Rally Spain, Day Three Report – Thierry and Martijn win Rally Spain!

Well, just 50km’s over four stages remained, including the power stage of course. The start list looked like this – Katsuta, Fourmaux, Solans, Solberg, Greensmith, Rovanperä, Sordo, Ogier, Evans, Neuville.

SS14 Santa Marina 1 – 9.10 km was first up and run before sunrise as well, bringing an added dimension and difficulty to the stage. Dani set the best time, from Thierry and Elfyn. The Spaniards pace meant that he’s passed Seb for third place as well. Elfyn lost a further 1.4 seconds to Thierry whose lead was now 17.1 seconds. Adrien continued to show good pace as well, setting the early pace, and ultimately being fifth fastest.

Well, into SS15 Riudecanyes 1 – 16.35 km and the dress rehearsal for the power stage. Dani was fastest again from Thierry and Seb. Adrien and Takamoto both set the same time jointly sixth fastest in the stage.

2021 FIA World Rally Championship
Round 11, Rally de España
14-17 October 2021
Dani Sordo, Candido Carrera, Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC
Photographer: Dufour Fabien
Worldwide copyright: Hyundai Motorsport GmbH

After a short break the run of SS16 Santa Marina 2 – 9.10 km saw Dani take yet another stage win, seven tenths faster than Seb and the Spaniard was now 2.3 seconds ahead of the world champion, and not looking unfazed at all in their battle. Adrien continued good form in this one, with the fourth best time, equal with Thierry. Elfyn cruised through, three seconds of the front runners’ pace, likely looking ahead to the power stage.

Finally, to SS17 Riudecanyes 2 [Power Stage] – 16.35 km, and there was some drama for Thierry and Martijn as well. A video emerged of Martijn push starting their i20 and then flames and smoke coming out of the exhaust suddenly! They were having problems with the starter motor on their car and getting the car started because of this. Never-the-less, they did make it to the stage on time. Then there was further drama, with rain falling in the stage as well. The startlist was changed once again – Gryazin, Camilli, Katsuta, Fourmaux, Solans, Solberg, Greensmith, Rovanperä, Ogier, Sordo, Evans, Neuville. Nikolay was first to come across the rain at around 13.5km into the stage. As each crew completed, we had a new fastest time. The rain then eased off, but of course the road was still wet and greasy at the end. Dani set the fastest time, taking the maximum points with Thierry second and Elfyn third. It was a good time from the Welshman, eclipsing his title rivals time by three tenths of a second, and nicking another point out of Seb’s lead.

Final Overall Classification –Rally de España

1 T. Neuville M. Wydaeghe Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC 2:34:11.8
2 E. Evans S. Martin Toyota Yaris WRC +24.1
3 D. Sordo C. Carrera Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC +35.3
4 S. Ogier J. Ingrassia Toyota Yaris WRC +42.1
5 K. Rovanperä J. Halttunen Toyota Yaris WRC +1:31.8
6 G. Greensmith C. Patterson Ford Fiesta WRC +4:17.3
7 O. Solberg C. Drew Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC +4:26.7
8 N. Solans M. Martí Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC +4:34.9
9 E. Camilli M. Vilmot Citroën C2 Rally2 +9:49.4
10 N. Gryazin K. Aleksandrov Škoda Fabia Evo +10:05.9
2021 FIA World Rally Championship
Round 11, Rally de Espana
14-17 October 2021
Thierry Neuville
Photographer: Austral
Worldwide copyright: Hyundai Motorsport GmbH

Let’s here from the drivers then!

Hyundai Motorsport

Thierry Neuville (1st)

“I am relieved to get to the end of this rally, to be honest. It has been a tough weekend, and not without its challenges. We have fought incredibly hard across all stages, taking a lot of fastest times, and gradually extending our advantage. The result itself probably doesn’t show how much we’ve had to work. We had a good clean run until the final stage; everything was working perfectly up to that point. Unfortunately, we had a lot of stress before the Power Stage with an engine starter motor issue. That was the only disappointing aspect of an otherwise positive rally. Thanks to Martijn for another good job, and our second win together, as well as to Dani and Cándido for their podium result.”

2021 FIA World Rally Championship
Round 11, Rally de Espana
14-17 October 2021
Thierry Neuville, Martijn Wydaeghe, WRC, Action during Day 3 of Rally de Espana 2021
Photographer: Vincent Thuillier
Worldwide copyright: Hyundai Motorsport GmbH

Dani Sordo (3rd)

“Honestly you can’t imagine how happy I am, not only for myself but also for Cándido, as it’s our first podium working together. He has been working really hard to get us to this level. We couldn’t have done any more, we have pushed in every stage. Thanks to all my family and the supporters, who have been cheering us on this weekend. We have been involved in a fantastic battle with Sébastien and it has been a pleasure to drive here. Thanks to the team for giving me such a competitive car that has allowed us to fight, and for supporting me always. I am so happy.”

Oliver Solberg (7th)

“I knew what I had to do this week. I had to come here and drive really sensibly to make the finish, make the miles and to keep Andrea happy.

“I have to say, the conditions were, in places, tougher than I expected. You can watch the onboards and see the cars sliding on some of the gravel and mud pulled to the stage by the cars ahead, but until you are in that car and feeling it slide beneath you in sixth gear, you don’t have the experience.

“Sometimes I have been really surprised by how much the cars are off the road and cutting, but this is why I was here – I had to learn and see this for myself. Now I understand much better this rally and what it takes to make everything work here.

“We had one small problem with the clutch in the Salou stage on Saturday night. I knew I couldn’t stall the car and that was probably the worst stage to drive like that – it was so tight, so narrow and so twisty. Fortunately, it was very short and we could make it through.”

Toyota Gazoo Racing WRT

Elfyn Evans (2nd)

“Second place is a positive result but it’s not so easy to be happy when we made such a good start to the weekend. Unfortunately, it faded away a little bit and I didn’t feel completely at one with everything. There was perhaps a little bit more to gain from this weekend. The good thing from the weekend is that we managed to close the points gap and that the championship is still open. Realistically it’s a big gap to close in one round, but as we experienced last year, anything can still happen and we’ll try our best once again at Monza.”

2021 FIA World Rally Championship / Round 11 / Rally Catalunya/Spain / 14-17 October 2021 // Worldwide Copyright: Toyota Gazoo Racing WRT

Sébastien Ogier (4th)

“Coming here I was targeting more than fourth position, but it is still good points towards the championship. It was a close fight today and we definitely tried in the first three stages; then the rain on the last one did not help with my strategy of not taking risks, and I was definitely on the safe side there. But overall, we have to remember that this weekend is another positive step for the championship and that’s what matters the most. It’s not over yet though, so we’ll have to be good at Monza and try to repeat the success we had there last year.”

Kalle Rovanperä (5th)

“Overall, it has been quite a good weekend for us. There was a lot of learning, especially on Friday, but it got better with the setup and with my driving as the weekend went on. Today we were aiming for the Power Stage but the conditions were tricky and it was drying for the guys behind us on the road, so we didn’t have the chance to fight for more. We didn’t quite find the perfect feeling and not the pace that we wanted, but we tried our best and it was a solid weekend.”

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

1 S. Ogier 204
2 E. Evans 187
3 T. Neuville 159
4 K. Rovanperä 140
5 O. Tänak 128
6 C. Breen 76
7 T. Katsuta 68
8 D. Sordo 63
9 G. Greensmith 60
10 A. Fourmaux 42

 

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

1 Toyota Gazoo Racing World Rally Team 474
2 Hyundai Shell Mobis World Rally Team 427
3 M-Sport Ford World Rally Team 187
4 Hyundai 2C Competition 52

Well, we head now to the final round in Rally Monza from the 19th to 21st of November and a battle for both championships as well. Stay turned for my thoughts on the crews’ performances in the next few days.

