fabia R5 +4:12.1
8 J. Huttunen M. Lukka Hyundai i20 R5 +5:15.4
9 M. Østberg T. Eriksen Citroën C3 R5 +5:27.4
10 P.Tidemand P. Barth Škoda Fabia R5 +5:53.0

 

Let’s hear from the drivers

Toyota Gazoo Racing WRT

Sébastien Ogier 1st

“For sure, this is a good day for us. It’s been an incredible weekend and very, very challenging. This last stage was definitely one of the less enjoyable stages of my career. It was so rough, we were just trying to survive and not make mistakes. We knew coming here that the only thing we had to do was to win this rally. The start of the rally was very tight but we kept to our plan, we kept pushing and trying to keep the pressure on. What happened to Elfyn was significant for us and our title hopes. At the same time I felt for him and Scott, they did a great season. I feel the team would also have deserved to win the manufacturers’ title; we fought as three drivers against five and came so close. But this seventh title for me is also a big achievement for the team and I couldn’t have done it without them, so thank you to them and I’m looking forward already to this bonus season for my career in 2021.”

2020 FIA World Rally Championship / Round 07 / ACI Rally Monza / 3-6 November, 2020 // Worldwide Copyright: Toyota Gazoo Racing WRC

Elfyn Evans 29th

“Today it was obviously difficult to get going again after what happened yesterday. We were targeting the Power Stage and I think the pace was quite good but unfortunately, we managed to stall the car twice in quite extreme conditions. We still managed to get some points from there to make sure we were able to secure the position behind Seb in the championship – congratulations to him and to Julien. To finish the season in second place is obviously not what we wanted, but it’s still not bad and a step forward on my previous seasons. I’ve really enjoyed my first year with TOYOTA GAZOO Racing and I’m sure with the motivation within the team we can continue to improve and be in better positions next year.”

2020 FIA World Rally Championship / Round 07 / ACI Rally Monza / 3-6 November, 2020 // Worldwide Copyright: Toyota Gazoo Racing WRC

Kalle Rovanperä 5th

“It has been a really tricky weekend and today it was just about getting through. On the Power Stage I was really careful. It was really rough conditions on the gravel sections and it was good to get to the end and finish the rally. It has been quite a nice first season for me with a World Rally Car. I think we did quite well. We had some bad luck in some rallies, which is normal in rallying, and we had some really good weekends too. The main thing is that we had quite a consistent season and proved that we can be fast also. Big thanks to the team and congratulations to Seb and Julien.”

 

Hyundai Motorsport

Ott Tänak 2nd

“Our first priority today was to ensure we finished the rally with Dani to make sure we cemented the manufacturers’ title for Hyundai Motorsport. It has been a really difficult rally from the start; we have had to endure some complicated conditions, which continued on this morning’s stages with tricky, rough roads. It was demanding but we achieved our target for the team, and it’s an achievement we can now celebrate together.”

2020 FIA World Rally Championship
Round 07 Rally Monza 03-07 December 2020
Action, Day 3, Ott Tanak, Martin Jarveoja, Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC
Photographer: Fabien Dufour
Worldwide copyright: Hyundai Motorsport GmbH

Dani Sordo 3rd

“The target all weekend has been to secure the result we needed for the manufacturers’ championship. It has been an incredibly tricky event, but we have come through with another double podium result. For me, it wasn’t important whether it was second or third; we just needed to get the combined result for the team, which we have done. This has been a hard-fought result, not just here in Monza but at all the events since Monte-Carlo. The team has pushed all the way and we can now share a second championship title together.”

Thierry Neuville (DNF)

“A very special season comes to an end; it might not have been the championship that anyone expected at the beginning of the year due to the crisis, but we have achieved our goal to take our second manufacturers’ title. This is a phenomenal result for everyone at Hyundai Motorsport and I am happy to be part of this winning team. The Monza weekend did not go to plan for me and Nicolas after our retirement on Friday, but in the end the title is confirmed. My thanks go to every team member for their hard work and dedication. It’s time to celebrate!”

 

M-Sport WRT

Esapekka Lappi 4th

“This was a good weekend for us and we can be pleased with our performance. It was good to be back on Tarmac, and good to see that we can be competitive in these tricky conditions.

“Things didn’t always go our way and we were quite unlucky at times, but I was very happy with my driving and we proved that we can be up there fighting at the top.

“A big thanks to everyone who has supported us throughout the year, and to the FIA, WRC Promotor and event organisers for ensuring we could finish the season and continue rallying in these difficult times.”

2020 FIA World Rally Championship for Drivers’ Standings
After Round Seven

1 S. Ogier 122
2 E. Evans 114
3 O. Tänak 105
4 T. Neuville 87
5 K. Rovanperä 80
6 E. Lappi 52
7 T. Suninen 44
8 D. Sordo 42
9 C. Breen 25
10 S.Loeb 24

 

2020 FIA World Rally Championship for Manufacturers’ Standings
After Round Seven

1 Hyundai Shell Mobis World Rally Team 241
2 Toyota Gazoo Racing World Rally Team 236
3 M-Sport Ford World Rally Team 129
4 Hyundai 2C Competition 8

Warren’s Thoughts

Well, what an event! Where do I start to sum up? Let’s start with Elfyn and Scott. Coming to this event as the championship leaders, they drove really well, and were making their way up the leaderboard when they slid off the road. Now what we saw from the Welshman was amazing sportsmanship when he ran up the road and warned Sébastien Ogier to slow down.

With Sébastien and Julien taking their seventh world title and with it coming with their third different manufacturer, they are cementing their status as true greats of the championship. Once Elfyn and Scott went off the road on Saturday, they just brought the car home. After all, they had already taken the lead. The other Toyota drivers certainly did well, with Kalle finishing a great season and Katsuta taking a stage victory right on the final stage of the year.

At Hyundai, Ott and Martin took a well-earned second place and maybe he could have challenged for victory. Dani and Carlos also drove a great event, leading at points and scoring another very good result with third place. In fact, without the penalty that he took for a problem on Friday he may well have taken second overall.

At M-Sport it was a rally to forget for two of their three drivers. Teemu retired early on with an engine problem, whilst Gus was an early retiree on Friday, but re-joined on Saturday, only to crash out one of the Saturday stages. Meanwhile, Esapekka drove really well, challenging at the top of the leader board. He was given the same penalty as Dani Sordo at the end of Friday, suffered some issues with tyre choices at key moments when the snow came down and he had changed the tyres just before the stage. Looks like he won’t be getting a drive for 2021, which is a shame, as there is no doubt over his speed and consistency.

Look out soon for a 2020 Pit Crew WRC Pit Cast as we look back on this amazing season!