Local driver and former WRC champion Ott Tänak has to deliver this weekend like he did last year on Rally Estonia when it gets under way on Thursday evening, if he has any hope in fighting for the 2021 FIA World Rally Championship title.
Currently Tänak is 64 points shy of point leader Sébastien Ogier and sits in fourth place as the 2021 WRC season enters its second half on Estonia’s blisteringly fast gravel roads around the country’s second biggest second city, Tartu.
Last year, he led the inaugural WRC Rally Estonia round almost from start to finish, to take his first ever win for, then, new employers Hyundai and it’s this pace he needs to find if he has any chance of moving up the points standings this coming weekend.
So far this year, he only has a win on the snow and ice of Arctic Rally Finland a nd since then he has retired with faulty rear suspension while leading both Rally Portugal and Tally Italia Sardegna. All he could salvage on the relaunched WRC Safari Rally, in a heavily depleted field, was third although he did have issues with a misting windscreen throughout the event.
Tänak isn’t even the leading Hyundai and sits eight points behind his Hyundai i20 team-mate Thierry Neuville, despite the Belgian not scoring on the Safari. One thing he can be sure of, however, is that he will be supported by hundreds of thousands of passionate flag-waving Estonian fans.
“It is nice to drive at home, and we had a memorable result last year with our first-ever win for Hyundai Motorsport,” said Tänak ahead of the event. “We remain hopeful that we can fight for a similar result this year, as we know the car can be fast in these conditions.”
Estonia’s gravel roads are pacy and smooth and the Baltic fixture will be one of the fastest of the season. An unusually long, hot and dry summer means the surface will be covered by slippery stones which will reduce grip for the early starters.
Craig Breen returns to the Alzenau team’s line-up after following home Tänak in second place last year, but both Hyundai drivers need to watch out for Toyota Gazoo Racing’s Kalle Rovanperä, who was quicker than Tänak initially during the 2020 event.
The 20-year-old flying Finn lives in Estonia and still craves his first WRC victory. After starting out rallying in Estonia due to the ability for his to compete at the age of 16, he both knows and loves the Baltic stages that the event is run on. Unfortunately, like Tänak, he has had an abysmal recently with just one sixth place finish to show for his last four events!
“I’m really looking forward to turning things in a better direction for us in the second half of the season, and I think Estonia can be a good event for that,” he said. “I hope we will have a good feeling and a clean rally, and then hopefully we can start to have good results again.”
Ogier and Elfyn Evans join Rovanperä in Toyota Yaris cars. The Frenchman is 34 points clear of Evans in the standings after four wins from six rounds, including back-to-back successes in Italy and Kenya last month.
Teemu Suninen returns to M-Sport Ford’s World Rally Car line-up alongside Gus Greensmith. The Finn is another Estonia resident and replaces Adrien Fourmaux who will switch back to a WRC2 car for this event. The team as a whole though had its best results of the year in Kenya with fourth and fifth places.
Takamoto Katsuta drives a fourth Yaris WRC after a career-best second place in Africa while Pierre-Louis Loubet completes the top-tier starters in another Hyundai i20 WRC.
The rally starts in Tartu on Thursday evening and competitors tackle 24 Special Stages covering 314.16km before Sunday afternoon’s finish.