Safari Rally Kenya 2021 Review – Seb and Julien take the win!

Here’s the incredible story of the return to the World Rally Championship to Kenya after 19 years away. Seb took his fourth win of the year as well, and a good lead in the race for this season’s championship.

After Thursday’s first stage, SSS1 the leaderboard looked like this.

End of day one (Thursday):
1 Sébastien Ogier/Julien Ingrassia (Toyota Yaris WRC) 3m21.5s
2 Kalle Rovanperä/Jonne Halttunen (Toyota Yaris WRC) +0.3s
3 Elfyn Evans/Scott Martin (Toyota Yaris WRC) +0.7s
4 Ott Tänak/Martin Järveoja (Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC) +2.5s
5 Thierry Neuville/Martijn Wydaeghe (Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC) +5.0s
4 Takamoto Katsuta/Dan Barritt (Toyota Yaris WRC) +5.6s
9 Gus Greensmith/Chris Patterson (Ford Fiesta WRC) +6.1s
8 Oliver Solberg/Aaron Johnston (Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC) +7.9s
9 Lorenzo Bertelli/Simone Scattolin (Ford Fiesta WRC) +9.0s
10 Adrien Fourmaux/Renaud Jamoul (Ford Fiesta WRC) +9.6s

Friday

The first full day saw 129km’s over six stages. The start list looked like this – Ogier, Evans, Neuville, Tänak, Katsuta, Rovanperä, Sordo, Greensmith, Fourmaux, Solberg, Bertelli. The crews would start with four-minute gaps between them.

The day’s first stage, SS2 Chui Lodge 1 – 13.34 km saw Thierry take the stage win from Ott with Kalle. The Belgian’s pace saw him jump from fifth into the rally lead in one go and he was nine tenths ahead of Kalle whilst Ott was now in third. There were further changes in the lower top ten as well. Dani Sordo moved into sixth, jumping up five places, whilst the duelling M-Sport teammate, Adrien and Gus changed positions with the Frenchman moving ahead into eighth place.

The next stage, SS3 Kedong 1 – 32.68 km was part of the last event in 2002 and the longest stage of this year’s event. Thierry was fastest again from Kalle and Ott again. There was disaster for Elfyn and Scott though. As they came to the last few corners in the stage, they cut too close early in a corner and the front right wheel clobbered a huge boulder that was hiding in the bush. This wrecked his suspension and wheel and they attempted to finish the stage but the car bogged down in the loose gravel and sand. He was done for the day. What a shame as he was building a gap to Seb and could have moved up a place.

Kalle took the next stage, SS4 Oserian 1 – 18.87 km and reduced the gap to Thierry by 3.1 seconds who remained in the lead. There was a change in the leaderboard though with Seb dropping three places after getting a rear suspension problem that meant that the rear was bouncing around! The two M-Sport drivers were going well, and the teams plan were clearly working well with Adrien and Gus setting the fourth and sixth best time respectively in the stage.

After the service break SS4 Oserian 1 – 18.87 km saw another stage win for Toyota and it was Kalle who was fastest from Thierry, whilst Takamoto made it a Toyota sandwich. The young’s Finn pace saw him take the lead from Thierry who was now in second place.

The second run of SS6 Kedong 2 – 32.68 km saw the Belgian fight back though and was a massive 11.2 seconds fastest than Kalle, retaking the lead by 10 seconds! Kalle and Seb were second and third in the stage with the championship leader passing Adrien for sixth spot overall. The Belgian did this despite getting a puncture on the right rear tyre as well.

The final stage of the day then, SS7 Oserian 2 – 18.87 km. Seb and Takamoto shared the fastest time with Adrien going third fastest. The big story from the stage though was the retirement of second placed Kalle. He bogged down in the fesh fesh on a tight uphill section of the stage. The stage was red flagged as his car was pulled out, and having lost over ten minutes the team told him to retire for the day.

Classification after Day One

1 T. Neuville M. Wydaeghe Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC 1:23:19.1
2 T. Katsuta D. Barritt Toyota Yaris WRC +18.8
3 O. Tänak M. Järveoja Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC +55.8
4 S. Ogier J. Ingrassia Toyota Yaris WRC +1:49.4
5 G. Greensmith C. Patterson Ford Fiesta WRC +1:56.1
6 A. Fourmaux R. Jamoul Ford Fiesta WRC +2:19.1

 

Let’s hear from the drivers.

Hyundai Motorsport

Thierry Neuville (1st)

“We had some good stages today. Unfortunately, we also had a couple of punctures. Some parts were really rough with big stones, you couldn’t avoid everything; you had to just cross your fingers that you didn’t pick up damage. Thankfully, we were able to manage things and get the car back to service. We have learned a lot and the team will look closely at the car this evening to prepare for another challenging day tomorrow. Saturday’s stages have different characteristics, and I’m sure we’ll see more things happening, so we have to stay out of trouble.”