Rally Spain Day Two Report – Thierry and Martijn pull away for Hyundai Motorsport

The second day then, and the crews had 117km seven stages ahead of them. The startlist looked like this – Katsuta, Solans, Solberg, Greensmith, Fourmaux, Rovanperä, Sordo, Ogier, Evans, Neuville. Now the interesting thing is that coming through the stages last would mean that the conditions for the leaders would be tricky with the corner cuts bringing gravel onto the road.

 

First up was SS7 Savallà 1 – 14.08 km and there was fog and mist in the stage, which kept moving.  The top three was Thierry, Elfyn and Kalle. The Belgian was 1.7 seconds faster and his lead was now up to 2.4 seconds. It was a good stage from the Hyundai driver, and perhaps the type of stage with it longer flowing and faster corners suited the i20 WRC more than the nimble Yaris, which seems to go better on the twisty stuff. Dani lost a little bit of time to Seb, as he looked to move into third, the gap between them now 6.3 seconds. Takamoto was back of course, and looking to build some confidence again on the stages, and did quite well to be just seven tenths behind Gus.

Into the longer SS8 Querol – Les Pobles 1 – 19.17 km and for a little while it looked like Adrien would take the fastest time, but he was denied by Thierry, whilst Dani set the third best time. Elfyn was only fifth fastest and 4.3 seconds down on Thierry’s time, so the gap now had grown to 6.7 seconds.

The final stage then of the morning loop, SS9 El Montmell 1 – 24.40 km and Thierry made it a clean sweep of the morning stage wins, from Dani and Elfyn. The Spainard who was six seconds faster than Seb, had now reduced the gap in their battle for third overall to just three tenths of a second now. It was game on for the final podium spot. Gus suffered a puncture in this one, and decided not to stop and change, but to complete, losing just over a minute. He’d have lost a lot more if he’d stopped, so it was the right choice. The M-Sport crew dropped two places to ninth overall as a result, with Olver and Nil Solans benefitting.

After the lunchtime break came SS10 Savallà 2 – 14.08 km and Thierry was fastest again from Seb who was 1.4 slower and then Elfyn third fastest a further seven tenths behind. The positions were pretty static to be honest, with no changes of places up and down the field. Sadly, Jari Huttunen retired after having an engine problem in his i20 Rally2.

There was a hint of some rain around an hour before SS11 Querol – Les Pobles 2 – 19.17 km, with some rain actually falling, but it soon stopped and didn’t change the surface of the road at all. Seb and Thierry shared the best time in this one, with Elfyn 1.6 slower. The Belgian was doing just enough to grow his lead over Elfyn. There was drama for Adrien though, as he hit a barrier on the left side and damaged his front wheel. He got it changed and limped to the end. A real shame for the Frenchman who’d been second fastest in the first running of the stage earlier.

The last long stage then of the day, SS12 El Montmell 2 – 24.40 km, and Seb finally broke Thierry’s stranglehold winning the stage from Thierry and Dani. Takamoto was fifth fastest, which was a good result for the Japanese driver, as he gained good experience for the future.

2021 FIA World Rally Championship / Round 11 / Rally Catalunya/Spain / 14-17 October 2021 // Worldwide Copyright: Toyota Gazoo Racing WRT

The last stage then of the day, SS13 Salou – 2.15 km, and Thierry was fastest again, but to be honest there was drama for Seb who lost a huge chunk of time after a stall and only being 16th fastest. Dani was now just 1.2 seconds behind the champion in their battle for third place. There was good drama for Mads who placed his C3 Rally2 fourth fastest in the stage with a sideways display in the stage.

Classification after Day Two

1 T. Neuville M. Wydaeghe Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC 2:03:45.7
2 E. Evans S. Martin Toyota Yaris WRC +16.4
3 S. Ogier J. Ingrassia Toyota Yaris WRC +38.7
4 D. Sordo C. Carrera Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC +39.9
5 K. Rovanperä J. Halttunen Toyota Yaris WRC +1:12.3
6 G. Greensmith C. Patterson Ford Fiesta WRC +3:45.2
7 O. Solberg C. Drew Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC +3:45.9
8 N. Solans M. Martí Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC +3:53.8

 

Let’s hear from the drivers then after Saturday’s stages.

Hyundai Motorsport

Thierry Neuville (1st)

“We have had a good day and it’s obviously a very nice feeling to be leading the rally going into the final day. It wasn’t easy; we had some fog early on and the roads were very dirty, so I relied a lot on information from the road note crew. We have taken a clever approach, trying to avoid the sharp cuts, and not risking any punctures. We made an important set-up change yesterday that allowed us to take more out of the car, but there are still things we could have done to go even quicker. I still felt comfortable, and we set six fastest times out of the seven stages, so it wasn’t too bad! It’s always nice to be in front but there are some challenging stages yet to come. Nothing is guaranteed but we keep believing.”

Dani Sordo (4th)

“Honestly, I am quite happy with our performance today, and particularly on the El Montmell stage. I would have preferred to be fighting for the win, of course, but I have been pushing hard to keep up with Sébastien for third. This morning, we were in a nice fight but in the afternoon, he was always a step ahead, setting some strong times. It was difficult for us to make up much ground. We have done the maximum we could, and we’ve been close to his pace. We will try to push for the podium tomorrow, but we know it will be difficult. We have to stay focused and do our best.”

2021 FIA World Rally Championship
Round 11, Rally de Espana
14-17 October 2021
Dani Sordo
Photographer: Austral
Worldwide copyright: Hyundai Motorsport GmbH

Toyota Gazoo Racing WRT

Elfyn Evans (2nd)

“We didn’t have a such a great day today and not what we wanted. The times were OK but not as good as yesterday obviously. We tried to improve the car in certain areas, like in the dirty places where we were struggling yesterday afternoon – and also this morning when we were running further back on the road. To an extent we managed to improve that, but in the process, we affected the overall balance of the car. We had to try something but it didn’t work out: I never really found the sweet spot and never felt as comfortable as yesterday. Here you have to be very confident, and I wasn’t at my very best today and it showed in the times. But tomorrow we’ll keep trying.”

Sébastien Ogier (3rd)

“This morning some things had been improved: I was more happy with the balance and I could enjoy driving the car more in the clean sections at least. Still, the times were not so great. But we continued to work on the car setup and after service it was starting to feel better and the times were coming and we had a great afternoon. Unfortunately, the engine stalled on a hairpin in the final stage so it is close again behind, but the positive is that the car is suiting me and the pace is there so I’m still very confident going into tomorrow.”

Kalle Rovanperä (5th)

“The pace was much better today and we could do good times without taking maximum risk. We made some more setup changes last night and already the first stage this morning was really nice in quite tricky conditions with a bit of fog and some damp places. We had a slow puncture on the second stage and then a big moment on the third one, but overall, it was quite a good morning and I was happy with the car. The afternoon was again quite tricky with a lot of gravel from the cuts, but we were not in a big fight anymore so we took it steady without big risks, and I’m learning all the time. Tomorrow the target is to finish the rally safely but also try to push for points on the Power Stage.”

2021 FIA World Rally Championship / Round 11 / Rally Catalunya/Spain / 14-17 October 2021 // Worldwide Copyright: Toyota Gazoo Racing WRT

Sunday

Now we have 50km’s over four stages remain and it’s looking like Thierry will take victory. Can Elfyn deny his push, or will the Belgian take his second win of the season? We will find out tomorrow!

Rally Spain – Day One Report. Thierry leads for Hyundai

Well, into day one then and the startlist looked like this – Ogier, Evans, Neuville, Rovanperä, Tänak, Katsuta, Greensmith, Sordo, Fourmaux, Solberg, Solans. The crews had six stages ahead of them, with a lunchtime service break.

