Chris Ingram and Ross Whittock to make their World Rally Championship debut.

The 2019 European Champions will be making their first start in the WRC at this month’s Rally Croatia for a team named Rally Warrior. They are a brand-new team, and they will be going up against some more experienced drivers and teams. Never-the-less, there is no doubting the quality of this duo, and they will be a crew to watch, and they will know the car that they are about to take this opportunity, having driven a Skoda Fabia Evo Rally 2 to the ERC title.

If you read my interview with Chris from last years Autosport International, you will know that Chris and Ross crowdfunded their drive to the 2019 ERC title. If you haven’t, I recommend that you check it out. The good news is that this deal is for two seasons, and is fully supported by a number of big backers, giving them a fantastic platform to be able to concentrate all of their preparations on the events, and not have all these distractions for getting backing organised for events.

Chris has joined forces with the vastly successful SXM Competition team from Belgium to pilot a Škoda Fabia Rally2 Evo. “As a team we wanted to do another program in WRC-3, because this is the highest level of motorsport. I was very honoured that Chris contacted me to see if we could have a collaboration, said Fred Miclotte from SXM Competition. “I have known Chris and Ross already for some time and I’m sure they form a fantastic team together. I think that we all have the same goal for 2021. We all want to show our potential and that’s why I believe so much in it.”

 

Let’s hear from Chris.

What does this opportunity mean to you?

“It means the world to me and I’m so fortunate. When you grow up in a country that produced Richard Burns and Colin McRae, two of the best rally drivers that ever lived, it’s a massive source of inspiration. When you’ve got the kind of passion for this sport that I have you want nothing more than to try to get to the WRC and achieve just a fraction of what they did. Of course, they were world champions and obviously that’s the ultimate goal, but it takes time, talent and a phenomenal amount of hard work to get that far. It also needs financial support and I wouldn’t be here without my main sponsor, CarFinance 247. I’m going to give it everything I’ve got, just like I’ve done throughout my career.

“There have been some really tough moments to get this far but it feels so special to be able to say I’m a World Rally Championship driver,” said Ingram. “I’ve given everything I have to get this opportunity and I have so many people to thank and so much to be grateful for.

“Winning the ERC title in 2019 opened up lots of doors and I was close to landing a really good drive in 2020. The pandemic slammed all those doors shut, but I never gave up and never stopped believing my dream would come true. I’m so lucky to have this chance. “It’s a two-year programme and I can’t lose sight of that fact. It’s been almost 18 months since I last drove a top-level rally car so I’ve got to build up my confidence, learn the events and adapt to the championship because it’s the biggest thing I’ve ever done. The World rally rounds are another level. I’m going to give it everything.”

” You’ve secured a two-year programme. How important is that?

“It’s vital. Experience is so important in the WRC, which is so tough and competitive. And you only get experience by getting to the finish of each event you start. So, in year one, the objective is to keep a calm head, not do anything stupid, learn as much as possible and complete as many kilometres as possible. Points and podiums on top of all that would be a massive bonus, but there’s no pressure on me to do that. The only pressure is to get myself in a position where I can go for top results in year two.”

Why are you worthy of this chance?

“I’m totally committed, totally determined and I’ve won two of the main titles below WRC level. I have sacrificed everything personally to be able to chase my rally dreams. It has been a challenging road to say the least just to get to this point, we had to launch a crowdfunding bid just so Ross and I could get to the final rounds of our European championship-winning season but thankfully we made it and lifted the trophy. I train hard and push myself to be the best that I can be and I am so grateful the people who have helped me to get this far.”

You’ve used your social media channels to promote HUMEN, The Men’s Mental Health Movement. Why?

“I achieved a dream when I became European champion. However, competing against some of the fastest rally drivers on some of Europe’s most dangerous roads wasn’t the challenging part. I was struggling, fighting and overcoming a much harder battle with my own mental health. I hope that by being open about my challenges it will help other men to get talking. I have struggled with hard times in my personal life. I became very depressed when everything hit me all at once, financial pressures, relationships, family illnesses and the thought I couldn’t continue my career. Going home just a few days after each rally and even after winning the ERC, I would get so depressed with my personal life and sink into a very dark place, as I didn’t seek help. Men should talk.”

What are biggest challenges you’ll need to overcome in the WRC?

“I’ve not driven a powerful rally car since November 2019, all the events I’m planning to do will be new for me, it’s a new team and I’m up against the best drivers in the world. I know it’s not going to be easy but I’ve never had it easy in my career. I’m looking forward to facing all of the challenges head on as always and I feel confident in the knowledge I have a fantastic team around to support Ross and myself.”

 

I for one am glad that Chris and Ross have this chance to compete in the greatest championship in the world, and will be keeping a close eye on their progress.