2021 FIA World Rally Championship
Round 06, Safari Rally Kenya
24-27 june 2021
Thierry Neuville, Martijn Wydaeghe, Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC
Photographer: Dufour Fabien
Worldwide copyright: Hyundai Motorsport GmbH

Ott Tänak (3rd)

“For us, it was a consistent day apart from a bit of drama in the final stage with the tyres. I have been doing about 60% of my maximum today because it has been so demanding. We are only at the appetisers; the main meal is coming tomorrow. It is only going to get tougher. Even if you are two minutes behind, you could still win this rally based on what we’ve seen so far. The middle stage of the loop was really cool and looked like proper Safari. Overall, it was challenging, and I have to say we’re happy to be here.”

Dani Sordo (DNF, Super Rally)

“I had really been enjoying the experience of Safari Rally Kenya in the opening stages, so it was disappointing to have to retire. When you watch back the video you can see we took a stone in the middle of the road that broke the suspension arm on the car. After that, the steering locked so the car started to slide, and we went into the bushes. Nothing we could do – and we were lucky that we didn’t roll because otherwise we might not have been able to re-start. It was an amazing stage to drive, really fast, and I wasn’t pushing too much. We will aim to be back tomorrow to fight for points and to finish this incredible rally.”

Oliver Solberg (DNF)

“The first thing I have to say is that I am very sorry for the team. I know how much effort in terms of time and money Hyundai Motorsport, Andrea and Alain have committed in bringing us here.

“There was a dip in the road in stage two, we went through it and there was a shock for the car. That’s where the damage to the roll cage and the chassis came. The rules say that if you have a hit to the roll cage, for safety reasons, you cannot continue.”

Oliver worked on the car after SS2 and made it through the next stage. Unfortunately, they stopped in the next stage with damage to the right-rear suspension.

“It was a dream for me to come here to compete on this rally,” said Oliver. “What’s happened is my fault and for this I am very sorry. I so wanted to get through this adventure to make the finish on Sunday.”

Toyota Gazoo Racing WRT

Sébastien Ogier (4th)

“We expected tough conditions here and it has not been a surprise to see everyone having a lot of trouble today. We were a bit unlucky with the problem that we had this morning, which meant we had to drive slowly to bring the car back to service, but in the end, we kept fighting. This afternoon the conditions were even more extreme, but we managed to get through without big dramas. We’re back in fourth tonight and a lot of things are still possible.”

Kalle Rovanperä (7th)

“This morning I think we started quite smart, taking it carefully to see how the car will handle the rough parts, and then we picked up the pace a bit. The afternoon started well with the fastest time, and I think we were controlling it well. But in the last stage just after the start, a lot of dust came up from the ground and I couldn’t see anything, so I had to slow down, and then we got stuck in the ruts. It’s really frustrating because we were in a good situation before that. But the rally is not over and we will try to take what we can.”

2021 FIA World Rally Championship / Round 06 / Safari Rally, Kenya / 22-27 June, 2021 // Worldwide Copyright: Toyota Gazoo Racing WRT

Elfyn Evans (DNF, Super Rally)

“It was a massive disappointment for our day to end so early. I made a fairly basic mistake, to be honest, and I’m kicking myself for that. The stone was sticking out further than what I had marked in our pace-notes and we clipped it. On an event like this, you have to try and fix something if you can, but once I could inspect the damage, I knew there was no chance to continue today. Now we have to look forward to the rest of the weekend and try and salvage something from it.”

M-Sport Ford WRT

Gus Greensmith (5th)

“On most gravel rallies we have an ideal start position but on this ground it’s so soft and sandy in many places that we are actually at a bit of a disadvantage compared to the early runners. It’s a lot to learn, but I am delighted to be here, the Safari is a bucket list event for any driver and I am drinking in the experience.

“Fifth place overall is of course right where we want to be at this stage and it was encouraging to see the gap closing between my times and those of the leaders as the day went on.

“The team did a fantastic job to check the car in service and unfortunately it cost us a time penalty but we were able to press on through the afternoon loop. When the surface breaks up it’s a bit crazy, but then it’s also unusual to see warthogs and giraffes roaming around at the side of the stage as well!”

Adrien Fourmaux (6th)

“This is a legendary event and to experience it for the first time is like nothing that I have driven before. To be in a good position at the end of Day 1 is a big positive but you have to focus inside rather than worry too much about the times.

“You have to be careful with the car because there are so many areas of the stages that are crazy with how rough the ground is. We are running the suspension as high as we can but very stiff to protect the car from damage underneath, but the trade-off is that you lose grip. Even in the sections where you think you can push a little there are potentially things you can’t see so it’s nervous but enjoyable.