Well, it was Elfyn who flew through SS1 Vilaplana 1 – 20.00 km, going a full five seconds faster than Thierry and Seb. It was a big statement of intent, and certainly surprised many in the service park. The Hyundai crews were struggling with understeer our there on the stages which had quite long corners and they were just having to stay off the throttle just a bit longer than they wanted.

Into SS2 La Granadella 1 – 21.80 km and Thierry and Elfyn set the exact same time, with Seb third again. Ott who was fourth coming into this one dropped two places as Dani and Kalle both moved past the Estonian after he went for a spin in the stage. There was even bigger drama though for Takamoto and Aaron. He ran wide on the exit of a corner and hit the armco smashing the left front side of his Yaris up. He crawled to the end of the stage, but it really was over for them today.

Elfyn won SS3 Riba-roja 1 – 14.21 km from Seb and Dani, with Thierry only sixth fastest and 2.8 behind the Welshman who took a 7.9 second lead into the break. There was a good battle as well in the WRC2 and WRC3 categories. Mads was quickest in the stage and reduced the gap to former M-Sport teammate Eric Camilli to just four tenths of a second. Kajetan was doing a similar thing winning the category and jumping ahead into second place in the category.

Into the afternoon stages then with SS4 Vilaplana 2 – 20.00 km and Thierry was fastest from Elfyn and the gap came down just three tenths. Seb remained third fastest and had a good gap to Dani who was fourth. We lost Ott on this one after he lost control in a tree-lined section and after spinning he hit a tree. They were out for the day.

There was a big change in SS5 La Granadella 2 – 21.80 km with Thierry flying through the stage and Elfyn having a big moment as well, the Belgian moved into the lead by just three tenths of a second. Seb remained 18 seconds from the lead.

So, to the last stage SS6 Riba-roja 2 – 14.21 km and Thierry made it two in a row going through four tenths quicker than Elfyn with Dani finding some speed and going third fastest, just three tenths faster than Seb. It meant that the Belgian took a lead of just seven tenths into the overnight halt.

 

Classification after Day One

1 T. Neuville M. Wydaeghe Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC 1:01:26.6
2 E. Evans S. Martin Toyota Yaris WRC +0.7
3 S. Ogier J. Ingrassia Toyota Yaris WRC +19.4
4 D. Sordo C. Carrera Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC +24.8
5 K. Rovanperä J. Halttunen Toyota Yaris WRC +38.0
6 A. Fourmaux A. Coria Ford Fiesta WRC +1:10.2
7 G. Greensmith C. Patterson Ford Fiesta WRC +1:28.9
8 O. Solberg C. Drew Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC +1:55.6
9 N. Solans M. Martí Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC +2:30.5

Let’s hear from the drivers after day one.

Hyundai Motorsport

Thierry Neuville (1st)

“I am feeling more comfortable in the car this afternoon. We experienced a lot of understeer on the morning loop, and I felt that I was pushing the car through rather than driving it. On the twisty roads, I felt I could have gone faster but I wasn’t able to get the car to turn in. Tomorrow, we have a different profile of stages, more flowing and I hope they will suit us better. We are going to do all we can to stay in the fight with Elfyn, who had a great start to the rally. It acted as a wake-up call for us, but now we’re back in the game.”

2021 FIA World Rally Championship
Round 11, Rally de España
14-17 October 2021
Thierry Neuville, Martijn Wydaeghe, Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC
Photographer: Dufour Fabien
Worldwide copyright: Hyundai Motorsport GmbH

Dani Sordo (4th)

“I have pushed my hardest since the very start of the day. It is so good to be back here in Spain, competing in our home event. We are back to a full tarmac event, and I think we’ve had a decent Friday. We took a slightly different strategy in the afternoon loop with two spare tyres. That meant we were carrying more weight on the stages but had some better tyre performance in the final stage. I had hoped the time would be better but honestly it was difficult to get any closer. The guys in front are fast. We’ll keep pushing for the podium.”

Ott Tänak (DNF)

“It has been a day of unpleasant surprises. This morning, in SS2, we had quite an impressive spin, and then at the start of the afternoon loop we went off and had to retire the car. We hit a tree stump which caused damage to the car that is unfortunately irreparable. It was quite an impact, so we were probably carrying too much speed into the corner. We locked the wheel a bit, and together with the dirt, we couldn’t save it. Martin and I are both fine; we weren’t really over the limit, so it came a bit out of the blue.”

Toyota Gazoo Racing WRT

Elfyn Evans (2nd)

“This morning was very good for us. The feeling in the car was good and we got into a pretty nice rhythm, but I was surprised to have such a strong time in the first stage. The afternoon loop was OK for the most part, it was just the middle stage where it was a bit more dirty that seemed to be a bit difficult for us. We had a big moment and hit the rear fairly hard on a kerb, but we got away with it. It’s very close now between the top two positions and it’s all to play for going into another tricky day tomorrow.”

2021 FIA World Rally Championship / Round 11 / Rally Catalunya/Spain / 14-17 October 2021 // Worldwide Copyright: Toyota Gazoo Racing WRT

Sébastien Ogier (3rd)

“It’s been an OK day for us today. It was not as good as we wanted, as we came here wanting to fight for the victory and at the moment, we didn’t have the rhythm for that. This morning was not a bad loop, but Elfyn had a really good start. This afternoon there were some really dirty sections, and I struggled a bit on those, not wanting to take full risk. Nineteen seconds is a bit too much of a gap tonight but we’ll keep working to improve and we’re still in a position to fight for big points, so let’s see what tomorrow brings.”

Kalle Rovanperä (5th)

“Overall, it was quite an OK day for us. The morning was quite tricky and we struggled a bit too much. But in service we made some changes to the car which actually helped quite a lot, and it was more enjoyable this afternoon. It was good learning and we gained a lot of experience today that we didn’t have before with this car. Tomorrow could also be quite tricky with stages that our rivals know quite well with World Rally Cars, but we will keep trying to improve.”

Saturday’s stages

Saturday sees 117km over seven stages. Can Elfyn fight back and retake the lead? I think he can and it will be amazing to see the battle for the lead unfold throughout the day.

Rally Spain 2021 Preview – Back to Tarmac!

Well, we are coming to the end of this year’s championship, and for the first time since 2019 we head to Spain! Another twist is that for the first time since 2009 the event will be an all-tarmac event. This will at least mean that Seb Ogier won’t have to sweep the road clear of gravel. He and his teammate Elfyn will continue their battle for this seasons Drivers World Championship on the super smooth roads of Spain. If the Welshman wins in Spain, then he will take the fight to the finale at Rally Monza. However, if Seb scores six or more points than Elfyn, then the Frenchman will take his eighth title in his final season.

Let’s take a look at the stages facing them all. 280km over the seventeen stages. The conditions will remain pretty consistent throughout the weekend with sunny weather forecast for the whole weekend.

Rally de España opens with shakedown on the morning of Thursday 14 October, followed by the ceremonial start near the Salou-based service park.

Friday’s six-stage itinerary features two runs of Vilaplana (20.00km), La Granadella (21.80km) and Riba – roja (14.21km).

Saturday is the longest day of the rally, with two loops of Savallà (14.08km), Querol – Les Pobles (19.17km) and El Montmell (24.40km) followed by a short street stage in the heart of Salou (2.24km).

Santa Marina (9.10km) and Riudecanyes (16.35km) close the event on Sunday, with the second pass of the latter stage forming the event’s Power Stage.

