Safari Rally Kenya 2023, Day One Report

The first full day of action saw the crews tackle 130km’s over six stages. Kalle would be opening the road due to being the championship leader. Of course, he won this rally last year from first on the road but did have heavy rain giving him the best conditions. After the super special on Thursday Ott lead from Seb and Kalle.

 

First stage of the day, SS2 Loldia 1 – 19.17 km and Seb was fastest from Kalle and Elfyn. The Frenchman moved into the lead and his teammates also all gained a position moving into second and fourth places respectively. Thierry moved into third overall as well, showing similar pace to Elfyn. In WRC2 Oliver was the fastest, but as he decided to run with no nomination for points, Kajetan was leading the category from Gregoire and Martin Prokop.

 

Into the spectacular SS3 Geothermal 1 – 13.12 km and EP was fastest from Seb and Takamoto. Elfyn moved into third overall as Thierry suffered a puncture and fell to sixth place. Also going the wrong way down was Ott who was not on the pace, and he fell to seventh. EP jumped two places and into fifth overall. In WRC2 and whilst Oliver remained the fastest in the category, Kajetan remained the category leader from Gregoire and Martin.

 

The longest stage of the day, SS4 Kedong 1 – 30.62 km and it was a really fast stage again. Kalle was fastest from Thierry and Seb. The Belgian moved ahead of Takamoto and Esapekka into fourth overall. There was a change in the WRC2 lead with Gregoire moving into the lead.

 

After the lunchtime service and Seb was fastest in SS5 Loldia 2 – 19.17 km and Seb was fastest again from Esapekka and Ott. Pierre-Louis lost a position falling behind Oliver after breaking a wheel. Gregoire remained in the lead of WRC2 from Kajetan.

 

The next one, SS6 Geothermal 2 – 13.12 km saw Seb fastest again from EP and Kalle. There was drama though for Thierry whose suspension on the front left broke. He pulled off the stage and was out for the rest of the day. It was a good stage for EP though who gained two places, jumping ahead of Takamoto and back into fourth overall.

 

The final stage then of the day, SS7 Kedong 2 – 30.62 km and Seb was again fastest from Kalle and Esapekka. The Frenchman had built a lead of nearly 30 seconds. Unfortunately, Oliver broke his suspension and stopped in the stage. Gregoire held the lead of WRC2 from Kajetan and Martin.

 

Let’s take a look at the top positions and hear from the drivers.

 

Classification after Day One

1 S. Ogier V. Landais Toyota GR Yaris Rally1 Hybrid 1:14:38.7
2 K. Rovanperä J. Halttunen Toyota GR Yaris Rally1 +22.8
3 E. Evans S. Martin Toyota GR Yaris Rally1 +43.5
4 E. Lappi J. Ferm Hyundai i20 N Rally1 Hybrid +54.0
5 T. Katsuta A. Johnston Toyota GR Yaris Rally1 +1:19.4
6 D. Sordo C. Carrera Hyundai i20 N Rally1 Hybrid +1:28.4
7 O. Tänak M. Järveoja Ford Puma Rally1 Hybrid +3:03.3
8 P. L. Loubet N. Gilsoul Ford Puma Rally1 Hybrid +7:04.9

Toyota Gazoo Racing

Sébastien Ogier

“It’s been a pretty good day for us, almost perfect in fact. We had very good pace and I’m happy to be in the lead tonight. This morning I tried to push on the first two stages, and I had good fun in the car. On the third one there’s always a bit of fear with a lot of rocks coming out of the sand, and we lost the hybrid after a few kilometres which cost some performance. This afternoon I felt it was possible to go with just one spare tyre, and that if I drive very clean and smooth, I can still be fast with the advantage of being lighter. It paid off and I’m happy with that. It’s the first time I’ve got through Friday in Kenya without major time loss, so let’s hope we can carry on like this tomorrow, which is the biggest day of the rally with very difficult stages to get through.”

Kalle Rovanperä

“I’m quite happy with today. The first stage of the loop was the trickiest for us with a lot of cleaning and loose gravel in places. Then the next stages were much faster, and I felt I could push harder, and the time on the last one this morning was really good; I think we did some clever driving there. This afternoon I lost more time than I wanted on the first one: it was drying up and getting loose and my setup didn’t work so well for that. After that I tried to keep up a good pace and we didn’t lose too much time. Of course, I would like to be a bit closer to the lead, but tomorrow is still such a long day and will be much rougher than today, so we will try to stay out of trouble.”

Elfyn Evans

“It’s been a bit of a steady day for us, but we got through it without issues. Of course, it would have been nice to have been a bit faster and, looking back, maybe we could have taken a few more risks this morning when the conditions were not so rough. But it’s a very difficult balance to find here, with a lot of rocks beinng pulled out by the cars in front. The afternoon was generally better, but the long Kedong stage had a lot of big holes and stones, and it was difficult to judge how hard to attack. There’s still a long way to go and tomorrow’s probably going to be a tough day, so let’s wait and see what happens.”

 

Hyundai Motorsport

Esapekka Lappi

“If you take our puncture out of the equation, today has been quite a decent day. We started carefully and then improved quite quickly; our afternoon was really consistent. The conditions are interesting, but I found them really fun. It’s a different kind of roughness we are facing, unlike anything I’ve seen before. On the soft fesh-fesh, you don’t know what to expect and it is so fast, so you have no time to react – you just have to drive and hope for the best. I need to keep improving on what we did today; I think the pace was brilliant this afternoon. We will concentrate on our own performance and the podium will be there if it is meant to be.”

2023 FIA World Rally Championship
Round 7, Safari Rally Kenya
21 – 25 June 2023
Esapekka Lappi
Photographer: Austral
Worldwide copyright: Hyundai Motorsport GmbH

Dani Sordo

“Thankfully we had no real issues on the car today, which is good. It was a bit difficult on some of the stages, particularly on Kedong. It was really soft, and the car was moving a lot in the fast sections, so I didn’t have a good pace there. With so many rocks, it is easy to make a small mistake. We also had a unique situation in one of the hairpins on the final stage, where we had to stop to allow dust inside the cockpit to clear. It is difficult to calculate the speed of the corners as you need to be aggressive, but you could easily move off the line onto the really soft surface and struggle to find traction.”

Thierry Neuville

“I’m very disappointed to be honest. Unfortunately, we had to retire in the second stage of the afternoon, which isn’t good for our championship fight. There was no warning at all; just before a left junction, the damper came out of its position and the top mount came loose under braking, which was the end of the rally for us. It was a shame as we hoped our puncture in the morning was the end of our bad luck for the weekend. With the conditions here, anything can happen, and now we have to analyse if there is an opportunity to return tomorrow and get back into the points.”

 

M-Sport Ford WRT

Ott Tanak

“The conditions have not been too bad, the last one had some soft place but overall, not too bad. Tomorrow will be more tough than today.”

Saturday

Day two sees the crews tackle 150km’s over six stages and there are two stages run as usual twice that are just under or just over 30km’s! What will happen?!

Pop back tomorrow and check out my day two report.

Rally Italia Sardegna 2023, Day One Report

The first full day of competition tackled 141km over six stages and to celebrate the 20th edition of this rally the stages featured a huge 49.9km stage, Monte Lerno, which included the famous Mickey’s Jump!

Esapekka led following the first stage on Thursday evening from Ott and Thierry. The start list for the first full day looked like this – Rovanperä, Tänak, Ogier, Evans, Neuville, Lappi, Sordo, Katsuta, Loubet.

Into the first stage of the day then, SS2 Tantariles 20Ris 1 – 10.71 km and the overnight leader Esapekka was second fastest behind new overall leader Seb, whilst Pierre-Louis was third fastest and climbed up six positions and into third overall. In WRC2 Oliver held the lead from Andreas and Teemu.

Takamoto made it two stage wins in a row for the Toyota team as he set the fastest time from Dani and Thierry. There was a change for the lead with EP passing Seb who could only manage the seventh best time. In addition to that, Takamoto after setting the fastest time also gained some positions, moving into third overall. There was a change within the WRC2 leader, with Andreas moving ahead of Oliver. The Swede had a huge problem at the end of the stage that featured a really challenging final section that still had large standing water following the rain earlier in the week. Somehow the front right suspension spring ended up becoming detached and was sticking outside the top of the wing!

The first run then of SS4 Monte Lerno – Sa Conchedda 1 – 49.90 km and Kalle who of course was opening the road could only manage the eighth best time and over 40 seconds slower than his teammate, Seb who won the stage from Elfyn and Esapekka. There were a few changes in the overall standings with Elfyn moving into fourth, Pierre-Louis into third. Takamoto’s brief third place came to an end as the Japanese driver slid straight onto some rocks. He finished the stage though dropping two places into fifth. It was not as big as Dani’s moment though! He went off the side of the road nose first and the car rolled as well. However, he got going again and finished the stage with huge damage to the front and a heavily damaged rear wing.

After lunch time service the second run of SS5 Tantariles 20Ris 2 – 10.71 km was won by EP from Pierre-Louis and Thierry. However, it’s important to report the Frenchman was given a notional time with a number of other competitors. This was done due to some safety issues in the stage and therefore the stage not being able to be run in full leading to the notional times for the later crews. This is where it was really strange for the Frenchman to be given a time as he was not allowed to start the stage due to being unable to engage any gears. In the WRC2 category Gus Greensmith went off the stage and into a bush.

Into SS6 Terranova 2 – 8.41 km and Thierry was fastest from EP with Takamoto third. With the Belgian setting the best time and Elfyn only ninth fastest the Hyundai crew moved into third overall. In WRC2 Teemu was leading from Andreas and Adrien.

The challenge of SS7 Monte Lerno – Sa Conchedda 2 – 49.90 km remained as the final stage of the day and the rain was falling at different points in the stage. Top three fastest were Kalle, EP and Thierry. As you can tell the best place to be was either first on the road or driving a Hyundai. EP took the lead by just one tenth of a second over Seb and Kalle’s pace brought him into fourth overall with both Elfyn and Ott falling down the leader board to sixth and seventh overall. We also had a new WRC2 top three with Sami gaining three positions, Adrien one place and Emil two places.

Let’s take a look at the top positions and hear from the drivers.

Classification after Day One

1 E. Lappi J. Ferm Hyundai i20 N Rally1 Hybrid 1:31:48.8
2 S. Ogier V. Landais Toyota GR Yaris Rally1 Hybrid +0.1
3 T. Neuville M. Wydaeghe Hyundai i20 N Rally1 Hybrid +18.6
4 K. Rovanperä J. Halttunen Toyota GR Yaris Rally1 +46.1
5 T. Katsuta A. Johnston Toyota GR Yaris Rally1 +47.4
6 E. Evans S. Martin Toyota GR Yaris Rally1 +1:05.6
7 O. Tänak M. Järveoja Ford Puma Rally1 Hybrid +1:09.8

Hyundai Motorsport

Esapekka Lappi

“Today was a day of survival. There was a lot of surprises on that final stage with muddy braking points or corners that were hidden behind bushes. The mixed conditions meant you couldn’t really fully commit because you didn’t know what to expect, but on the other hand you had to commit in order to keep the speed, but we managed. You knew as soon as you entered the forest sections it was going to be muddy and slippery, but there were also some puddles in the open air which was a surprise – it was not easy at all. I hope to have a better start tomorrow than I did in Mexico, but first of all we have to make the right tyre choice in the morning. After that, we need to continue what we did today and see where we are after the final stage.”