“On the last stage of the day I felt comfortable and was able to increase my pace on many sections because the road conditions were right for us to push a little more. I want to keep my pace for the whole weekend and then we will see what position that gives us at the end. “

Saturday

Six stages totalling 132km awaited the crews, with the longest stage being Sleeping Warrior at 31km! The start list looked like this – Sordo, Evans, Bertelli, Rovanperä, Fourmaux, Greensmith, Ogier, Tänak, Katsuta, Neuville.

The first stage then, SS8 Elmenteita 1 – 14.67 km and Thierry picked where he ended Friday winning the stage from Seb and Ott. In the battle of the two restarters of Elfyn and Dani, the Welshman was fastest and they were beginning their climb up the leaderboard.

Seb took SS9 Soysambu 1 – 20.33 km from Adrien with Thierry setting the third best time in the stage. The Belgian still extended his lead with Takamoto only setting the fifth best time. Elfyn continued to pull away from Dani as well.

It was another stage win for Seb in SS10 Sleeping Warrior 1 – 31.04 km, with Ott 5.9 seconds slower with Takamoto taking the third best time and taking a little bit of time from Thierry. Dani was faster though than Elfyn and the pair of them moved up the leaderboard now holding 17th and 18th overall, with a slight advantage to the Spaniard.

After the service break SS11 Elmenteita 2 – 14.67 km, Seb was quickest from Ott and Thierry. The M-Sport duo, Gus and Adrien continued to set times that placed them fifth and sixth both in the stage and were holding the same positions overall. Elfyn moved past Dani and into 16th overall.

Into the longer SS12 Soysambu 2 – 20.33 km and Ott was fastest from Seb by just a second, whilst Gus took an excellent third fastest time. Thierry continued to lead from Takamoto and in fact had increased his lead over the Japanese driver to 35 seconds. Elfyn and Dani continued to move up the field now into 15th for Elfyn.

All the drama for Saturday was saved up for SS13 Sleeping Warrior 2 – 31.04 km though. The cloud was developing in the sky towards the end of the previous stage and there were reports of thunder and lightning. The first few cars through set the pace and they had a little rain to deal with but the road stayed dry for them. As the leaders came through though the rain arrived in two of the sectors. First to have problems was Gus, as he slid straight on at the end of a long section of the stage. He managed to get back on track though without damaging his car. Also getting rain was Seb, Ott, Takamoto and Thierry! The Estonian was the one that lost out the most though. His windscreen was misted up on his side and he could not see a thing. He stopped the car and Martin and he wiped the screen clear with their hands! They were stopped for just under a minute and dropped behind Seb. The big news was that Thierry actually opened up his lead to almost a minute. The top three in the stage was Dani, Elfyn second and Adrien third.

Classification after Day Two

1 T. Neuville M. Wydaeghe Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC 2:45:04.6
2 T. Katsuta D. Barritt Toyota Yaris WRC +57.4
3 S. Ogier J. Ingrassia Toyota Yaris WRC +1:15.5
4 O. Tänak M. Järveoja Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC +2:21.2
5 G. Greensmith C. Patterson Ford Fiesta WRC +2:39.4
6 A. Fourmaux R. Jamoul Ford Fiesta WRC +2:51.4
7 K. Rovanperä J. Halttunen Toyota Yaris WRC +11:04.3

 

Hyundai Motorsport

Thierry Neuville (1st)

“I am relieved to be in the lead of Safari Rally Kenya after the final stage we faced today; it doesn’t matter by how much, keeping the position was the most important thing today. We have pushed hard over the past two days to be in front, so I fought hard and refused to lose the position. I knew that other drivers had rain in the stage, but I was already in wet conditions after only 3km. I realised that I was losing time already there, and that it could only get worse. I was determined to keep driving as fast as I could, even in the four or five sections where there was a heavy downpour. Keeping the car on the road wasn’t easy but we managed it – and we can now focus on the final day. It’s going to be another rough one, but I enjoyed those stages in the recce, so I hope we can have a trouble-free run and secure the win.”

Ott Tänak (4th)

“It started to rain quite soon after we started the stage, and unfortunately my side of the windscreen heater was not working. I had to ask Martin where the road goes but we couldn’t do that for 30kms in slippery conditions. We had to stop, clean and try to figure things out. The stage took a long time, and it was complicated. Tomorrow is demanding, and from the team’s perspective it’s important to finish, so we keep focused on the job in hand.”