RallyRACC Catalunya-Costa Daurada itinerary:
Friday October 15
SS1 Vilaplana 1 20.00km (12.42 miles) 0843
SS2 La Granadella 1 21.80km (13.38 miles) 1021
SS3 Riba-roja 1 14.21km (8.72 miles) 1142
Service Port Aventura 1317
SS4 Vilaplana 2 20.00km (12.42 miles) 1500
SS5 La Granadella 2 21.80km (13.38 miles) 1638
SS6 Riba-roja 2 14.21km (8.72 miles) 1759
Service Port Aventura 1949

Saturday October 16
SS7 Savallà 1 14.08km (8.74 miles) 0844
SS8 Querol-Les Pobles 1 19.17km (11.91 miles) 0937
SS9 El Montmell 1 24.40km (15.15 miles) 1038
Service Port Aventura 1200
SS10 Savallà 2 14.08km (8.74 miles) 1414
SS11 Querol-Les Pobles 2 19.17km (11.91 miles) 1507
SS12 El Montmell 2 24.40km (15.15 miles) 1608
SS13 Salou 2.24km (1.39 miles) 1800
Service Port Aventura 1820

Sunday October 17
SS14 Santa Marina 1 9.10km (5.65 miles) 0700
SS15 Riudecanyes 1 16.35 km (10.15 miles) 0808
Service Port Aventura 0854
SS16 Santa Marina 2 9.10km (5.65 miles) 1029
SS17 Riudecanyes 2 16.35 km (10.15 miles) 1218

 

Now, let’s hear from the drivers.

Toyota Gazoo Racing WRT

Sébastien Ogier

“I’m really looking forward to Spain and to being back on asphalt again. It will be nice to have all three days of the rally on asphalt because those roads are really fun to drive. Also, for us it will good to not be sweeping gravel on the first day of the rally like we have been doing for much of the season. We are still in a strong position for the championship. Spain will be the first realistic chance to claim the title and I know what I need to do to make it happen. When I have the chance to win, I try to fight for it, and this will be the most simple way to achieve our goal.”

2021 FIA World Rally Championship / Round 11 / Rally Catalunya/Spain / 14-17 October 2021 // Worldwide Copyright: Toyota Gazoo Racing WRT

Elfyn Evans

“The win on Rally Finland was a great result for us. The drivers’ title is still a long shot for us but once more we’ll be giving our best in Spain and trying to get the best possible result there. The asphalt roads in Spain are really fantastic to drive, so I’m looking forward to competing on an all-asphalt event this time around. So far whenever I’ve driven the Yaris WRC on asphalt, the surface has usually been quite dirty or provided very low grip, so I’m excited to drive the higher-grip roads in Spain in this car. That said, at this time of year the weather is never guaranteed to be dry even in Spain. If it does rain, as we’ve seen in previous years, it can still be quite a tricky and demanding event.”

Kalle Rovanperä

“I have driven in Spain twice before in WRC 2 and I always liked the days on asphalt there, so for me it’s a positive thing that it will be a full asphalt rally again. If the weather is good then it’s a really nice event. The roads are really fast and flowing and a bit different to the other rounds we normally do on asphalt. It’s more like circuit driving and you need to be really precise, but when you get it right then it’s really enjoyable. The characteristics were quite different in Ypres but there I had a good feeling in the car in asphalt specification, and I hope we can have that again in Spain and fight for a good result for ourselves and the team.”

Hyundai Motorsport

Thierry Neuville

“When I first participated in Rally de España it was a full tarmac event and now we are back to that profile after a few years of mixed terrain. I’m looking forward to tackling some of the famous stages we have seen in the past. It is a rally I like; the nice flowing roads are really good fun to drive with these WRC cars. It is more of a circuit-style of driving, so you need to be clean and efficient, taking care not to slide too much. You also need good pace notes to rely on to be fast, as it is difficult to make a big difference in the gaps on these types of roads.”

2021 FIA World Rally Championship
Round 11, Rally de España
14-17 October 2021
Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC
Photographer: Dufour Fabien
Worldwide copyright: Hyundai Motorsport GmbH

Ott Tänak

“It has been a while since we’ve had three days of tarmac competition at Rally de España. It is a very fast event and one that I really enjoy. The roads require pure, clean driving – the routes in the forest are quite smooth with not many cuts and the weather is consistent there, which makes it an enjoyable event for me. After two consecutive podium finishes, it would be nice to secure a hat-trick in Spain as we aim for a strong finish to this season.”

Dani Sordo

“I am really happy to be back driving in Spain after two years without a rally in my home country. I’m looking forward to the challenge of a full tarmac event; I’m hoping the weather will be nice and that we will have a lot of fans there as well. You need to have a really good car set-up and be confident – then, you enjoy the rally a lot. If you have a car that is understeering and not working very well, you won’t be happy. I can’t wait to be back at Rally de España.”

Jari Huttunen

“I’m looking forward to the return of tarmac next weekend after our victory in Ypres Rally Belgium. We were able to find a good confidence and rhythm with the Hyundai i20 N Rally2 on those roads which we hope will put us on the front foot in Spain. Finland didn’t quite go our way from the start of the rally, so the target is to perform well from the very first stage.”

Teemu Suninen

“I’m looking forward to Rally de España with the Hyundai i20 N Rally2. Spain has been one of my all-time favourite rallies. At the same time, it’s the best event to feel the balance of the new car on tarmac because of the long curves. There are a lot of new stages in the rally this year, and therefore the pace notes will play an important role next weekend.”

M-Sport Ford WRT

Gus Greensmith

“Spain’s a beautiful event with very smooth, fast and flowing Tarmac roads which is always a pleasure to drive in these cars. It’s something that seems to have always suited the Fiesta in the past so we know that it should be much stronger than in Finland and we’re hoping for a good result as a team.”

Adrien Fourmaux

“I am really happy to be back in Spain, I was there two years ago in the Fiesta Rally2 and have some good experience on this event. I really like this Tarmac event which is quite interesting with the lines you need for the corners. It’s quite a grippy event and my second event with Alex so we still want to improve our pace together.

“We want to have a good result we know the car is really good on Tarmac and want to able to fight with the rest of the guys.”

Seb Perez

“Really excited for Catalunya this weekend, it is going to be really good. My circuit knowledge should help with the gravel stuff, obviously the cuts are going to be a bit of a challenge. Hopefully I get my head around them and use them to my advantage, it’s going to be exciting as my first WRC round.

“I’ve done plenty events in the Fiesta Rally2 now so I’m looking forward to a couple of days of good rallying.”

 

Well, we are set then for an amazing Rally Spain. Elfyn and Scott do need to win this weekend to take the title battle to the final round. There can be no sitting back and hoping that second place will do the job. I don’t think that Seb and Julien can count their chickens either. It’s not a foregone conclusion that they will win either. Their teammates are very quick on tarmac. Then there’s the Hyundai challengers. Ott won the title for Toyota in 2019, but it was Thierry Neuville who took victory for Hyundai that year. Perhaps either of them could also challenge for the win and that could bring extra spice to the championship, if they are ahead of either Seb or Elfyn.

Shakedown starts in the morning, and it will be interesting to see who has dialled their car in in their pre-event test, as they may the one leading at the end of day one. Pop back on Friday for my Day One report.

Rally Finland 2021 – My Thoughts

Well, what an amazing rally that we witnessed last weekend. Let’s take a look at the performances of the crews over the weekend.

 

Well, first up Elfyn Evans and Scott Martin. Nine stage wins, with four in a row on Saturday morning set up their best victory of their careers. It was the kind of drive that we would expect to see from Ott or Seb and have brought to the stages over the recent years. The key thing with this drive was that it happened in Finland. Elfyn took stage wins and second overall in 2017, so we knew that he could score a good result at this rally. The other thing to consider is the way that he responded to his closest challenger throughout the rally. Ott did what he could to put pressure on his former M-Sport teammate, but Elfyn had an answer every time. He’d gone in a different setup route with his Yaris, and was far more comfortable than his teammates, and able to put the car where he wanted, allowing him to produce this result. Never forget, he’s the first Welshman to win in Finland. It’s brought him right back into the championship fight, now only twenty-four points behind Seb Ogier.

