Safari Rally Kenya 2021 Preview

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Let’s hear from the drivers.

Toyota Gazoo Racing WRT

Sébastien Ogier

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

Elfyn Evans

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

Kalle Rovanperä

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

 

Hyundai Motorsport

Thierry Neuville

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

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

Ott Tänak

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

Dani Sordo

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

Oliver Solberg

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

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

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

 

M-Sport Ford WRT

Adrien Fourmaux

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

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

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

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

Gus Greensmith

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

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

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

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

 

Summary

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rally Italia Sardegna 2021 – Seb and Julien take victory

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

Friday

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Classification after Day One

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

 

Let’s hear from the drivers

Hyundai Motorsport

Ott Tänak (1st)

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

Dani Sordo (2nd)

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

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

Thierry Neuville (5th)

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

Toyota Gazoo Racing WRT

Sébastien Ogier (3rd)

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

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

Elfyn Evans (4th)

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

Kalle Rovanperä (DNF SuperRally)

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

M-Sport Ford WRT

Gus Greensmith (DNF, SuperRally)

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

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

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

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

Teemu Suninen (DNF, SuperRally)

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

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

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

Adrien Fourmaux (DNF, SuperRally)

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

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

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

Saturday

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Classification after Day Two

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

Let’s hear from the drivers

Toyota Gazoo Racing WRT

Sébastien Ogier (1st)

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

Elfyn Evans (2nd)

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

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

Kalle Rovanperä (30th)

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

Hyundai Motorsport

Thierry Neuville (3rd)

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

Dani Sordo (DNF, SuperRally)

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

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

M-Sport Ford WRT

Gus Greensmith (31st)

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

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

Adrien Fourmaux (34th)

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

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

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

Teemu Suninen (35th)

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

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

Sunday

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

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

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

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

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

 

Final Overall Classification – Rally Italia Sardegna

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

 

Let’s hear from the drivers then.

Toyota Gazoo Racing

Sébastien Ogier (1st)

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

Elfyn Evans (2nd)

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

Takamoto Katsuta (4th)

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

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

Kalle Rovanperä (25th)

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

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

Hyundai Motorsport

Thierry Neuville (3rd)

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

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

Jari Huttunen (5thOverall, 1st WRC2)

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

Dani Sordo (17th)

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

Ott Tänak (24th)

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

M-Sport Ford WRT

Gus Greensmith (7th)

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

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

Teemu Suninen (8th)

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

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

Adrien Fourmaux (6th, WRC2)

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

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

 

Citroen Racing

Mads Østberg (2nd WRC2)

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

Warren’s Thoughts

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

Rally Italia Sardegna 2021 Preview

The championship returns to the stunning island of Sardegna less than two weeks after the end of Rally de Portugal. It’s a very quick turnaround for the teams, and pretty unusual for the World Rally Championship.

This event was run very late last year, with Dani Sordo taking victory from Thierry and Seb. Hyundai will hope that they can fight back after a disappointing Rally de Portugal, which saw their three drivers all lead at different points but ultimately only take a second place after troubles for Ott with broken suspension and Thierry who broke his suspension after a crash on Friday. Oliver Solberg was set to make a second start in an i20 WRC but with his dad having caught covid 19, he’s had to withdraw from the rally. A big shame for the youngster.

Of course, Toyota and Elfyn were there to pick up a very good win in Portugal and the team now hold the top two positions in the drivers’ championship and a big lead in the teams’ championship. Will they be able to challenge for victory this time? Not sure on this, given Seb and Elfyn will be first and second on the road, and will not have the cleanest of roads, but they will target the top five. The Welshman finished fourth last year after opening the road on Friday, courtesy of his championship lead at the time.

M-Sport will hope for a good start like last year where they held the top positions early in the rally, and Teemu who returns to a top car finished in second place last year, and will hope for a similar result. Certainly, would be great to see M-Sport’s drivers take a top result on the island. Gus will have another different co-driver in the car, with Stuart Loudon stepping in, as Chris Patterson is not available for this event.

A look at the stages

After a shakedown on Thursday morning in Loiri, the 2021 Rally Italia Sardegna will begin with a ceremonial start in Alghero.

The schedule on Friday consists of two loops of Sa Conchedda (22.29km) and Terranova (14.36km) in the morning, followed by a service point, and then two loops of Tempio Pausania (12.08km) and Tula (14.97km) in the afternoon.

On Saturday, the crews will first complete two passes of Loelle (15.00km) and Monti di Ala’ (22.08km), before twice tackling Viddalba (14.70km) and Castelsardo (13.03km), again with a service point between the morning and afternoon sections.

The final day comprises of two stages, both of which will be run twice: Braniatogghiu (15.25km) and Santa Teresa (7.79km). The second pass of Santa Teresa will be the rally’s Power Stage, offering bonus points to the drivers and manufacturers.

Let’s hear from the drivers.

Toyota Gazoo Racing WRT

Sébastien Ogier

“I’m sure that Sardinia will be another demanding rally for us, opening the road again like in Portugal. But honestly, I am happy to be leading the championship: I always try to take as many points as I can, and this will be the aim in Sardinia too. The result in Portugal was positive, even though I was not so satisfied with our pace. But it was the first time driving with the new tyres on gravel, and hopefully as we gain a bit more understanding with them, we can see how to extract some more performance already in this next event.”

Elfyn Evans

“Portugal was obviously a great result for us. We made good progress with the car setup and our understanding of the tyres throughout the weekend, but even though it’s quite a tight turnaround, I think we probably all have a few ideas as to how we can improve the package for Sardinia. It’s not going to be an easy weekend given our road position, and that might be more of a disadvantage than it was in October last year if we have warm and dry conditions like expected, but we’re going to give it our best shot as always.”

Kalle Rovanperä

“After Portugal I really hope that we can have a better rally in Sardinia. The stages there are quite demanding and I’m not sure whether suit my style so well, even though I did win there in WRC2 in 2019. Last year it was quite a tricky event for us, but I really want to improve there and show some better pace and I have already been studying the stages quite a lot in preparation. In Portugal I struggled a lot on the first pass when the grip was lower, but we used the Sunday to test some different setups ready for Sardinia and hopefully we can use what we learned there.”

Hyundai Motorsport

Thierry Neuville

“Rally Italia Sardegna is a brilliant event at which the whole team has always been very strong. A few of us have won there before, and we’ll be hoping to get back on the top step again. This year will be a bit of a change as we are going back to Olbia, where we have been in the past, but the stages will be more or less the same. It will certainly be a challenging event, but hopefully we can bounce back and deliver a strong team result in some beautiful weather.”

Ott Tänak

“Rally Italia Sardegna is definitely one of the toughest events of the season. The stages can get very rough there with lots of bedrock coming through, so it certainly presents a lot of challenges. Especially with the new tyres this year there will be quite a lot to discover. However, we showed a lot of pace on the gravel in Portugal, so I hope we can take that across to Italy and battle for the win once again.”

2020 FIA World Rally Championship
Round 06, Rally Italia Sardegna
8 – 11 October 2020
Dani Sordo
Photographer: Austral
Worldwide copyright: Hyundai Motorsport GmbH

Dani Sordo

“The last two years competing at Rally Italia Sardegna have delivered really good results for me. On both occasions, I have managed to win the rally, so it is an event that I really like. I feel very comfortable there, plus I will have an advantage with road position on the first day, so I am definitely looking forward to it. It was great to get on the podium at Rally de Portugal, but we will be going to Sardinia to fight for the win.”

Jari Huttunen

“I am very excited to return to the cockpit of the Hyundai i20 R5 at Rally Italia Sardegna. It has been a long break for me, and we only have limited opportunities to prepare for the rally with a one-day test on Monday. I have only competed in this event once before – last year – and I won in WRC 3, so I have very nice memories and high expectations of this year’s entry into WRC 2.”

M-Sport Ford WRT

Gus Greensmith

“Portugal was just about getting back to where I can be and I’m hoping for more of the same in Sardinia. Although it’s more technical, Sardinia is fairly similar to Portugal in that we’ll start the rally on the set-up I finished Portugal with, which worked well.

“The set-up is a very similar premise to Portugal. We want the car to be driving from the front, we don’t want to be losing time sliding because the stages are so narrow and twisty and technical that the more you are facing forward the faster you are going. We know the car can be fast here from previous years and both Teemu and I can count on good road positions for day one. I’ve not had much luck on this rally so I’m hoping for third time lucky.

“Chris can’t attend for personal reasons but I’ve competed with Stuart before in Germany. We did a few stage-winning times so clearly we’re pretty hand in a car together.”

Teemu Suninen

“I’ve always enjoyed driving in Sardinia. It’s on the rough side of a gravel rally but the car can take the roughness, although you need to manage your tyre wear and that will be a big point. Normally I have had good results in Sardinia. I won’t try the Pirelli tyre until shakedown, which is a challenge, but I will take the challenge and get the maximum out of the weekend.”

“It helps that we start in Sardinia straight after Portugal, but the others will have a one-week advantage over me because I did Portugal in the Rally2 car. They know the whole package and there’s not much I can do about that so I need to make a big difference out of my road position, which will be good for the first day if it stays dry.”

“I’m really excited to be back in the Ford Fiesta WRC. It’s enjoyable to drive and I would say it’s easier going from the Rally2 to the WRC rather than in the other direction. We have the aero and it’s easier to go with the paddleshift. But it’s easier to wear out the tyres because we have 100hp more and you can have too much wheelspin. That can make the rally more difficult but I’m here to learn the tyres and have a clean rally.”

Adrien Fourmaux

“I will discover again the Rally2 Fiesta after two rallies in the World Rally Car. But it’s my third time in Sardinia and I expect to be able to fight with the top drivers in WRC2 and why not fight for the win. I hope with the knowledge of the car that I have from before that I will be able to adapt quite quickly. Even if it’s a different car to the WRC, it’s still four-wheel drive. But the big difference is the speed in the very fast sections.”

“Without all the aero of the World Rally Car it can be a bit less stable but then we have less power so it’s not a problem. We use the paddle to change the gears with the WRC car but in the Rally2 we use the gear stick, so I have to remember to change my habits. I can be very proud of my performances in Croatia and Portugal, where I had to discover everything. Now I have a different job to do, but I am confident I can do it well so I get more chances in the World Rally Car in the future.”

Summary

Well, anyone could take victory on the island from the Hyundai team, and it’s certainly what they will what, given the lead that the Toyota drivers hold over them. I guess the question will be, can the M-Sport team get in the mix and challenge at the front? If all goes well, then I’m sure that they can. In the WRC2 category, there is some really good talent as well, with Mads, Adrien, Nicolay, Andreas and others in the mix. Finally, Chris and Ross continue their WRC3 challenge, and after scoring a very good third place finish in that category, they will be hoping for even better this time out.