2021 FIA World Rally Championship
Round 06, Safari Rally Kenya
24-27 june 2021
Ott Tanak, Martin Jarveoja, Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC
Photographer: Dufour Fabien
Worldwide copyright: Hyundai Motorsport GmbH

Dani Sordo (13th)

“Before I started the final stage, I saw the clouds and sent a picture to the team and said that something is coming. We were able to miss the rain and could be fast in the conditions. Taking a stage win was a nice way to end the day. Before that, as first on the road, the cleaning effect was very high, so we really couldn’t do any more. I didn’t have any particular target today; we focused on just driving and keeping a good feeling with the car. At times, it was slippery and demanding, so we had to be careful. I am not in any battle, I just wanted to make it safely to the end and not take any risks.”

Toyota Gazoo Racing WRT

Sébastien Ogier (3rd)

“It’s been a positive day. I think we did everything we could today, with a good pace, we kept the pressure on and it’s good to be back in the podium places tonight. We didn’t expect to have so much rain in the last stage; it started to pour down like crazy after five kilometres or so. We knew that when the ground here gets wet it can be very slippery and this was confirmed. Some sections were like driving on ice, so I’m very happy I kept the car on the road, and it also allowed us to gain a position. Tomorrow there are still some very rough sections to go through though, so it’s far from over.”

2021 FIA World Rally Championship / Round 06 / Safari Rally, Kenya / 22-27 June, 2021 // Worldwide Copyright: Toyota Gazoo Racing WRT

Kalle Rovanperä (7th)

“The plan was different today, as we couldn’t really gain positions just through our driving, so we were just trying to avoid issues and see if something happens in front. The stages were not so soft today, so they were a bit more enjoyable to drive and we could keep the pace up without taking any big risks. Tomorrow I think the stages could be quite soft like on Friday, so it will be interesting to see how rough the conditions will be and what we can do on the Power Stage, because we still need to take care of our overall position as well.”

Elfyn Evans (12th)

“It was good to be back out today and to get experience of the stages here. It was quite difficult to read the road ahead in some places, so good pace-notes were quite key. In the afternoon the stages hadn’t deteriorated too much since the first pass, which was quite a surprise given the conditions we saw yesterday. But our main focus was on bringing the car back in one piece and making sure that we have a good car for tomorrow. The stages we have tomorrow are very demanding with quite different character between them. Of course, we’d like to target the Power Stage if we can; let’s see how it goes.”

M-Sport Ford WRT

Gus Greensmith (5th)

“My car felt much better suited to the fast, flowing stages today. We struggled a little for traction in the deep, sandy ‘fesh-fesh’ that builds up in some of the slower sections of the roads here but I am happy that we have been able to show our true pace today.

“Among all of the drivers, when we talk to each other it’s clear that we are all experiencing many of the same issues, not least the way that the road changes from the first pass to the second after so many cars have been through. Also, the rally organisers have put rocks out to prevent cars going too far off-line when you cut corners, which weren’t there on the recce and which can get pulled out by the cars before you, which certainly adds an extra challenge.

“Your nature is to hesitate a little in that moment but I feel that we have generally gone as smoothly through the stages as we can. If we can get to the finish cleanly, I think we can all take a lot away from the experience.”

Adrien Fourmaux (6th)

“Hopefully one day the first stage win will come but it’s good to have good pace today. I was maybe a little too careful on the first stage of the day but on the second we were able to push and to be beaten to the stage win by the most successful man in the sport today is a nice fight to have.

“I was really comfortable on the second loop when we repeated the stages. I knew where the road was clean and where I could push, so there were times when I was able to show the speed that we have. It was a very positive day for us overall and with Gus and myself both in a good place to start the final day I hope we can bring the right result for the team. “

Sunday

The final day then and five stages totalling 53.49km of competitive action. The start list looked like this – Sordo, Evans, Bertelli, Rovanperä, Fourmaux, Greensmith, Tänak, Ogier, Katsuta, Neuville.

Into SS14 Loldia 1 – 11.33 km then and whilst Thierry emerged from the stage in the lead but it was game over again for the Belgian. The rear right suspension had broken, and he was out from the lead and out from the rally. Once again Hyundai lost a well-deserved win. Top three in the stage was Seb, Adrien and Ott.

Into the next one then, SS15 Hell’s Gate 1 – 5.63 km, the shortened power stage and Elfyn was fastest from Ott and Seb. New overall leader Takamoto was fourth fastest, just 0.8 seconds ahead of Seb and Ott now was in third overall. Elfyn’s pace was great to see and this brought him into 11th overall.

The next stage, SS16 Malewa – 9.71 km saw Adrien take his first ever stage win after such a strong showing in the last few rounds and M-Sports’ first of the season. Ott and Seb were second and third fastest. Seb and Takamoto were joint leaders of the rally as well! Elfyn was now into tenth overall, having passed Lorenzo Bertelli.

The penultimate stage then, SS17 Loldia 2 – 11.33 km and Seb was fastest from Adrien and Gus bringing the other M-Sport Fiesta to the top. Seb’s pace took him to the top of the leaderboard and now Takamoto was second, but looking at scoring the best result of his career to date.

