Rally Monza Day Three Report – Seb and Julien take victory!

The final day then and just three stages on and around the Temple of Speed. The startlist looked like this – Fourmaux, Rovanperä, Greensmith, Suninen, Katsuta, Solberg, Neuville, Sordo, Evans, Ogier.

The first stage then, SS14 Grand Prix 2 – 10.29 km, and Thierry was fastest from Seb and Elfyn. The Toyota duo had in fact set the same time and this meant that the gap remained half a second between them. In fact, there were no changes in any positions in the leaderboard. Seb did have a scare on this one though after clipping a chicane block with the right-hand side wheel, but somehow avoided smashing up that corner of his Yaris.

Thierry made it two in a row, winning SS14 Grand Prix 2 – 10.29 km from Dani and Teemu. An all-Hyundai top three! The Finn’s pace took him ahead of Takamoto and back into sixth place. Of course, this happened after the Japanese driver had a huge moment after losing the rear of his Yaris and clipped a concrete block, the result being that his suspension and wheel on the front-left getting broken really badly. He limped to the end of the stage and completed it a full minute and five seconds slower than Thierry. He was now 15 seconds behind Teemu and 3.7 ahead of Gus. There was also drama for Elfyn, who had a couple of moments where his car seemed to stall and cut out. The gap that Seb had over Elfyn was suddenly 7.6 seconds!

Well, then the final stage of the event, year, and of these incredible cars. The starting list was changed a little before SS16 Serraglio 2 [Power Stage] – 14.62 km – Huttunen (WRC2), Gryazin (WRC2), Fourmaux, Rovanperä, Greensmith, Katsuta, Suninen, Solberg, Neuville, Sordo, Evans, Ogier. Thierry was fastest from Takamoto, Dani third, Elfyn fourth and the new world champion Seb fifth in the stage.

At the stop line we saw incredible scenes as Seb and Julien climbed onto the top of their car and celebrated their eighth world championship. They are true greats of the sport now having won titles with Volkswagen, M-Sport Ford and now Toyota!

Let’s take a look at the final standings.

Final Overall Classification –Rally Monza

1 S. Ogier J. Ingrassia Toyota Yaris WRC 2:39:08.6
2 E. Evans S. Martin Toyota Yaris WRC +7.3
3 D. Sordo C. Carrera Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC +21.3
4 T. Neuville M. Wydaeghe Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC +32.0
5 O. Solberg E. Edmondson Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC +1:32.0
6 T. Suninen M. Markkula Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC +2:22.6
7 T. Katsuta A. Johnston Toyota Yaris WRC +2:34.5
8 G. Greensmith J. Andersson Ford Fiesta WRC +2:50.2
9 K. Rovanperä J. Halttunen Toyota Yaris WRC +4:49.6
10 A. Crugnola P. Ometto Hyundai i20 N Rally2 +9:06.9
2021 FIA World Rally Championship / Round 12 / ACI Rally Monza / 18th-21st November 2021 // Worldwide Copyright: Toyota Gazoo Racing WRT

Let’s hear from the drivers.

Toyota Gazoo Racing WRT

Sébastien Ogier (1st)

“It’s so hard to describe these kind of emotions. Somehow you feel empty because it’s been such an exhausting season like always, where you need to put so much into it to win the championship. But we do it for moments like this. A big thanks to all the team members: Without them we are nothing and today we are all world champions, so let’s celebrate this. It’s pretty remarkable what Toyota has achieved, and the team deserves it because they’ve put a lot of effort into it. The emotion is even stronger knowing it’s the end of my journey with Julien. We could never have dreamed of a better way for it to end it. We knew we still had a lot to do this weekend and that it was not over yet. We didn’t have to beat Elfyn, but we couldn’t afford to relax and then drop positions, and to win in the end is just perfect.”

2021 FIA World Rally Championship / Round 12 / ACI Rally Monza / 18th-21st November 2021 // Worldwide Copyright: Toyota Gazoo Racing WRT

Elfyn Evans (2nd)

“Of course, it’s mixed feelings for us today. Naturally you always want more. We knew the drivers’ title would be difficult but we wanted to try and win the rally. In the end we didn’t quite get it but congratulations to Seb and Julien on another fantastic title and also on a fantastic career together. I want to thank everybody in the team, they’ve been working so hard, giving us fantastic equipment but also a fantastic atmosphere to work in. It’s also a very fond farewell to the Toyota Yaris WRC, it’s been a joy to drive.”

Kalle Rovanperä (9th)

“It feels really good to help the team secure the manufacturers’ championship. It was a really nice season for us, and getting the teams’ title also feels really good for us because we were able to bring good points in many rallies. It’s a big thing for the team and it feels really nice to be a part of it. It was not so easy to do the job we did this weekend, but it was important that we did it and this feeling makes it worth it. The team has been working really hard, so big congratulations and thank you to them. It’s been a great year with an amazing car and I think we really showed how strong our team is.”