2021 FIA World Rally Championship / Round 10 / Rally Finland / 28 September – 4th October 2021 // Worldwide Copyright: Toyota Gazoo Racing WRT

Next up is Ott Tänak and Martin Järveoja. Seven stage wins for double Rally Finland winner showed that Hyundai were really benefitting from the 2019 championship winners understanding of the challenges of this event. Normally that kind of performance would likely deliver the victory, but no matter what he did, Elfyn and Scott always had an answer to the Estonian duo. Never-the-less they’d delivered Hyundai their first ever podium at this event, and for that they should be applauded. This certainly bodes well for the future.

2021 FIA World Rally Championship
Round 10, Rally Finland
01-03 October 2021
Ott Tanak, Martin Jarveoja, WRC, Action during Day 3 of Rally Finland 2021
Photographer: Vincent Thuillier
Worldwide copyright: Hyundai Motorsport GmbH

Okay, lastly, we have to talk about Craig Breen and Paul Nagle. The Irish duo came to this rally as podium finishers in the past. Craig took third in 2016 when he was with Citroen and Paul was Kris Meeke’s co-driver when they won this rally in 2016, also for Citroen, so we knew that if they could get comfortable out there, that a top result was on, and so it was. They led early on and for a crew only doing a part season, they were really on it. Once Elfyn and Ott stepped up their pace in their battle though a crew that is only doing a part season was not likely to be able to challenge those that are in their cars full-time. Mind you, they had one over their other teammates, Thierry and Martijn, and that is why this drive to third place has to be shouted about. Of course, the great news is that Craig and Paul have signed for M-Sport Ford for two years, starting next year to spearhead their championship challenge with the new Puma Rally1 car.

2021 FIA World Rally Championship
Round 10, Rally Finland
1-3 October 2021
Craig Breen
Photographer: Austral
Worldwide copyright: Hyundai Motorsport GmbH

Let’s look at the other points finishers then, starting with Esapekka Lappi and Janne Ferm. Fourth place for the 2017 winners was a good result for a crew that last competed the Yaris WRC at the end of 2018, not forgetting that he last drove a WRC at the end of 2020 with M-Sport at Rally Monza. For a crew of such quality, it must have been very hard to be away, but with this result it shows that they deserve to be at the top of this sport. Of course, it was announced on the 7th of October that he will be back at Toyota sharing a car with Seb from next year. This is great news for them and of course for the championship.

2021 FIA World Rally Championship / Round 10 / Rally Finland / 28 September – 4th October 2021 // Worldwide Copyright: Toyota Gazoo Racing WRT

Let’s talk about Seb Ogier and Julien Ingrassia. They weren’t really on the pace to be honest, until they adopted Elfyn’s setup. Obviously, it was always going to be very hard for them what with opening the road throughout Friday’s stages. Once they did take those settings, they were quicker but the damage had been done early on and fifth was the best that they could get. Of course, a time penalty was handed to them after Seb didn’t do his helmet strap properly for stage twelve, but I think even without that I’m not sure that they would have got fourth anyway. To add to their woes, the power problem on the powerstage meant that they only took the points for fifth place.

2021 FIA World Rally Championship / Round 10 / Rally Finland / 28 September – 4th October 2021 // Worldwide Copyright: Toyota Gazoo Racing WRT

At M-Sport, Gus and Chris and Adrien and Alex weren’t really on the pace, but to be honest for them to just complete the rally without any problems and mistakes on a very challenging event, they certainly managed that well. Of course, it was to be expected that Gus and Chris who have more experience with this car on this surface would finish ahead of his teammate. For Adrien with a new co-driver alongside him and also competing in a WRC Fiesta on this event for the first time, it’s fair to not have expected a massive result from them.

Takamoto with, with another temporary co-driver as we await Dan Barritt’s return actually led the rally after the first stage, but then he fell back after his 360-degree spin, and then had a mistake on Saturday meant that he restarted on Sunday. Still, for his debut in a Yaris WRC on this rally, there were some positives for the Japanese driver, who actually considers this rally as a home event, mainly as he has lived in Jyväskylä for a number of years. He will return though with some good experience and will likely have some good results in the future.

Finally, the crews that didn’t finish the rally. Thierry and Martijn were not really at this one. Sadly it’s the kind of performance that we have got used to from Thierry at this event, and it’s really odd as well. It’s not like he’s not fast and consistent on gravel rallies. I’m sure that he and the team will be working hard to figure out what it is about this particular rally so that he can get onto the pace. I think that without this, he may never win the drivers’ world title that he really wants.

Kalle and Jonne came to this rally with big hopes, but after showing some good pace, suffered a small accident that had big consequences, with him picking up a back injury. The crew came back just to complete most of the stages, kind of like a fast recce, but didn’t complete the powerstage. It’s not like they were going to push hard for the points in there. They will return though and will almost certainly stand on the podium at some point.

 

Well, who was your driver of the event? Let us know in the comments section below!

Rally Finland Day Two Report – Elfyn and Scott lead for Toyota!

Day two then and the crews faced 151km over nine stages. The start list looked like this – Fourmaux, Greensmith, Katsuta, Ogier, Neuville, Rovanperä, Lappi, Evans, Tänak, Breen. Super Saturday is how it was described and with some long stages throughout the day. There would be a service break as well.

First up then, SS7 Kakaristo – Hassi 1 – 18.17 km, and Elfyn was fastest from Craig by two tenths, with Ott a further second or so back. These three were our leaders, with the Irishman still a good chunk ahead of Ott and Elfyn. Kalle moved ahead of Esapekka and the gap between them was just 1.6 seconds. Oliver rolled out of the rally on this stage.

The following stage, SS8 Päijälä 1 – 22.61 km, saw Elfyn take another stage win, but it was such a great time, that it took him from third into the lead! Ott was 4.2 off the Welshman’s pace and Craig 6.8 off and he now held a lead of nine tenths over Craig, with Ott 2.3 seconds back. The battle for fourth between the young Finns continued, with Kalle keeping EP behind him. Unfortunately, we lost Takamoto after he went off the road and couldn’t continue. The demise of the Japanese driver meant that Teemu who was leading WRC2 in his Polo moved into the top ten.

Elfyn made it three in a row, winning SS9 Arvaja 1 – 13.49 km from Kalle and Craig. His lead over Craig was now four seconds, with Ott a further two seconds back. Thierry remained ahead of Seb despite losing 1.6 to the Frenchman as they battled over sixth place. Gus and Adrien remained seventh and eight just gaining good experience for the future.

The last stage then before service, SS10 Patajoki 1 – 20.55 km and Elfyn was fastest again, 1.6 seconds ahead of Craig again with Ott, who was not comfortable with the stage conditions a further 2.1 behind Craig. It was a brilliant set of stage wins for the Welshman as he looked to take a first Rally Finland win as well. Unfortunately, we lost Kalle who lost control of his car on a lefthander and went of the road into a pile of dirt on the right. It was game over for him.

After the break, SS11 Kakaristo – Hassi 2 – 18.17 km was Ott’s though from Elfyn and Craig. Elfyn was only six tenths slower than the Estonian though and the gap between them remained 9.1 seconds, and Craig was still holding second overall with a reduced time difference to his teammate.

Into SS12 Päijälä 2 – 22.61 km and Ott was fastest from Elfyn and Craig and this meant that the Estonian had now passed his teammate for second place. The gap to Elfyn remained a very healthy 7.9 seconds. In the WRC2 category, Mads was fastest from Teemu, but the Finn remained 10 seconds ahead of the Citroen driver.

Well, it was another stage win for Ott in SS13 Arvaja 2 – 13.49 km as he continued to find good pace, but he was only two tenths faster than the leader, so Elfyn’s lead was barely touched. Esapekka was third fastest and was making fourth place his. Mads continued to reduce the gap to Teemu in their fight over the category lead.