The final stage of the rally then, SS18 Hell’s Gate 2 power stage – 10.56 km and the crews got to run the full stage. As always there was a tweak to the running order – Rai, Patel, Tundo, Sordo, Bertelli, Evans, Rovanperä, Greensmith, Fourmaux, Tänak, Katsuta, Ogier. Onker Rai set the early benchmark in his Polo R5 before the faster cars came through. Fastest time was set by Ott, with Kalle, Elfyn, Seb and Dani taking the remaining points paying positions.

Final Overall Classification – Safari Rally Kenya

1 S. Ogier J. Ingrassia Toyota Yaris WRC 3:18:11.3
2 T. Katsuta D. Barritt Toyota Yaris WRC +21.8
3 O. Tänak M. Järveoja Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC +1:09.5
4 G. Greensmith C. Patterson Ford Fiesta WRC +1:44.7
5 A. Fourmaux R. Jamoul Ford Fiesta WRC +1:54.6
6 K. Rovanperä J. Halttunen Toyota Yaris WRC +10:53.4
7 O. Rai D. Sturrock Volkswagen Polo GTI +29:26.4
8 K. Patel T. Khan Ford Fiesta R5 +33:30.4
9 C. Tundo T. Jessop Volkswagen Polo GTI +36:40.7
10 E. Evans S. Martin Toyota Yaris WRC +49:22.7

 

Let’s hear from the drivers after this incredible rally!

 

Toyota Gazoo Racing WRT

Sébastien Ogier (1st)

“It feels amazing to win the Safari Rally. I didn’t think it was still possible after our trouble on Friday, but I always give my best up to the end to take the maximum points possible, and in Safari we knew many things can happen – and they did happen. I think that since our issue on Friday we’ve been very strong for the rest of the weekend. We had really good pace and the car has been amazing. It’s a huge step for both championships, so a very good day for the team. I also want to congratulate Taka who took an amazing result: It was not that easy to catch him at the end.”

Takamoto Katsuta (2nd)

“I’m feeling very good to have achieved this podium. It has been a really long weekend with a lot of things happening. Everybody has had some problems but we survived and that’s why we are in this position. I must be happy with this result. I did not expect to finish on the podium on the Safari because this rally is very special and all the top-level guys are so experienced. I expected it to be a tougher weekend for us but I’m really happy. I can still improve and hopefully in the future I can match Seb and win rallies. Thanks to the WRC Challenge Program because without it I would not be here: It has helped me to develop from nothing, so thanks to Toyota and to Akio Toyoda, and to the whole team.”

2021 FIA World Rally Championship / Round 06 / Safari Rally, Kenya / 22-27 June, 2021 // Worldwide Copyright: Toyota Gazoo Racing WRT

Kalle Rovanperä (6th)

“I had been waiting for the chance to go for some extra points in the Power Stage, and we had quite a good run. It was a big push, and with two hard tyres on the car it was not the best option. We were quite close to taking the maximum points, but four points was still really good. Overall, it was a difficult weekend and not what I was hoping for, but the team did a great job to keep the car going, so thank you to them.”

Elfyn Evans (10th)

“Today we were looking for points and we gave it a good go in the Power Stage, although it was very difficult to judge where the grip was. It’s disappointing to only come away from here with a few points after the error on Friday. But it was good to drive most of the stages and gain experience of this event for the future, and now we have to look forward and focus on Estonia. Credit to the team and to Seb for the victory, and I’m really happy to see Taka and Dan on the podium as well.”

Hyundai Motorsport

Ott Tänak (3rd)

“On the one hand, it is good to be back on the podium and to take maximum Power Stage points, but this has been another difficult weekend for the team. My approach to this event has been to drive at 50-60% of my maximum, to not make any mistakes and to be as smooth as possible. Friday was demanding, just as Safari Rally needs to be, and it was like that again this morning. It has been an impressive event, and enjoyable to do something different and unique, for instance the fesh-fesh on Friday, which was very challenging and like an adventure. It is a shame for Thierry that it didn’t work out for him this weekend. We now head back to Estonia, my home event, which should be fun.”

2021 FIA World Rally Championship
Round 06, Safari Rally Kenya
24-27 june 2021
Ott Tanak, Martin Jarveoja, Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC
Photographer: Dufour Fabien
Worldwide copyright: Hyundai Motorsport GmbH

Dani Sordo (12th)

“It has not really been a good weekend for us. We had our problem on the first day, and we lost all of our possibilities to fight for a strong result then. After that, we hoped Thierry and Ott would be able to take some points, but it was unfortunately not straightforward. As a team, we are going through a bad period, but I am sure things will change. We will work through this situation together and come back stronger.”