Hyundai Motorsport

Dani Sordo (3rd)

“I am honestly really happy to have secured a podium finish here in Monza, and to end this era of WRC cars with a top-three finish. It has been a relaxed final day for me, focused and just trying my best to avoid making any mistakes. I’d like to say thanks to the team for another year working together, with some good highlights. I hope next season with the new hybrid regulations will be even more fun.”

2021 FIA World Rally Championship
Round 12, Rally Monza
18-21 November 2021
X
Photographer: Vincent Thuillier
Worldwide copyright: Hyundai Motorsport GmbH

Thierry Neuville (4th)

“My focus today has been on enjoying these final stages of the season with our Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC, the last runs in this era of the WRC. I had a nice clean morning, picking up stage wins and just trying to savour the moments. We have had some incredible years with this car, and with Hyundai Motorsport; it’s been very exciting, and we’ve got a lot of special memories. I am now looking ahead to the new adventure in 2022 and adding more memorable moments together with the team.”

Teemu Suninen (6th)

“It has been a weekend in which we’ve been able to make steady improvements, learning all about the Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC in different conditions. It’s tricky to jump into a brand-new car for this rally, but I am grateful to the team for giving me the opportunity and the time to get up to speed. We’ve been able to improve our pace step-by-step, and we’ve been fast on the clean tarmac sections, which has been a good thing. We just focused on bringing the car home, which we have achieved.”

Hyundai 2C Competition

Oliver Solberg (5th)

“I want to carry on!” said Oliver at the finish. “When you have a car like the Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC, you just don’t want to stop driving it. This has been such a cool, such a fantastic week.

“The roads in the mountains which we did on Friday and Saturday morning were really, really nice. I was taking it quite steady, quite sensible to start with – there were damp patches and some fog on the top of the mountain. After I made some change to the set-up with the car and got some more grip with the rear, I was able to really push and, honestly, it was just so much fun.

“When you are driving a car like this on roads like that, it’s impossible not to smile. It’s the best feeling in the world!

“This rally is actually quite complicated because you go from driving the cars out there in the mountains and then we come to the circuit where it’s much more technical, so many more junctions and always turning and you have to really change the driving style. You have to be completely precise.

“We used some of the gravel roads in the circuit and this is also a lot of fun – this was reminding me of when I was competing in rallycross. I have to tell you; I was really sad when we came to the finish of the last stage.

“We made more progress and took more experience from this rally. Some people were asking me what was the difference between this event and the one before [Rally de España] where we were not so high up. The answer is that we went faster! I was never in Spain before, but I competed on this rally last year and I had some experience of the stages.

“I think the speed we had was good here. To be able to fight with my team-mates was more than I was expecting, to be honest.”

“It was perfect with Elliott,” said Oliver. “From the very start we were comfortable together; we did some practice before the rally and everything worked really well. He did a great job and I want to thank him.

“As well, I really want to thank everybody from Hyundai Motorsport and 2C. Andrea [Adamo, Hyundai Motorsport Team Principal] gave me the most amazing opportunity this season when I drove the i20 Coupe WRC for the first time in Arctic Rally Finland. That rally was incredible for me and this one as well.

 

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

1 S. Ogier 230
2 E. Evans 207
3 T. Neuville 176
4 K. Rovanperä 142
5 O. Tänak 128
6 D. Sordo 81
7 T. Katsuta 78
8 C. Breen 76
9 G. Greensmith 64
10 A. Fourmaux 42

 

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

1 Toyota Gazoo Racing World Rally Team 522
2 Hyundai Shell Mobis World Rally Team 463
3 M-Sport Ford World Rally Team 202
4 Hyundai 2C Competition 62

 

Well, what a rally! Hope you’ve enjoyed my daily reports. Look out for my final driver review in the coming week.

Rally Monza, Day Two Report – Seb and Adrien lead after Day Two

The second day then, with 108km’s over six stages. The startlist looked like this – Fourmaux, Rovanperä, Suninen, Greensmith, Katsuta, Solberg, Sordo, Neuville, Ogier, Evans.

Into stage SS8 San Fermo 1 – 14.80 km and Thierry made the best start of them all, winning the stage from Seb and Dani. Elfyn could only manage the fourth best time dropping 4.6 seconds to the fastest time and falling behind Seb again, the gap between the top two now 1.5 seconds.

The longer SS9 Selvino 1 – 24.93 km saw Elfyn take the stage win from Dani and Seb. There was drama for Thierry though right at the start of the stage. His tyres weren’t warmed up and he lost the rear of his car, with the result that he then collided with the barrier and caused some big damage to the right-hand side front of his car. The bonnet was also very loose on the right as well and flapping about, but he got the car to the end of the stage despite all of this.