Rally de Portugal Review 2021 – Elfyn and Scott take victory!

It was a rally to forget for Hyundai, with all three of their drivers leading at different points throughout the weekend. However, it was Elfyn and Scott in their Yaris WRC that came through to take their fourth career victory. Here’s the story, stage by stage how it happened.

Friday

The startlist looked like this heading into the first day of action – Ogier, Neuville, Evans, Tänak, Rovanperä, Katsuta, Fourmaux, Greensmith, Sordo.

It was a 1-2-3 for Hyundai in SS1 Lousã 1 – 12.35 km, with Ott leading Dani and Thierry, whilst Gus and Elfyn were equal fourth fastest. Meanwhile our championship leader was only eighth fastest, 5.1 down on the leaders, and the slowest of the Toyota drivers, perfectly understandable given that he was opening the road.

The was a change in the lead after SS2 Góis 1 – 19.51 km, as Dani went a little over three seconds faster than Ott, whilst Thierry remained third fastest in the stage and overall, as well. Seb lost another 11 seconds in this stage, but still held eighth. Kalle moved up into fourth overall as well after a good time.

Into SS3 Arganil 1 – 18.82 km, and Dani opened up his lead over Ott and Thierry remained in third. There was a change further down the top ten though with Elfyn jumping up to fourth overall as Kalle slipped down the order to seventh. Gus’s good pace earlier was ruined after getting a puncture and dropping 51 seconds and two places from seventh to ninth.

The following stage SS4 Lousã 2 – 12.35 km was all about those two young drivers, with Kalle winning the stage from Gus and Dani third. The young Finns pace lifted him up into sixth and ahead of Adrien Fourmaux. Elfyn was holding fourth overall at this point 18.5 seconds from the leader who was still Dani.

Dani won SS5 Góis 2 – 19.51 km from Thierry and Kalle. Ott was off the pace with the seventh fastest time and was passed by his teammate Thierry. Takamoto also passed Elfyn for fourth place after the Japanese driver set the fourth best time. Seb was also on the move up the leaderboard as well, moving into seventh ahead of Adrien.

Ott won SS6 Arganil 2 – 18.82 km from Thierry and Elfyn and the Welshman’s pace moved him back ahead of his teammate. Top M-Sport driver was Adrien who was holding eighth overall ahead of his teammate Gus.

Seb took his first stage win of the weekend in SS7 Mortágua – 18.16 km from Elfyn who actually set the same time as his teammate. This was done, because the Welshman got caught behind Thierry who’d hit a bank after losing control of his car, and he’d damaged his right rear wheel and suspension. Gus took third fastest as he started to show some quality pace out there, and this meant that he moved ahead of his French teammate into seventh. Thierry would attempt to fix the problem but the damage was too much and he would have to retire from the rally.

The final stage of the day then, which was the super special, SS8 SSS Lousada – 3.36 km, and the top three was Ott, with Seb second and Gus in third. Dani was off the pace with only the seventh best time and fell from the lead to third. Ott was now in the lead from Elfyn with Dani holding third.

Classification after Day One

1 O. Tänak M. Järveoja Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC 1:22:35.0
2 E. Evans S. Martin Toyota Yaris WRC +6.0
3 D. Sordo C. del Barrio Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC +9.0
4 T. Katsuta D. Barritt Toyota Yaris WRC +15.4
5 S. Ogier J. Ingrassia Toyota Yaris WRC +24.0
6 K. Rovanperä J. Halttunen Toyota Yaris WRC +28.9
7 G. Greensmith C. Patterson Ford Fiesta WRC +1:02.3
8 A. Fourmaux R. Jamoul Ford Fiesta WRC +1:33.5

 

Let’s hear from the drivers

Hyundai Motorsport

Ott Tänak (1st)

“It hasn’t been trouble-free by any means, so it is positive to be leading the rally. We did what we could to get the best out of the car on these gravel roads, but it was a demanding day. Although we took some stage wins, I felt that there was still room for improvement at times. We tried to manage the tyres and find a better feeling into the afternoon loop. A puncture in SS5 limited our options, so we focused on getting through the day. It was great to be back rallying in front of fans again.”

2021 FIA World Rally Championship
Round 04, Rally de Portugal
20-23 May 2021
Ott Tanak, Martin Jarveoja, Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC
Photographer: Dufour Fabien
Worldwide copyright: Hyundai Motorsport GmbH

Dani Sordo (3nd)

“I have enjoyed being back in a WRC car, alongside my new co-driver Borja, on these Portuguese stages. It has been great to see some spectators too, who are an important part of this rally. We had a decent morning loop, making the most of our road position to take some stage wins. The car was working well. Unfortunately, we had a much tougher afternoon, including an engine stall in SS7 which saw us lose the lead. We also had some tyre-related issues, which was clear to see on the Super Special, so I couldn’t push more. We have to be satisfied with our position today and target a more consistent performance on Saturday.”

Thierry Neuville (DNF)

“Unfortunately, we had to retire following a pace note in SS7 that was too optimistic. It was too fast and when I saw the corner, I tried to correct it but there was something like a tree stump that pulled us onto our side. It is disappointing because we started really well this morning, despite being second on the road. The target was clearly to fight for the win. Everything was going firmly to plan until SS7. We tried our best to fix things on the road section but sadly the suspension was damaged, so it was game over for the day.”

2021 FIA World Rally Championship
Round 04, Rally de Portugal
20-23 May 2021
Thierry Neuville, Martijn Wydaeghe, Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC
Photographer: Dufour Fabien
Worldwide copyright: Hyundai Motorsport GmbH

Toyota Gazoo Racing WRT

Elfyn Evans (2nd)

“It’s been a long and difficult day out there. We’ve had the new gravel tyres to get to grips with and it’s been tough to make the right choices. It was quite damp this morning but we’re very limited with how many soft tyres we have. We were quite often mixing tyres and therefore it’s been difficult to feel totally comfortable behind the wheel. But we seemed to have escaped trouble when others have found it, and on the back of that we find ourselves in a really strong position overnight. I struggled a bit for consistency this morning, but after that it was a bit better this afternoon and now, we’re looking to make some small improvements to try and fight for that win over the rest of the rally. It’s going to be a challenging day tomorrow but I’m looking forward to it.”

2021 FIA World Rally Championship / Round 04 / Rally Portugal / 20th-23rd May, 20211 // Worldwide Copyright: Toyota Gazoo Racing WRT

Sébastien Ogier (5th)

“For most of today, running first on the road was a bit the same like always: trying our best but always losing time on every stage. Luckily there was one stage this afternoon which saved us a little bit, SS7. I really did not expect to be fastest in this stage: It was the dirtiest stage of the day with a lot of loose and dry gravel. The fact I opened the road all day gave me the chance to save the tyres more than the others, we benefited from a lot of trouble for our competitors and we managed to do a good time. For sure, it looks a bit better now, we’re back in the fight for the podium at least. It’s still very open I believe tomorrow is the longest day of the event and it should be a bit more interesting for us having some cars running in front of us on the road.”

Kalle Rovanperä (6th)

“Overall, today was quite difficult but we managed to do some good times too. In the morning I felt that the setup was not quite right for what I need: We haven’t done enough kilometres yet on the new tyres in these conditions and I was not sure which way to go. But when we could see what we needed to change, we were able to change the setup a bit in the middle of the day. After that the afternoon was better, but we also had an issue with the tyres which cost us a lot of time. I think we now know which direction to go in with the car setup and hopefully it will work out much better tomorrow.”

M-Sport Ford WRT

Gus Greensmith (7th)

“We worked really hard on the test last weekend and the ideas we came up with have brought this car alive for me and that’s really pleasing. I felt the tyres overheated a bit on SS2, so I was trying to manage them a bit and I was clearly too cautious in places.

Gus and Chris had a good day one, even though they had the technical problems.

“It was a shame about the puncture on SS3 because, otherwise, we shouldn’t be too shy of the podium, but we were able to keep the focus and keep going and I was happy with my driving and what I’ve achieved so far. I’ve spent 50 per cent of the day inside the top three stage times so it’s been positive.

“As soon as Chris came into the car, he showed me the bits where I was going wrong and where I needed to make changes. We’ve worked really hard on those areas and everything seems to be becoming a lot better. The progression’s a lot quicker than I expected it to be and I’m enjoying it.”

Adrien Fourmaux (8th)

“It was a really nice loop this morning, just so enjoyable and the car was amazing to drive, so much fun. But we’re here to learn so I was focusing on doing that and going forward in a good direction.

“This afternoon was another challenge, another new experience. I was surprised how rutted the road was and I was afraid to have a puncture. But looking at the whole day, I’ve been really happy with my stage times and with my driving.

“In a corner that was tightening on SS7, the rear wheel was just a bit in the dust and we had a big spin. We were lucky that the car had no real damage, just a puncture, but everything was okay and we are hoping for another good day on Saturday and for more experience.”

Teemu Suninen (3rd WRC 2)

“It’s been a really good day for us, but it’s been quite tricky with a lot of rough places and we had to be quite clever. We’ve been on a really good pace and we’ve been fighting for the seconds with two other drivers. We lost 10s in Mads Østberg’s dust on SS3 when I couldn’t see anything, but let’s see if we can get the time back. The Fiesta Rally2 is proving to be really competitive in these conditions and I look forward to understanding it on gravel even more over the next two days.”

Tom Kristensson (8th WRC 2)

“We had some problems earlier in the day. They became a thorn in our side and we slid down into a ditch on SS4 and were unable to get back up. We’ll give it another go tomorrow.”

 

Saturday

The startlist for Saturday looked like this – Neuville, Fourmaux, Greensmith, Rovanperä, Ogier, Katsuta, Sordo, Evans, Tänak.

First up was SS9 Vieira do Minho 1 – 20.64 km and Ott was quick out of the blocks, adding seven and a half seconds to his lead over Elfyn who was second in the stage and Dani who was third. Seb was on the move though, and after setting the fourth best time, he passed Takamoto and was now in fourth overall.

The Estonian was quickest in SS10 Cabeceiras de Basto 1 – 22.37 km from Elfyn and Dani. Ott’s lead was now approaching 20 seconds over the Welshman. There was a change on the leaderboard, with Takamoto now moving into fourth after Seb suffered a small spin.