2021 FIA World Rally Championship / Round 10 / Rally Finland / 28 September – 4th October 2021 // Worldwide Copyright: Toyota Gazoo Racing WRT

The light was starting to fade as SS14 Patajoki 2 – 20.55 km and Elfyn broke early-stage pacesetters Seb’s time, and then Craig and Ott came through and were not able to beat his time. The Welshman had increased his lead over former M-Sport teammate to 9.1 seconds. However, there was drama for Thierry as he landed heavily and he lost his light pods from the front of his car. There was other damage, mainly to his cooling system, and he pulled over in an access road. He was out and any hopes of this year’s title have gone with this result.

The final stage of the day, SS15 Harju 2 – 2.31 km and there was a slight change in the running order with Elfyn going last. Ott eclipsed early pace setter Seb’s time, but it was great to see Elfyn match Ott time as they set identical times.

Classification after Day Two

1 E. Evans S. Martin Toyota Yaris WRC 1:57:46.7
2 O. Tänak M. Järveoja Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC +9.1
3 C. Breen P. Nagle Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC +19.5
4 E. Lappi J. Ferm Toyota Yaris WRC +44.8
5 S. Ogier J. Ingrassia Toyota Yaris WRC +1:23.7
6 G. Greensmith C. Patterson Ford Fiesta WRC +4:16.9
7 A. Fourmaux A. Coria Ford Fiesta WRC +5:31.5

 

Let’s hear from the drivers

Toyota Gazoo Racing WRT

Elfyn Evans (1st)

“I’m pretty happy tonight, it’s been a strong day. It was a good morning for us, the car was working well and I just tried to keep a good rhythm. We made some minor changes last night to improve a few areas that weren’t working quite so well yesterday, and now I have a car that gives quite a lot of confidence, which helps a lot here and makes it easier to push like we have. There was a little bit of time dropped in some of the stages this afternoon but overall, we can be happy with the day. There’s still quite a way to go tomorrow, so we just have to focus stage-by-stage and keep doing what we’ve been doing.”

2021 FIA World Rally Championship / Round 10 / Rally Finland / 28 September – 4th October 2021 // Worldwide Copyright: Toyota Gazoo Racing WRT

Sébastien Ogier (5th)

“This morning it was still difficult for me, the speed was pretty much the same as yesterday. The championship has been too much in the back of my head and I was not daring enough. But at lunchtime we made a setup change which made the car much more enjoyable to drive. It gave me more confidence and the times were quite good if you consider that we were still running quite early on the road. So this is a positive: At least I have some answers now for my lack of pace at the start of the rally and we could find a solution. Elfyn is doing a really strong rally and can close up in the championship, but I still have the Power Stage tomorrow to try and recover some more points.”

Kalle Rovanperä (38th)

“The first couple of stages this morning were again quite tricky on the bigger roads, the grip level was really low and it was not suiting my setup and driving so well. On the third stage which was more technical and with more grip, straight away the feeling was really good and we could set quite a good time. Then on the next stage I made a mistake in a really simple corner: The cut was deeper than I expected, and it pulled us sideways towards the inside. I tried to save it from spinning but there wasn’t enough space and when we came back to the road, we went into this pile of sand on the other side. It has been a tricky weekend for me but hopefully we can restart tomorrow.”

Hyundai Motorsport

Ott Tänak (2nd)

“The pace has been quite good today; I was trying hard on every stage. In the afternoon, the grip was higher so it was easier to manage the car and I could push a bit more. I tried to put as much pressure as possible on Elfyn and push him hard, so that if he is able to win then it will be because he deserves it. But from first thing tomorrow morning we will try our best to battle for the victory.”

2021 FIA World Rally Championship
Round 10, Rally Finland
1-3 October 2021
Ott Tanak
Photographer: Austral
Worldwide copyright: Hyundai Motorsport GmbH

Craig Breen (3rd)

“I’m really proud of what we’ve done so far, managing to do these two full days without making any mistakes and staying consistent, so we have to be happy with that. It’s slightly frustrating to lose some time to the top two, but it’s just the case of them having that little bit extra today. It’s a short day tomorrow, but it’s one that still needs to be treated with respect. I would love to get another podium and make it three in a row, as that would be amazing for me and Paul. I’m looking forward to it.”

Thierry Neuville (DNF)

“Everything was going well, but a couple of kilometres into the stage on a fast left corner there was a compression which damaged the radiator. We immediately got a water pressure alarm and then three corners later I saw that the temperature was getting higher and higher, so we knew that it would be difficult to go to the end. We tried our best to solve the issue, but the leak was too big and we had to retire the car. It is a shame as it had been a good day, but unfortunately there was nothing we could do.”

Oliver Solberg (DNF)

“I am so sorry and disappointed with what happened. This is not at all what we needed and I am gutted for everyone in the team.

“Everyone in Hyundai Motorsport and RedGrey have worked so hard to prepare a very good car and the test we had was perfect. So, it’s just a big disappointment!” The accident happened on the first run through Kakaristo-Hassi. “The accident came in quite a fast corner.”

“Over a small jump the car bottomed out and sent us in the ditch, then we rolled.  Like I said, this is just such a disappointment – especially after such a positive result in Finland at the start of the season [on Arctic Rally Finland]. I came to make some experience of this event and I can’t do that now. I am sorry for this for this.”

2021 FIA World Rally Championship
Round 10, Rally Finland
01-03 October 2021
Oliver Solberg / Craig Drew
Photographer: Jordi Rierola
Worldwide Copyright: Hyundai Motorsport GmbH

Sunday

One more day then with 45.7km’s over four stages, including the Power Stage. Can Elfyn and Scott hold on for a famous victory? Only four non-Scandinavian drivers have won this rally in the past. Elfyn could become the first Welshman to win? We’ll find out tomorrow!

Rally Finland, Day One Report – Craig and Paul lead for Hyundai

The first day of the 70th running of Rally Finland saw almost 90km over six stages. The startlist looked like this – Ogier, Evans, Neuville, Rovanperä, Tänak, Katsuta, Breen, Fourmaux, Greensmith, Lappi. It was great to see the 2017 winner back in a Yaris WRC!

The short first stage, SS1 Harju 1 – 2.31 km saw Takamoto with his new co-driver Aaron Johnston set the fastest time from Thierry and Esapekka. Only 1.9 seconds covered the top nine positions as well. It was game one! Quickest of the M-Sport drivers was Adrien with a top five time as well! Mads led the WRC2 category from Jari and Nikolay, whilst Emil was leading WRC3 from Pepe and Teemu.

Into SS2 Ässämäki 1 – 12.31 km then, the first long stage and Takamoto had a huge moment in the stage with a 360 spin. He managed to keep it out of the scenery and finished the stage with the tenth best time. Craig set the fastest time from Ott and Elfyn and now just 1.8 seconds covered the top three as they all moved up a place and were now the top three overall. Esapekka, Thierry, Adrien and Seb all dropped down the leaderboard.

Ott won the following stage, SS3 Sahloinen – Moksi 1 – 21.37 km from Craig and Esapekka. The Finn’s pace took him into third overall as well, deposing Elfyn down to fourth. Championship leader, Seb, was not having a good day though, with him only eighth best time and holding seventh overall. After Takamoto’s moment earlier, he was now making his way back up the leaderboard and was now ahead of both Gus and Adrien and holding eighth place.

The first afternoon stage, SS4 Ässämäki 2 – 12.31 km after the tyre fitting zone saw Ott win the stage from Kalle and Craig. The Estonian still held the lead from his teammate, but there was a change for third place with Elfyn passing Esapekka after the Finn was only sixth fastest. It certainly wasn’t over though, as the top six was covered by just 9.7 seconds.