2023 FIA World Rally Championship Round 6,
Rally d’Italia Sardegna 2023, 1-4 June 2023
Esapekka Lappi, Janne Ferm, Hyundai i20 N Rally1 Hybrid, Action during Day 1 of WRC Rally Italia Sardegna 2023
Photographer: Romain Thuillier
Worldwide copyright: Hyundai Motorsport GmbH

Thierry Neuville

“It was a bit of a struggle out there; the confidence wasn’t that high in the tighter corners, but we managed to get into a good rhythm. I’m feeling a little bit better in the car as well in those conditions, and in the end, we had some good stage times this afternoon to finish in third, which is a good position for tomorrow. The weather is going to make it challenging tomorrow as well; anything can happen and we’re going to see a lot of changes in the stage times for everybody. Today we were lucky that we all had more or less similar weather conditions, but with a few minutes’ gap between the cars it can be a huge difference. Our tyre strategy this afternoon was good, and it paid off.”

Dani Sordo

“It was a little bit difficult today, to be honest. On the first pass of the longest stage we went a bit safe with the tyres, and at one of the corners I went wide, and after that we rolled. We managed to bring the car to service and to the mechanics to repair it. There was not a lot of time, so Cándido and I did our best to help. I want to say thanks to them, they did an amazing job at midday, and I’m really sorry for my mistake. Thank you so much for your efforts. For sure it will be difficult now, there was some really tricky conditions this afternoon and it was challenging to drive, but let’s see what the weather does. If it rains a lot, we have an advantage with our early road order, but we have already lost a lot of time.

Toyota Gazoo Racing WRT

Sébastien Ogier

“I’m happy with my day and to be in the position we’re in tonight. I was surprised with the gap we made in the first stage this morning and in Monte Lerno, but the car was working well, and I think we made the right tyre call which helped us to be fast this morning. It was a bit more difficult this afternoon, but it was still an OK loop. I was happy with my driving, a bit less with the decision we made in service; we had a bit the wrong tyre choice and setup. But we still managed to get through without any drama in the slippery conditions and without taking too many risks. We are still where we wanted to be, in the fight for the win. The gap is very close and tomorrow we will push again.”

Kalle Rovanperä

“It’s been quite a good day overall. This morning the first two stages were actually quite OK. There was a bit of dampness, and we were losing less time opening the road than I was expecting. But Monte Lerno was drier, and we lost a lot of time, and there was a lot of action for us in that stage. This afternoon it was still quite tricky even on the second pass, as the lines from the smaller cars were not really suitable for us. Then finally some rain came properly on Monte Lerno, and I tried to push hard and keep at it. I always seem to enjoy the rain and the muddy conditions, and we could take some time back. Now we’ll have a better starting place for tomorrow and we’ll try to push more.”

Elfyn Evans

“We started the day with a tricky couple of stages with the rocks lining the road and I was keen to get through cleanly and have a good car for Monte Lerno. We had a clean run through there also; it was nothing spectacular, but we seemed to manage everything quite well and got to the end without trouble and made up some places overall. It was a difficult afternoon and pretty rough; the first one was quite OK, then we gave away far too much on the second one. Unfortunately, at the end of Monte Lerno we picked up a puncture with a fair bit of time lost. But the gap is not huge to the guys in front, and we have Ott [Tänak] close behind so there’s plenty still to fight for.”

M-Sport Ford WRT

Ott Tanak

“We had some issues on the first stage that affected the engine quite a bit, some electric thing as we lost the hybrid as well. We also lost the water pressure and thought it was game over, but then the pump came back, and we slowly started to go again, and we in safe mode and I was able to bring it home.”

Day Two – Saturday

Tomorrow has 133km’s over eight stages and although the longest stage is the Erula – Tula stage at 21km’s in length but the challenge remains big. Let’s see who will be leading at the end of the second day. Pop back to read my report later in the day.

Rally Italia Sardegna 2023 Preview

Time for round six of this season’s championship and we come to the Island of Sardegna for the Italian round! Known for its extreme dusty roads and jumps this event is a favourite on the calendar.

Kalle and Jonne won the last round and come to this as championship leaders. They are joined as always in the Toyota team with their usual teammates, whilst Seb and Vincent are also entered. They will look to use their good starting position to set the pace throughout Friday’s stages and hope to hold on and take victory. However, Elfyn and Scott will want to do the same and it will be interesting to see how they get on.

Thierry and Martijn will have the same idea though and of course Thierry won this round in 2018. There is another Hyundai crew that will have the same idea. Yep, Dani won this round twice in recent years, taking victory in 2019 and also 2020. Let’s see what they can do this year! In fact, Esapekka and Janne will also be I believe challenging for victory. They showed great pace in Mexico and could do the same this weekend.

Meanwhile Ott and Martin at M-Sport Ford will definitely be in the fight this weekend. They took victory last year when at Hyundai and the Puma showed great pace in the hands of Craig Breen co-driven by Paul Nagle who of course took second place last year. For Pierre-Louis and Nicolas in the other Puma, the young Frenchman who has shown very good pace on gravel this year, they will want to take a great result and if things go well, could claim a top five finishing position. Of course, Nicolas won the event as co-driver in 2018 when with Thierry at Hyundai. Could he guide the young Puma driver to a podium this year? It will be interesting to watch!

Craig and Paul took second last year when at M-Sport Ford World Rally Team. Photo credit M-Sport Ford

Stage information

There is 320km’s over nineteen stages this year. Here’s the detail of what lies ahead throughout the weekend.

Following a shakedown in the morning, Rally Italia Sardinia officially begins on Thursday evening with the 3.23km Olbia – Cabu Abbas stage.

Friday is the longest day of the event with a total distance of 138.04km, which includes two passes of the mammoth test that is Monte Lerno – Sa Conchedda (49.90km).

Saturday’s itinerary consists of two loops of the four stages: Coiluna – Loelle (16.28km), Su Filigosu (19.57km), Erula – Tula (21.92km) and Tempio Pausania (9.96km).

Two passes each of Arzachena – Braniatogghiu (15.22km) and Sardegna (7.79km) bring the event to a close on Sunday.

Let’s hear from the drivers.

Toyota Gazoo Racing

Kalle Rovanperä

“Portugal was a great weekend for us, and it was nice to get a victory again. We will try to continue like this in the next events, but we know that Sardinia will be a much more difficult job. Of all the rallies in the calendar, I think this one has maybe been the trickiest for me, and if the weather is dry and hot like it usually is in Sardinia, it can be very difficult to be the first car on the road there; perhaps even more so this year with the 50-kilometre stage to be driven on Friday. It will be a demanding weekend but, like always, we will push together with the team to get the best result that we can.”

Elfyn Evans

“Portugal was a disappointing weekend on my side, but we have to put that behind us now, move forward to Sardinia and see what’s possible there. Our road position will be more favourable than what we started with on the last rally, but we know that it’s a challenging event regardless and one of the rougher rallies of the year. It definitely needs a smart approach but I’m looking forward to it, nonetheless. Like always in Sardinia, they mix up the stages every year. A lot of the route is known from before but some of it has not been driven for many years, so there will be a lot of new pacenotes to write during the recce – and this very long stage on Friday will of course be key.”

Sébastien Ogier

“Sardinia is a rally that I have learned to love. At first, I used to struggle going there, but over the years I started to master it more and more. The most recent memories I have of Sardinia are really good from when we managed to win in 2021 after starting first on the road, which is not normally possible on this event. Having missed Portugal, we will have a bit of a better starting position this time, but it will still be a difficult challenge, especially with this very long stage of 50 kilometres that the organisers have made for this year. I quite like that challenge, honestly; it adds some spice to the rally and the need for tyre management. It will certainly be an interesting rally.”

 

Hyundai Motorsport 

Thierry Neuville

“Sardinia presents a lot of challenges, but the biggest are the heat and tyre wear. The stages are also difficult as the surface is rough, and they are quite narrow and technical too, so there is not much room for mistakes. Our target is to deal with the conditions as best we can and fight hard for a good result. Portugal was a tough weekend for us. I had a different set-up from Dani and Esapekka which we think is one of the reasons why I was struggling with traction and car balance. Switching my car to similar settings to those of my team-mates should be beneficial in the quest for improved performance and I’m looking forward to putting this to the test.”

Esapekka Lappi

“Sardinia is generally quite a slow rally with very technical stages. The second pass is particularly demanding for the tyres and car as there’s some bedrock and lots of loose rocks that get pulled onto the road. The usual high temperatures of around 30 degrees also add to the challenge. Personally, I sweat quite easily, so as a driver I need to concentrate more on nutrition and keeping myself well hydrated. At dry gravel rallies, Friday is always very crucial in terms of making a successful weekend, so that will be the key focus for us. Our hope is that we can deliver a consistent performance, avoid the rocks that could cause punctures, and bring home a podium for the team.”

Dani Sordo

“Sardinia offers a different challenge to previous gravel events this year, as the roads are narrower, more sandy and more slippery. Because of this, you cannot afford to make any mistakes. If you do so in Sardinia, you will pay. Road position can be very important at this event, as starting later in the order usually gives you a cleaner stage than those at the front. The almost 50km-long Monte Lerno stage will be a real challenge. We had one that was 37km in Portugal and even that was hard to stay fully concentrated the entire time. Our minimum goal for the weekend is to finish on the podium and hopefully we can be in a position to fight for the victory.”

2022 FIA World Rally Championship
Round 05, Rally Italia Sardegna
02-05 June 2022
Dani Sordo, Candido Carrera, Hyundai i20 N Rally 1
Photographer: Dufour Fabien
Worldwide copyright: Hyundai Motorsport GmbH

M-Sport Ford WRT

Ott Tänak

“Sardinia is a unique rally in many ways, the roads are demanding with very low grip conditions but at the same time very narrow and fast between trees and rock faces. I always enjoy driving there!

“All the M-Sport team, together with the Ford Performance guys in the US, have been on it to bring on the next steps in our performance and we have a busy test day before Sardinia. We are looking into everything to extract some extra speed.

“The target is to get another step closer to our competitors. Things will take a bit of time, but I’m sure that improving step by step we will be there one moment!”

Pierre-Louis Loubet

“I think with the pace we showed on Friday in Portugal we can expect to do something good in Sardinia. It will be very important to avoid any mistakes this time, as even small ones can have big consequences. We know that the pace is there, we just need to put it all together to get a good result and we’re hoping that will all happen in Sardinia.”

WRC2 Category

Once again there is a huge entry for this category. M-Sport will be running three Fiesta Rally2 cars for Adrien, Grégoire and Robert and of course Oliver Solberg will also be competing in a Skoda Fabia Evo. Also joining these crews will be two cars from Hyundai Motorsport.