Thierry Neuville (DNF)

“This is a big disappointment, not just for me but also for the whole team. It’s a tough time at the moment, as a team standing together, retiring from the lead for the third rally in a row. Basically, we came to a very slow corner, and at the exit suddenly I felt something break on the car. We tried to finish the stage but after investigation we saw that the damper had exploded, and we had to stop there. We knew this would be a tough event, but we were prepared for it and did the job – me and Martijn in the car, the mechanics, everyone. I enjoyed the weekend and had good fun. I felt comfortable in the car, we were fast and controlling the speed throughout the event, so there are lots of positives to take away. The motivation is still there we are just missing the luck, but we will regroup, find solutions and come back stronger as a team.”

M-Sport Ford WRT

Gus Greensmith (4th)

“Generally, it was a very good rally. Fourth and fifth was very good for the team, it brings us some good points. We had some bad luck with the rain yesterday but it was a very good and fair battle with Adrien this weekend.

“I always prefer to win on the road, so while fourth place is a great feeling it would be nice to claim it next time without a penalty for Adrien. Last time we battled this close together in Portugal I came out on top, this time it was his turn, at least in the eyes of the stopwatch! Nevertheless, a fourth-place finish is tremendous for the whole team and now it’s time to focus on Estonia. “

Adrien Fourmaux (5th)

“The only strategy this morning was to bring the car back. The Safari Rally has been probably the nicest experience that I have ever had in my career, a really great adventure. This country is sometimes completely crazy, especially the road sections, on the way back to the hotel yesterday we were completely blocked for more than 90 minutes but it’s a great adventure, the welcome has been truly amazing. I love it.

“The final day brought us the roughest, rockiest stages of the event but also the most beautiful, right up in the middle mountains with so many amazing animals that I can’t wait to watch it back on the TV. There was less time to enjoy it today but, on the recce, we saw monkeys, zebras, giraffes, everything to be honest.

“In spite of the time penalty, to end the rally, my second event on gravel in the Ford Fiesta WRC, with a stage win is an incredible feeling and I think it will bring good memories for a long time. Congratulations to Gus on his fourth place and thank you to everyone on the team, and thank you Africa.”

My Thoughts

Let’s start with Toyota. What a brilliant drive from Seb Ogier. He and Adrien held fourth overall on Friday almost two minutes from the lead. Their drive from that point brought them up the leaderboard was the kind of drive we have got used to from the champions. Takamoto led a rally for the first time and scored a well deserved first podium with a very measured drive. Quick when he needed to be and keeping it on the road when that was required. Kalle’s drive was really good and if he’d not got stuck and lost that time on Friday, then he’d have certainly been on the podium and maybe even been challenging for victory? Elfyn salvaged some points after a really surprising mistake on Friday, but it could have been so much more. At the time he was faster than Seb and could well have finished on the podium if not taken victory.

2021 FIA World Rally Championship / Round 06 / Safari Rally, Kenya / 22-27 June, 2021 // Worldwide Copyright: Toyota Gazoo Racing WRT

Moving onto Hyundai it was a case of what might have been again. They had full control of the lead and yet again the suspension on the rear just gave way. Ott came through and took a well-deserved podium after setting the pace on some stages and despite having his own problems with his car, at least he made it to the end. Thierry lost a well-deserved victory to be honest. He was very quick and even with the problems in the final stage on Saturday he’d increased his lead despite the huge rain that he and Martijn had to navigate through. Dani suffered a rare mistake, but returned like Elfyn to the fray and brought the car home providing good support for his teammates as well.

Finally, at M-Sport they came with a plan and stuck to it. Quick when they needed to be, Adrian and Gus set some good top three times, with the Frenchman taking his first ever stage win and M-Sport’s first of the year. Gus showed what a mature drive he is capable of and delivered a great result finishing in fourth overall.

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

1 S. Ogier 133
2 E. Evans 99
3 T. Neuville 77
4 O. Tänak 69
5 T. Katsuta 66
6 K. Rovanperä 56
7 A. Fourmaux 32
8 G. Greensmith 32
9 D. Sordo 31
10 C. Breen 24
2021 FIA World Rally Championship / Round 06 / Safari Rally, Kenya / 22-27 June, 2021 // Worldwide Copyright: Toyota Gazoo Racing WRT

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

1 Toyota Gazoo Racing World Rally Team 273
2 Hyundai Shell Mobis World Rally Team 214
3 M-Sport Ford World Rally Team 109
4 Hyundai 2C Competition 28

 

Next rally takes place on the weekend of the 15th to the 18th of July with Rally Estonia. Pop back in the week before for my preview.

 

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!

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 Sweden 2020 Preview

Just a few day’s ago this event was looking like it wouldn’t happen. I’m sure that you’ll be aware of the lack of snow this year in Sweden. Anyway, the organisers and the FIA came to an agreement to run a much shorter event. Here’s the full stage information. The sixty-eighth Rally Sweden is happening!

