Top 5 Rally2 revivals

Oliver Solberg and Adrien Fourmaux can follow these examples as they aim to kickstart their careers in WRC2

Esapekka Lappi

Oliver Solberg and Adrien Fourmaux’s regression to WRC2 in 2023 doesn’t place them on a unique path of redemption. Plenty others before them – and likely plenty others after them too – have taken this step backwards to propel themselves forwards.

Solberg will compete with Toksport in a Škoda Fabia RS Rally2 next season, attempting to change his image from the driver that was let go by Hyundai to the driver that every manufacturer team would be crazy not to hire.

For Fourmaux, it will be a case of leading M-Sport’s WRC2 challenge and aiming to follow in the footsteps of some illustrious names before him.

Can they do it? Well that’s what the next 12 months will tell us, but there are certainly plenty of examples Solberg and Fourmaux can look to if they need inspiration to prove that a step back to Rally2 can be essential in revitalizing a World Rally Championship career.

So many, in fact, that we have enough to deliver a top five on that very subject! And that’s exactly what we’ve done:

5 Ott Tänak

Ott Tanak - Action

It’s not often you’ll find Ott Tänak’s name in a ranked list and he’s only fifth, but that perhaps speaks more of the quality of some of his rival’s bounceback campaigns than Tänak’s own performance.

After earning a WRC opportunity with M-Sport in 2012, Tänak lost it almost as quickly with a frustrating year filled with crashes that thoroughly tested the resolve of team boss Malcolm Wilson.

Tänak therefore headed back home to Estonia and drove a Subaru before Dick Cormack’s DMACK team threw him a lifeline. A season in a Fiesta R5, plus a couple of World Rally Car appearances, were enough to convince Wilson to take another chance on Tänak.

He was therefore restored to the works WRC team for 2015 but proved to not quite be the finished article yet. Another year in a DMACK car came before Tänak bounced back into the main fold and became a WRC winner in 2017.

4 Elfyn Evans

Elfyn Evans

Elfyn Evans’ story mirrors Tänak’s as they were team-mates together at M-Sport in 2015, and both returned to the fold in 2017 – albeit Evans in the DMACK-backed car. But while Tänak kept a WRC drive in 2016, Evans was sent backwards into R5 machinery.

A season-long British Rally Championship campaign, along with a WRC2 season, was the result. And while Evans was able to win his native title – neatly, 20 years after his father Gwyndaf had in 1996 – the WRC2 crown ultimately eluded him.

Instead it was Esapekka Lappi who was victorious, but Evans did perform well and never threw any toys out of the pram regarding M-Sport’s decision to drop him down a category.

The team was ultimately proved correct as Evans came back a more rounded driver, and took his first-ever WRC rally win at home in Wales in his first season back.

Evans ranks ahead of Tänak here because his level was marginally higher on his point of WRC return.

3 Craig Breen

2019 Ypres Rally

Ousted from Citroën’s lineup after 2018 as it opted to hire both Sébastien Ogier and Esapekka Lappi, Craig Breen needed to reinvent himself. Co-driver Scott Martin had jumped ship to join Evans, but Paul Nagle was driverless as Kris Meeke had chosen Sebastian Marshall to navigate his Toyota reprieve.

So Breen and Nagle reunited (having worked together in 2012 and ’13) and headed home for their local series: the Irish Tarmac championship.

The results were immediately obvious. Win after win after win in a Ford Fiesta R5 in Ireland – and success on famous European rallies like Sanremo in a Škoda and Ypres in a Volkswagen – and Hyundai’s radar was alerted.

Breen was handed the keys to an i20 Coupe WRC for both Rally Estonia and Finland – two fast rallies Hyundai’s other part timers Dani Sordo and Sébastien Loeb didn’t really fancy – and impressed in both; so much so that he became a works Hyundai driver for 2020.

Breen saw out the Irish season, switching to an i20 R5 for obvious reasons, and naturally took the title. He’d used his step backwards to perfection to mold himself into a far more attractive driver than he was before.

2 Andreas Mikkelsen

Andreas Mikkelsen

Andreas Mikkelsen’s story with the R5/Rally2 class is, sadly for him, a rather drawn-out affair.

His first step back was in 2017 when he became the biggest loser of Volkswagen’s abrupt decision to quit the WRC. Ogier held all the cards and sought refuge at M-Sport Ford, and Mikkelsen was then beaten to the punch at Toyota as it signed Jari-Matti Latvala instead.

A reunion with Škoda – the brand that had powered Mikkelsen to two consecutive Intercontinental Rally Challenge titles in 2011 and ’12 – was Mikkelsen’s backup plan, and it worked.

Seventh overall and first in class on both the Monte and Corsica, Mikkelsen did drop the ball when over three minutes clear in Portugal as he crashed on the powerstage. But his speed had already proved attractive and he was hired by not one, but two, WRC teams after just three events in a Fabia R5.

Citroën came calling first, bringing Mikkelsen in for Sardinia, Poland and Germany in place of either Kris Meeke or Stéphane Lefebvre. Hyundai then recruited him permanently at the end of the season to try to boost Thierry Neuville’s ultimately fruitless drivers’ championship bid.

Dropped from Hyundai after 2019, Mikkelsen has again sought refuge in a Fabia and won the 2021 WRC2 title (and perhaps should have won the 2022 crown too had he not suffered two consecutive engine-related DNFs).

However, he’s yet to break his way back into the WRC – although did come extremely close to another shot in Hyundai colors next year before he was snubbed at the 11th hour in favor of Lappi.

1 Esapekka Lappi

Esapekka Lappi, Andreas Mikkelsen and Nikolay Gryazin

One rally. That’s all it effectively took for Lappi to work his way back into a factory WRC team.

A series of ill-fated moves from Toyota to Citroën and then Citroën to M-Sport when Citroën pulled out left Lappi without a works drive for 2021. He therefore got his hands on a Volkswagen Polo GTI R5 for Arctic Rally Finland and attempted to prove a point.

Beating Mikkelsen – who’d boldly claimed before the season that he wanted to “dominate” every rally – was the perfect response, and Lappi revealed recently that already after that performance, Toyota had indicated its interest.

He contested Portugal in WRC2 and again won, and that was all he needed to do. Renting a private Yaris WRC on his native Rally Finland and placing it fourth, he was soon unveiled as a Toyota driver once more.

And he’s now taken advantage of Hyundai’s shift in strategy to take on a full season in 2023 after Toyota was only able to offer him a partial campaign.