Let’s hear from these drivers.

Adrien Fourmaux

“Sardinia is a really rough event, with hot conditions, and this year we have a nearly 50km stage to look forward to! It’ll be a huge challenge for everybody, for the crews and the mechanics. But I like the challenge, and this will be my fifth time in Sardinia, so we have a good base knowledge of the stages.

“This is a famously difficult event, there’s no margin for error with rocks everywhere! When you hit something, you hit it hard. Let’s see what we can achieve.”

Grégoire Munster

“Sardinia is a new event for us, just like Portugal, so it will all be about discovery and gaining experience. Portugal didn’t go so well for us, but it was our first time on gravel in the car, so we will try to use that experience in Sardinia and do better there.”

Robert Virves

“This will be my first time competing in Sardinia, so there will be a lot to learn as it is a very tough event. Luckily, we have had some good experience in Portugal, and we can use a lot of that information on the stages in Sardinia. This is a big opportunity to learn a lot, it’s a tough event and we will need to manage the car and the tyres. But the experience in the Rally2 is all about learning, and it’s all beneficial to us going forward. Let’s see what happens!”

Oliver Solberg

“We’re back based on the east side of the island in Olbia again this year. The roads here are not usually quite so rough, they’re more sandy over here. We need to have a look from the recce – the conditions depend a lot on how hard the winter has been.

“The approach for this event is going to be the same as for the other gravel rallies: we just try to do our job. The car has been nice, it’s been fast and comfortable for me. The key here is really that, you want a comfortable car that’s easy to follow – and you have to make sure the rear of the car’s not sliding too much.”

 

“The long stage on Friday will be tough,” said Oliver. “It will be tough on the car, the tyres and the body a little bit as well. But I’m looking forward to it. These are great roads and to sit on the start line and know you have to drive a car as cool as the Škoda Fabia RS Rally2 as fast as I can for the next 50 kilometres is really something special.

“And, of course, it’s always nice to win a rally my Dad has already won.  For me in Sardinia this week, I will try to do my job, like I have done all year. This has been enough so far.”

Teemu Suninen

“Sardinia is normally quite a lot warmer than other events, which makes the driving tougher and it can create higher levels of wear on the car and tyres. The surface is also hard and rough which can be more demanding for the suspension setups. It was clear in Portugal that the level in WRC2 is very high this year, so we must focus on every small detail and fight on every stage. We will also try to have a good pace and stay away from problems. If we do this, I believe we can get a good result. The goal is to win the rally, but with many top drivers in the class, it will be challenging.”

2023 FIA World Rally Championship
Round 05, Rally de Portugal
11-14 May 2023
Teemu Suninen, Mikko Markkula, i20 N Rally 2
Photographer: Dufour Fabien
Worldwide copyright: Hyundai Motorsport GmbH

Fabrizio Zaldivar

“We travel to Sardinia looking for a better result than we achieved in Portugal. It will be a difficult challenge, but I am determined to keep pushing and improving. We know there is pace in the Hyundai i20 N Rally2 on this surface, hopefully we can find a good rhythm and show the car’s potential. The initial forecast shows it may not be as hot as last year, but we still expect the heat to play a part in the event. I hope we can come to the end of Rally Italia Sardegna without any incidents and having shown what we are capable of.”

Summary

Well, we are set for a cracking rally ahead this weekend! Keep an eye out for my daily reports!

Rally Croatia 2023 – Day Three Report. Elfyn and Scott win!

The final day then and with 56km’s over four stages, could Elfyn hold on and take victory or would Ott be able to fight back and take a second win of the year? Meanwhile, Esapekka would be looking to take third, unless anything would happen in front of him. Also, there was the battle between Kalle and Seb to settle. Finally let’s remember that all crews were out there and competing for Craig.

 

The first stage then, SS17 Trakošćan – Vrbno 1 – 13.15 km and Kalle was fastest from Seb by 3.7 seconds whilst Elfyn was third and with Ott down in sixth, the gap widened between the top two. The Finns pace meant that he passed Seb and moved into fourth overall. In WRC2 Yohan continued to lead, with Nikolay now 14 seconds behind and holding second place and reigning WRC champion Emil in third.

 

Onto SS18 Zagorska Sela – Kumrovec 1 – 14.09 km and Thierry was fastest from Kalle by just nine tenths of a second and Seb third. The gap was widening with the Finn going a little faster than his teammate. Meanwhile, Elfyn continued to lead Ott by a slightly reduced margin of 29 seconds but was looking comfortable in the lead. Top three in WRC was unchanged and Yohan was also looking comfortable with a 13 second lead.

 

The penultimate stage then, SS19 Trakošćan – Vrbno 2 – 13.15 km and Kalle was again fastest from Seb and Ott. Esapekka was still holding third overall despite only setting the sixth best time on this one, but the Finn had a good gap to Kalle of 34 seconds.

 

The final stage then, SS20 Zagorska Sela – Kumrovec 2[Power Stage] – 14.09 km and the top five was Thierry, Kalle, Seb, Takamoto and Esapekka. Elfyn and Scott took victory at last, their first win since Rally Finland 2021. We did not see the normal celebrations at the end and instead saw a very poignant and low-key podium, with Elfyn and Scott holding an Irish flag, and the all the drivers joining the top three on the podium, whilst the Republic Irish National Anthem was played.

 

Let’s take a look at the top ten and hear from the drivers.

Final Overall Classification – Croatia Rally

1 E. Evans S. Martin Toyota GR Yaris Rally1 Hybrid 2:50:54.3
2 O. Tänak M. Järveoja Ford Puma Rally1 Hybrid +27.0
3 E. Lappi J. Ferm Hyundai i20 N Rally1 Hybrid +58.6
4 K. Rovanperä J. Halttunen Toyota GR Yaris Rally1 +1:18.3
5 S. Ogier V. Landais Toyota GR Yaris Rally1 Hybrid +1:28.0
6 T. Katsuta A. Johnston Toyota GR Yaris Rally1 +2:22.5
7 P. L. Loubet N. Gilsoul Ford Puma Rally1 Hybrid +4:22.6
8 Y. Rossel A. Dunand Citroën C3 Rally2 +7:51.3
9 N. Gryazin K. Aleksandrov Škoda Fabia RS +8:07.4
10 O. Solberg E. Edmondson Škoda Fabia RS +9:16.7

Toyota Gazoo Racing

Elfyn Evans (1st)

“Obviously we have been working for another win like this for a long time but that doesn’t mean so much right at this moment. It’s been a tough week for everybody and the whole WRC family can be proud of how everyone has come together and paid tribute to Craig. Competition went on as usual, as he would have wanted. It seemed a bit of a tall order to win here with our road position on Friday with the amount of dirt on the road, but some others hit trouble and that gave us an opportunity to fight for the win. Scott and myself promised Craig’s family that we would enjoy this weekend and we’ve been able to do that. Now it’s all over, our thoughts turn back to them.”

Kalle Rovanperä (4th)

“It has not been a great weekend in terms of result but in the end, we did what we could. It was a great fight with Seb and to come out on top is not so bad. Of course, we don’t want to be fighting for fourth, but that’s all we could really do after Friday. We didn’t start the weekend well; we made a small mistake with the setup, but after that the car was good so thank you to the team. We tried to push hard on the Power Stage and got some good points at the end of the weekend.”

Sébastien Ogier (5th)

“It has been a tough week. From a sporting point of view, we had the pace to do much better, but things did not go our way this weekend. That’s motorsport sometimes. It was quite difficult today, but I have to say that Kalle was really fast, and I didn’t have the same pace as him on this final day. Of course, the Power Stage was still a target, but we made a wrong decision with the tyre strategy, and I had a lot of moments in the stage, so I was glad to cross the finish line and still bring some points to the team.”

 

Hyundai Motorsport

Esapekka Lappi (3rd)

“I don’t know where to start. Big thanks to the team. It was not an easy decision to come here for most of us, but we appreciated the opportunity to drive again. I know it’s been really tough, arguably one of the hardest weeks ever. We kept our heads together with a smart drive that enabled us to be on the podium. It’s a very important result for us and for the team this week, so thank you.”

2023 FIA World Rally Championship
Round 4, Croatia Rally
20 – 23 April 2023
Esapekka Lappi
Photographer: Austral
Worldwide copyright: Hyundai Motorsport GmbH

Thierry Neuville (33rd)

“I don’t know what to say. I am just so disappointed for the team, for us, after everything that has happened. It is a tough moment, so we really wanted the victory to make Craig proud. Unfortunately, we missed the opportunity with our retirement from the lead on Saturday. We have had to give more than 100%, and when you are on the limit you can’t always avoid such mistakes. We re-joined the rally this morning determined to fight in the Power Stage. We gave absolutely everything and that was for Craig.”

 

M-Sport Ford WRT

Ott Tänak (2nd)

“The car has the pace, we can see that from the times, but the operating window seems very small, and it has been difficult for me to understand where the sweet spot of the car is. Up until now the team has been working very hard and I have managed to stay in touch with the competition, but we need to continue working hard on finding more so we can keep involved in this exciting battle for the championship. I am happy to be only four points off the lead of the championship and second this weekend is still a very good result along with the two stage wins. The test for Portugal is next week and now my focus turns to preparing as best as possible and working with the team to get us as prepared as possible for the next important event.”

Pierre-Louis Loubet (7th)

“I am pleased with the performance, some places we have been fast, showing the potential is there, but I have missed some consistency. I made a bad tyre choice on Friday losing us time, however on Saturday it went well, and we were up to fourth but unfortunately with a couple of issues we dropped to seventh by the end of the event. But let’s keep positive, I know if I can get the consistency back, I can finish in the top five or even the podium in the coming events.”

Adrien Fourmaux – Fifth in WRC2

“I’m really happy about the weekend and performance of the car. We had a really good time on the power stage, where we scored valuable points for the championship. We got the car going so much better over this weekend, it was a bit tricky on Friday with a mechanical issue where we lost one minute but I was pleased to be back driving fast on Tarmac with no drama, we were really able to push. It was quite hard for all the drivers with all the emotion over Craig’s loss. It was a really tough weekend for everyone and it’s nice to finish on something positive and have the right feeling with the car going forward for the rest of the championship.”

Gregoire Munster – 26th Overall

“Not the best weekend for us, we had a mechanical issue on Friday which lost us some time. Following that I made a mistake which led to a small off, and then we had a small fire when we restarted the car. Luckily the mechanics were able to repair it so we could go out and grab some more experience on Saturday and Sunday. These kilometres were really important for me to get, as we don’t yet have so much mileage with the car, so this gave us some experience on Tarmac which is a really positive point.”

Oliver Solberg (10th)

“It has been a tough one,” said Oliver. “When I tested, we had so much rain, the roads were so wet – in the recce it was the same, I had such a good feeling with the car, I decided to go to a wet set up with the transmission. The transmission is sealed at scrutineering which was on Wednesday. “If it continued to rain, I had the perfect car!” Sadly, the sun came out.