Stages & times

Thursday   February 13
09:01 Shakedown Skalla 7,21 km Stage info
12:30 Meet the crews, Torsby Service Park Arena – Full programme
20:08 SS 1 Karlstad SSS 1 1,9 km Arena – Full programme Stage info
Friday   February 14
06:47 Torsby Service Park Arena – Full programme
08:42 SS 2 Hof-Finnskog 1 21,26 Stage info
10:08 SS 3 Finnskogen 1 20,68 km Stage info
11:08 SS 4 Nyckelvattnet 1 18,94 Stage info
15:00 SS 8 Torsby Sprint 1 2,8 km Arena – Full programme Stage info
15:32 Torsby Service Park Arena – Full programme
Saturday   February 15
06:47 Torsby Service Park Arena – Full programme
08:42 SS 5 Hof-Finnskog 2 21,26 km Stage info
10:08 SS 6 Finnskogen 2 20,68 Stage info
11:08 SS 7 Nyckelvattnet 2 18,94 Stage info
15:00 SS 16 Torsby Sprint 2 2,8 km Arena – Full programme Stage info
15:32 Torsby Service Park Arena – Full programme
Sunday   February 16
08:46 Torsby Service Park Arena – Full programme
10:08 SS 17 Likenäs 1 21,19 km Stage info
10:48 Regroup Ambjörby
12:18 SS 18 Likenäs 2 Wolf Power Stage 21,19 km Stage info

 

As you can see the stages have kept their original stage numbers, giving us an idea as to how many stages have been lost.

 

Throwback

Last year Ott Tanak took victory for Toyota with six stage victories, with Esapekka Lappi finishing second and 2018 winner Thierry in third. Can M-Sport challenge at the front like last year? Teemu Suninen led early on, and with a double Finn lineup, perhaps we will see a three-way battle at the front between the them all? Elfyn went well, taking two good stage wins, his first in Sweden, and given his performance in Rallye Monte Carlo, we can expect more of the same this year too. Returning to the championship is Craig Breen who scored a brilliant second overall in 2018 when driving for Citroen. He replaces Seb Loeb.

FIA World Rally Championship 2019 / Round 02 / Rally Sweden / February 14-17th, 2019 // Worldwide Copyright: Toyota Gazoo Racing WRC

Let’s hear from the drivers.

Hyundai Motorsport

Thierry Neuville

“An ideal Rally Sweden would have lots of snow, huge snowbanks, very icy roads, the perfect conditions for us to go fast with full confidence to get the most out of the car. When the road is properly frozen, the studs get good grip and you can go flat out. Obviously, if there will be less snow than previous years it could be quite tough to do the stages. Our tyres are very thin and very high, so they won’t work the same on gravel stages and it’s going to be really tricky. Without the snowbanks, the rally gets faster and faster, and less interesting, so we keep our fingers crossed for a lot of snow to arrive.”

2018 FIA World Rally Championship
Round 02, Rally Sweden
15-18 February 2018
Thierry Neuville, Nicolas Gilsoul, Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC
Photographer: Austral
Worldwide copyright: Hyundai Motorsport GmbH

Ott Tänak

“Since Monte, I have been feeling better every day. We learned a very good lesson, and we know now that each time we have to drive a new section, we really need to focus more than ever before. Driving in Sweden is always very special, particularly when we get some frozen, icy conditions. The grip from the spiked tyres is extremely high and gives a great feeling. It will be important for us to get back some points and to improve step-by-step. It will be our first time on loose surface with Hyundai, but I hope we can deliver a good result.”

Craig Breen

“I am very humbled to have the chance of getting behind the wheel of the Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC again. It’s been a long time since Wales Rally GB, so I’m excited and anxious. From the first moment I drove the car, I felt a lot of confidence and that I could drive my own natural way. Sweden is a rally I enjoy; I scored my best-ever result in the World Championship there a few years ago. Hopefully the conditions will be favourable for us and the cold will arrive in the region for us to have ‘proper’ roads. Regardless, when I am back in my happy place driving a WRC car, I will have a nice weekend.”

 

Toyota Gazoo Racing WRT

Sébastien Ogier

“I definitely love Rally Sweden. It’s a magic event, the only one on full snow on the calendar, and driving on those roads is very special. I certainly hope to be performing well there again this year. I’ve had some good times there in the past, but it has been a bit more of a struggle in the last few years – I guess partly because of my start position, as coming to Sweden while leading the championship has been very challenging. This year will be slightly different so let’s see what we can do. Rallye Monte-Carlo was a very positive start for the whole team, and they have been performing very well in Sweden, so hopefully we are able to do the same this time.”