The final big stage of the morning SS11 Amarante 1 – 37.92 km was again won by Ott from Elfyn and Dani, and Ott’s lead increased again a little. Seb brought down Tatamoto’s lead down to just half a second in their battle over fourth overall.

After the lunchtime break for service, Elfyn hit back and won the stage from Ott, but could only reduce the gap by a little. Dani remained in third, but there was a change in position between Seb and Takamoto as the champion moved back into fourth.

Ott won SS13 Cabeceiras de Basto 2 – 22.37 km from Kalle and Takamoto. Further back, Gus was having a technical problem with the throttle only working sometimes and he lost a further 49 seconds in the stage. He still held on to seventh place, as his teammate Adrien who had suffered a similar problem earlier in the day.

The second run of SS14 Amarante 2 – 37.92 km saw drama for Ott however, as his lead ended after his rear right suspension broke and while he attempted to get to the finish they had to stop and retire in the stage. Elfyn came through to take the stage win from Dani and Seb, and this was also now the top three as well.

The final stage of the day was won by Dani, with an amazing drive from Mads in his C3 Rally2 to the second fastest time, whilst Takamoto was third quickest. Elfyn was only twelfth and saw his lead over Dani cut to just 10.7 seconds. In fact, the fastest Brits were Chris and Ross in their Rally Warrior run Skoda Fabia Rally 2. There was a change in position between the M-Sport crews, with Adrien and Gus swapping places, and the French crew moving into fifth overall.

Classification after Day Two

1 E. Evans S. Martin Toyota Yaris WRC 3:07:09.1
2 D. Sordo B. Rozada Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC +10.7
3 S. Ogier J. Ingrassia Toyota Yaris WRC +1:04.2
4 T. Katsuta D. Barritt Toyota Yaris WRC +1:05.7
5 A. Fourmaux R. Jamoul Ford Fiesta WRC +4:21.8
6 G. Greensmith C. Patterson Ford Fiesta WRC +4:28.2

 

Let’s hear from the drivers after day two.

Toyota Gazoo Racing WRT

Elfyn Evans (1st)

“It feels pretty good to be leading the rally tonight. Overall, the day went pretty well for us. I struggled to find my rhythm a little bit at the start of the morning loop, but after that I was relatively happy. The conditions have been pretty tough out there but we seemed to get through it quite well. It’s obviously a shame for Ott and what happened to him, but now we find ourselves in quite a strong position. It’s still close so it’s all to play for tomorrow and it’s going to be a tricky day. But I’m looking forward to those stages and we will definitely give it our best shot”

2021 FIA World Rally Championship / Round 04 / Rally Portugal / 20th-23rd May, 20211 // Worldwide Copyright: Toyota Gazoo Racing WRT

Sébastien Ogier (3rd)

“It has been a difficult day for us today, but at least we have been able to climb up the order a little bit. This is the positive thing: that we are back in a podium position. That is mostly because we stayed out of trouble, but this is also part of the game. For sure, I cannot be very satisfied with my day as I did not have the pace I wanted. This was partly down to road position because we suffered again with a lot of cleaning effect, but I could also have been better with my tyre choices at some points. Still, I have some new tyres left for tomorrow and we have to use those as best as we can.”

Kalle Rovanperä (DNF)

“The morning loop was again quite difficult today, but once more on the afternoon loop when the grip was higher, I was really enjoying the car again: Everything was working normally and the stage times were again good. So, I think there is some work to do for me to find the feeling with the car in the more slippery conditions we find on the first loop. Unfortunately, we had a technical issue before the third stage of the afternoon and we had to retire for the day, but we think we can be back out tomorrow. It’s going to be tricky in the Power Stage because of our road position, but of course we’ll try to get as many points as possible.

Hyundai Motorsport

Dani Sordo (2nd)

“Our objective today was not only to defend our overnight position – third place – but also to keep an eye on the front so we could also try to make gains on the guys in front. We had some damage to the starter motor in the final stages, so we were a bit concerned to stall the engine. In the super special, I felt we had good grip so tried to keep it clean and not lose too much time. At the end, we could catch some time back to Evans and we’re now just ten seconds behind. He was a little bit faster today, but tomorrow is another day, with different stages; we need to work tonight on preparing carefully. I would like to win, so let’s see. It will be maximum attack.”

Ott Tänak (DNF)

“It was far from a great end after what had been a really nice and enjoyable day up to that point. I really enjoyed myself in the car, it was working nicely, and I was able to control everything. Unfortunately, we were forced to retire but hopefully the team will be able to fix it so we can return tomorrow ready to fight for some points.”

Thierry Neuville (DNF)

“Firstly, I would like to extend my thanks to the mechanics for preparing our car ready for today’s stages; it was not an easy job within the time, but they have again done a first-class job. Unfortunately, there were still some unresolved issues which made the car difficult to drive, so we took the decision to retire at lunchtime service in order to give it a thorough check. It doesn’t change our weekend, after the disappointment of yesterday; our target is still to push in the Power Stage tomorrow and to try and salvage some points for the drivers’ and manufacturers’ championships.”

M-Sport Ford WRT

Adrien Fourmaux (5th)

“The stages were really nice to drive today and driving my EcoBoost-powered Ford Fiesta WRC on gravel was just amazing, so I was enjoying myself a lot.

“It was not easy to be opening the road and I think it was worse in the second loop because of the line of the two-wheel-drive cars. It was hard to find the right driving style and the right set-up because of this. We have lost a lot of time but opening the road is part of the game and it’s good for the experience and for the future.

“Overall, we can be happy that we had a good pace for the last long stage. Honestly, it was a really tough day but really fun and I can’t wait to get more experience tomorrow.”

Gus Greensmith (6th)

“We had a pretty stellar run through the first stage this morning. I was hesitating in places on the next stage and then I had quite a big moment on the final stage of the morning that cost me five seconds. The moment distracted me a bit, but I got back on the rhythm pretty quickly.

“We had hopes of making more progress in the afternoon so we’re obviously disappointed to have had some issues with the car. But we managed them the best we could and minimised the time loss, which is the most important thing and something we should be pleased about. I will try to get the time back tomorrow and the positive thing is the top five is still achievable.”

Teemu Suninen (2nd WRC 2)

“It’s been a great day when you consider we are second in WRC2 and have been able to show the performance of the EcoBoost-powered Ford Fiesta Rally2 on gravel. It was a big shame we got the puncture in the afternoon and I have to say it was tricky to manage the conditions at the end of the loop. Of course, we were hoping for a bit more but I can be happy with what we’ve been doing here. We kept the pressure on in the afternoon and the gap was not too big before we got the puncture.”

Tom Kristensson (9th WRC 2)

“We needed to start from fresh this morning and just try to get some experience and now we’ve got it. The first run through the long stage was very good for us and we were able to increase our speed during the stage. It was good experience with the tyres and a good experience with the car and we’re very happy to get to the finish of the day. We are enjoying and focusing totally on ourselves in the car. We need to continue like this.”

Sunday

The final day then. The start list looked like this – Neuville, Rovanperä, Tänak, Fourmaux, Greensmith, Katsuta, Ogier, Sordo, Evans.

Well, the first stage of the day, SS16 Felgueiras 1 – 9.18 km saw Elfyn fly through an amazing 8.9 seconds faster than Adrien and Gus who were second and third fastest and suddenly his lead over Dani had effectively doubled to over twenty seconds as the Spaniard could only manage the fourth best time. The returning Hyundai drivers Ott and Thierry were cruising through and set the 20th and 28th best time respectively, saving their tyres for later and the push for power stage points.

Elfyn also took SS17 Montim – 8.75 km, but not by as much, with Dani just 1.4 seconds behind, whilst Gus was third fastest and closed the gap to his teammate to just 9 tenths of a second. There were no changes to the top positions however.

The first run of SS18 Fafe 1 – 11.18 km saw Thierry take the stage from Ott and Elfyn. Gus was quicker than Adrien and passed him for fifth overall.

The penultimate stage, SS19 Felgueiras 2 – 9.18 km saw Elfyn set the best time, from Adrien and Dani. Gus was fourth and kept his teammate behind though. Takamoto’s challenge to Seb was over though as the Japanese driver lost 33 seconds in this stage, but kept his fourth overall position as the lead he held over Gus was large after the young Brit’s problems on Saturday.

To the final stage then, SS20 Fafe 2 [Power Stage] – 11.18 km and we saw the pace of Ott and Thierry come through, with the Estonian going fastest from his teammate, and Seb taking the third best time. Fourth and fifth were Kalle and Elfyn rounding out the points paying positions in the power stage.

Elfyn ended up winning the rally by over 28 seconds from Dani who saved Hyundai’s event, whilst Seb scored a well-earned podium.

2021 FIA World Rally Championship / Round 04 / Rally Portugal / 20th-23rd May, 20211 // Worldwide Copyright: Toyota Gazoo Racing WRT

Final Overall Classification – Rally de Portugal

1 E. Evans S. Martin Toyota Yaris WRC 3:38:26.2
2 D. Sordo B. Rozada Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC +28.3
3 S. Ogier J. Ingrassia Toyota Yaris WRC +1:23.6
4 T. Katsuta D. Barritt Toyota Yaris WRC +2:28.4
5 G. Greensmith C. Patterson Ford Fiesta WRC +4:52.7
6 A. Fourmaux R. Jamoul Ford Fiesta WRC +5:03.4
7 E. Lappi J. Ferm Škoda Fabia Evo +9:37.2
8 T. Suninen M. Markkula Ford Fiesta MkII +11:20.0
9 M. Østberg T. Eriksen Citroën C3 R5 +12:01.5
10 N. Gryazin K. Aleksandrov Volkswagen Polo GTI +12:35.8

 

Let’s hear from the drivers.

Toyota Gazoo Racing WRT

Elfyn Evans (1st)

“Obviously it’s a fantastic way to finish by clinching the win. It wasn’t all plain sailing all the way through the weekend, and we maybe weren’t the absolute fastest crew, but we still had really good pace and the performance was generally quite consistent. This morning we knew that there wasn’t such a big gap to second place, so we had to go out and give it our all. That’s what we did, and we managed to set a few good times just to build up a bit of an advantage. In Croatia it was quite painful to miss out so it feels good to get this one sealed with relatively little drama.”

Sébastien Ogier (3rd)

“Today we were focused on securing the third place overall and securing some bonus points in the Power Stage. We couldn’t get the maximum there but three points is certainly better than nothing, and 18 points overall from the weekend is a positive result. I don’t like when I’m not able to fight for the very top positions, but that was kind of expected coming here leading the championship and running first on the road, so we did what we could. We need to keep working and improve the pace for the next rally in Sardinia and see what we can do there, even though I expect it will again be challenging. Every time we score good points is a step towards the championship.”