Back to the shorter SS10 San Fermo 2 – 14.80 km and it was another stage win for Seb from Thierry and Teemu. Elfyn was only sixth and fell back into second place, now 1.1 behind Seb. Further back, Teemu passed former M-Sport teammate Gus Greensmith as well, showing that the Finn was getting to grips with his i20WRC.

Seb increased his lead over Elfyn in SS11 Selvino 2 – 24.93 km to 5.2 seconds after setting a time that was 4.1 seconds faster. What a time! Dani was third fastest and making third place his over his teammate. The top ten was pretty static, but it’s worth mentioning that this was the last stage on public roads that these cars were unleashed on, as the remaining stages of Rally Monza would be held in the grounds of the Monza circuit.

Elfyn hit back in SS12 Sottozero 1 – 14.39 km winning the stage from Dani and Thierry! Seb could only set the fifth best time and was now back in the lead by just three tenths of a second. Takamoto was the best of the rest, taking fourth in the stage.

The final stage of the day then, SS13 Sottozero 2 – 14.39 km and run after the sun had set. All the cars had their light pods fitted. Dani won the stage from Thierry and Seb, and we had yet another leader change with Seb going back into the lead and Elfyn was now behind by just half a second.

Classification after Day Two

1 S. Ogier J. Ingrassia Toyota Yaris WRC 2:13:27.2
2 E. Evans S. Martin Toyota Yaris WRC +0.5
3 D. Sordo C. Carrera Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC +27.4
4 T. Neuville M. Wydaeghe Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC +46.6
5 O. Solberg E. Edmondson Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC +1:21.2
6 T. Katsuta A. Johnston Toyota Yaris WRC +1:38.8
7 T. Suninen M. Markkula Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC +2:17.1
8 G. Greensmith J. Andersson Ford Fiesta WRC +2:24.8
9 K. Rovanperä J. Halttunen Toyota Yaris WRC +3:39.1

 

Lets hear from the drivers at the end of day two.

Toyota Gazoo Racing WRT

Sébastien Ogier (1st)

“It’s been super close today between Elfyn and me, with so many swaps for the lead. It’s definitely exciting for the fans. We had a good loop this morning. Those were the last proper stages with this generation of car and I really enjoyed it. Generally, on the track I’ve been taking less risks and losing a bit of time, but tonight I managed to drive cleaner, and a slightly different tyre choice maybe helped with the traction on the gravel. Tomorrow I need to keep my focus on the title; if we can win the rally too it will be the cherry on the cake.”

2021 FIA World Rally Championship / Round 12 / ACI Rally Monza / 18th-21st November 2021 // Worldwide Copyright: Toyota Gazoo Racing WRT

Elfyn Evans (2nd)

“The morning loop was enjoyable but Seb was very strong again in the mountains. I struggled on the first stages both times through, had a good run on the other stage the first time through but I’d lost the tyres a bit by the end of the second pass. I was a bit disappointed to give away that time, but we got it back again in the first one at the circuit this afternoon. Then in the dark I was too careful in a few places where the visibility was quite difficult. But it’s set up very nicely for tomorrow and we’ll keep fighting.”

Kalle Rovanperä (9th)

“This morning the conditions were really nice and the stages were much cleaner than yesterday, so I could be a bit faster in some sections without having to take any risks and just enjoy the driving the car on those roads. The circuit stages were nice and enjoyable too, even though we were not pushing much. It’s important for the team to do the job that we’re doing, and tomorrow we just need to finish it off.”

Hyundai Motorsport

Dani Sordo (3rd)

“Honestly, I am quite happy with how today has gone for us. We had some amazing stages in the mountains, and the circuit sections were better as well. We made some important modifications to the car at the end of Friday, which made it easier to drive and gave me more confidence. The stages were also drier, so we had a bit more grip as well. We are currently in the third-place podium position, which is great, however there is a small but tricky final day awaiting us. We will do our best to keep our advantage over Thierry.”

2021 FIA World Rally Championship
Round 12, Rally Monza
18-21 November 2021
Dani Sordo
Photographer: Austral
Worldwide copyright: Hyundai Motorsport GmbH

Thierry Neuville (4th)

“After the first day didn’t go as expected, we knew we had to push to catch back time. It worked well on the opening stage, setting the fastest time, but we wanted to improve more on the next one. Unfortunately, we had cold tyres and two corners into the stage we lost the rear, ripping off the bumper. We lost a position to Dani, and we’re still fighting to get it back. Still, I’ve been able to enjoy myself today, especially in the mountain stages; these cars are incredible, there has been a great atmosphere, lots of spectators and nice weather, it is really fantastic!”

Teemu Suninen (7th)

“I am pleased with the improvements we have made since yesterday, and especially in the first four stages. I was able to be confident in the car, and the driving was OK. I was still struggling on the gravel and muddy places in the Monza circuit stages. Still, we have taken a good step forward and that’s positive. I’m enjoying myself a lot, and it’s nice to see what the Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC can do; it seems a strong car, so we will try to improve again on the final three stages tomorrow.”