“It was really tricky in the dry. I took the gamble, and it didn’t work. Basically, you have to make a choice on the transmission set-up, and I didn’t trust so much to the weather predictions and when the roads dried, my car wasn’t so good.

“The differential set-up for the wet is kind of more progressive, with the diffs more open – I didn’t have the same pull I needed from the diff. It was a mistake I made. It’s frustrating, but the positive is some fastest times. When the road got a bit more dirty with more mud pulled out, I won some stages – not as many as I would have liked, but some.

“We took some good experience. I did this rally in full wet last year and now full dry this year, so I understand it quite well now.”

“Craig was such an amazing person,” continued Oliver. “He had such love and such passion for this sport – he loved all of the old cars and he loved to talk about rallying all of the time. But above all of that, he was one of the nicest and most positive people I know – that’s what I’m going to take forward with me when I think about this great guy.”

 

2023 FIA World Rally Championship for Manufacturers’

After round four

1 Toyota Gazoo Racing World Rally Team 161
2 Hyundai Shell Mobis World Rally Team 132
3 M-Sport Ford World Rally Team 108

2023 FIA World Rally Championship for Drivers’

After round four

1 S. Ogier 69
2 E. Evans 69
3 K. Rovanperä 68
4 O. Tänak 65
5 T. Neuville 58
6 E. Lappi 31
7 C. Breen 19
8 T. Katsuta 18
9 D. Sordo 17
10 P.L Loubet 14

Summary

Well, what a rally. It was good that it went without incident and great that Elfyn and Scott took victory. If it could not be one of the Hyundai crews, then Elfyn and Scott as close friends of Craig was definitely a great result. Of course, Scott was Craig’s co-driver for many years, and they took their first ever podium in 2016 in Finland.

I’m going to leave it at that and give Craig the final words –

“Don’t let anyone ever put you down, because only you know your true potential.”

Craig Breen, Rally Sweden, February 2023

2023 FIA World Rally Championship
Round 02, Rally Sweden, 09-12 February 2023
Photographer: Vincent Thuillier
Worldwide copyright: Hyundai Motorsport GmbH

Rallye Monte Carlo Preview – Round One of the 2023 season.

The championship returns after as always, a short winter break. This will be the 91st running of this classic event, and M-Sport Ford return as the winning team after their victory with Seb and Isabella.

Let’s take a look at the stages then. The rally has over 325km’s over the 18 stages.

Rallye Monte-Carlo begins on Thursday with two evening stages, including the longest test of the rally: La Cabanette / Col de Castillon (24.90km)

Friday’s itinerary consists of two loops of Roure / Roubion / Beuil (18.33km), Puget-Théniers / Saint-Antonin (19.79km) and Briançonnet / Entrevaux (14.55km), separated by a tyre fitting zone

Saturday is the longest day of the event, with the six stages boasting a total distance of 111.78km

The rally concludes on Sunday with two passes each of Lucéram / Lantosque (18.82km) and La Bollène-Vésubie / Col de Turini (15.12km), with the second of the latter acting as the Power Stage.

We have already seen the detailed changes to two of the three teams. It will be interesting to see who has made the most of their testing schedule over the winter as they attempt to understand their new cars and how to get the most out the performance capabilities.

Let’s hear from the drivers.

Toyota Gazoo Racing

Kalle Rovanperä

“My feeling is good before the start of the new season. We know that it will not be easy to defend the championship. We have seen that the competition level is getting higher all the time, so we need to try and raise our game also and keep pushing hard. The team is again doing a great job to try and maximise the performance and make the car faster and stronger. Rallye Monte-Carlo is a special event, and usually makes for a bit of a tricky and nervous start to the season. But I’m more confident going into the rally than I was last year when everything was so new with the car; now I know that we should have everything in the right direction and be able to have an easier start. It’s never simple to have a clean rally there, but that will be our plan to begin the season in the right way.”

2022 FIA World Rally Championship / Round 01 / Rallye Monte Carlo 2022 / 20-23 January 2022 // Worldwide Copyright: Toyota Gazoo Racing WRT

Elfyn Evans

“The WRC off-season is always pretty short, but I was still happy to take a bit of a break and now I feel ready to go into the new season. Last year fell short of my own expectations personally, but we managed to make some progress and I’m hoping to be able to put better results together this season. The team is always working to evolve the car, and twelve months in to the Rally1 era we understand things a lot better. Like always it should be a competitive year, but I definitely feel that we’re in a better place to challenge, and to fight for the title remains my goal. Rallye Monte-Carlo is a classic event and one that everyone wants to win. It’s always a big challenge, especially with the conditions, but it’s a challenge I enjoy and hopefully we can start the year with a positive result.”

Sébastien Ogier

“I’m still very excited at the start of the season, even though I’m no longer taking part in the full year. It’s always a pleasure to sit behind the steering wheel of a top WRC car. Last year I really enjoyed doing these few rallies. It was good to see I could still be competitive, and the target is to try and stay on a similar level this year and fight for some more wins. I know that the team is never relaxing; even though the last seasons have been very successful, they are still working very hard. Rallye Monte-Carlo is probably the one I want to win the most and I will do my best once more. Preparation has been more difficult as everybody is limited to one day of testing, which is difficult for such a complex event with different conditions and tyre options. But it’s the same for everybody, and I will try to make the most of my experience.”

M-Sport Ford WRT

Ott Tänak

“Rallye Monte-Carlo is always a difficult one to expect something, but for sure it’s the trickiest rally of the season. It won’t be any easier this time as well to get into the rhythm right away, so we expect nothing less than another tricky weekend in the mountains.

“We tried to get the best out of our first test days and we were lucky to experience the car in different conditions. It’s never easy to start the season from the blank page and building up the setup, but the boys and girls from M-Sport are working hard and hopefully we are well prepared for the upcoming challenge. I’m really looking forward to our first race together.”

Pierre-Louis Loubet

“I’m really happy with this week’s test; we tried a number of things, much more than usual, and the car felt great. The car is built for these kinds of roads and it’s very enjoyable to drive. I hope we will see similar conditions to the test on the rally next week, that would suit us really well.

“I’m trying to stay calm, it’s a fantastic opportunity to have my first full season with M-Sport, but it’s also a big responsibility and I take that very seriously. So, I’m trying to keep a cool head, and we’ll see how we do throughout the season. We have all the tools we need to do well.”

Jourdan Serderidis

“Starting the WRC season with a Puma Rally1, with M-Sport at Monte-Carlo is first a privilege but also a major challenge. Considering the level of competition and the tricky snow and ice conditions, I will be more than happy to be in the top 20 of this fantastic rally. It’s not only the most beautiful event on the calendar but the most challenging as well. We had a good test in snowy conditions yesterday, so I believe we are ready for the fun!”

Hyundai Motorsport

Thierry Neuville

“I always like starting the year with Rallye Monte-Carlo; it is an event where we have been competitive in recent years. I expect we will face some tricky conditions, despite the warm weather in the region at the moment. Monte-Carlo is always a bit of a surprise, but I’m looking forward to it. It’s nice to kick off a new season; everyone is on equal points again, and it’s up to us to make the best out of the clean slate. The package of the Hyundai i20 N Rally1 Hybrid has improved so much since its first round in 2022, which helps with our confidence going into this year. There’s been some slight evolutions on the car which will give it even more performance. We never know what our opponents have done during the winter, but I don’t think there will be any big changes. While everybody will have improved a bit, hopefully we are all on a similar level.”

2022 FIA World Rally Championship
Round 01, Rallye Monte-Carlo 2022
17-23 January 2022
Thierry Neuville
Photographer: Austral
Worldwide copyright: Hyundai Motorsport GmbH

Esapekka Lappi

“Rallye Monte-Carlo changed location last year; it moved closer to Monaco and there was a bit less snow and ice than before. I don’t know whether that will be the case this year as well, but if it is, then it will certainly make things simpler for us, as we also have to learn a whole new car. Thursday night is always quite tense – I have to say it is not the nicest feeling climbing up the hill in the darkness on slick tyres in potentially icy conditions! There is excitement, but there is also a small bit of fear. However, it’s quite special, and the following morning you feel more at ease – at least in your mindset. I’m excited to start this adventure with a new team; I will only have one test day on tarmac, but I will go there with my mind open and not give up before we’ve even started. I am confident we can have good pace – maybe not from the very first stage, but certainly we will develop a lot during the weekend and hopefully finish well.”

Dani Sordo

“Rallye Monte-Carlo is a difficult event, but now it is based more around Monaco and the south of France it may be a little bit better in terms of the weather. It is always a challenge due to the conditions; normally it is cold, and you have the potential for ice, especially first thing in the morning. As a result, in the course of one stage you can come across so many different levels of grip on the tarmac, so it is very demanding. However, we need to be a little bit closer to the rally to see what the weather will do and understand what we are going to face on the stages. It is important to start the season well; every time you arrive to the first event you do so with full power and recharged batteries. Overall, I really like Monte-Carlo and its stages, so hopefully we can perform well and begin the year with a positive result.”

The WRC2 category is hugely supported as well in this round with Skoda, Ford, Citroen, Hyundai and Volkswagen cars being run.

M-Sport are running two Fiesta Rally2 cars for Adrien and Gregoire this year. Let’s hear from them both.

Adrien Fourmaux

“Rallye Monte Carlo is, of course, the most famous in the Championship, and it’s always a fantastic way to start the season. We’re hoping for a good result on this rally to give us the best start possible for the WRC2 Championship. It’s one of the most difficult rallies of the season, with tricky and changing road conditions, and we should have the full effect with some snow and ice conditions too. I’m looking forward to getting back out in a Rally2 and seeing what we can achieve.”

Grégoire Munster

“We’re looking forward to going to Monte Carlo for the first time with a car prepared by M-Sport. We’ve done the rally a few times in the past so we have some experience there, but I don’t think it would be realistic to say we will aim straight for a big result. We will just try to get familiar with the car, be consistent throughout the weekend and see where we end up. We want to start our campaign on a good footing.”

TokSport will also be running a number of the new Skoda Fabia RS Rally2 for the following drivers: Sami Pajari, Nikolay Gryazin and Marco Bulacia. In addition to those drivers, Oliver Solberg, Chris Ingram and lots of others will also be driving Skoda’s as well. Hyundai’s will be run by Motorsport Ireland for Josh McErlean and William Crieighton. Finally, there are also some C3 Rally2’s for Yohan Rossell, Stephane Lefebvre and Sean Johnson. It’s great to see this championship so well supported and this championship will likely be decided just like last year on the final round. The drivers get to choose the rounds that they enter, which brings an interesting element of uncertainty and unpredictability to the championship.

Summary

Who are the drivers that are likely to challenge for victory this weekend? It’s fair to say that Seb Ogier will be in the mix along with Thierry Neuville. Other drivers likely at be at the front include Kalle, Elfyn and Ott. Rising young stars Takamoto and Pierre-Louis will look to gain more experience for the future and the young Frenchman will certainly benefit from his new co-driver Nicolas Gilsoul who won this rally with Thierry in 2020.