We had a new stage winner with Craig winning SS5 Sahloinen – Moksi 2 – 21.37 km from Kalle and Ott. The Irishman’s time cut the gap to Ott to just 1.5 seconds. Meanwhile Kalle and Esapekka had just moved ahead of Elfyn into third and fourth respectively. In WRC2 Nikolay was fastest from Teemu and Mads. The Russian’s time took him ahead of Teemu and into second place in the category.

The final stage then of the day SS6 Oittila – 19.75 km, and this started just as the sun was starting to set as well. Elfyn was fastest from Esapekka and Craig. The Welshman’s time took him back ahead of Esapekka and into third, but the big moment was for Craig who jumped into the lead after Ott was just sixth fastest in the stage. The Irishman’s pace meant that he now had a lead of 2.8 seconds. The drama of the night stage had paid off as well, with the top five now covered by just 7.9 seconds. Everything had closed up at the end of the day.

2021 FIA World Rally Championship / Round 10 / Rally Finland / 28 September – 4th October 2021 // Worldwide Copyright: Toyota Gazoo Racing WRT

Classification after Day One

1 C. Breen P. Nagle Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC 43:51.3
2 O. Tänak M. Järveoja Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC +2.8
3 E. Evans S. Martin Toyota Yaris WRC +6.1
4 E. Lappi J. Ferm Toyota Yaris WRC +6.7
5 K. Rovanperä J. Halttunen Toyota Yaris WRC +7.9
6 T. Neuville M. Wydaeghe Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC +31.3
7 S. Ogier J. Ingrassia Toyota Yaris WRC +33.6
8 T. Katsuta A. Johnston Toyota Yaris WRC +46.9
9 G. Greensmith C. Patterson Ford Fiesta WRC +1:20.6
10 A. Fourmaux A. Coria Ford Fiesta WRC +1:48.9

 

Let’s hear from the drivers

Hyundai Motorsport

Craig Breen (1st)

“It sounds pretty good to be rally leader this evening. We have had an amazing day and I’ve enjoyed every second of it. The stages are really nice, and especially the final one in the dark. I have always questioned what Finland would be like in night conditions and now we know – absolutely incredible! The later runners were a bit more in darkness, and I actually had some moments at the start. We lost a bit of rhythm, missed a couple of junctions but nothing terrible; I enjoyed the last part inside the forest, and it was nice to see the time at the end. I think everyone is going to find a little something extra tomorrow, so we’ll try to take any opportunity that comes our way.”

2021 FIA World Rally Championship
Round 10, Rally Finland
1-3 October 2021
Craig Breen
Photographer: Austral
Worldwide copyright: Hyundai Motorsport GmbH

Ott Tänak (2nd)

“It has been a surprisingly good day and very consistent. On the small narrow roads, we were a bit handicapped and lost a lot, but on the fast and flowing parts we were on the pace. The improvements in the car on these fast roads are down to the efforts of the team, who have been working hard; they’ve done their job well and the performance here is better than it has been for them in the past. My pre-event test was not fully representative, so I had to make some changes to the car to find some confidence. Thankfully, it was a better direction. Tomorrow, we have some tough stages and a long loop, so it’s definitely going to be the big day of the weekend.”

Thierry Neuville (6th)

“From our side, the day was going quite ok, and we were in the fight up to the final night stage. I struggled to see the road at the end in the darkening conditions. I was quite fast in the first two splits, but the last section was very challenging, and I couldn’t commit as I would have liked. Up to that point, I had a good rhythm in the car and could push, so if we can pick up that level of performance tomorrow then we’ll see what we can do. Nothing is lost yet. We have to try and do the best we can to close the gap and if not, then we’ll try to keep our position and enjoy the stages.”

Toyota Gazoo Racing WRT

Elfyn Evans (3rd)

“I’m relatively happy with how it went out there today. The feeling has generally been good in the car. There are some areas where I’ve struggled a little bit more and we still need to work on, but overall, I’ve enjoyed the day. We obviously had a strong time in the final stage; it’s never easy driving in the dark and especially at these speeds, but the pacenotes were working quite well and I just went with the rhythm. Tomorrow’s a massive day with four rather different stages, and two of them are brand new. It’s close now in the top five, and anything can still happen, so we have to keep doing our best and see what comes.”

2021 FIA World Rally Championship / Round 10 / Rally Finland / 28 September – 4th October 2021 // Worldwide Copyright: Toyota Gazoo Racing WRT

Kalle Rovanperä (5th)

“It has been a really demanding day with tough conditions and a lot of new pacenotes. I think it was a difficult day for everybody with the grip level, which was really low. For us the first pass was not easy but we will try to improve the setup for that for tomorrow, and the times were better on the second pass. It is really close and everything is still open. Of course, after pushing really hard the whole day you would prefer the time gap to be the other way around, but we will try to do something about that tomorrow.”

Sébastien Ogier (7th)

“It was not a great day for me today. We were hoping for better. There should be at least three cars in front of us tomorrow, so hopefully that will be better for us, but we need to understand exactly why we had no pace today. For sure, part of the time loss today was down to road position but that was not the only reason. I have to understand if I was just too slow or if there is something we can do with the car setup. The grip was not fantastic but I still enjoyed the driving, so I was surprised to be losing so much. The night stage I was expecting to be very challenging but actually this one went better than I expected; our lights were working well there.”

Tomorrow

Day two sees the longest day of the rally with 151km over nine stages. Pop back at the end of tomorrow for the full day’s report. Can Craig stay in the lead, or will we see Ott and Kalle move into the lead? One thing is for sure. It will be an amazing day.

Rally Finland 2021 Preview – Big jumps and fast gravel!

We return to Finland for the second time this year, but the first time on the gravel roads since 2019. It’s been too long, but it is good to return! Also returning to a full world rally machinery is Esapekka Lappi and Janne Ferm. The 2017 Rally Finland winners are back in a Toyota Yaris and have recently tested that car. It’s been too long for them out of one of these cars, and I am glad that they are back.

With 287.11km of competitive kilometres over nineteen stages and run much later than usual, it will be an interesting event. Here’s a look at the stages. The last two stages on Friday and Saturday will be run as the sunsets.

Secto Rally Finland itinerary:
Friday October 1
Shakedown, Vesala 0801
SS1 Harju 1 2.31km (1.43 miles) 1338
SS2 Ässämäki 1 12.31km (7.64 miles) 1436
SS3 Sahloinen-Moksi 1 21.37km (13.27 miles) 1526
SS4 Ässämäki 2 12.31km (7.64 miles) 1708
SS5 Sahloinen-Moksi 2 21.37km (13.27 miles) 1758
SS6 Oittila 19.75km (12.27 miles) 1900

Saturday October 2
SS7 Kakaristo-Hassi 1 18.17km (11.29 miles) 0816
SS8 Päijälä 1 22.61km (14.04 miles) 0914
SS9 Arvaja 1 13.49km (8.38 miles) 1038
SS10 Patajoki 1 20.55km (12.76 miles) 1128
Service Jyväskylä 1243
SS11 Kakaristo-Hassi 2 18.17km (11.29 miles) 1516
SS12 Päijälä 2 22.61km (14.04 miles) 1614
SS13 Arvaja 2 13.49km (8.38 miles) 1738
SS14 Patajoki 2 20.55km (12.76 miles) 1828
SS15 Harju 2 2.31km (1.43 miles) 2000

Sunday October 3
SS16 Laukaa 1 11.75km (7.30 miles) 0835
SS17 Ruuhimäki 1 11.12km (6.90 miles) 0938
SS18 Laukaa 2 11.75km (7.30 miles) 1101
SS19 Ruuhimäki 2 11.12km (6.90 miles) 1318

 

Let’s hear from the drivers.