 

Sunday

The last day beckons for the 2021 season and the last time that these cars will be seen on the world championship stages. It’s also the last few stages of Seb and Adrien’s partnership. Let’s see if they can go out on top, or maybe Elfyn and Scott will deny them a final victory. There are two championships to decide as well. Let’s see what happens…. Is there a final twist to this season, or can Seb and Adrien wrap up their eighth world title?

Rally Monza – Day One Report.

Well, day one was the Elfyn and Seb day, with the pair of them fighting over the lead throughout the seven stages that made up day one. Here’s how the action came together. The crews entered in championship positions, meaning that the startlist looked like this – Ogier, Evans, Neuville, Rovanperä, Katsuta, Sordo, Greensmith, Fourmaux, Suninen, Solberg.

Into the first stage, SS1 Gerosa 1 – 10.96 km then, and there was fog and low cloud on the mountains. Seb won the stage from Elfyn and Dani. There was a large gap at the end of the stage between the two championship protagonists of 3.6 seconds, with Dani the best of the Hyundai drivers holding third place.

It was all change into SS2 Costa Valle Imagna 1 – 22.11 km, with Elfyn setting the pace from Seb who was just a tenth slower. There was a change behind them, with Thierry passing Dani and moving into third place. There was also a change further back with Teemu getting to grips with his i20 and moving ahead of fellow Finn Kalle and into ninth place.

Next up was SS3 Gerosa 2 – 10.96 km and Seb was fastest and by quite a big margin of 2.1 seconds over Elfyn, whilst Thierry remained the closest challenger, but was now 20.7 seconds behind the two Toyota crews. The stage was now without huge drama though, with Adrien rolling his Fiesta. The Frenchman was out for the day.

Into stage SS4 Costa Valle Imagna 2 – 22.11 km and it was another stage win for the championship leaders, with Elfyn keeping the leaders honest with a time just nine tenths slower. The two Hyundai crews of Dani and Thierry set the exact same time. Further back, Oliver was having a great day, holding fifth place.

Elfyn was fastest in SS5 Cinturato 1 – 14.49 km and with Seb only fifth fastest and a huge 5.7 seconds slower the gap between them was now just eight tenths of a second. Oliver was quick too, with the fourth best time and only 2.6 seconds slower than Thierry. Impressive stuff from the young Swede.

After a short break the second run of SS6 Cinturato 2 – 14.49 km and Thierry won the stage with Elfyn second fastest just 4 tenths slower, whilst Seb was third and 2.5 seconds further back. Elfyn now moved into the lead. There was a change further back, with Takamoto moving past Gus and into sixth place.

The last stage of the day then, SS7 Grand Prix 1 – 10.29 km and Dani was quickest from Takamoto and Elfyn who led the rally by just 1.4 seconds from Seb. Dani’s pace meant that he’d taken 3.7 seconds from Thierry lead over him as they continued their battle for the final podium position.

Classification after Day One

1 E. Evans S. Martin Toyota Yaris WRC 1:04:05.2
2 S. Ogier J. Ingrassia Toyota Yaris WRC +1.4
3 T. Neuville M. Wydaeghe Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC +21.6
4 D. Sordo C. Carrera Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC +24.6
5 O. Solberg E. Edmondson Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC +50.6
6 T. Katsuta A. Johnston Toyota Yaris WRC +1:05.5
7 G. Greensmith J. Andersson Ford Fiesta WRC +1:14.1
8 T. Suninen M. Markkula Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC +1:28.6
9 K. Rovanperä J. Halttunen Toyota Yaris WRC +1:57.3

 

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

Toyota Gazoo Racing

Elfyn Evans (1st)

“It was a challenging morning with the thick fog and the grip levels were changing all the time, partly from the dampness and with the different surfaces as well, but it was really enjoyable to drive. We were losing a bit of time to Seb, I was frustrated to give a few seconds away. But we had a good afternoon. I put a lot of effort into being stronger on those stages this year. It’s good to be leading but the gap to Seb is virtually nothing; he was a bit stronger than us in the mountains so we need to look at this and try to improve for tomorrow morning.”

2021 FIA World Rally Championship / Round 12 / ACI Rally Monza / 18th-21st November 2021 // Worldwide Copyright: Toyota Gazoo Racing WRT

Sébastien Ogier (2nd)

“It’s been a good day. This morning I really enjoyed driving the stages in the mountains. The feeling was good in the car, we did a good job on the pre-event test and it was good to see the times coming. When it’s nice to drive you can be close the limit but still feel comfortable. This afternoon around the circuit I was a little bit more on the safe side, because there’s a lot of things you can hit, and we also had an issue on SS5 that cost me some time. But it’s OK, I’m happy with where I am right now and we just need to try and do the same tomorrow.”