The action starts on Thursday evening with the first two stages in the evening. Enjoy!

Mystic Motorsport

Mystic Motorsport – Predictions for Motorsport in 2023

Just as a psychic would say my senses are tingling as I read my mystic ball.

Andretti get entry for 2025

In 2022 season the Circuit of the Americas last corner was renamed after Mario Andretti the 1978 WDC Champion now more news for Andretti, it will be announced at COTA  or maybe Vegas that Andretti will enter Formula 1.

It will be an all American venture as they have said previously, and they will announce the following drivers, Colton Herta as a rookie, and Alexander Rossi will return to Formula 1 after his brief spell in late 2015 with Marussia. He does have history with Andretti in Indycar, the only year

Aston Martin fighting amongst themselves for the last points position in Hungary 2022. Image courtesy of Aston Martin Media

not with  the team he will drive with Autosport in the upcoming 2023. Their power unit is a temporary Renault deal as there were talks to have them In principal.  Renault always looks to increase their share in the team pool. General Motors have their own engine lined up or work with Honda for 2026 as they are also behind the deal, so could see a Red Bull/Honda unit going forward much like how it seems Audi are working with the Sauber team.

Ferrari win Le Mans Overall

Ferrari take it back to 1965, winning one of the World’s greatest races, for the first time in 58 years! Going back to the days of Ferrari vs Ford! An epic film if you haven’t yet watched it.
Ferrari have been at Le Mans throughout the years but have stepped back to the GT series with the AF Corse car in recent times. It would be quite fitting considering this years’ Le Mans marks its  centenary race, the 100th running of Le Mans in France. They now have the new 499P hypercar, fully expecting the likes of Antonio Fuoco, Alessandro Pier Guidi to be the drivers who was apart of the team as well as Antonio Giovinazzi, the reserve F1 driver to make up the team the main team. These will be the drivers to take victory.

They will also have a team made of non-Italians but they have raced with their GT cars such as the ever reliable James Calado but that will result in a non-finish, they will have success in other races throughout the WEC calendar.

Evans WRC Champion

Elfyn Evans over the last few years since joining Toyota from his previous team M-Sport Ford has always been the bridesmaid, never the bride, especially in 2020 and 2021 finishing second place. The sport dominated since 2004 by French drivers Sebastien Loeb and Ogier of late, only recent Ott Tanak and Kalle Rovanpera have changed that of late. It is now time that Evans to step up and becomes the first British driver to win the World Rally Champion since Richard Burns with the iconic Subaru Impreza in 2001.

Evans is great across all surfaces from the asphalt of Monaco, snow of Sweden to the traditional dirt of Kenya. He has victories in previous years and as rally is more known for consistency is key, as one mistake can end it all. He has a great relationship with co-driver Scott Martin who can lead him to success for 2023.

Hungarian GP Shake-Up

There has been talks over the last few years of bringing the MotoGP series to Hungary whether it be through the well-known Hungaroring or the new option considered Magyar Nemzetközi Motodrome only in rendered format designed by Herman Tilke currently.

This could possibly be announced for the MotoGP series when we hit the European rounds, and do see F1 possibly announcing when the contract ends at 2027 at Hungaroring that the tracks share the honour of holding the Grand Prix, rotating it, as Silverstone and Brands Hatch did from 1963 to 1986.

Just a few thoughts to put to the table! I can sense it!

Rally Japan 2022 Full Report – Thierry wins for Hyundai Motorsport!

Friday

The first full day of action would encompass 130km’s over six stages. The startlist looked like this – Rovanperä, Tänak, Neuville, Evans, Katsuta, Ogier, Breen, Sordo, Greensmith.

The first morning stage then and the second of the rally, SS2 Isegami’s Tunnel 1 – 23.29 km was won by Kalle with Thierry and Elfyn second and third fastest. All three of them jumped up into the top three overall positions. Those to fall down the order were Ott, Craig and overnight leader Seb, who suffered a puncture in this one. He did not know where he picked this up and sounded very unhappy already. In the WRC2 category, Kajetan crashed out at the exit of the tunnel and his hopes of this year’s category title were gone, as his Skoda had very heavy damage. Emil Lindholm was now leading the category. It was far worse though for Dani Sordo. Just after the section with the tunnel, he stopped as there was smoke in his car. He and Candida found that the car was on fire, and whilst attempting to put this out, Gus arrived at the scene, but unfortunately despite their best attempts, they could not put it out. The stage would then be red flagged.

The next stage SS3 Inabu Dam 1 – 19.38 km which was cancelled, as the cars were all not able to make it to the start line.

Next up then was SS4 Shitara Town R 1 – 22.44 km and Elfyn was fastest from Seb and Thierry. Former leader Kalle could only manage sixth fastest and fell to third overall. Elfyn and Thierry held the lead, having so far set the same overall time after these stages. Sadly, the day was over for Craig and his new co-driver James. They hit a barrier and damaged their Puma, putting them out for the rest of the day. All was not well with their teammate, Gus and Jonas either. They were suffering with a broken driveshaft, a problem that they’d been dealing with all morning, but at least they could get back to the service and get the car fixed.

After service, SS5 Isegami’s Tunnel 2 – 14.33 km, massively shortened due to the fire in Dani’s car (it finished at the tunnel entrance) was won by Elfyn with Thierry second fastest and Seb third. The Welshman took the lead by 1.1 seconds over Thierry. With his driveshaft replaced, Gus moved back into sixth overall, moving ahead of Emil and Reeta who were still leading the WRC2 category.

The following stage, SS6 Inabu Dam 2 – 19.38 km, was taken by Kalle, from Elfyn and Ott and now Elfyn’s lead over Thierry was three seconds. Things were going well for the Toyota crew. There were changes in the WRC2 leaderboard though, with Teemu going fastest from Sami and Heikki Kovalainen (yes, the former McLaren F1 driver). Sami now assumed the lead of the category, from Teemu and Emil was now in third.

The final stage of the day SS7 Shitara Town R 2 – 22.44 km was cancelled, due the damage sustained to the barrier following Craig’s incident.

Let’s take a look at the standings and hear from the drivers.

Classification after Day One

1 E. Evans S. Martin Toyota GR Yaris Rally1  57:18.8
2 T. Neuville M. Wydaeghe Hyundai i20 N Rally1 +3.0
3 K. Rovanperä J. Halttunen Toyota GR Yaris Rally1 +5.1
4 O. Tänak M. Järveoja Hyundai i20 N Rally1 +13.9
5 T. Katsuta A. Johnston Toyota GR Yaris Rally1 +20.6
6 G. Greensmith J. Andersson Ford Puma Rally1 +2:00.4

Toyota Gazoo Racing WRT

Elfyn Evans (1st)

“It’s always nice to be leading at the end of the day but there’s still a long way to go, so it doesn’t mean too much just yet. The morning’s first stage was very demanding and a proper wake-up call. We lost a bit of time in there but then we had a good run through the second stage that we did, and we’ve followed that up with a decent afternoon as well. It’s still been pretty difficult, very twisty and very technical, and the grip levels have been changing all the time. The character changes within stages so we need a car that works well in many different scenarios. Again, there will be a bit of everything tomorrow but we’ll give it our best as always.”

2022 FIA World Rally Championship / Round 13 / Rally Japan / 10-13th November, 2022 // Worldwide Copyright: Toyota Gazoo Racing WRT

Kalle Rovanperä (3rd)

“It’s has been not too bad today and it’s still fairly close, so we can be somewhat happy. It definitely wasn’t easy driving these stages, with a lot of corners all the time. Without testing and going onto fully new roads, it’s not easy to have everything feeling 100 per cent straightaway – especially on these types of roads, as I like to have the balance a bit different to the others. We made some changes at lunch and it was better this afternoon. If we can find a bit more precision with the car, I will be able to push harder tomorrow.”

Sébastien Ogier (10th)

“Unfortunately for us the hope of a top result here ended very early this morning with this puncture in the first stage. It’s very frustrating of course, and we’re not sure why it happened but we had to stop to change the wheel and lost over two-and-a-half minutes to the lead. Now the excitement is not quite the same when you’re no longer fighting for victory, but of course we’ll try to keep pushing and to keep enjoying these stages. It’s also an opportunity to work with my new co-driver Vincent who is doing a very good job so far, and also to work with the setup of the car. These roads are very unique and the feeling is not yet at the optimum like we had in Spain on roads we knew very well.”

 

Hyundai Motorsport

Thierry Neuville (2nd)

“Despite a shorter day than we expected, it was still a tough challenge out there; a lot of hard work for the drivers and the co-drivers. We managed our day quite well, I think. It was a bit up and down because of the characteristics of the road, and some changing conditions. It’s difficult coming to a brand-new rally because we have to start from zero; you have to go through different options and settings. We prepared as well as we could, but we didn’t expect so many grip changes. We need to find the right compromise and we’re fighting with that a bit at the moment. At the end, we’ve done a good job, and we’re near the front and with some good times. We will do our best to continue in this way.”

Ott Tänak (4th)

“We managed two stages in the morning; the first one was very demanding with many grip changes and overall, it wasn’t easy to drive. On the following one it was almost the opposite, with high grip but tricky with the visibility and we also had some issues with our diffs. The afternoon felt a bit better, gaining in some places and losing out in others; but altogether it was an improvement. It’s been hard to find a confident feeling on tarmac, but we are there or thereabouts. It’s challenging, of course, but if the grip levels are higher then it’s OK. Tomorrow’s stages are more or less the same as today, the first one quite slow and twisty, but the other ones a bit more ‘racey’. We are still in the fight; there is a long way to go, so let’s see what the rally looks like at the end.”

Dani Sordo (DNF)

“At some point during SS2 we started to have a lot of smoke in the car, and it all happened really fast. I stopped, and we used the small extinguisher to try and put out the fire. Unfortunately, we couldn’t do more; I was trying all that I could, but it was impossible. I’m so sorry to the team to lose the car. I have never seen anything like this before. It is definitely something we all have to look into and learn from.”

Saturday

The second day would see 80km’s over seven stages. The startlist would now be the reversed top ten, with Craig opening the stages and Elfyn being the final car through.

The Welshman would make a very good start to the day, winning SS8 Nukata Forest 1 – 20.56 km from Thierry and Seb third. Elfyn’s lead was now up to 5.9 seconds over the Belgian crew, whilst Kalle went wide on a corner and suffered a puncture, the result being that the new world champions dropped three places falling to sixth overall. The fight continued for the WRC2 win, with Emil moving back ahead of Teemu.

Seb took SS9 Lake Mikawako 1 – 14.74 km from Thierry and Elfyn. The gap narrowed a little between the top two overall crews, but Elfyn remained in the lead by 4.7 seconds. Seb’s pace had now brought him ahead of Kalle, who was now down in seventh overall. Emil remained the leader of WRC2 and was holding eighth overall as well.

Ott took his first stage win, in SS10 Shinshiro City – 7.08 km from Seb and Takamoto. Meanwhile, Elfyn, who was fourth fastest increased his lead over Thierry who was sixth fastest. Kalle took a penalty of a minute due to being six minutes late to the time control. The Finn fell down to 12th overall.