Arctic Rally Finland 2021 Preview

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

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

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

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

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

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

251.08: Competitive distance in kilometres

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

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

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

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

 

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

Let’s hear from the drivers.

Toyota Gazoo Racing WRT

Sébastien Ogier (Driver car 1)

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

Elfyn Evans (Driver car 33)

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

Kalle Rovanperä (Driver car 69)

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

Hyundai Motorsport

Thierry Neuville (Car number 11)

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

Ott Tänak (Car number 8)

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

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

Craig Breen (Car number 42)

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

M-Sport Ford WRT

Teemu Suninen (Car number 3)

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

Gus Greensmith (Car number 44)

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

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

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

Other key competitors

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

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

Oliver Solberg (Car number 2) 2C Compétition

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

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

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

 

Summary

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

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

Enjoy!

Rallye Monte Carlo 2020 Preview

The 2020 season begins as ever in the ever iconic event that is Rallye Monte Carlo. Ott Tanak begins his title defence having made the switch from Toyota to Hyundai over the winter. He will, I am sure you know, will not however be running with the number one on his car, deciding instead to stick with number eight.

Rallye Monte Carlo has a reputation of being a super tricky event, and this year’s 88th edition is unlikely to be any different. Here are the stages that await the crews:

Thursday, January 23 2020

5 pm Official Start

Quai Albert 1er in Monaco

8:38 pm SS 1 – Malijai / Puimichel

17,47 km

10:26 pm SS 2 – Bayons / Bréziers

25,49 km

Friday, January 24 2020

8:36 am SS 3 – Curbans / Venterol

20,02 km

9:56 am SS 4 – Saint-Clément-sur-Durance / Freissinières

20,68 km

11:21 am SS 5 – Avançon / Notre-Dame-du-Laus

20,59 km

1:54 pm SS 6 – Curbans / Venterol

20,02 km

3:14 pm SS 7 – Saint-Clément-sur-Durance / Freissinières

20,68 km

4:39 pm SS 8 – Avançon / Notre-Dame-du-Laus

20,59 km

Saturday, January 25 2020

9:38 am SS 9 – Saint-Léger-les-Mélèzes / La Bâtie-Neuve

16,87 km

10:56 am SS 10 – La Bréole / Selonnet

20,73 km

2:08 pm SS 11 – Saint-Léger-les-Mélèzes / La Bâtie-Neuve

16,87 km

3:26 pm SS 12 – La Bréole / Selonnet

20,73 km

Stop at the Gap-Fontreyne Service Park

Sunday, January 26 2020

8:17 am SS 13 – La Bollène-Vésubie / Peïra-Cava

18,41 km

9:08 am SS 14 – La Cabanette / Col de Braus

13,36 km

10:55 am SS 15 – La Bollène-Vésubie / Peïra-Cava

18,41 km

12:18 pm SS 16 – La Cabanette / Col de Braus

13,36 km

 

Shakedown will take place on Wednesday afternoon from 4pm. There will be keen interest in the drivers that have switched teams over the winter to see what kind of times they set on the Route de la Garde 3.35 km stage. We’ll have to wait and see how many runs the crews decide to do, as they attempt to get a feel for their new cars in a competitive environment.

Look back to last year:

Last year Seb and Julien took a win with their return to Citroen, which was their sixth victory in this event. Ott Tanak took third. He was the early leader, but suffered a puncture early on day one, dropping him out of the fight for the lead. Between them, in second, was Thierry Neuville.

There are two drivers who are making their debut in full blooded WRC machinery this weekend. Kalle Rovanperä and Gus Greensmith will step into their respective cars from Toyota and Ford. Yes, I know that Gus drove in three events last year, but he and Edmund haven’t driven one of these cars in Monte before. Last year he drove to a very good win in the WRC Pro class.

Let’s hear from the drivers:

Hyundai Motorsport

Photo credit, Hyundai Motorsport

Ott Tanak

“The start of a new year begins with probably the most demanding event of the season. To make it even more challenging, we have a new team and a new car to learn while tackling the tricky conditions. It will never be an easy job, but it is important to get a good start and to score some points. With the event held at the end of January, the conditions are normally inconsistent, and a lot depends on the altitude. In the lower conditions you can have dry tarmac, then the higher you go it starts to freeze. With the extreme conditions, its normal to find some unpredictability in this rally.”

Thierry Neuville

“Rally Monte-Carlo kicks off the season and we are straight into the dark stages. It’s a very tough event, and tyre choice is crucial. It’s a difficult event in which to compete; there’s a lot of hesitation and you need good pace notes, as well as accurate information from your weather crew. With different altitudes in the stages, high concentration is key. Conditions are constantly changing and the most dangerous thing for us is black ice. We have been competing in Gap for a few years now and we know which sections are in the shade all day and will be slippery, but there will always be some surprises waiting for us in Monte.”