Kalle Rovanperä (9th)

“Our plan for this rally is to be there for the manufacturers’ points. We don’t want to take any big risks, and then if something happens with our teammates, we can still secure the points. It’s a really important weekend for the team and we want to help as much as we can. It’s not so easy to drive like this, especially when the conditions are tricky like they were this morning in the mountains and you can lose quite a lot of time. The stages at Monza this afternoon were a bit more enjoyable, even though they were tricky in some sections with the gravel and mud.”

Hyundai Motorsport

Thierry Neuville (3rd)

“I would say that we are satisfied with our performance in the car today. We pushed very hard this morning, almost at the edge, and the feeling was good. I was enjoying the driving, but the times were not there. Usually in tricky conditions the car is fast, but this time we weren’t and to be honest I don’t know why. Even in Spain, in the dirty places, we were quick, but it seems like we missed something this morning. Around the track, the speed is there so we’ll have to see what happens on tomorrow’s mountain stages.”

2021 FIA World Rally Championship
Round 12, Rally Monza
18-21 November 2021
Thierry Neuville, Martijn Wydaeghe, Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC
Photographer: Dufour Fabien
Worldwide copyright: Hyundai Motorsport GmbH

Dani Sordo (4th)

“We struggled a bit with the set-up of the car, especially in the slippery places, where we lost a lot compared to our rivals. The morning loop wasn’t amazing, we just didn’t have the precision that I needed. The feeling in the afternoon was better, but no less tricky. We made a small change on my car, in the direction we had in Catalunya, and we were able to find the precision we’d been looking for all day. A small change but also a big change. I expect tomorrow’s stages to be just as demanding.”

Teemu Suninen (8th)

“It has been a challenging first day in the Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC. I’ve only had one day of testing with the car so in tricky places, I didn’t have the confidence to push hard. At the beginning, I was way too careful, but stage by stage I was happier. I was struggling a bit at times but that’s part of the learning curve and getting experience of a new car. Drivers always want to win the battles, and that’s the same with me, so if I can get a good feeling on Saturday, I will try to go for it a bit more. At the same time, it’s important to keep the car in one piece and bring it to the finish.”

Saturday

Day two sees 108km’s over six stages. Can Elfyn hold the lead over his teammate and championship rival? We shall find out tomorrow. Pop back at the end of the day for my day two report.

Rally Monza 2021 Preview – Championship Show Down

It’s time for the finale of this seasons World Rally Championship, with teammates Seb Ogier and Elfyn Evans both looking to win this season’s championship. Seventeen points separate them at the top of the table and assuming both drivers finish the rally, it is likely that the championship will be decided on the final stage.

Of course, there are a few driver and co-driver changes our there. First of all, Ott and Martin will not be competing at all. This means that Teemu and Mikko will be competing in the i20WRC. They were going to be in the i20 Rally2 of course, but have now been moved into the full WRC model. The other change is also within the Hyundai team, with Oliver Solberg taking a new co-driver. Elliott Edmondson, who was Gus Greensmith’s co-driver at the start of the season, will step into the seat along-side the young Swede.

Gus Greensmith also gets a new co-driver after the retirement of Chris Patterson. Jonas Andersson will step into the Fiesta. Ironically, he is Swedish as well, so we have a Swede with a British co-driver and a Brit with a Swedish co-driver!

Jonas Andersson (SWE) – Ford Fiesta RS WRC. Shakedown, 2013 Rally Sweden

Let’s take a look at the stages facing the crews.

Rally Monza opens with a shakedown on the evening of Thursday 18 November.

Friday features two passes each of Gerosa (11.09km), Costa Valle Imagna (22.17km) and Junior (14.97km) followed by an evening run of Grand Prix (10.21km) in darkness.

Saturday is the longest day of the rally, with two passes of San Fermo (14.45km) and Selvino (25.06km) in the morning proceeding back-to-back afternoon runs of Roggia (14.85km).

Sunday’s three stages only cover a competitive distance of 39.07km, as two passes of Serraglio (14.43km) follows a single run of Grand Prix. The second pass of Serraglio will be the rally’s Power Stage.

 

ACI Rally Monza itinerary:
Friday November 19
SS1 Gerosa 1 11.09km (6.89 miles) 0731
SS2 Costa Valle Imagna 1 22.17km (13.77 miles) 0816
SS3 Gerosa 2 11.09km (6.89 miles) 1016
SS4 Costa Valle Imagna 2 22.17km (13.77 miles) 1101
Service 1225
SS5 Junior 1 14.97km (9.30 miles) 1338
SS6 Junior 2 14.97km (9.30 miles) 1548
SS7 Grand Prix 1 10.21km (6.34 miles) 1820
Service 1840

Saturday November 20
SS8 San Fermo 1 14.45km (8.97 miles) 0715
SS9 Selvino 1 25.06km (15.57 miles) 0815
SS10 San Fermo 2 14.45km (8.97 miles) 1045
SS11 Selvino 2 25.06km (15.57 miles) 1145
Service 1338
SS12 Roggia 1 14.85km (9.22 miles) 1451
SS13 Roggia 2 14.85km (9.22 miles) 1701
Service 1726

Sunday November 21
SS14 Grand Prix 2 10.21km (6.34 miles) 0748
SS15 Serraglio 1 14.43km (8.96 miles) 1008
SS16 Serraglio 2 14.43km (8.96 miles) 1218
Service 1245

Friday and Saturday see stages away from the Monza race track and then the final stages will be run on parts of the Grand Prix track just like last year.