Toyota Gazoo Racing WRT

Sébastien Ogier

“Rally Finland is another rally that I love to drive. At this time of year, it could be a different challenge and a bit more difficult than what we are used to. We will discover more in our test just before the rally. For sure we can expect some colder conditions, and I have to say I am hoping for some dampness as well so we have less of a disadvantage opening the road. The Yaris WRC was born on Finnish roads so it should perform well there but I am expecting tough competition as well, including from my team-mates. Nothing is decided in the championship yet so let’s see what approach we will take on this rally, but I’m looking forward to driving those roads in this car.”

Elfyn Evans

“Finland is one of my favourite rallies on the calendar and I always enjoy the feeling of driving there. For me it’s actually been over three years since I last competed there, having missed the event in 2019, so I’m really looking forward to being back on those stages. At this time of year there will be a few new challenges which will be interesting, with the potential for different weather conditions and the fact we’ll be doing some stages in the dark. Our test before the rally will be quite important, as much for getting back up to speed on those roads as for deciding on car setup. For myself the drivers’ championship looks more difficult now but our approach won’t change, and I’ll go to Finland trying to do my best like always.”

Kalle Rovanperä

“Driving Rally Finland in a World Rally Car is going to be one of the coolest things for me in my career so far. A home rally is always different and Rally Finland is something special: It’s normally a really nice event and you can really feel the atmosphere there. Now that it’s later in the year, the conditions could be really difficult if it’s wet and muddy. That could change things a bit but I’m really looking forward to it, and it’s going to be really nice to see the fans cheering for us on the stages. It helps to have three really good rallies under our belt going there, but I think that it’s going to be a tight fight. Hopefully we can have a good weekend.”

Hyundai Motorsport

Thierry Neuville

“Rally Finland is a very popular event – in the past, it seemed only Scandinavians could win there, but other drivers have recently been getting faster in Finland as well. I haven’t been able to win it yet, but I have finished on the podium once in the past. It is a very nice event, but it’s one of the tougher ones for me. I am always fast at technical rallies where road position is very important, however in Finland the goal is to keep it flat and it’s very different to my natural driving style. However, I am able to adapt, and this is where the recce plays a vital role; you need to have a lot of trust in your pace notes and just go for it. We know we have what it takes to finish on the podium, so that’s our target for next weekend.”

2019 FIA World Rally Championship
Round 09, Rally Finland
1 – 4 August 2019
Thierry Neuville
Photographer: Austral
Worldwide copyright: Hyundai Motorsport GmbH

Ott Tänak

“The characteristics of this rally will be very different. There is a big part of the route that we haven’t seen previously, so we will need to put a lot of effort into our recce to ensure our pace notes are completely accurate. The weather could also change quite a bit, so this will keep us on our toes. As the last full gravel rally with this generation of WRC cars – in my opinion, they are probably the best ever – I will definitely enjoy this event. The roads are normally both fun and challenging at the same time, and as it is so fast with small gaps, we should have a great competition. Let’s see if we can take a third Rally Finland victory – we know our competitors and it will be tough, but we have worked very hard in the last two years so now is our chance to show we can fight in fast rallies.”

Craig Breen

“As a crew we tend to go well on events with this kind of profile, and I think this could be another strong event for us given our current form. The roads evolve every year, and as we’ve had a two-year break, I think we will notice a lot of changes. In terms of set-up, you need a car that gives you confidence to carry the speed on the roads, and a stable rear will enable you to really chuck the car into those long, fast corners and jumps. It’s the rally where you have to be the most committed. I’m still searching for my first win – it feels like it has been eluding us now for some time, but we are getting closer and Finland will present one of the better opportunities this year, so we will do everything in our power to make it happen.”

Jari Huttunen

“I am really looking forward to getting back into the Hyundai i20 N Rally2 in Finland. This will be my first WRC2 event on gravel with the car, so we might face a steep learning curve. I am hoping my existing knowledge of these roads will put me on the front foot next weekend, as I have finished on the podium in the past and taken a victory there. We have shown the car is capable of winning rallies in Ypres Rally Belgium, and I think we have the potential for another good result at this demanding and fast rally.”

Oliver Solberg

“This is probably the rally I have been looking forward to the most this year. I can’t wait to take the Hyundai i20 N Rally2 there – we saw we had good speed and we were leading in Greece. The roads are gravel again but they are very different from Acropolis and so much faster. One of the things I really look forward to is driving in the dark, which will add to the extra challenge. In terms of a result, I know there are some really fast guys who know almost every inch of these roads, so we have to be realistic. I am focused on taking the experience and enjoying driving the car. My new co-driver Craig is a good guy, a former team-mate and somebody I know well. I’m looking forward to working with him.”

WRC Rally Estonia 2021

M-Sport Ford WRT

Gus Greensmith

“Very much looking forward to Finland, it’s one of the rallies every single driver looks forward to. It’s probably the rally that gives each driver the most satisfaction, in terms of pure driving experience. Especially in these 2017 cars, it’s something remarkable. I am really grateful the last gravel stage I will drive this incredible 2017 machinery will be Ruihimaki. It’s been special to drive these cars and something I will never forget.

Adrien Fourmaux

“I am really happy and glad to be taking part in this famous rally. Rally Finland has always been an exciting rally for me, especially in terms of spectators, even in 2019 when I did the rally in a Fiesta R2. It will be my first time in Finland with four-wheel drive, and will be interesting to work with Alex for the first time together. It will be a big challenge but we will do our best and take all the experience we can from the event.

 

Summary

Well, who can win this weekend then? Well, it’s hard to look past Ott Tanak. If he gets comfortable in his i20, then he has to be one to consider. Joining his teammate as a possible winner is Craig. His co-driver Paul Nagle guided Kris Meeke to victory in 2016 – Perhaps Craig who has taken third in this event, and was Kris Meeke’s teammate in 2016 can go even better? Thierry who has scored a best result of second place in 2013 is probably the one driver that we would most surprised to win this weekend, given his recent results in Finland, but we shall see.

The world champion, Seb, will hope that a slightly damp first day will allow him to keep the gap to the leaders small and to then be able to unleash the performance of his Yaris on these stages. 2017 winner, Esapekka, will be hoping that his return to the top cars will bring him another victory. He knows the car very well, but he’s not sat in it since the end of 2018. Will this hold him back? Time will tell. Elfyn will look upon this event as a chance to show the speed that took him to second place in 2017, and perhaps he’ll take victory and join Kris Meeke as British winners? Finally, Kalle who is now a double winner at the top level has to be considered as a possible winner of this year’s event.

For the M-Sport drivers, Adrien will look upon this rally as a chance to gain experience for the future, but perhaps on the second run stages, will show some pace if he can get comfortable. Gus crashed out of this event in 2019, but with a new co-driver this year has shown good pace. Again, if he can get comfortable, then we should see some top times from him.

 

Well, it all starts on Friday morning. Keep up to date with our daily reports at the end of each day.

Acropolis Rally 2021, Rally of Gods – My thoughts

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

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

Toyota Gazoo Racing WRT

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

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

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

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

 

Hyundai Motorsport

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

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

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

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

 

M-Sport Ford WRT

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

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

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

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

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

Acropolis Rally Sunday Review – Rally of Gods. Day Three

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

Final Overall Classification – Acropolis Rally

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

 

Let’s hear from the drivers then.

Toyota Gazoo Racing WRT

Kalle Rovanperä (1st)

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

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

Sébastien Ogier (3rd)

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

Elfyn Evans (6th)

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

Hyundai Motorsport

Ott Tänak (2nd)

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

Dani Sordo (4th)

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

Thierry Neuville (8th)

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

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

M-Sport Ford WRT

Gus Greensmith (5th)

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

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

Adrien Fourmaux (7th)

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

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

Jourdan Serderidis (10th)

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

Nikolay Gryazin (3rd, WRC2)

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

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

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

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

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

 

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