2021 FIA World Rally Championship / Round 04 / Rally Portugal / 20th-23rd May, 20211 // Worldwide Copyright: Toyota Gazoo Racing WRT

Takamoto Katsuta (4th)

“For sure, I’m pretty happy about this weekend. It has been a tough rally and every stage has been quite tricky. I had one big moment on Saturday night but we could survive this without problems and the team did a great job as always to repair the car. It has not been an easy weekend and the last day especially was quite tough for me, but I could finish with the best result of my career and I’m very happy to fight with the top drivers like we did. I have definitely made a step forward compared to before. But, like I’m always saying, I still need to improve a lot, so I will continue to work hard to keep going in the right direction.”

Kalle Rovanperä (22nd)

“From my side the weekend has been a disappointment. We had many issues and lost some good points from this, but that’s rallying sometimes and we just have to continue onto the next one. Today we had the chance to test some different setups for the car in the first loop to help prepare for the next rallies. After that, we didn’t have such good tyres for the Power Stage compared to some other drivers. I really tried to push to the maximum that I could, and it was good that we got at least two points – it was just not really possible to get a better time with the tyres that we had.”

Hyundai Motorsport

Dani Sordo (2nd)

“I am very happy to come back to take second place in Rally de Portugal. Obviously, at the same time, I am a bit disappointed that I could not catch Elfyn for the win, but he was faster today. If you’re faster, then you win. To finish the rally and to take points for the manufacturers’ championship is important, and I am also delighted to share the first podium with Borja in our first WRC event as a crew.”

Ott Tänak (21st)

“It was a good feeling in the Power Stage to be back on the pace we showed yesterday. Since Saturday morning, we have started to find the feeling that we used to have. We are getting there. Looking at the positives, the pace is definitely improving. It’s been a long, hard job by many people, who have put in a lot of effort. This was our first gravel rally for a long time, so I don’t have much experience in the car; I still had to learn and understand a bit more. Hopefully now we are able to put the combination together. It’s now giving me a feeling of anticipation for the rest of the season. We’ve been working hard, so we expect results.”

Thierry Neuville (36th)

“After the dramas we have battled this weekend, we couldn’t have done any more today. I am really disappointed for the team not to have delivered in this rally. We had the pace and the car for victory but, unfortunately, I let everybody down with a mistake that started in the recce. We were too optimistic. We had bad conditions in the recce with fog and rain, and I misjudged the corner, which brought our rally to an early end. We are always motivated to do a good result, but we just weren’t able to achieve it in Portugal. We’re definitely going to go for it in Sardinia.”

Oliver Solberg (11th)

“It has been a difficult but enjoyable event with lots to learn with our new car, the Hyundai i20 R5, on gravel and in my first Rally de Portugal. It has been hard work over the weekend to get better and better. On Friday, we were learning about tyre combinations and the behaviour of the car on gravel. Normally I would push but I told myself to back off a bit and learn the pace notes. The speed was there on some stages.”

“When everything was working well, I could find confidence in the notes and a get into a rhythm. It was really good to take the fastest time in SS12 (Vieira do Minho). Of course, we had some small issues too, with the stall on Saturday which lost us some time. We took it easy on the final morning following an intercom issue on SS16. We wanted to save some tyres for the Power Stage, but we couldn’t go harder. We were on the limit, but it was a fantastic stage with the incredible Fafe jump. Not the overall result I had hoped for, but a fantastic Rally de Portugal nonetheless.”

M-Sport Ford WRT

Gus Greensmith (5th)

“It’s been a really good weekend, I’ve equalled my best result in the World Rally Championship so far, and things look good going forward and that’s important. We’ve had some issues but in terms of the pace and performance I’m really happy.

“We put in some good times and would have finished higher up the order had it not been for the puncture on Friday and problem with the engine on Saturday. But those things happen and only make you stronger and better as a driver.

“I want to say a big thank you to the team because they made a big difference in helping me make the step forward on this rally. Now we just need to keep it going on the next event in Sardinia and for the rest of the season.”

Adrien Fourmaux (6th)

“Honestly it was a really good rally for me and it was interesting to open the road yesterday. Okay, it was difficult for the pace but it was really good for the learning and I’ve learned so much with the car and everything this weekend and this what I am here to do.

“I really enjoyed the stages; they were so much fun and the car was really good. I can say only thank you to M-Sport for the opportunity to drive the EcoBoost-powered Ford Fiesta WRC.

“For sure it was a really difficult rally for my first time here and the knowledge of the stages of the others didn’t help us. But it’s part of the game and on the Felgueiras stage today, which hadn’t been used for many years, we were second fastest both times.”

Teemu Suninen (2nd WRC2)

“Finishing second in WRC2 is a really good result and it’s the same as the rally, which was also really good. I had a few struggles today, including a spin on the first stage this morning. But I was able to bring the car home to the finish and I could also show a good performance with the car and we can be happy with this. We can now focus on our next event in Sardinia when we will get the opportunity to drive the EcoBoost-powered Ford Fiesta WRC. It’s an event I know and like and I can’t wait to get there and get started.”

Tom Kristensson (9th WRC2)

“We had a tough rally, but it’s been a good final day with nice stages that were enjoyable to drive. The main target was to get to the finish, get the kilometres and get some confidence. For sure I need to find more confidence, but I’m enjoying driving the car and the team and the journey we are doing. We’ll start over fresh on our next event and keep making progress.”

 

Warren’s Thoughts

Looking at the performances at Toyota, Elfyn and Scott’s drive to victory was very well judged. they maintained good pace to stay close to the leader throughout Friday and Saturday and this gave them the lead when Ott and Martin had their problem on Saturday. They then laid down a real marker on Sunday’s first stage when they doubled their lead. It was a very good drive from the pairing. Seb and Adrien did a very impressive job as well, as we’ve come to expect from them. They did what they could on Friday and were quick when they had the opportunity, and picked up the positions when others had their problems. They continue to lead the title race. Takamoto and Dan drove to their best ever result of fourth overall and changed positions with their teammates a number of times throughout Saturday. Finally, Kalle and Jonne were having a good event and it was a shame that they suffered this technical problem that took them out of the running for a top ten finish. Still, they learnt a lot, and this has to bode well for the future.

 

At Hyundai it was a rally that got away from them. Thierry and Martijn were in a strong position, setting some great times, feeling confident out there but it all went wrong with one wrong pace note and that was it for their victory hopes. However, Ott and Martin were there to pick up the pieces and were driving well, building a big lead on Saturday morning, only for the suspension to break on them and that then put them out of the lead. A big shame for the 2019 champions. However, Dani and his new co-driver Borja had a great event, taking stage wins and scoring a very good result for themselves and the team. Finally, Oliver and Aaron took their debut on gravel in the WRC2 category and set some fantastic times and would have scored a well-deserved podium in the category were it not for a spin and getting beached on the edge of the road.

 

At M-Sport we saw a superb drive from Gus and Chris, with the paring scoring a brilliant fifth overall, but more than that setting a couple of very good top two fastest times. Were it not for the puncture and technical problems they would have been battling with Takamoto for fourth overall and that would have been an incredible result. It was a very good drive, and bodes well for the rest of the season. Their French teammates Adrien and Renaud also had a great debut on gravel with a full WRC car. Just like Gus, they had their problems but they stayed focused and came through for a well-deserved top six finish.

Final mention goes to Chris and Ross for their excellent drive to a WRC3 podium in their Rally Warrior run Skoda Fabia. They also finished in the top 15 which is an excellent result. The duo took a number on stage wins in the category, and they will be looking forward to their next rally.

Here’s a look at the championship standings for drivers and teams.

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

1 S. Ogier 79
2 E. Evans 77
3 T. Neuville 57
4 O. Tänak 45
5 K. Rovanperä 41
6 T. Katsuta 36
7 D. Sordo 29
8 C. Breen 24
9 G. Greensmith 22
10 A. Fourmaux 20

 

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

1 Toyota Gazoo Racing World Rally Team 183
2 Hyundai Shell Mobis World Rally Team 146
3 M-Sport Ford World Rally Team 64
4 Hyundai 2C Competition 28
2021 FIA World Rally Championship / Round 04 / Rally Portugal / 20th-23rd May, 20211 // Worldwide Copyright: Toyota Gazoo Racing WRT

 

Next rally is in only 8 days’ time as the teams move to the island of Sardegna for Rally Italia which is running from the 3rd to the 6th of June. Pop back soon for the preview for that event.

Rally de Portugal Preview 2021

After missing out on the roads in Portugal last year, round four sees the first of four gravel events in a row and will have a big say in the destination of this season’s crown. When this event last ran in 2019 Ott took a good win from Thierry, whilst Seb was third with Citroen at the time.

FIA World Rally Championship 2019 / Round 07 / Rally Portugal / 30th May – 2nd June, 2019 // Worldwide Copyright: Toyota Gazoo Racing WRC

Now here are the details of the stages.

After shakedown on Thursday, the 2021 Rally de Portugal will open with a ceremonial start in Coimbra.

Friday features two loops of Lousã (12.35km), Góis (19.51km) and Arganil (18.82km), separated by a tyre fitting zone, followed by Mortágua (18.16km) and the Lousada super special (3.36km).

Saturday features over 165km of rally action. Crews will complete two passes of Vieira do Minho (20.64km), Cabeceiras de Basto (22.37km) and Amarante (37.92km) – the longest individual stage of the rally – before the Porto Foz super special (3.30km).

The Sunday comprises five stages: two runs of Felguieras (9.18km) and Fafe (11.18km) with just a single pass of Montim (8.75km).

