The 2021 World Rally Championship reaches it seventh round of the season’s twelve events on Thursday, with the start of the Rally Estonia. A ceremonial start in Raadi in the evening will be followed by the popular Tartu parkland stage next to the service park and will be an extended version of last year’s test.
Former world champion Ott Tänak tops the tables on his home event having taken four victories from the ten rallies held and will be hoping for a repeat of last year, when he and team mate Craig Breen filled the top two steps of the podium for the Hyundai Shell Mobis WRT.
The Estonian rally was the idea of driver Urmo Aava, co-driver Silver Kütt and Tarmo Hõbe, a man renowned for his marketing prowess. First held in 2010, victory went to local man Markko Märtin, the rally proved popular and went on to host the European Championship from 2014 to 2016.
Due to its combination of fast, smooth and technical gravel roads, with numerous jumps and crests, it became popular with manufacturers teams as the ideal preparation ground for the Finnish Rally. In 2019 it received WRC Promotional Event status.
In 2020, Estonia marked the restart of the Covid-19 suspended season and was run over just three days, it was also the rally’s premiere as a full WRC event. This year it will be run in the normal WRC four day format. Day 2 Saturday, features an entirely new leg with four stages not used before. Peipsääre and Mustvee will be the first time the rally has travelled north of Tartu, drivers and co-drivers must prepare pace notes from a blank sheet over just two practice runs.
Friday morning marks the start of day 1 as 49 competitors leave the central service park and rally headquarters at the Estonian National Museum at Tartu’s Raadi Airfield. The teams face a total of 1 253.15 km with 319.38km of that comprising the 24 special stages.
This year has proved a tough year for the reigning WRC manufacturers champions Hyundai Shell Mobis WRT with 214 points. The team trails current leaders, Toyota Gazoo Racing WRT, by 59 points (273 points) and will be hoping their i20 Coupe’s will be able to grab a full house of points to close that gap. M-Sport Ford WRT are at the tail end of the field in third position with 109 points.
In the fight for the title, Hyundai field regulars Thierry Neuville with co-driver Martijn Wydaeghe (77 points) and Ott Tänak and co-driver Martin Järveoja (69 points). Dani Sordo finds himself on the bench for this one with his i20 now in the hands of Irish crew Craig Breen with co-driver Paul Nagle (24 points). The pair scored their maiden podium for Hyundai on this event last year with a very solid second place.
Another team changing the lineup is M-Sport Ford WRT who once again bring in Teemu Suninen with co-driver Mikka Markkula (9 points) replacing Adrien Fourmaux on this event, the Frenchman going back to the RC2 Fiesta, Suninen needs to put in a solid run with a good finish to challenge his team mate.
Gus Greensmith and co-driver Chris Patterson (34 points) will be pushing maximum effort to continue their haul of points, this combination has really worked and hopefully we will see a lot more points enhancing the M-Sport Ford WRT score sheet.
It’s business as usual for Toyota Gazoo Racing WRT, with championship leader Sebastien Ogier and co- driver Julien Ingrassia (133 points) heading Elfyn Evans with co-driver Scott Martin (99 points) the Welshman 22 points clear of Neuville. The team seeking a solid finish has to be the young Finn, Kalle Rovanpera with co-driver Jonne Halttunen (56 points), a very talented young driver who perhaps needs to cool his enthusiasm at times.
The crew to watch has to be Takamoto Katsuta with co-driver Daniel Barritt (66 points) who must be pumped up following their excellent performance in Kenya, one of the world’s toughest events. The Japanese driver is showing a level of maturity that must surely result in an upward movement within the team.