Let’s hear from the drivers –

Toyota Gazoo Racing WRT

Sébastien Ogier

“While it’s true that this rally will be the end of a sporting chapter for myself and especially for Julien, this is not something I am thinking too much about for now: I think this is the best way to approach it, so that I can give my best as always and focus on our target of winning both titles. Of course, the situation going to Monza is much more favourable than one year ago, as this time I have some points in hand in the drivers’ standings. But it is not done yet and we need to stay focused. We had a good test in Italy last week, and I hope we can start the rally with the right rhythm, perform well and fight for a top result as well as keeping the championship in mind.”

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

Elfyn Evans

“It’s good to be going into the final round still with a chance of taking the drivers’ title. It’s an outside chance but Scott and I will give it our best shot: The approach will be just to aim for the best result possible and see what happens. After a difficult mid-season, the last couple of rounds have been better for us, but Monza will be a completely different challenge again. The stages in the mountains have a really nice character, but the stages at the circuit are very mixed and not so flowing. It’s impossible to capture all of that in a pre-event test, but after last year we have a pretty good idea of what to expect.”

Kalle Rovanperä

“It’s going to be interesting to go back to Monza. Last year it was quite a special event with the extreme weather that we had, and I’m sure it will be another difficult rally in any case. This time we will have more stages on the proper mountain roads, which will be nice. At the circuit, you can have a bit of everything in one stage, and if it rains it will be very muddy and tricky. The plan is to fight for the best position but also to have a clean rally: With our team-mates fighting for the championship, it will be important for us to be there to secure the points for the manufacturers’ title if needed.”

Hyundai Motorsport

Thierry Neuville

“I have participated a couple of times at Rally Monza in previous years, both as a WRC event and as Monza Rally Show, so I know the roads quite well. The stages are unique with lots of chicanes and cones, which is not the traditional rally style, but this year’s there looks to be more typical Italian mountain stages. It is also a great experience to compete on the Monza circuit. As it is the last event of the season, our aim is to push hard and fight at the front.”

Dani Sordo

“Monza is always a very nice rally to drive, and of course is a special place for the team as we won the manufacturers’ championship here in 2020. I really like the format of the event, with some stages on the circuit and others in the mountains. Last year was very fun, especially with the tricky weather conditions, so I think crews and spectators both really love this rally. I will of course try my best to get the best result possible this year.”

2020 FIA World Rally Championship
Round 07 Rally Monza 03-07 December 2020
Action, Day 2, Dani Sordo, Carlos Del Barrio, Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC
Photographer: Fabien Dufour
Worldwide copyright: Hyundai Motorsport GmbH

Teemu Suninen

“Being part of the Hyundai Motorsport WRC line-up for Rally Monza is a great opportunity for us. I will follow the goals set by the team and show our speed within those limits. The Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC is a new car for me and for sure I will need some time to get used to it. After I drove it for the first time at the pre-event test, there is no doubt that it is a winning car. Monza, as an event, has a lot of variations in grip and rhythm. There is also quite a difference between the stages up in the mountains and circuit sections. What a wonderful way to end the season!”

Oliver Solberg

“I was 15 when this current generation of cars started competing in 2017. I remember the incredible excitement around that time: what would they be like? How fast would they be? And what about the downforce? How would that feel?

“To be driving one of these cars at the other end of this generation is something incredible for me. Honestly, if you had told me I would be a Hyundai Motorsport driver in an i20 Coupe WRC when this chapter closed, I would have thought you were a little bit crazy. Of course, it was always my dream, but this is something really special.

“It will be quite emotional to say goodbye to these cars. I know I didn’t drive this amazing Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC so many times like the other guys, but it’s a real privilege to be part of a group of drivers who have competed in the world’s fastest ever rally cars. And an even bigger privilege to do it with this team.

“Next year’s going to be incredible with new technology and quite the same speed and potential, but the ‘WRC Plus’ cars will always be special.

“For Monza, I can’t wait! Last year was a really cool rally. The conditions were a little bit – actually, completely – crazy with all the snow and rain. I hope it’s nicer this time. I know we have fans coming back to this great event, so it would be really nice for them to watch in the sunshine.

“It’s also exciting for me to compete with Elliott for the first time. We did a lot of practise together already and I’m sure we’re going to work well.”