 

Thursday May 20
Shakedown 4.60km (2.85 miles) 1030
Ceremonial Start Coimbra 2030

Friday May 21
SS1 Lousã 1 12.35 kilometres (7.67 miles) 0808
SS2 Góis 1 19.51 kilometres (12.12 miles) 0908
SS3 Arganil 1 18.82 kilometres (11.69 miles) 1008
Regroup Arganil 1043
SS4 Lousã 2 12.35 kilometres (7.67 miles) 1231
SS5 Góis 2 19.51 kilometres (12.12 miles) 1331
SS6 Arganil 2 18.82 kilometres (11.69 miles) 1438
SS7 Mortágua 18.16 kilometres (11.28 miles) 1605
SS8 Lousada SSS 3.36 kilometres (2.08 miles) 1903
Service Exponor 1950

Saturday May 22
SS9 Vieira do Minho 1 20.64 kilometres (12.82 miles) 0808
SS10 Cabeceiras de Basto 1 22.37 kilometres (13.90 miles) 0908
SS11 Amarante 1 37.92 kilometres (23.56 miles) 1024
Service Exponor 1205
SS12 Vieira do Minho 2 20.64 kilometres (12.82 miles) 1438
SS13 Cabeceiras de Basto 2 22.37 kilometres (13.90miles) 1538
SS14 Amarante 2 37.92 kilometres (23.56 miles) 1654
SS15 Porto-Foz SSS 3.30 kilometres (2.05 miles) 1903
Service Exponor 1923

Sunday May 23
SS16 Felgueiras 1 9.18 kilometres (5.70 miles) 0708
SS17 Montim 8.75 kilometres (5.43 miles) 0753
SS18 Fafe 1 11.18 kilometres (6.94 miles) 0838
SS19 Felgueiras 2 9.18 kilometres (5.70 miles) 1004
Fafe Regroup 1033
SS20 Fafe 2 11.18 kilometres (6.94 miles) 1218
Finish Matosinhos 1420

Let’s hear from the drivers.

FIA World Rally Championship 2019 / Round 07 / Rally Portugal / 30th May – 2nd June, 2019 // Worldwide Copyright: Toyota Gazoo Racing WRC

Toyota Gazoo Racing WRT

Sébastien Ogier

“It’s great to be going back to Portugal. It’s one of the most special rallies for me personally: It was where I achieved my first WRC victory in 2010, and we have had several wins since then as well. Portugal is also a country where there is a huge passion for motorsport and especially rallying, and we always have fantastic support there. This time, we know we will probably have to face tough conditions opening the road, but Portugal is a place where we can have rain at this time of year, and that is always what you hope for in this situation. We actually had pretty wet conditions during my pre-event test day. It means I haven’t yet driven the new Pirelli gravel tyres so much in dry conditions, and we know that being clever with the tyre choice and managing them as well as possible is going to be an important part of this rally.”

Elfyn Evans

“Portugal is always a nice event and I’m looking forward to going back there for the first gravel rally of the year. We have had four very different events to start the season and almost four different surfaces to contend with. As on the previous rounds, we will again be getting used to the new tyres in Portugal. Everything felt good in the pre-event test, but one consideration is that we won’t have as many soft tyres to use during the rally as in previous years, and that could affect how we make our tyre choices over the weekend. It’s been quite a while since the last gravel rally in Sardinia last year, so it’s hard to predict how it will go, but we’ll be there to give it our best shot like always.”

Kalle Rovanperä

“After our retirement in Croatia it was nice to be back in the car just a few days later for our pre-event test in Portugal. It actually took some time to get back into the feeling – just because it had been so long since I had last driven on gravel. Overall, though I left with a good feeling from the car and from the new gravel tyres. I am excited to go to Portugal and compete on gravel again. I think it is an event that can suit me quite well, and I enjoyed it last time I was there in 2019 and we won our category. After Croatia, I think my approach will be a bit more sensible, but hopefully we can find a good speed straight away and fight for a good result.”

Hyundai Motorsport

Thierry Neuville

“Rally de Portugal has always been a highlight in the WRC calendar, especially its atmosphere. We usually have hundreds of thousands of spectators on the stages as well as the famous Fafe stage on Sunday. Obviously, this year the situation could be different, but the stages are still looking great. It is going to be challenging and long rally. There is a lot of mileage to do and at the end there will be only one winner, so we have to be on top form to put ourselves in contention for victory.”

2019 FIA World Rally Championship
Round 07 Rally de Portugal
30 may – 02 June 2019
Portrait, Day 2, Thierry Neuville, Nicolas Gilsoul, Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC
Photographer: Fabien Dufour
Worldwide copyright: Hyundai Motorsport GmbH

Ott Tänak

“We have been busy preparing for our first gravel event of the season. Our aim is to bounce back after a tricky and unrepresentative weekend in Croatia. Portugal generally has soft and sandy roads; it can get quite rough on the second loop as the gravel becomes increasingly disturbed as each car passes through. The Fafe stage on Sunday is very specific and demanding, but it is one of the stages we all look forward to. Altogether, it is a tricky event, but we are more than ready to tackle it head-on.”

Dani Sordo

“Portugal is always special for me because it is so close to Spain. I really like the roads and the ambience. In previous years, I have always enjoyed an extra boost from the many spectators lining the stages. It is unlikely to be quite the same this year, due to the circumstances, but I am pleased we have the chance to compete in any case. I am excited to return to Portugal. I like the stages; they have a little bit more grip, although Fafe is quite slippery. We are set for an exciting weekend.”

Ole Christian Veiby

“I’ve always enjoyed Rally de Portugal, it’s both fast and rough, and the atmosphere is normally incredible. I have many good memories from the rally, and I have been quick there before. Winning at Rali Terras d’Aboboreira was a great start for the preparations ahead of Rally de Portugal. It’s been nearly eight months since we last time competed on gravel, so it was good to get some mileage on stages similar to what we will have for the rally. It’s always helpful to get a feeling of the speed, to find the pace. I’m looking forward to compete together with Oliver for the first time – it’s good to finally have him onboard with us!”

Oliver Solberg

“Rally de Portugal will be very exciting. It’s a really cool event, one I’ve always dreamed about doing. It’s a classic and a big part of the history of WRC. It has many famous stages and the Fafe jump is very special. It’s fantastic that we might have some spectators back and get some proper emotions and atmosphere on the stages. It will be my first time with the Hyundai i20 R5 on gravel as well as our first event for WRC 2, which will hopefully be a lot of fun.”

“Being in the WRC2 race is something else which is cool for this event. I watched the fight on the last few events and it’s really close with some incredible drivers in there. Like I said, it’s my first time driving the Hyundai i20 R5 on gravel, so let’s see what we can do.

M-Sport Ford WRT

Gus Greensmith

“When I look at this rally, I think more to how I enjoy being behind the wheel rather than how tough the rally actually is. It’s pretty cool to come to a country that loves rallying so much and it’s the event of the season that I look forward to the most because of this.

“It’s the first event I’ve done before in a WRC car so it’s the first event I can draw experience from. You want a car that can generate the grip and find the traction on the first pass, which tends to be quite loose, but then also has the stability on the second pass when the base of the road becomes quite hard and rough.

“I always set myself targets and a top five is realistic. We would have finished fifth in Croatia until the unfortunate technical issue meant we lost time. But it was a good step forward and I want to make the same step again in Portugal, particularly following the co-driver change, which was a positive from Croatia. But to achieve a top five at this level everything has to be done right and I can’t be making any mistakes, so that’s the focus.”

Adrien Fourmaux  

“I’m just really happy and really excited to start, like I have been since Rich told me I would be doing this rally. I was here as a spectator in 2019 but this will be my first time competing on this rally and I know it will be a big challenge. But I hope to have a good pace and enjoy all the week, like I did in Croatia.

“I have no big expectations, it’s the same goal as Croatia. The top six or top seven with good pace on some stages and some top-five times would be a good result for me. I am quite confident for this, but I am still learning. My favourite surface is gravel and I have done some good rallies on gravel, including Rally GB in 2019 when I finished second in WRC2.

“For my preparation I have been watching a lot of videos from the last few years on WRC Plus. It looks quite rough in some places with a lot of rocks on the road for the second pass. The first pass looks sandy on some stages, really soft gravel. But everything looks amazing and I’m sure it’s going to be a really nice rally. And, of course, the jump of Fafe is one of the most famous jumps of the season for sure.”

Teemu Suninen

“It’s quite a tricky rally and on the rough side. If it’s really warm and we are running further back on the starting list, we might see quite a lot of aggressive bedrock, which is hard for the tyres and something we have to manage. Still, it’s not too rough for the cars, so basically, we have to go flat out but keeping in mind the tyres.

“My memories of Portugal are good. I started my first world championship rally not in Finland in Portugal and it’s always been one of my favourite rallies, where I have some good results.

“If we have good pace I am going to go for the win if there is any chance. The main thing is to bring good results for the car and try to get more podiums for the team and for me. WRC2 is very competitive this season with a lot of good drivers and I am really looking forward to the challenge. I can beat these drivers and have beaten them, but everything is possible. We just need to have really, really good rally to get a podium.”

 

Summary

We are set then for a very challenging rally, with the top drivers in the world. Road position will be key to the chances of the likely winner, which means that we need to look at Hyundai teammates Thierry and Ott as possible winners given their positions in the standings. Thierry will want to be comfortable in his i20 so that he can express the speed that we know that he has. If Ott can also get the car to how he wants it, then he will also be on the pace, and we know what that means. Both have their new contracts with the team, which gives them stability for the future.

At Toyota, Elfyn will hope that his position in the championship standings will give him the opportunity to push for a podium finish and perhaps even victory. Although Seb will be opening the road, he’ll have an eye on a good finishing position in the points and power stage points on Sunday. Kalle will want to get a finish after his early exit in Croatia last time out.

The two youngsters at M-Sport will be looking to gain good experience for the future. They will want to show good pace when they are comfortable, and it will be interesting to see which of them comes out ahead, whilst Teemu will be competing in the WRC2 category and biding his time till he gets to compete at the top level again.

Elsewhere there are other drivers competing, with Chris Ingram continuing his WRC3 program with Rally Warrior, and Esapekka Lappi also competing in a Skoda Fabia WRC2. Well worth keeping an eye out for their progress.

 

You can follow all the live action on WRC Plus and pop back for my full stage by stage review in the week following the event for anything that you might miss. Enjoy!

Rally Croatia 2021 Review – Seb and Julien take a last gasp win!

The first running of this event as a World Championship Rally saw a brilliant challenge for the crews and teams. The twenty stages over the three days saw a really good mix of fast sections and technical parts. This brought the strengths and weaknesses of the different cars, with the Yaris WRC suited to the twisty sections and the longer i20 WRC able to show the pace on the faster sections.

 

The story of shakedown was that Elfyn set the pace from Thierry and Kalle. Leading the young drivers was Taka, with Adrien and Gus. The top WRC2 driver was Teemu with Nikolay and Mads second and third in that category.

 

Friday

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

The action started with a short stage. SS1 Rude – Plešivica 1 – 6.94 km and there was drama immediately! Pushing hard young Finn Kalle, went off the road on the exit of a right-hander and there was no way back to the road. The car had gone through the trees at the side of the road, and they were out. Seb Ogier also ran wide at the same place and slid along the same part of the road, but did go completely off like his younger teammate, and managed to make it to the stage end in fifth place. Thierry won the stage from Ott and Elfyn, just 2.8 seconds between the top three.