After lunch time service, Seb won SS11 Nukata Forest 2 – 20.56 km from Thierry and Elfyn. The Frenchman’s pace took him ahead of Gus and into fifth overall. The Brit was suffering with an intermittent powersteering problem and this was really affecting his ability to push hard on these twisty stages. Emil and Reeta remained in control of WRC2 with a lead of 46 seconds over Sami and Enni.

Into SS12 Lake Mikawako 2 – 14.74 km and Seb took another stage win from Thierry, with Elfyn third fastest. Elfyn lost the lead to Thierry and was now two seconds behind the Belgian. Top three in WRC2 was Emil, Sami and Gregoire.

SS13 Okazaki City SSS 1 – 1.40 km was cancelled due to delays getting it underway.

The final stage then, SS14 Okazaki City SSS 2 – 1.40 km and Thierry showed that as always, he’s the super special stage specialist, winning the stage from Ott and Seb. Elfyn was only sixth fastest, setting the same time as Teemu.

Let’s take a look at the standings and hear from the drivers.

 

Classification after Day Two

1 T. Neuville M. Wydaeghe Hyundai i20 N Rally1 1:51:28.3
2 E. Evans S. Martin Toyota GR Yaris Rally1 +4.0
3 O. Tänak M. Järveoja Hyundai i20 N Rally1 +39.9
4 T. Katsuta A. Johnston Toyota GR Yaris Rally1 +1:04.5
5 S. Ogier V. Landais Toyota GR Yaris Rally1 +2:46.7
6 G. Greensmith J. Andersson Ford Puma Rally1 +3:25.4

 

Toyota Gazoo Racing WRT

Elfyn Evans (2nd)

“We got off to a good start this morning. Everything was working well in the car and we managed to extend our lead. Then this afternoon we were not performing as well as we would like. I was still trying but I was struggling to find the same feeling and deliver the stage times. We’ll need to have a look tonight and try to understand why that was. It’s unfortunate to be in this position now after the strong morning we had. But it’s still pretty tight – like it has been for the whole rally – and there are plenty of kilometres left in which to fight back, and if the rain comes as expected then it could be a complicated day.”

Sébastien Ogier (5th)

“It’s been a positive day for us. To be fastest over the day is always good and it’s been enjoyable in the car with a good rhythm. We’ve been working on the setup, trying to make the most of this opportunity and we now have a better idea on how we should set-up the car for conditions like these. It’s also working well with Vincent, who is doing a great job. Unfortunately, we’re not fighting for so much anymore in terms of positions, but we managed to get into the top five which was the maximum we could do on speed. But tomorrow will be a long day with rain expected and many things can still happen.”

Kalle Rovanperä (11th)

“Things got a bit tricky for us straightaway in the opening stage this morning. I got caught out in a slippery braking area which I didn’t have in the pacenotes and we went a bit wide and broke the wheel. We had to stop and change it, so basically, we lost the chance to fight for the podium right there. This afternoon was more positive, not necessarily in terms of pace but we were trying some new things on the car and learning a bit about the setup. There is nothing for us to fight for now so it’s just trying to manage everything. Let’s see how the rain is tomorrow but it seems like it will be a big challenge.”

Hyundai Motorsport

Thierry Neuville (1st)

“The target at the start of the day was to stay close to Elfyn and to keep the gap behind. He had a great morning loop, and we were generally looking for a better balance with our car. We just drove to our rhythm and pushed when we could. We got it right for the afternoon with a good tyre choice, and a soft for the final stage, which allowed us to take and increase the lead. Tomorrow is going to be another difficult day, just as it’s been all event, and with extra excitement. To finish the season with a victory would be great.”

Ott Tänak (3rd)

“It’s good to end the day in the provisional podium positions but it’s not over yet. We had a generally clean day, with no trouble; everything worked well. We weren’t far off the pace but the cars at the front were able to find a bit more and go faster than us. Stage 10 was a bit different, and we could set the fastest time. It was a very “racey” stage, so we stiffened the car a bit and it was a big improvement. Tomorrow looks set to be trickier with more challenging stages. Let’s see what it brings; we’ll do all we can to bring home a good result for the team.”

2022 FIA World Rally Championship
Round 13, Rally Japan
10-14 November 2022
Ott Tanak, Martin Jarveoja, Hyundai i20 N Rally1
Photographer: Dufour Fabien
Worldwide copyright: Hyundai Motorsport GmbH

Sunday

The final day of the rally and whole season had arrived and there would be 69km’s over five stages. There was also the predicted rain that was due to arrive at any time throughout the day. Once again Craig opened the road and Thierry would be last to complete the stages.

Into SS15 Asahi Kougen 1 – 7.52 km and Elfyn was fastest from Seb, with Thierry third fastest and 3.4 seconds slower than the Welshman. It was game on for the lead between the top two. Meanwhile, Emil remained on course for the WRC2 title holding the lead from Sami.

The longest stage of the day, SS16 Ena City 1 – 21.59 km was taken by Thierry, from Seb and Ott. It was disaster for Elfyn though. He went wide in a corner and picked up a puncture. He stopped around 9.9 km’s into the stage and dropped a minute 30 with the tyre change and with it any hopes of victory. He fell to fourth overall, now one minute 47 seconds from Thierry. Takamoto was now holding third overall and Ott moved into second place.

Into the single run SS17 Nenoue Plateau – 11.60 km and Seb was fastest from Elfyn and Takamoto. It was a case of what might have been, as Elfyn may have been able to retake the lead, as the Belgian was three and a half seconds slower than the Welshman. Meanwhile, Craig was just cruising through the stages, waiting for the rain and saving his wet weather tyres for this.

The rain arrived for the second running of SS18 Ena City 2 – 21.59 km and Craig showed he’s kept his tyres in very good shape, winning the stage from Seb and Gus. Thierry was faster than Elfyn by a huge margin, just because he’d had some wet weather tyres, whereas, Elfyn only had hard and soft tyres. If the battle had continued, it’s likely that Thierry would have pulled away, but we’ll never really know now. There was a change around in the WRC2 category though! Gregoire took the lead- and long-time leader Emil was now in second and Sami was holding third.

The final stage then SS19 Asahi Kougen 2[Power Stage] – 7.52 km and the early pacesetter in his Skoda, Maurio Miele’s time was not beaten by a number of top-class crews, until Craig came through and went 11 seconds faster. The WRC2 master ended up with the second fastest time in the stage, Teemu was third fastest Thierry fourth and Fabrizio, another WRC2 category driver fifth fastest, all taking home powerstage points. The reason that there were only two top class crews in the top five, was because the weather was moving around and therefore the conditions were constantly changing. If you’ve not seen the stage, I would recommend watching it if you have WRC Live. We also had a new WRC2 champion crew, with Emil Lindholm and Reeta Hamalainen taking the crown! So good to see a female co-driver taking a championship. They completely deserve this success.

 

Let’s take a look at the final standings and hear from the drivers

Final Overall Classification –Rally Japan

1 T. Neuville M. Wydaeghe Hyundai i20 N Rally1 2:43:52.3
2 O. Tänak M. Järveoja Hyundai i20 N Rally1 +1:11.1
3 T. Katsuta A. Johnston Toyota GR Yaris Rally1 +2:11.3
4 S. Ogier V. Landais Toyota GR Yaris Rally1 +2:23.6
5 E. Evans S. Martin Toyota GR Yaris Rally1 +4:05.1
6 G. Greensmith J. Andersson Ford Puma Rally1 +4:07.4
7 G. Munster L. Louka Hyundai i20 N Rally2 +7:50.8
8 T. Suninen M. Marrkula Hyundai i20 N Rally2 +8:12.4
9 E. Lindholm R. Hämäläinen Škoda Fabia Evo +8:25.6
10 H. Kovalainen S. Kitagawa Škoda Fabia +8:59.8
2022 FIA World Rally Championship
Round 13, Rally Japan
10-14 November 2022
Thierry Neuville, Martijn Wydaeghe, Hyundai i20 N Rally1, Ott Tanak, Martin Jarveoja, Julien Moncet
Photographer: Dufour Fabien
Worldwide copyright: Hyundai Motorsport GmbH

Hyundai Motorsport

Thierry Neuville (1st)

“This victory feels fantastic! It wasn’t an easy weekend, or indeed season, but to end with this result is incredible and shows that the performance is there. Thanks to our weather guy for a great job. We knew that the title chase was over, but the target was to come here to Japan to win and we’ve achieved that with a 1-2. It has been a challenging season; we’ve shown a turnaround but there is still plenty of work left to do. Results like this give a special boost to the whole team. We know the areas where we need to improve; I keep believing in this team and I will keep pushing also. Next season will be a different challenge. Monte is less than two months away and we have to be ready for that.”

2022 FIA World Rally Championship
Round 13, Rally Japan
10 – 13 November 2022
Thierry Neuville
Photographer: Austral
Worldwide copyright: Hyundai Motorsport GmbH

Ott Tänak (2nd)

“It is good to finish the season on the podium. These were extremely tricky conditions at the end, and it’s been a demanding rally overall. For the past couple of events on tarmac, we’ve been lacking some speed to be where we should be. Still, we took the result that we could this weekend and there’s been nothing much left. We came to Hyundai Motorsport to fight for another championship title; obviously we have never delivered enough to achieve that, but it’s been an incredible experience. We’ve met another bunch of people and probably made some friends for life, so it’s been worth every year.”

 

Toyota Gazoo Racing WRT

Takamoto Katsuta (3rd)

“It is a very special feeling to be on the podium in my home country. I need to say a huge thanks to the team and to the many fans who were supporting us and cheering for us everywhere – on the stages and also on the road sections. It was a really tough weekend with very tricky stages, and the grip level was changing a lot. At first, I was struggling a bit with the feeling but on Friday lunchtime we changed the setup with the team and it went in a very good direction, so I had a more comfortable feeling and the times were pretty good. We had some very difficult conditions at the end of the rally especially, but we were able to survive. Thank you to Aaron and also to our gravel crew, Juho Hänninen and Craig Parry, who did a great job supporting us with information for the pacenotes.”

Sébastien Ogier (4th)

“It was a challenging end to the rally today with the rain which we knew was coming. It was a tough tyre choice this morning with some stages to be driven in the dry and some in the wet so we had to go with a compromise. I think we had the correct choice overall as we were fastest again over the day. It’s been a good weekend in terms of the performance and speed we showed again this weekend, and the first time with Vincent who has done a perfect job. Of course, it would have been even better if we were rewarded with the result that I think we deserved, but some bad luck hit us again this weekend. We are all happy to see Taka on the podium at home and it’s been great to have so much support here in Japan.”