M-Sport Ford WRT

Gus Greensmith

“Monza is a rally of two halves, you have the stages on the circuit which also incorporate quite a lot of gravel and grass which is something we don’t see during the year on Tarmac. Also, the actual Tarmac part of the track is very different as well, it’s more of a single venue format which is very different to what we see all year. Then we go to the stages up in the mountains, three of which are the same as last year which I know from personal experience are very tricky but we also had some very good times there last year. It’s somewhere I think we can excel at this weekend.”

Adrien Fourmaux

“I’m really excited to be going back to Monza after doing the rally last year in a Fiesta Rally2, I was happy about my pace so hopefully we have some good pace on this rally. It’s always interesting to do some stages inside a circuit and also in the really nice mountains. There are some beautiful mountain stages here too, last year was a big challenge with the weather so let’s see and hopefully the conditions will be a bit nicer. We’re happy to see the spectators back in the circuit area and we are looking forward to seeing them there! Thanks to M-Sport and all my partners for an amazing season.”

Jari Huttunen

“For me it’s really exciting to be joining M-Sport for Rally Monza in WRC2. It’s a new car and team to get to know, which will be a steep learning curve, but one I am looking forward to.

“I know that the Fiesta Rally2 is very competitive on Tarmac so I am looking forward to seeing what we can do together. Ok, Rally Monza has extra challenges that come with the circuit stages, but I still cannot wait to line up on the start line of the event with a prestigious team like M-Sport. I would like to thank M-Sport for making this happen at short notice.”

Summary

It could be a really special weekend Elfyn, Scott and their fans. It could just as equally be a special weekend for Seb and Adrien, given that this will be their last rally together before they end their partnership. One of these crews will be victorious and whoever is will completely deserve their success. Hopefully it will a good straight fight between them to the end of the rally with no reliability problems.

Anyone could stand on the podium come the end of the rally. Dani Sordo took third place behind his teammate Ott last year. Could he go one better? Of course, Seb took victory, but Elfyn was thereabouts with his pace before sliding off the road in stage eleven. The weather reports look much more stable in terms of no snow forecast, but we’ll have to see how things go on each day.

Enjoy! The action starts with shakedown on Thursday evening.

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

Friday

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Classification after Day One

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

 

Let’s hear from the drivers

Hyundai Motorsport

Thierry Neuville (1st)

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

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

Craig Breen (2nd)

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

Ott Tänak (3rd)

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

Toyota Gazoo Racing WRT

Kalle Rovanperä (4th)

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

Elfyn Evans (5th)

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

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

Sébastien Ogier (6th)

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

M-Sport Ford WRT

Gus Greensmith (DNF, SuperRally)

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

Adrien Fourmaux (DNF)

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

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

Teemu Suninen (DNF, SuperRally)

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

Tom Kristensson (DNF)

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

Saturday

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Classification after Day Two

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

 

Let’s hear from the drivers

Hyundai Motorsport

Thierry Neuville (1st)

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

Craig Breen (2nd)

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

Ott Tänak (6th)

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

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

Toyota Gazoo Racing WRT

Elfyn Evans (3rd)

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

Kalle Rovanperä (4th)

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

Sébastien Ogier (5th)

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

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

M-Sport Ford WRT

Gus Greensmith (61st)

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

Teemu Suninen (DNF)

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

Sunday

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

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

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

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

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

Final Overall Classification – Ypres Rally Belgium

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

Let’s hear from the drivers then!

Hyundai Motorsport

Thierry Neuville (1st)

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

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

Craig Breen (2nd)

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

Ott Tänak (6th)

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

Jari Huttunen (1st in WRC2)

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

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

Oliver Solberg (DNF)

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

Toyota Gazoo Racing WRT

Kalle Rovanperä (3rd)

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

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

Elfyn Evans (4th)

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

Sébastien Ogier (5th)

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

Takamoto Katsuta (DNF)

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

M-Sport Ford WRT

Gus Greensmith (47th)

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

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

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

 

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

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

 

My Thoughts

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jon Armstrong (1st Junior WRC)

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

 

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

Ypres Rally Belgium 2021 Preview

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Let’s hear from the drivers.

Toyota Gazoo Racing WRT

Sébastien Ogier

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

Elfyn Evans

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

Kalle Rovanperä

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

Hyundai Motorsport

Thierry Neuville

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

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

Ott Tänak

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

Craig Breen

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

Oliver Solberg

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

Jari Huttunen

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

M-Sport Ford WRT

Gus Greensmith

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

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

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

Adrien Fourmaux

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

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

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

Teemu Suninen

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

Tom Kristensson

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

My Thoughts

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Classification after Day One

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

 

Let’s hear from the drivers then.