Into SS2 Kostanjevac – Petruš Vrh 1 – 23.76 km, and Thierry was quickest from Elfyn and Seb, who moved up into third place. Ott dropped two places, after loosing time with the stage being quite slippery. Craig was also another to lose out and was now in fifth.

Seb won SS3 Jaškovo – Mali Modruš Potok 1 – 10.10 km with his teammate Elfyn setting the exact same time as his French teammate whilst Thierry was third and still held the lead. The gap between the three was just 11 seconds. Further back, our three young drivers, Taka, Adrien and Gus held sixth, seventh and eighth.

Thierry took SS4 Pećurkovo Brdo – Mrežnički Novaki 1 – 9.11 km with Elfyn remaining the closest challenger to the Belgian with just half a second between them at the end of the stage, whilst Seb was a further half second back. There was a change in positions further back with Gus and Pierre-Louis both moving up into seventh and eighth and Taka dropping to ninth after braking too late and running wide. Holding an impressive sixth overall was Adrien Fourmoux, just 2.3 behind his compatriot Pierre- Louis.

After the break, SS5 Rude – Plešivica 2 – 6.94 km was taken by a resurgent Ott, with Thierry and Seb setting the second and third best times. Adrien and Gus were holding sixth and seventh for M-Sport. Thierry suffered a half spin, but as mentioned was still quick enough to go second fastest.

Into SS6 Kostanjevac – Petruš Vrh 2 – 23.76 km and it was a stage win for Seb, beating Elfyn and Thierry as the three of them continued their battle at the top of the standings. Taka remained in ninth overall after a spin in a slippery section.

SS7 Jaškovo – Mali Modruš Potok 2 – 10.10 km was taken by Seb with Thierry second fastest. Seb’s time took him a little closer to the Belgian. Elfyn remained there or thereabouts with the third best time in the stage and the gap was closing a little too under eight seconds.

The final stage of the day, SS8 Pećurkovo Brdo – Mrežnički Novaki 2 – 9.11 km was taken by Seb from Ott and Thierry. Seb’s pace meant that he moved ahead of Elfyn who was only fourth fastest. Further back, Adrien was going really well, setting the fifth best time. The Frenchman’s debut at the top was going really well.

 

Classification after Day One

1 T. Neuville M. Wydaeghe Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC 55:36.8
2 S. Ogier J. Ingrassia Toyota Yaris WRC +7.7
3 E. Evans S. Martin Toyota Yaris WRC +8.0
4 O. Tänak M. Järveoja Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC +31.9
5 C. Breen P. Nagle Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC +54.8
6 A. Fourmaux R. Jamoul Ford Fiesta WRC +1:14.7
7 G. Greensmith C. Patterson Ford Fiesta WRC +1:21.7
8 P.L. Loubet V. Landais Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC +1:31.5

 

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

 

Hyundai Motorsport

Thierry Neuville (1st)

“I am pretty pleased with the day; it was tough for everybody out there. This morning, when Kalle (Rovanperä) went off, our main goal was to benefit from the good road position and build up a gap, which we were able to do. In the afternoon, we wanted to maintain that gap. Of course, it’s always the target to extend the lead but I struggled in some parts; being first on the road we had sections with lots of gravel, no traction, and we had a bit of a spin too. We lost maybe six seconds during the day, but we have increased our overall lead slightly from lunchtime service, so we have to be pleased with that. Everyone will keep pushing tomorrow. The stages are challenging but I like them so hopefully I can stay in the lead.”

2021 FIA World Rally Championship
Round 03, Croatia Rally
22-25 April 2021
Thierry Neuville
Photographer: Austral
Worldwide copyright: Hyundai Motorsport GmbH

Ott Tänak (4th)

“I have been improving during the day, and that’s the main thing to take away from today. It is definitely a very demanding event, so it’s important to feel comfortable in the car. I have not been able to get that feeling but, step by step this afternoon, we found a good direction. Generally, we are not too far off and anything is still possible. I know the places where we can improve; we just need to find the solutions to feel more comfortable.”

Craig Breen (5th)

“It’s been quite a difficult start to this rally, which is our first tarmac event in a WRC car for some time. In some places we felt things were getting better, but we struggled in others. Our pre-event test was held on a completely different type of road – wide, fast and with grip – so the reference has not been the same. This is all part of the learning process. I have some ideas what to do tomorrow in order to find improvements, mainly on the differentials side. We’ll see if we can make that work. There are a lot of stages still to go in this rally.”

 

Toyota Gazoo Racing WRT

Sébastien Ogier (2nd)

“I am pleased with how well we reacted today after a difficult start this morning. We had a big moment on the first stage on the same corner that Kalle went off: I was surprised that this corner was even more slippery than the rest and we went a bit wide, and unfortunately, we had a tyre come off the rim at that point so we lost some time there. I also went with a setup this morning that I had not tried in our pre-event test and was not super-happy with it, but then I went back to something I knew and immediately felt better. We had a good afternoon and we are in the fight and now we have to keep that momentum up tomorrow.”

Elfyn Evans (4th)

“It’s not been a perfect day to start the rally but overall, it has been pretty solid. I think the morning loop was pretty good in some very challenging and changeable conditions. This afternoon was not bad, but I was just losing a few seconds in every stage more or less, and especially relative to Seb who had a good afternoon. Overall, the car has been working well and we have a few ideas to maybe try and improve things for tomorrow, and of course we will keep fighting.”

Kalle Rovanperä (DNF)

“The first stage was really tricky and really slippery for everybody and this was creating a bit too much understeer. Near the end of the stage on the last downhill section I was still trying to push a bit. In this one fast right-hander it was especially slippery: The grip just disappeared, I had a bit too much speed and we went off the road and had quite a big crash. The good thing is that myself and Jonne are OK. I’m really sorry for the team. It was my mistake and I need to learn from this for the future.”

 

M-Sport Ford WRT

Adrien Fourmaux (6th)

“I have been taking so much enjoyment from driving this car on these stages, and I am so glad to say that I already have two top-five stage times! That was one of my goals for the weekend, and it’s great to see that we could achieve that already on the first day.

“The stages are so difficult – there is only a very fine line to follow and if you’re a bit early or a bit wide then you’re straight in the dirt. I’ve made a few small mistakes like this, but I’ve also seen quite a few lines like this as well – so maybe I’m not the only one!

“We made a big improvement from one pass to the other today, and I hope that we can do the same again tomorrow. Honestly, it’s been amazing driving this car on these crazy stages. I need to stay focused, but I can’t wait to do it all again tomorrow!”

Gus Greensmith (7th)

“It’s been a good day for us, and I’m really happy to see the turnaround from where I was in Monte to where I am now. There’s still some time to be found in the new pacenote system and getting used to having less information in there – but I can see a clear way forward now, and that’s really promising.

“I’m still losing some time here and there, but we’re looking at seconds rather than 10s of seconds now – so that’s a massive improvement. I’ve really enjoyed my day out there, and we’ll do some more work tonight to hopefully see another improvement tomorrow.”

Teemu Suninen (3rd WRC 2)

“It’s a big shame that I made the mistake this morning otherwise we would have been challenging for the win – but it has still been quite an okay day for us. The pace is there and we’ve proved that the Fiesta can challenge for the top results. There’s still a long way to go with two interesting and tricky days rallying, so anything can happen!”

Tom Kristensson (6th WRC 2)

“I had a really good feeling going into that third stage this afternoon, but I was a bit out of the line going into the first left-hander. It was a very fast corner that went immediately right, and I was too early. We touched a small stone which pulled the car into a spin, and then hit a bigger rock on the outside which damaged the cooling package.

“Hopefully the damage isn’t too much and we’ll be able to start tomorrow because I was really pleased with our performance today. We had a great day with brilliant progress and a really good feeling in the car. So hopefully we can start again with big smiles tomorrow.”

 

Saturday

With eight stages ahead of the crews, totalling 121.92 km’s, there remained a big challenge for them all. The start list looked like this – Katsuta, Loubet, Greensmith, Fourmaux, Breen, Tänak, Evans, Ogier, Neuville.

The first stage, SS9 Mali Lipovec – Grdanjci 1 – 20.30 km was won by Seb, from Adrien and Elfyn. Thierry’s lead evaporated after he could only manage the sixth best time, and he dropped to third overall. The Belgians teammate, Craig suffered a puncture, and he pulled over to change the wheel dropping from fifth to ninth.

Into SS10 Stojdraga – Gornja Vas 1 – 20.77 km, and we had a different winner, with Taka setting the pace from Seb and Elfyn. The Hyundai’s loss of pace continued with former leader Thierry could only manage the eighth best time and was now over fifteen seconds from the lead. There was a change in positions further down, with Pierre-Louis passing Gus for sixth overall.

Elfyn took SS11 Krašić – Vrškovac 1 – 11.11 km from a resurgent Thierry and Taka continued his good form in the morning stages with third fastest. The leader, Seb, could only manage the fourth best time, but remained at the head of the field by a reduced amount. Adrien was consolidating his fifth overall with another good time.

Seb fought back and won SS12 Vinski Vrh – Duga Resa 1 – 8.78 km from Ott and Elfyn. Seemed that Ott was dealing with the wayward handling of the i20 better than Thierry. Top M-Sport driver so far, Adrien was fourth in this one having further increased his advantage over Pierre-Louis to almost 30 seconds.

After the break, SS13 Mali Lipovec – Grdanjci 2 – 20.30 km, Thierry found some pace with a change in the tyres that they were running, and set the fastest time, whilst Adrien and Ott were second and third. The Frenchman was loving the downhill slalom in this stage, and was therefore really in the groove. Seb suffered a puncture near the end of the stage, and slid wide. Gus also went well, setting the fourth best time and closed the gap a little to sixth placed Pierre-Louis.

Into SS14 Stojdraga – Gornja Vas 2 – 20.77 km, and Taka was making this stage his own, winning from Elfyn and Thierry. The top three remained Seb, Elfyn and Thierry, however the lead was definitely reducing. Meanwhile, Pierre-Louis went off after loosing the rear on a left-hander and the car came to a rest down a bank which was too steep to get back up. The Frenchman was now out for the rest of the day.

Seb hit back in SS15 Krašić – Vrškovac 2 – 11.11 km taking the win, but Thierry set the same time and was now closing the gap to Elfyn ahead and the lead down to under 10 seconds. Gus was happy with the pace that he was showing and clearly the new partnership with Chris was going well.

The final stage of the day then, SS16 Vinski Vrh – Duga Resa 2 – 8.78 km, and Seb rounded it off with another stage win, but only by four tenths of a second over Elfyn and Thierry in third. Taka was fourth fastest and closed the gap a little to Gus who was holding sixth overall.

