It has been a long time since the WRC’s last competitive action, almost six months since the last round at Rally Mexico, which was cut short due to the developing Covid19 outbreak to enable officials and competitors to travel home; in the wake of ever tightening travel restrictions.
That was then, this is now. After a huge amount of work by the FIA & event organisers in the wake of numerous cancelled events, the most recent being Rally Germany in October; Italy has also been shuffled back 3 weeks in the calendar, to avoid a clash with the Imola round of the Formula 1 championship. Rally Estonia, which was due to join the WRC calendar in 2021 gets its moment in the spotlight a year early to help get the WRC championship back underway.
Rally Estonia’s stages are fast, open gravel stages with plenty of jumps, sharing elements of Finland, Wales & Australia.
The opening gambit on Friday saw just one stage for the drivers, but it was an incredibly close run affair. Sebastien Ogier & Esapekka Lappi tied for the lead, Ogier in his Toyota and the current championship leader with Lappi in his Ford Fiesta. 2019 champion Ott Tanak was just a tenth behind in his Hyundai i20 with Craig Breen in fourth & Elfyn Evans rounding out the top five in his Toyota, the welshman desperate to make inroads on Ogier to retake the championship lead.
Saturday would see the first full day of running after Friday’s single stage. Pre event favourite Ott Tanak proved that point, immediately setting a blistering pace with Craig Breen in hot pursuit; Breen’s pace was a surprise as he was only competing in selected WRC events in 2020 & outpacing championship hopeful & teammate Thierry Neuville.
Sebastien Ogier trailed the Hyundai’s in third place, but it was a challenging day for Toyota. Ogier & Evans both found themselves being outpaced by all three Hyundai’s, there were tyre woes as both Ogier & Evans struggled with tyre delaminations on Saturday’s stages. Kalle Rovanperra ran as high as fourth in his Toyota, but dropped back due to a puncture. Elfyn Evans was able to see the day out in fourth place. Toyota junior Takamoto Katsuta rounded out the top five.
Ford meanwhile fell away from the Hyundai’s & Toyota’s on Saturday, a disappointment after the promising pace shown on Friday by Esapekka Lappi with all of the Fiesta’s struggling for grip on the sandy Estonian stages.
The day wouldn’t finish without drama. Thierry Neuville crashed out of the rally chasing teammate Breen for third position. Neuville hit a deep rut, bounced out of it and nerfed an earth bank. The impact destroyed the right rear suspension of the Hyundai with the rear wheel out the rear of the car, a bitter blow to Neuville’s championship hopes. Kalle Rovanpera meanwhile picked up a 1 minute penalty after removing a radiator blanking plate, which had mistakenly been left in place. The issue was the radiator plate was removed while the car was under Parc Ferme rules which resulted in the time penalty, this dropped Rovanpera from fourth to sixth.
Sunday would see Tanak hammer home his advantage, continuing the strong form that had allowed him to open up an advantage throughout Saturday’s running. Craig Breen was able to keep Sebastien Ogier at bay coming into the final power stage. Tanak had a major scare on the penultimate stage, sliding wide and swiping a bank in similar fashion to Thierry Neuville. Luckily, Tanak got away with it.
Takamoto Katsuta came to grief on Sunday, rolling his Toyota Yaris out of the event as he was on course for a career best fifth place finish, a bitter pill to swallow for the young Japanese driver. This elevated the chasing Ford Fiesta’s up a position.
The final power stage saw Kalle Rovanpera take the five bonus points, Elfyn Evans took four bonus points to keep his championship challenge alive. Tanak picked up three bonus points from Ogier with two & Breen with a single bonus point.
The final result saw Tanak take a commanding victory after a measured drive from the 2019 champion. Craig Breen ran consistently and showed flashes of blistering pace to finish in second from Sebastien Ogier in third place. Elfyn Evans finished in fourth with teammate Kalle Rovanperra in fifth place.
The next round of the championship will take place in Marmaris, Turkey on September 18th-20th, until next time, stay safe.
Driver’s championship standings
- Sebastien Ogier – 79 points
- Elfyn Evans – 70 points
- Ott Tanak – 66 points
- Kalle Rovanpera – 55 points
- Thierry Neuville – 42 points
Manufacturers championship standings
- Toyota Gazoo Racing WRT – 137 points
- Hyundai Shell Mobis world rally team – 132 points
- M-Sport Ford world rally team – 83 points