Elfyn Evans

“I’m really looking forward to Rally Sweden. The car was feeling really good in our winter testing on snow, so I’m hoping for another good event there. Rallye Monte-Carlo was overall a positive start for us in the Toyota Yaris WRC, even though our result could have been even better. Road position can play a big part in Sweden, depending on what sort of conditions we’ll find: if there’s a lot of loose snow, then there is a big advantage for those starting further back. But like any other rally, we’ll go in and do the best we can from the first stage.”

Kalle Rovanperä

“I enjoy snow rallies a lot, so Rally Sweden should be a nice event for us. I think it should be easier for me than Rallye Monte-Carlo, but we will also need to push more to the limits there. Driving the Yaris WRC has been a lot of fun so far, and on snow it has been an amazing car to drive. We did the Arctic Rally in January in the Yaris and that was good preparation for us, but the conditions in Sweden could be tricky because there has been not so much snow, so we will have to see just how helpful it really was.”

 

M-Sport Ford WRT

Esapekka Lappi

“I’ve had some good results at Rally Sweden – especially last year when we finished second on our second event with a new car so let’s see if we can do the same again this year! Of course, the competition will be strong and no one really knows what the conditions will be like, but we will give it our best.

“We’re testing this weekend when we’ll get our first indication of what to expect. The Swedish stages are always fast, which I enjoy, but there could only be a small layer of ice which will make tyre management pretty important when it comes to retaining the studs for the whole loop. Fourth on the road could be a decent position, but let’s wait and see.”

Teemu Suninen

“Last year we found a good set-up for the soft snow and rutted conditions, and it worked really well for us – leading after the first full day and showing good speed throughout the weekend. This year the plan is to show that same speed consistently and without mistakes.

“Of course, a lot will depend on the weather. It’s great that the organisers have been able to make the rally happen, but we will have to wait and see what the conditions are like. I’m hoping for snow, and we’ll have a test this weekend to prepare. Whatever the weather, we will give it our best and I hope to be in a good battle.”

The R5 class

Also competing this weekend are Adrien Fourmaux and Rhys Yates, at the wheel of two Fiesta R5 Mk2’s and Ole Christian Veiby and Nikolay Gryazin who will compete in i20 R5’s.

Adrien Fourmaux

“It’s really nice to hear that the organisers have found a way for us to go rallying and we can say a big thanks to the Rally Sweden team for that. This is the only full-snow rally on the calendar, and that makes it really special. Driving in the forests with the white landscape and hundreds of fans makes it a beautiful rally, and I’m really looking forward to getting back out there this year.

“I competed in Sweden last year, but this will be my first time with the Fiesta R5 which makes it a completely new experience for me with more speed and totally different lines. The biggest challenge will be in trusting the grip and speed through the corners and learning how to fight on the same level as the locals – but I can’t wait to get started. I plan to enjoy every second, and if I can deliver a smart rally and leave with good points, good stage times and a good experience I’ll be very happy.”

Rhys Yates

“We’ve got a really good feeling with the car at the moment and I’ve never felt more comfortable on gravel than I did with the Fiesta at the Cambrian last weekend. The pace was pretty quick at times – as it will be this week in Sweden – so you’ve got to be comfortable with the car moving about underneath you. You’ve got to be comfortable with it going sideways in fifth gear. I got that feeling in Wales and that’s great for me.

“I want to hit the ground running in Sweden. We’ve got a test on Tuesday and then the rally starts Thursday. One thing I’m so chuffed with is how much time I’m getting in the car. By the time Sweden starts I’ll have been in this Fiesta four times in a week – I’ve never had that much seat time before and that can only be good for the confidence!

Ole Christian Veiby

“Rally Sweden is one of the highlights of the season. It’s very much a home rally, one of the stages even goes through our family forest. I was watching there since I was a little kid, so it means a lot. There are lots of supporters, friends and family; to see so many Norwegian flags is really special. To drive on proper snow conditions is, I think, one of the best things to do. The grip level can even sometimes be better than gravel, especially with studded tyres. The target for the rally is for sure a victory. We were a bit disappointed about Monte-Carlo; I think the car worked really well so hopefully it will also do that in Sweden. I’m looking forward to it!”

Nikolay Gryazin

“Sweden for us means quite a lot because it’s winter. Back in my country, we drive in the cold a lot. We had a valuable experience in Monte-Carlo, adapting to a new car in tricky conditions. I feel more confident now and I hope the result reflects that. This will be my second time in Rally Sweden. It will be difficult to compete against the local crews, but I am determined to secure a good result and to see how the Hyundai i20 R5 performs. It has definitely shown good pace in all conditions so I hope we will have a positive weekend – whatever the conditions.”

Summary

We are set as ever for an incredible rally then, and despite the changes to the schedule, including the loss of the stage that includes Colins Crest, it’s almost certain to be a fascinating event. Don’t miss it!