 

Classification after Day Two

1 S. Ogier J. Ingrassia Toyota Yaris WRC 2:06:35.8
2 E. Evans S. Martin Toyota Yaris WRC +6.9
3 T. Neuville M. Wydaeghe Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC +10.4
4 O. Tänak M. Järveoja Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC +37.8
5 A. Fourmaux R. Jamoul Ford Fiesta WRC +1:29.5
6 G. Greensmith C. Patterson Ford Fiesta WRC +2:23.8
7 T. Katsuta D. Barritt Toyota Yaris WRC +2:46.5
8 C. Breen P. Nagle Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC +3:51.8

 

 

Let’s hear from the drivers

Toyota Gazoo Racing WRT

Sébastien Ogier (1st)

“It’s been a strong day with a good rhythm in the car. This morning I think we made the right call with the tyres, and the feeling with the car was great. We managed to take the lead, but not with a big gap. In the afternoon, the puncture in the first stage cost us 10 seconds, but the big positive is the great rhythm that we’ve had and we are in the lead tonight. It’s still really close, which means we will have to keep pushing tomorrow. There are still close to 80 kilometres to go and 10 seconds between three drivers is not much, so it’s going to be exciting.”

Elfyn Evans (2nd)

“This morning was a really strong loop for the whole team, but Seb was a little bit stronger than I was. We tried a setup change last night which didn’t really suit the dirtier sections. Then I had a frustrating first stage for us to open the afternoon loop, but after that things got much better. I changed another setting and found some confidence for the remainder of the loop. We’ve been playing with the car during the rally and now I’ve found a place where I’m happy, and I’m looking forward to tomorrow. It won’t be a case of a Sunday drive, with two very difficult stages to be done twice, so there’s quite a lot of mileage to go and it’s still all to play for.”

Hyundai Motorsport

Thierry Neuville (3rd)

“After an eventful morning, which was hampered by a wrong tyre choice, we did what we could to recover in the afternoon loop. The car was certainly working much better with the right tyres and the times improved too. We had a decent run, but it is really difficult to catch up a lot. Unfortunately, we were only able to gain time on one of the stages. Still, it was a trouble-free afternoon and it’s good to back in the fight for victory. The pressure is on, everybody is pushing hard and that will continue to be the case on the final day. If I want to win, I need to do a little bit more. We need to have a good think tonight to see what we can find. Anything is still possible and every day there are plenty of surprises. It’s not over until it’s over, so let’s go for it.”

Ott Tänak (4th)

“There’s no hiding from the fact that it’s been a tricky weekend for us. We have been consistent, but we’ve been missing the crucial final bit that gives us the performance we need to fight at the front. We didn’t have the right tyre choice this morning, particularly for the first stage, but even without that we’ve still not been on the pace we need to be. There’s not much we can do to improve that for tomorrow, but it’s still a decent day of rallying to come with two proper challenging stages – and plenty to focus on.”

Craig Breen (8th)

“We woke up this morning really looking forward to the day ahead, but that ended quickly, just 100 metres into the first stage when we picked up a puncture. It took the wind out of my sails, if I’m honest. With only one spare tyre we couldn’t take any risks for the rest of the loop. I tried to build my confidence for the afternoon as the car felt better than yesterday, but on some of the hairier parts it just didn’t fit like a glove on my hands. We can try some changes overnight, some smaller subtle things to help find the confidence and to allow us to let go a bit. I feel like I’m still having to hold back in places, which is a real pity because with the weather as it is, and with the profile of these stages – especially this afternoon – it really feels like back home. I know I have more to give.”

M-Sport Ford WRT

Adrien Fourmaux (5th)

“This has been a perfect day for us and I’m really happy with how everything has gone. We really focused on the first stage of the loop which is an amazing piece of road and so enjoyable to drive – especially the downhill section towards the end where it feels just like you’re skiing from left to right.

“We worked more on this stage than any of the others and it was great to see that when we really focus the pace can already be right at the top. Then on the other stages we were being a lot more careful as it’s easy to make a mistake.

“There have already been more positives than we expected this weekend, and I’m really, really happy with that. All of my targets have already been achieved, and I’m just sad that we only have one more day to drive this amazing car!”

Gus Greensmith (6th)

“It was a bit frustrating this morning when we weren’t quite on the same pace we had yesterday. To be fair, the car has been really good all weekend but I was just struggling a bit with the notes and adjusting to not having as much information in there.

“But all I needed was a bit of a reset, which came from three people in the team – and I’m sure you can guess who those three were! They told me just to enjoy myself a bit more and stop complaining when the time isn’t quite there.

“And they’re so right – I’m still doing the best job in the world and as soon as I relaxed everything felt a lot better and we set some much better times this afternoon.”

Teemu Suninen (2nd WRC 2)

“This is quite a tricky rally but I’m really enjoying the challenge. Today has been good and we’ve had a good feeling in the car with some top times, but it’s going to be a tough day tomorrow with a really big fight. It’s a proper day with narrow stages and big crests, and we will need to push hard to keep the second position. But this is what we plan to do and I will just try to do my best.”

Tom Kristensson (DNF)

“This isn’t the start to the season that we wanted, and I’m so sorry for the mistake I made today. We had a small issue with the pacenotes at the beginning of the stage. We found our pace again, but I was struggling with my focus and it was a millisecond of lost concentration that resulted in quite a heavy crash. The car is quite badly damaged, but the most important thing is that me and David are both okay.

“It was completely my fault and I’m really, really sorry for the team. I was living a dream, and it turned into a nightmare – but these things can happen and I know that I need to put it behind me and focus on the positives to come back stronger. I’m sorry that I didn’t show my full potential this weekend, but I hope we can come back and prove it at the next rally.

“I want to say a big thank you to everyone who is following me on this journey, and to the team who have been brilliant to work with this weekend. Good luck to Adrien, Gus and Teemu – and I hope they can all bring home a good team result tomorrow.”

 

Sunday

The final day then, and this was not a normal final day that we have seen in the past. The startlist looked like this – Loubet, Breen, Katsuta, Greensmith, Fourmaux, Tänak, Neuville, Evans, Ogier.

Four stages and 78.58km’s remained between the crews and the finish line. There was drama as Seb headed out to the first stage though. I’m sure you’ve seen the videos, but to summarise the Toyota and another road car collided leading to damage to the co-driver’s door. The door was badly bent out of shape at the top, but the crew were allowed to continue to compete.

Elfyn won SS17 Bliznec – Pila 1 – 25.20 km from Thierry and Seb and the gap was now just 4.2 seconds between the teammates. Gus lost a lot of time with an issue with the brakes and was getting caught by Taka and the gap between them was now down to less than 10 seconds.

The push from the young Welshman continued in SS18 Zagorska Sela – Kumrovec 1 – 14.09 km as he took another stage and with Seb only third fastest and seven seconds slower than his teammate, we had a new overall leader in Elfyn. Another driver moving up the leaderboard was Taka. Sadly, Gus dropped a lot of pace after suffering a further problem with his car. He’d lost all hydraulic pressure, with the result that his paddle-shift and handbrake systems both failed and he was now in seventh.

Thierry took SS19 Bliznec – Pila 2 – 25.20 km by just four tenths of a second from Elfyn and Seb. Elfyn’s lead was now 3.9 seconds over his teammate. All the other positions were really settled as we came down to the final stage of the rally. The good news was that Gus had fixed the hydraulic problem with his Fiesta and he was back up to pace, notwithstanding the brake problem.

The final stage then, SS20 Zagorska Sela – Kumrovec 2 [Power Stage] – 14.09 km and there was a subtle change to the running order – Mikkelsen, Bulacia, Suninen, Østberg, Loubet, Breen, Greensmith, Katsuta, Fourmaux, Tänak, Neuville, Ogier, Evans.

Craig held the fastest time for a while, as Gus, Taka, Adrien and Ott came through but couldn’t beat his time. Thierry finished next, but was not able to beat the time either as he’d run wide just before a right-hand corner. Finally, Seb came through and beat Craig’s time, so we were just awaiting Elfyn to finish. Well, what unfolded in the following minutes was incredible. The Welshman was going even faster than Seb, and then at the final corner of the stage before the long run to the flying finish Elfyn ran wide onto the grass. When he crossed the line, he’d lost his advantage and also his earlier time gain and was only fourth fastest. Seb had taken the win by just six tenths of a second, the third closest in history!

Here’s the final standings.

Final Overall Classification – Croatia Rally

1 S. Ogier J. Ingrassia Toyota Yaris WRC 2:51:22.9
2 E. Evans S. Martin Toyota Yaris WRC +0.6
3 T. Neuville M. Wydaeghe Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC +8.1
4 O. Tänak M. Järveoja Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC +1:25.1
5 A. Fourmaux R. Jamoul Ford Fiesta WRC +3:09.7
6 T. Katsuta D. Barritt Toyota Yaris WRC +3:31.8
7 G. Greensmith C. Patterson Ford Fiesta WRC +3:58.8
8 C. Breen P. Nagle Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC +4:28.2
9 M. Østberg T. Eriksen Citroën C3 R5 +10:00.8
10 T. Suninen M. Markkula Ford Fiesta R5 +10:29.3

 

Here’s the thoughts of the drivers after this amazing rally.

Toyota Gazoo Racing WRT

Sébastien Ogier (1st)

“It has been a real rollercoaster of emotions this weekend. The most important thing is that everyone is safe after what happened this morning on the road section; this was my main concern when it happened. I also thought my rally could be over, but the car was not too badly damaged and we could carry on. I’m not sure I believed it was possible to still win after everything that happened, but I think everybody knows that I never give up and I tried to keep fighting until the end. I feel for Elfyn who did a good job this weekend and was especially strong this morning. But we had good pace this weekend and just had some issues that slowed us down at times. It’s nice to share the podium in another one-two for the team.”

2021 FIA World Rally Championship / Round 03 / Rally Croatia / 22-25 April, 2021 // Worldwide Copyright: Toyota Gazoo Racing WRT

Elfyn Evans (2nd)

“To come second is never the way you want to finish when you go into the last stage with the lead. Obviously, Seb had a very, very strong last stage and unfortunately for us we made an error on what was basically the last proper corner. It’s frustrating but at the same time it’s a solid result, and a very good result for the team. They have done a great job to give both Seb and I a fantastic car this weekend. We fought tooth and nail all the way through and it was good fun.”