2022 FIA World Rally Championship / Round 13 / Rally Japan / 10-13th November, 2022 // Worldwide Copyright: Toyota Gazoo Racing WRT

Elfyn Evans (5th)

“Naturally I’m massively disappointed about today. It’s been a tough season personally and we had a chance here and threw everything at it. Today started really well, we had a good rhythm in the car and things were working well. But on the second stage we ran marginally wide and damaged the tyre. It was a big penalty for a small error but that’s the nature of the game. It’s really busy on the stages here so it was easily done. After that the battle for the win was over and then the rain came and the tyres, we had left were not optimal for that. I’m really happy for Taka to be on the podium at his home event: He’s worked hard all year and really deserves it.”

Kalle Rovanperä (12th)

“This has been a tough rally and a challenging one just as we expected. It didn’t go our way this weekend but sometimes it’s like this. The main thing is we got to the end of the rally and learned some things for the future. Again, we were using today as a test day and we wanted to keep the balance with the tyres consistent for the dry stages so that we could try some more things with the setup. I think we made a positive step and found some things which were nice to drive and at least we know the direction for the future. Overall, we’ve had a really good season so we can be very happy with that and thanks to the team and everybody who made it possible.”

2022 FIA World Rally Championship for Drivers’ Standings
After round 13

1 K. Rovanperä 255
2 O. Tänak 205
3 T. Neuville 193
4 E. Evans 134
5 T. Katsuta 122
6 S. Ogier 97
7 C. Breen 84
8 D. Sordo 59
9 E. Lappi 58
10 G. Greensmith 44

2022 FIA World Rally Championship for Manufacturers’ Standings
After round 13

1 Toyota Gazoo Racing World Rally Team 525
2 Hyundai Shell Mobis World Rally Team 455
3 M-Sport Ford World Rally Team 257
4 Toyota Gazoo Racing World Rally Team NG 138

Summary

Well, what an amazing final round of the championship. Two Finnish crews walk away with both titles, and Takamoto takes an amazing third place at his home rally.

There were the issues throughout the weekend, with punctures, mechanical problems, and even a road car getting onto a stage (that was number 4) leading to it being cancelled, when the WRC2 crews were going through.

I’ll be reviewing the season, team by team. Look out for these coming soon.

Rally Japan 2022 Preview – The final round of this year’s championship

Well, after a long-awaited return, including two cancelled attempts in 2020 and 2021 due to the pandemic, the championship is heading to the land of the rising sun, with an all-new tarmac event. This has 283km over 19 stages

Toyota head there having secured the manufacturers world championship last month in Spain, to go with the driver title that Kalle and Jonne took in New Zealand.

Now the last time this rally featured in the championship was in 2010 and there are two drivers going there this year that competed all those years ago. Seb Ogier and Dani Sordo. However, there are no carry over stages, as 12 years ago, this event was an all-gravel rally.

Let’s take a look at the stages and hear from the drivers.

Rally Japan begins on Thursday evening with 2.75km stage in Kuragaike Park

Friday is the longest day of the event in terms of distance, with the two loops of stages totalling 130.22km.

The itinerary on Saturday consists of seven stages, including two passes of the super special Okazaki City (1.40km).

Five stages, including the Asahi Kougen Power Stage (7.52km), bring the event to a close on Sunday.

Toyota Gazoo Racing WRT

Kalle Rovanperä

“It’s going to be very nice to finally be able to go to Rally Japan, and especially after a season like we have had with the team this year with such good results and the championships already in the bag. It means the team can go to Japan more relaxed and enjoy this home rally, and we will try to push hard and hopefully have a really good result at the end of it. Having seen some stages there three years ago, I think it’s going to be a really tricky event. There are some wider and smoother roads as well as some very narrow forest sections which can also be quite dirty. So it’s going to be a difficult recce before the rally with roads that we’re not used to and a lot of new pacenotes to write.”

 

Elfyn Evans

“I think the whole team is looking forward to finally have the chance to compete at Rally Japan. Of course, the target will be to try and get a good result on home ground for TOYOTA GAZOO Racing. Personally, the last round in Spain was not the best for me but hopefully we can use the rally in Japan to find some improvements and prepare for next year in a good way. I was there in 2019 to recce some of the stages around the area of the rally and from what I remember the roads were very demanding with sections that were extremely twisty and narrow and others which were more fast and flowing, so there will probably be a lot of changes in character to deal with during the rally.”

Sébastien Ogier

“I’m really excited for Rally Japan. It was quite a big disappointment the last two years that this rally had to be cancelled as we definitely see it as a highlight for us as TOYOTA GAZOO Racing drivers. I love the country itself and have some good memories from there: I only competed there once before but it was a win, so there is also some pressure to try and keep my 100 per cent record! This rally will be totally different to before though and probably quite a demanding one from what we have seen so far. But I always like the challenge of a completely new rally where everybody starts from scratch and has to adapt as quickly as possible. I’m sure the experience is going to be a special one and I’m looking forward to it.”

Hyundai Motorsport

Ott Tänak 

“Rally Japan is going to be a challenging one for us because it’s a new event, so I personally don’t have too much information on what to expect, but we will gather all the info we have available with the recce and prepare for it as much as possible. After three years with Hyundai Motorsport, this is going to be my last one with them, so I hope that we can find a good feeling on the roads and finish the season and our partnership on a high note.”

2022 FIA World Rally Championship
Round 09, Ypres Rally Belgium
18-21 August 2022
Ott Tanak, Martin Jarveoja, Hyundai i20 N Rally 1
Photographer: Dufour Fabien
Worldwide copyright: Hyundai Motorsport GmbH

Thierry Neuville 

“New country, new rally, new adventure. Other than knowing it will be tarmac stages we have no clue what is waiting for us. This obviously makes it a bit more difficult to prepare but most of the time I have done better when the rally is new than when it is one, I have done before. We always want to finish in the highest place possible at the end of the season, as it gives you a nice feeling going into the winter break and helps motivate you for the next year. So, the target will be to give the best of ourselves, get the most out of the car, and then see where we end up.”

Dani Sordo 

“I have rallied in Japan back when it was on gravel, but I am excited to try the new tarmac stages, which I have been told are very narrow and difficult. When you don’t know what to expect it is always more challenging, as all you can do to prepare for the stages is to watch videos. Once we are at the event, the recce and pace notes will be important to producing a good weekend. As always, our goal is to get on the podium at a minimum and deliver the best result possible for the team.”

Hyundai WRC2

Teemu Suninen

“I had a taste of Rally Japan back in 2019 when I did the recce of the candidate event and I have been looking forward to coming back ever since. It is a unique rally with nice smooth tarmac, but it can be surprisingly slippery. There are many slow sections, which creates a big challenge for the drivers and the car has to be good in the slow corners. It’s going to be a fantastic experience to rally in Japan as the fans there are amazing.”

Fabrizio Zaldivar

“I am happy with how we have performed this season and hope that we can finish the year with another good result. At each event I feel like I have learned more about the car and improved my feel and pace in it. I have never competed in Japan before, but I am really looking forward to it. I have also heard that the fans are very passionate, so hopefully we can put on a good show for them.”

 

M-Sport Ford WRT

Craig Breen

“It is the last rally of the year and a new rally for everyone. From what we can see so far, the roads look challenging; incredibly twisty and technical. It looks like it will be up there as one of the most difficult rallies that we’ve seen on Tarmac so far. Still, it should be a nice challenge, Spain got better and better as the weekend went on, I felt like we made some good progress and changes with the car. Hopefully we can hit the ground running here in Japan and try to bring home a good result to end the season.”

Gus Greensmith

“Japan as a country itself is a place I’ve always dreamed about visiting, the fact I am able to go and compete on there and then enjoy the country after is a double bonus. We feel we will have a strong package coming into this weekend. It’s going to be a good weekend; we want to round out the season on a high.”

Summary

Well, we are set for a big end to this year’s championship, and although the titles are wrapped up, I still recommend following the rally through my reports and also if you can, follow the coverage either live, or watching later on WRCPlus. We are looking at similar time difference to the New Zealand stage times.

You might ask why follow the rally? Well, with all drivers not worrying about titles and getting points finishes for their teams, we might well see a no holds barred approach to the stages from all the top crews and this with the predicted to be very technical stages that make up this year’s route, we are likely to have a very spectacular rally!

My last word on this? Enjoy!

Rally Spain Day Two Report – Saturday. Seb moves clear

The second day of Rally Spain saw the crews tackle 118km’s of competitive over seven stages.

First up was SS9 Savallà 1 – 13.93 km and Thierry was fastest from Seb and Kalle. Only 1.5 seconds covered the top three. The overall gap now between Thierry and Kalle in their battle for second place was just 6.2 seconds. Could the Belgian close the gap any further in the following stages? Meanwhile Craig felt a lot better, with the changes made to his Puma making the car really good and he was only eight tenths slower than Ott who was fourth fastest.

Next up was SS10 Querol – Les Pobles 1 – 20.19 km and Seb once again set the fastest time from Thierry and Kalle. There was quite a big-time gap between the 2021 and 2022 champions with the young Finn now almost 10 seconds from the leader. Also Thierry closed a little bit more to the second placed Kalle, bringing the gap down to less than five seconds.

The first run of SS11 El Montmell 1 – 24.18 km and the only drivers to complete were Pierre-Louis and Jourdan in their Puma’s. Unfortunately, as Gus, who was the next car into the stage, came to the end on the stage, he slid wide on a right-hander and in an attempt to turn the Puma into the corner using his handbrake, the car then slid sideways into the barrier on the outside and was spun around so that the car was facing the opposite direct back the way it had come. With the car blocking the stage, first the red flag was shown and the later the decision was made to cancel the stage. All the crews were given a notional time that matched Pierre-Louis’ time.

After lunchtime service SS12 Savallà 2 – 13.93 km, Seb was fastest from Ott and Kalle, with Thierry fourth quickest. Kalle was now five seconds away from Thierry in their battle for second overall, but this battle was not over. Meanwhile, Seb was now 12 seconds ahead of Kalle.

Into SS13 Querol – Les Pobles 2 – 20.19 km and Seb was really into the groove now, going fastest again from Ott and Kalle. Thierry was again fourth, and Kalle was taking a few tenths of a second out of the Belgian.

The rerun of SS14 El Montmell 2 – 24.18 km went better than earlier in the day as all the crews made it through this time. Dani took his first stage win of the rally as well, with Thierry and Seb second and third fastest.

Finally, the short SS15 Salou – 2.15 km and Hyundai teammates Ott and Thierry shared the fastest time and Seb was third. Meanwhile Kalle was only fifth fastest and actually fell to third place behind Thierry and the gap was now 1.4 seconds between them.

Let’s take a look at the standings and hear from the drivers.