Toyota Gazoo Racing WRT

Kalle Rovanperä (1st)

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

Sébastien Ogier (4th)

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

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

Elfyn Evans (5th)

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

Hyundai Motorsport

Craig Breen (2nd)

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

Thierry Neuville (3rd)

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

Ott Tänak (DNF, SuperRally)

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

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

M-Sport Ford WRT

Gus Greensmith (DNF, SuperRally)

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

Teemu Suninen (6th)

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

Adrien Fourmaux (4th WRC2)

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

Tom Kristensson (6th WRC2)

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

Saturday

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Classification after Day Two

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

 

Let’s hear from the drivers.

Toyota Gazoo Racing WRT

Kalle Rovanperä (1st)

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

Sébastien Ogier (4th)

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

Elfyn Evans (5th)

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

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

Hyundai Motorsport

Craig Breen (2nd)

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

Thierry Neuville (3rd)

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

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

Ott Tänak (32nd)

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

M-Sport Ford WRT

Teemu Suninen (6th)

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

Gus Greensmith (33rd)

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

Adrien Fourmaux (4th WRC2)

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

Tom Kristensson (5th WRC2)

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

Sunday

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Final Overall Classification – Rally Estonia

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

 

Let’s hear from the drivers then!

Toyota Gazoo Racing WRT

Kalle Rovanperä (1st)

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

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

Sébastien Ogier (4th)

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

Elfyn Evans (5th)

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

Hyundai Motorsport

Craig Breen (2nd)

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

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

Thierry Neuville (3rd)

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

Ott Tänak (31st)

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

M-Sport Ford WRT

Teemu Suninen (6th)

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

Gus Greensmith (32nd)

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

Adrien Fourmaux (4th WRC2)

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

Tom Kristensson (5th WRC2)

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

My Thoughts

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Next

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

Rally Estonia Preview 2021

Rally Estonia Preview 2021

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

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

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

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

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

 

Let’s hear from the drivers.

Toyota Gazoo Racing WRT

Sébastien Ogier

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

Elfyn Evans

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

Kalle Rovanperä

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

Hyundai Motorsport

Thierry Neuville

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

Ott Tänak

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

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

Craig Breen

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

Oliver Solberg

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

Jari Huttunen

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

M-Sport Ford WRT

Gus Greensmith

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

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

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

Teemu Suninen

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

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

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

Adrien Fourmaux

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

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

Tom Kristensson

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

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

Let’s take a look at the stages.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Summary

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

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

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

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

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

Molly Taylor, M-Sport Fiesta Rally3 driver

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

gosia

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

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

Safari Rally Kenya 2021 Preview

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Let’s hear from the drivers.

Toyota Gazoo Racing WRT

Sébastien Ogier

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

Elfyn Evans

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

Kalle Rovanperä

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

 

Hyundai Motorsport

Thierry Neuville

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

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

Ott Tänak

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

Dani Sordo

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

Oliver Solberg

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

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

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

 

M-Sport Ford WRT

Adrien Fourmaux

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

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

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

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

Gus Greensmith

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

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

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

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

 

Summary

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rally Italia Sardegna 2021 – Seb and Julien take victory

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

Friday

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Classification after Day One

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

 

Let’s hear from the drivers

Hyundai Motorsport

Ott Tänak (1st)

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

Dani Sordo (2nd)

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

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

Thierry Neuville (5th)

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

Toyota Gazoo Racing WRT

Sébastien Ogier (3rd)

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

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

Elfyn Evans (4th)

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

Kalle Rovanperä (DNF SuperRally)

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

M-Sport Ford WRT

Gus Greensmith (DNF, SuperRally)

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

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

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

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

Teemu Suninen (DNF, SuperRally)

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

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

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

Adrien Fourmaux (DNF, SuperRally)

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

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

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

Saturday

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Classification after Day Two

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

Let’s hear from the drivers

Toyota Gazoo Racing WRT

Sébastien Ogier (1st)

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

Elfyn Evans (2nd)

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

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

Kalle Rovanperä (30th)

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

Hyundai Motorsport

Thierry Neuville (3rd)

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

Dani Sordo (DNF, SuperRally)

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

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

M-Sport Ford WRT

Gus Greensmith (31st)

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

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

Adrien Fourmaux (34th)

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

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

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

Teemu Suninen (35th)

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

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

Sunday

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

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

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

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

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

 

Final Overall Classification – Rally Italia Sardegna

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

 

Let’s hear from the drivers then.

Toyota Gazoo Racing

Sébastien Ogier (1st)

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

Elfyn Evans (2nd)

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

Takamoto Katsuta (4th)

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

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

Kalle Rovanperä (25th)

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

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

Hyundai Motorsport

Thierry Neuville (3rd)

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

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

Jari Huttunen (5thOverall, 1st WRC2)

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

Dani Sordo (17th)

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

Ott Tänak (24th)

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

M-Sport Ford WRT

Gus Greensmith (7th)

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

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

Teemu Suninen (8th)

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

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

Adrien Fourmaux (6th, WRC2)

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

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

 

Citroen Racing

Mads Østberg (2nd WRC2)

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

Warren’s Thoughts

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

 

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