Takamoto Katsuta (6th)

“I’m pretty happy about this weekend. Of course, some stage times were very good, but I’m not so happy about my performance at some other times. So, it’s quite up and down, but this is part of the learning to become a better driver. The two stage wins on Saturday were very good and especially on the second loop because then I had similar conditions to the other drivers behind. Compared to Friday it was a big step and I think this just came with experience. I hadn’t driven on these sorts of roads much before this rally so I had not so much confidence and I couldn’t know what was going to happen. With every stage I was learning and that was making me more comfortable and confident. Thank you to my gravel crew Juho and Craig and to the whole team.”

Hyundai Motorsport

Thierry Neuville (3rd)

“We have tried our absolute best all weekend, pushing hard and on the limit of the car’s performance. Right up until the Power Stage, we never gave up in what was a very close battle for the victory. Unfortunately, I overshot a junction in the stage which lost us at least three seconds, but even without that it would not have been quite enough. The pace between the frontrunners has been so incredibly close. But we gave it everything we had, and I’ve had a good feeling with our car on these tricky tarmac stages. We enjoyed the rally and Martijn did a great job; it’s not been easy for the co-drivers this weekend, so we have to take some positives away.”

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

Ott Tänak (4th)

“This has not been the level of performance that we would have expected or hoped for coming to this rally. I enjoy tarmac rallies but throughout the weekend it has been far out of my comfort zone. It’s just not felt natural, and we’ve lacked the performance edge we needed. It is clear that there is a job for me to do, but we can take some consolation from the job that Thierry has done this weekend.”

Craig Breen (8th)

“It has been a disappointing weekend overall. It was pretty much game over after our puncture on Saturday morning, just 100 metres into the first stage. It’s difficult to go 150% on these tricky stages. We have worked hard to make it feel like home inside the car, but it just hasn’t been the case. At times, it has felt nice, and we’ve been able to give it a push, like in the Power Stage, but globally we needed more. Having said that, I have enjoyed the rally, I’ve learned a lot and definitely have a lot of food for thought.”

M-Sport Ford WRT

Adrien Fourmaux (5th)

“I’m so happy with our weekend and the only disappointment is that the rally is now over! It’s been a big challenge on the Croatian roads but I have enjoyed every kilometre; and taken a lot of pleasure from driving this car on these stages.

“We showed good speed throughout the weekend and honestly there were more positives than we had been expecting. We improved our pace a lot and I achieved all of my goals and more.

“I want to say a big thank you to everyone in the team, and I am so grateful to M-Sport and Red Bull for this incredible opportunity – and to everyone who has supported me over the past four years.”

Gus Greensmith (7th)

“The majority of the weekend has been pretty positive, and I was really happy to see the turnaround from where I was in Monte to where I am now. There’s still some time to be found, but I can see a clear way forward and everything seems to be working well.

“I was fairly confident of maintaining sixth place today, so it was a shame to lose that with the technical issues this morning. But all in all, I’ve really enjoyed the weekend and looking forward to seeing what we can do at one of my favourite events next time out in Portugal.”

Teemu Suninen (2nd WRC 2)

“It’s been a really challenging rally but, in the end, I would say that our performance was pretty good. We didn’t get a test in dry conditions so we had to learn a lot through the early stages. It was a shame to have lost some time with a mistake on Friday, but we found a way to drive fast and show the performance of the car which was good.”

Warren’s Thoughts

Well, let’s start at Toyota first. After the disappointment of Kalle crashing out on Friday morning’s first stage, Elfyn, Seb and Takamoto had a great rally! They all took stage wins and there was a fantastic fight between Seb and Elfyn for victory which was only decided on the final stage. It’s great to see a team allow their drivers to fight like this, and just shows that the trust they place in them is definitely well placed. For Elfyn to miss out on victory is hard to take, but nevertheless, he took a well deserved second place, placing him third in the drivers’ championship standings.

2021 FIA World Rally Championship / Round 03 / Rally Croatia / 22-25 April, 2021 // Worldwide Copyright: Toyota Gazoo Racing WRT

At Hyundai Thierry was in a strong position at the end of Friday’s stages and the tyre choices that were taken on Saturday really held the Belgian back from the best pace that he can produce. It was interesting to see that when the i20 was not at it’s best, Ott was actually quicker than Thierry. The Estonian’s were at no point comfortable with their car, and the best they could manage was fourth overall. One thing that can be certain, they will be back on the pace next time out. Finally, Craig who was competing on tarmac for the first time for a while saw a puncture really end his hopes of a good result. He and Paul certainly hoped to show better pace, as the roads were very similar to those in Ireland, but they just couldn’t get comfortable with the car.

 

Finally, M-Sport had a very good event for their young drivers. Adrien showed really great pace setting two second fastest times on his favourite stage, and looked comfortable in the Fiesta WRC. Gus and Chris also enjoyed a very good first rally together, setting some good times and only really losing out with a couple of problems with his car. Nevertheless, I’d say that it was his best performance to date in a full WRC car, and that can only bode well for the future. Teemu also produced a very good performance in the Fiesta WRC2, the kind that we have become used to with him.

 

Next event is Rally Portugal which runs from the 20th of May to the 23rd of May.

 

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

1 S. Ogier 61
2 T. Neuville 53
3 E. Evans 51
4 O. Tänak 40
5 K. Rovanperä 39
6 C. Breen 24
7 T. Katsuta 24
8 A. Fourmaux 12
9 G. Greensmith 12
10 D. Sordo 11

 

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

1 Toyota Gazoo Racing World Rally Team 138
2 Hyundai Shell Mobis World Rally Team 111
3 M-Sport Ford World Rally Team 42
4 Hyundai 2C Competition 28

Arctic Rally Finland 2021 Preview

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

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

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

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

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

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

251.08: Competitive distance in kilometres

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

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

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

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

 

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

Let’s hear from the drivers.

Toyota Gazoo Racing WRT

Sébastien Ogier (Driver car 1)

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

Elfyn Evans (Driver car 33)

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

Kalle Rovanperä (Driver car 69)

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

Hyundai Motorsport

Thierry Neuville (Car number 11)

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

Ott Tänak (Car number 8)

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

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

Craig Breen (Car number 42)

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

M-Sport Ford WRT

Teemu Suninen (Car number 3)

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

Gus Greensmith (Car number 44)

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

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

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

Other key competitors

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

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

Oliver Solberg (Car number 2) 2C Compétition

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

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

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

 

Summary

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

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

Enjoy!

Rallye Monte Carlo 2021 Review –

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

 

Thursday

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

 

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

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

Classification after Day One

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

 

Let’s hear from the drivers.

Ott Tänak (1st)

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

Thierry Neuville (4th)

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

Dani Sordo (6th)

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

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

Toyota Gazoo Racing WRT

Sébastien Ogier (5th)

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

Elfyn Evans (3rd)

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

Kalle Rovanperä (2nd)

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

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

M-Sport WRT

Teemu Suninen (DNF)

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

Gus Greensmith (10th)

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

Adrien Fourmaux (2nd WRC 2)

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

 

Friday

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Classification after Day Two

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

 

Let’s hear from the drivers

Toyota Gazoo Racing

Elfyn Evans (1st)

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

Sébastien Ogier (2nd)

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

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

Kalle Rovanperä (4th)

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

 

Hyundai Motorsport

Ott Tänak (3rd)

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

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

Thierry Neuville (5th)

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

Dani Sordo (6th)

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

 

M-Sport WRT

Gus Greensmith (10th)

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

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

 

Adrien Fourmaux (2nd WRC 2)

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

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

 

Saturday

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

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

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

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

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

 

Classification after Day Three

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

 

Let’s hear from the drivers!

Toyota Gazoo Racing WRT

Sébastien Ogier (1st)

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

Elfyn Evans (2nd)

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

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

Kalle Rovanperä (3rd)

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

 

Hyundai Motorsport

Thierry Neuville (4th)

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

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

Dani Sordo (5th)

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

Ott Tänak (DNF)

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

 

M-Sport WRT

Gus Greensmith (8th)

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

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

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

Adrien Fourmaux (2nd WRC 2)

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

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

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

Sunday

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

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

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

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

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

 

Final Overall Classification – Rallye Monte-Carlo

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

 

Let’s hear from the drivers!

Toyota Gazoo Racing WRT

Sébastien Ogier (1st)

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

Elfyn Evans (2nd)

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

Kalle Rovanperä (4th)

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

 

Hyundai Motorsport

Thierry Neuville (3rd)

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

Dani Sordo (5th)

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

 

M-Sport WRT

Gus Greensmith (8th)

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

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

Adrien Fourmaux (2nd WRC 2)

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

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

 

2C Competition

Oliver Solberg (DNF)

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

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

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

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

 

Warren’s Thoughts

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

Rallye Monte Carlo 2021 Preview

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

Sébastien Ogier

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

Elfyn Evans

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

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

Kalle Rovanperä

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

 

Hyundai Motorsport

Ott Tänak

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

Thierry Neuville

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

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

Dani Sordo

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

 

M-Sport Ford WRT

Teemu Suninen

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

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

Gus Greensmith

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

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

Adrien Fourmaux

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

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

 

Look back to Monte Carlo 2020

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

 

Summary

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

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

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

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

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

Friday

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

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

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

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

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

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

Day One

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

 

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

Hyundai Motorsport

Dani Sordo 1st

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

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

Ott Tänak 5th

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

Thierry Neuville DNF

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

 

Toyota Gazoo Racing WRT

Sébastien Ogier 3rd

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

Elfyn Evans 4th

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

Kalle Rovanperä 6th

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

 

M-Sport WRT

Esapekka Lappi 2nd

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

Teemu Suninen DNF

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

Gus Greensmith – Restart

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

 

Saturday

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Classification after Day Two

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

 

Let’s hear from the drivers

Toyota Gazoo Racing

Sébastien Ogier 1st

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

Elfyn Evans DNF, Rally2

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

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

Kalle Rovanperä 5th

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

 

Hyundai Motorsport

Dani Sordo 2nd

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

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

Ott Tänak 3rd

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

 

M-Sport WRT

Esapekka Lappi 4th

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

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

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

Gus Greensmith – DNF

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

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

 

Sunday

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

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

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

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

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

Final Overall Classification – Rally Monza

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

 

Let’s hear from the drivers

Toyota Gazoo Racing WRT

Sébastien Ogier 1st

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

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

Elfyn Evans 29th

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

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

Kalle Rovanperä 5th

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

 

Hyundai Motorsport

Ott Tänak 2nd

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

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

Dani Sordo 3rd

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

Thierry Neuville (DNF)

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

 

M-Sport WRT

Esapekka Lappi 4th

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

Warren’s Thoughts

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

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

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

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

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