Classification after Day Two

1 S. Ogier B. Veillas Toyota GR Yaris Rally1 2:10:18.5
2 T. Neuville M. Wydaeghe Hyundai i20 N Rally1 +20.7
3 K. Rovanperä J. Halttunen Toyota GR Yaris Rally1 +22.1
4 O. Tänak M. Järveoja Hyundai i20 N Rally1 +36.6
5 D. Sordo C. Carrera Hyundai i20 N Rally1 +1:13.2
6 E. Evans S. Martin Toyota GR Yaris Rally1 +1:27.6
7 C. Breen P. Nagle Ford Puma Rally1 +1:39.7
8 T. Katsuta A. Johnston Toyota GR Yaris Rally1 +1:58.6
9 A. Fourmaux A. Coria Ford Puma Rally1 +2:13.7
10 P. L. Loubet V. Landais Ford Puma Rally1 +2:59.2

Toyota Gazoo Racing WRT

Sébastien Ogier (1st)

“It’s been another good day today. It’s a nice feeling to have this kind of speed and to be able to increase the gap on almost every stage like we did today. It’s what you dream for coming to a rally. I’m really enjoying driving the GR YARIS this weekend, and today with a comparable road position to our nearest competitors we were able to make more of a lead. It would be nice to get a win and now we have to finish the job. Normally this should be a decent gap but there are still some kilometres to go, so the target is to stay out of trouble until the end.”

Kalle Rovanperä (3rd)

“It has been a nice day overall. Of course, Seb was faster all the time, he was pushing hard and driving really well and we couldn’t really match him, but we were not taking all the risks that we could have done. This afternoon in the first two stages we still had consistent and quite nice pace, but then on the next one we had a small issue with some settings which were wrong on the startline. It meant we were losing time with the hybrid system and we had to try and fix it during the stage. Thierry is now ahead of us but it’s still really close and hopefully tomorrow we will score a good result either way.”

Elfyn Evans (6th)

“Today we were consistently a bit off the pace unfortunately. We already had some struggles yesterday and we couldn’t really overcome that today and find that last bit of feeling and confidence needed to fight at the front where we want to be. The car is clearly competitive and working well in the hands of my team-mates, but it’s just not suiting me perfectly at the moment. So, it’s a bit of a frustrating situation but of course we’re trying to improve all the time and see what we can do, and again we’ll explore what we can tomorrow.”

Hyundai Motorsport

Thierry Neuville (2nd)

“It was a tough day, but we had some speed in the morning. We won the first stage, but the longest sector of the loop was cancelled, so we held our third place. We wanted to keep pushing in front of the fans; it’s been great to see so many spectators. We had less speed in the afternoon, but we were just hoping to stay in the fight for the lead. There wasn’t much more we could do. All three of our crews struggled to find that little bit extra to match the frontrunner. Some stages we were there, but others we weren’t. We’re going to see what happens tomorrow; it could be tricky in the dark early morning conditions.”

Ott Tänak (4th)

“It was an OK day for us. Technical wise, we had no issues, but we were just missing a bit of pace and lacking a general feeling in the car. This afternoon, I was pushing quite a bit, actually outside of my comfort zone. We had a moment, well it was actually more of an off, but we got back on the road. It was a bit of a miracle. Other than that, it has been a challenging day. The roads have been nice to drive, so we have tried to enjoy ourselves as much as we can. Tomorrow morning in the dark on tarmac could be fun.”

Dani Sordo (5th)

“We made some important set-up changes during the day, and we seem to have unlocked some performance and confidence from the car. Things were much better, and we could show that in the El Montmell stage. My friend said that I had to do a fastest time today, and not just the short one at Salou, so I knew it would have to be this stage. I know the people living in the area; they wait for me to come through. It’s really fast in the middle and you just want to push hard. The car was working well, so I could just enjoy it. I gave it everything I had, and it was an amazing time. This was the feeling I’ve been looking for all weekend. We’ve not been doing badly, but the times were not there. Tomorrow, there are more stages like this one so I will try again to find that confidence to push, especially for all these fans we have cheering us on.”

2022 FIA World Rally Championship
Round 12, Rally de Espana, 20-23 October 2022
Dani Sordo, Candido Carrera, Hyundai i20 N Rally1, Action during Day 2 of WRC Rally de Espana 2022
Photographer: Vincent Thuillier
Worldwide copyright: Hyundai Motorsport GmbH

Tomorrow (Sunday 23rd October)

The final day sees the crews tackle 56km’s over four stages. Can Seb hold on and take his fourth victory, or will Thierry join the Frenchman with three wins? Look out for my report tomorrow evening.

Rally Spain – Day One Report – Friday. Toyota’s World Champions keep Hyundai at bay.

The first day is over and whilst there wasn’t huge drama, we did have a few lead changes. The startlist looked like this with our new world champion opening the road – Rovanperä, Tänak, Neuville, Evans, Katsuta, Breen, Ogier, Sordo, Greensmith, Loubet, Fourmaux, Serderidis.

Kalle won SS1 Els Omells – Maldà 1 – 11.05 km from Thierry and Ott. There was less than three seconds between the top five. The top placed Puma crew was Craig and Paul who held seventh overall.

The first run of SS2 Serra de la Llena 1 – 11.79 km saw Kalle set the fastest time from Thierry and Elfyn, but sadly Ott dropped back a bit after suffering issues with his hybrid unit. The Estonian was only fifth fastest and dropped two places to fifth overall. Seb and Elfyn benefitted from this, moving up into third and fourth respectively. Kalle now had a 3.3 second lead over Thierry.

It all changed at the end of SS3 Les Garrigues Altes 1 – 22.64 km. Seb was showing his pace out there, setting the fastest time from Thierry and Ott. The Estonian was still having some issues with the hybrid, but it was working more often meaning that he had a better pace out there, and his pace took him ahead of Elfyn and into fourth. Meanwhile, Seb’s pace took him into the lead, whilst Thierry remained in second place and Kalle fell to third place. Once again there was only 3.5 seconds between the top three.

The final stage then of the morning loop SS4 Riba-roja 1 – 13.98 km and Thierry was fastest this time from Ott and Seb. This propelled the Belgian into the lead and Seb dropped to second place. Kalle remained in third overall.

After lunchtime service Seb won SS5 Els Omells – Maldà 2 – 11.05 km and he moved back into the lead, the gap over Thierry now 3.2 seconds. Elfyn and Dani had a better start to the afternoon stages and set the identical time for third fastest.

Kalle was fastest in SS6 Serra de la Llena 2 – 11.79 km from Seb and Dani, the Spaniard showing great pace out there. He was a lot happier. Kalle’s pace lifted him up into second overall, the gap between the two teammates was 4.3 seconds. Sadly, things were not so good for Elfyn, who was only ninth fastest.

Kalle also won SS7 Les Garrigues Altes 2 – 22.64 km from Seb and Thierry. This is the stage that had some drama for the crews with Dani and Elfyn both getting punctures. The Welshman dropped one place to sixth overall to Dani who despite his puncture gained one place. Takamoto also got a puncture in this one. This problem meant that the very consistent pace from Craig brought him ahead of the Toyota driver and into seventh overall.

The final stage then of the day, SS8 Riba-roja 2 – 13.98 km and Seb was fastest from Kalle and Pierre-Louis. Elfyn was back up to some pace going sixth fastest but expected the conditions to be quite different and not as dry as it was.

Let’s take a look at the top ten and hear from some of the drivers.

Classification after Day One

1 S. Ogier B. Veillas Toyota GR Yaris Rally1 1:06:07.9
2 K. Rovanperä J. Halttunen Toyota GR Yaris Rally1 +4.8
3 T. Neuville M. Wydaeghe Hyundai i20 N Rally1 +12.5
4 O. Tänak M. Järveoja Hyundai i20 N Rally1 +20.0
5 D. Sordo C. Carrera Hyundai i20 N Rally1 +50.9
6 E. Evans S. Martin Toyota GR Yaris Rally1 +1:01.2
7 C. Breen P. Nagle Ford Puma Rally1 +1:03.7
8 T. Katsuta A. Johnston Toyota GR Yaris Rally1 +1:28.6
9 A. Fourmaux A. Coria Ford Puma Rally1 +1:31.3
10 G. Greensmith J. Andersson Ford Puma Rally1 +1:38.8
11 P. L. Loubet V. Landais Ford Puma Rally1 +1:48.7

Toyota Gazoo Racing WRT

Sébastien Ogier (1st)

“It’s been a good day. We had fun in the car, I really enjoyed driving the GR YARIS today. I was not really sure this would be possible today starting seventh on the road with the amount of cutting in the stages. But the feeling was good and we were able to push most of the time even though the conditions were a bit challenging and changing all the time. It’s nice to be in the lead tonight and have two Toyotas at the front – it’s been a great day for the team today – but the gap behind us is not so big so we will have to keep pushing tomorrow.”

Kalle Rovanperä (2nd)

“I can be quite happy with what we did today. The morning was quite nice with two new and fast stages where we could do good times. Then the longest stage was tricky with a lot of grip changes and we a lost a bit too much time there. The afternoon was a bit more consistent and I had a better feeling with the hard tyres on the car. It’s nice to be in this battle but the cars behind are still close, so tomorrow we will need to continue going as fast as possible and see what we can do.”

Elfyn Evans (6th)

“For us it’s not been the best day overall. It started OK this morning in difficult mixed conditions, with differing levels of grip through the stage, but I wasn’t fully at one with everything and was a bit hesitant in places. In the afternoon we seemed to be struggling a bit more. At some points the feeling was OK in the car but then we had the puncture in SS7 and lost quite a lot more time. It does give us an opportunity to look at changing a few things tonight and try to find a better feeling for tomorrow.”

Hyundai Motorsport

Thierry Neuville (3rd)

“It was an OK day. This morning, we had a good rhythm, and the speed was there. Unfortunately, this afternoon it seems our competitors were able to go a bit faster, so we were constantly losing time. We are twelve seconds off with two days to go, and everything is still open. I think personally that I could have gone a bit harder and pushed more, but also, I have lacked the feeling in some corners and didn’t know exactly where the limit is. We have to work on that. On Saturday, we have a different profile of stages, which we know well, so there will be room for more improvement.”

2022 FIA World Rally Championship
Round 12, Rally de Espana, 20-23 October 2022
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Photographer: Vincent Thuillier
Worldwide copyright: Hyundai Motorsport GmbH

Ott Tänak (4th)

“On the first two stages this morning we had some hybrid issues. Somehow, we managed to get it working for the next two, but then we had to change a broken alternator belt in the road section. We had a similar hybrid issue in the afternoon, so the team needs to find out what’s causing it. Generally, we struggled to get the feeling we would expect from tarmac. We knew before the rally it would be difficult. For Thierry and Dani, it seems to suit but for me it’s demanding. The plan is to try and get the car to work like it should be and hopefully keep in touch with Thierry tomorrow. That’s our objective at least.”

Dani Sordo (5th)

“I have been frustrated with today because we came here hoping to push for victory. Unfortunately, the conditions and circumstances have meant we’ve not been able to. I knew when we picked up the puncture in SS7 because I heard something; I think it was a stone in the mud during a small corner. There was nothing in our pace notes, but I know that others had the same issue. We took it steady after that to avoid losing the tyre off the rim, which would have lost more time. I expected better today, but there are still two days to go, and we need to push more. I hope the weather will be OK.”

Tomorrow (Saturday 22nd October)

The crews will have six normal stages to face, and then a superspecial in the evening. There is a total of 118km’s over the seven stages. Pop back tomorrow evening for my report on the day’s action.

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