Seb Loeb

“You never know what to expect at Rallye Monte-Carlo. It could be fully dry, wet or feature a lot of snow, which changes the driving conditions. It can even change between the stages and the road sections, which means tyre choice is even more important. You need to find the right rhythm to be fast without taking major risks. This rally you need to approach with your head; it’s not just flat out, it’s a question of reflection. My previous experience feels like a long time ago, so the rallies feel newer to me than other drivers. We only had one day in the car before Monte-Carlo last year, so hopefully with our current knowledge of the car we will be able to get an even better result than last year.”

 

Toyota Gazoo Racing WRT

Photo credit, Toyota Gazoo Racing WRT

Sébastien Ogier

“I’m excited to start my first rally in the Toyota Yaris WRC. Every car has different characteristics and it takes some kilometres to learn about them, but so far it has been good in the tests. We want to fight for a seventh title this year, and I believe we can have a good chance with this car. Rallye Monte-Carlo is an event with special emotions for me. I remember at the end of the 1990s, coming to spectate and Tommi was winning a lot – he was the first idol I had in rallying. Myself and Julien obviously have a very strong record too, and every year there is more and more pressure to try and continue that. It’s always a big challenge and one that I definitely enjoy.”

Elfyn Evans

“I’m looking forward to Rallye Monte-Carlo and my first event with Toyota. This is the first time in my WRC career that I’ve changed teams, but everybody’s been very welcoming and I’ve got a good feeling in the car, so I’m excited about the season ahead. My first time driving the Yaris WRC was in our test for the Monte in December, and quite quickly I was able to get a nice feeling and some good confidence. On this event the challenge is always the range of conditions you can possibly face. When you’re setting up the car, you need something that gives you confidence and I think we’ve got some good options with that in mind.”

Kalle Rovanperä

“Rallye Monte-Carlo will be a special event for me. It’s a big step up from an R5 car, with a lot more power and downforce, but so far, I’ve found the Yaris WRC to be quite easy to drive in the tests. Still, I have a lot to learn and I think it will take a few rallies to really adapt to the car and how everything works. I will need to think differently at the beginning of the season, and I hope that I will have the patience for this. I think Monte-Carlo is not the easiest place to start with a new car and a new team. The weather is changing all the time and you cannot always have the right tyre choice for the conditions. It will be a big challenge for us, but hopefully we can make it through.”

 

M-Sport WRT

2020 FIA World Rally Championship
Ford Fiesta WRC 2020 Livery
January 2020
Photo: Drew Gibson

Esapekka Lappi

“Monte-Carlo is always a tricky start to the season, but I’m looking forward to getting started. Straight away the Fiesta felt very logical and easy to drive, and that always gives a driver a lot of confidence. I hope I’ll be able to use that confidence next week, but Monte is always a challenge and you never know what to expect.

“We had wet roads on the test and the car felt good in those changing conditions. But in Monte you can have wet roads, dry roads, icy roads, full snow, and sometimes all of that in the same stage! You have to give this rally a lot of respect, but that’s what we plan to do and we want to get this new partnership off to a strong start next week.”

Teemu Suninen

“I’m really looking forward to this season and straight away I could see that Esapekka and I would work well together. We had a very similar set-up on the test, and it looks like we want to take the car in the same direction.

“I tested on dry asphalt and had a really good feeling, but for the more tricky  sections where there is a lot of ice and snow I will have to rely on my experience. This is my fourth time in Monte so I’m starting to know the stages a bit better. The rally is always a lottery, but I have a very experienced gravel crew who I trust 100 percent – so anything is possible!”

Gus Greensmith

“Monte is a special one for me. It’s where I claimed my first victory (winning WRC Pro 2 last year), and there’s no other rally than gives me more satisfaction behind the wheel. Knowing that I will drive these amazing stages with the Ford Fiesta WRC this year is beyond my wildest dreams!

“Everyone wants to win here, and the changing conditions make it one of the biggest challenges on the calendar. The smallest mistakes pay a heavy price, but I do think this is a strong event for me. I’ve always relished tricky conditions, but experience is something you need here too. I’ll have to make up for that, and hope to produce a strong performance to kick off this 2020 season.”

Summary

Here we go then! Who will win the first round of this new season? Will we see another win going to Seb Ogier, or perhaps we’ll see a new winner this year? Thierry challenged in 2017, and was close last year, or perhaps we’ll see Ott Tanak take a first victory?

 

Podium challengers could be Elfyn Evans, Teemu Suninen and Seb Loeb. Finally, how will Kalle Rovanperä get on? The son of Harri Rovanperä has made his own name on his way up the ladder. There will be mistakes, that is expected. Still, expect to see him win some stages as well.

Enjoy!