Amid another dominant display for runaway World Rally Championship points Kalle Rovanperä, his fifth in seven rallies, Rally Estonia was a mix of encouraging drives for some and yet more frustration for others.
Colin Clark had plenty of subplots to focus on for his driver ratings this week. So, who impressed and who faltered after round seven?
Ott Tänak – 8/10
Estonia result: 3rd
Tänak fought like a tiger to try and deliver what the army of Estonian fans who had descended on Tartu hoped to see – but it was yet another frustratingly fruitless fight for the former champion. Ok, a podium for most drivers would be seen as a decent result, but not for Tänak on his home turf.
Friday morning was where we saw the best of the Estonian. There is no question he came into this event knowing he was on the back foot, but he clearly decided to throw everything into the opening stages and see where that might take him. He was fearless and brilliant but still found himself trailing the Toyotas, and at that point, sad as it was to see, he settled for third and I guess waited to see if either of the two in front of him slipped up.
That is the sad reality of the situation right now though for Tänak. He might be brilliantly fast and brave, but the car can’t deliver the results that the driver’s efforts deserve. Patience is what Tänak needs right now, I’m just not sure that he might not have used up all his reserves of that though.
Thierry Neuville – 6/10
Estonia result: 4th
Showed glimpses of pace and an unusually cautious approach delivered a decent result with good manufacturer points. We’ve been used to seeing an all or nothing approach from Neuville over the last couple of years, but this performance showed a degree of understanding of the futility of that approach in certain circumstances. The all or nothing approach would have ended with nothing and Neuville used his more considered drive to perhaps fine tune the set up on his Hyundai for another all-out blast in Finland. No big mistakes, but nothing to write home about.
Oliver Solberg – 4/10
Estonia result: 13th
Really struggled to find a comfortable set up all weekend and at time looked and sounded lost. In his favor he battled away and didn’t do anything silly, bringing the car home in more or less one pieces. The Hyundai is clearly a very difficult car, and you have to feel for the junior member of the team particularly when you see his more senior team mates also struggling. Time in the car at this level, however, is never wasted time and young Solberg will have banked a while host of new experiences from Estonia which ultimately will stand him in good stead going forward.
Craig Breen – 2/10
Estonia result: 30th
The pressure continues to build on M-Sport’s number one. This was a rally that has delivered plenty for the Irishman over the last couple of seasons and with the highly effective Puma underneath him Breen was expected to deliver the kind of performance that everyone has been waiting for all season.
It didn’t happen though, and we’ll have to wait a little longer to see what Breen can really achieve with this weapon of a car.
You can argue Breen was unlucky to have found that post when he went off, and he was, but the fact remains it was a mistake that took him wide and into that suspension breaking piece of concrete. By his own admission, he upped his pace, and fell off the road.
I have absolutely no doubt that Craig has what it takes to get the best out of his Puma, but he somehow has to rediscover that form that took to so many podiums with Hyundai, and rediscover it pretty damned quickly.
Adrien Fourmaux – 5/10
Estonia result: 7th
Another encouraging outing for the young French talent. The rebuilding process could well be season long for Formaux and it’s vital that he utilizes every opportunity he gets to allow him to rediscover that shattered self-confidence.
That was very much a performance of promise – good pace at times and controlled patience in difficult and testing conditions. He resisted the temptation to fight for position in the final stage and brought his car home to claim a creditable finish – that is something we probably wouldn’t have seen earlier on in the season.
Gus Greensmith – 3/10
Estonia result: Ret
I’m really not sure what’s happening right now with Greensmith. Yes, he’s had a number of unfortunate mechanical issues but he’s also gone backwards in terms of his performance and his confidence over recent rallies. Gus seemed to be very much on an upward trajectory at the start of the year, but that’s nose-dived of late.
As a young driver developing your skills the route to the top is never going to be smooth and continually progressive, but the downward dips right now are way more extreme than the upward spikes. We’ve seen in the past that Greensmith has the ability to regroup and refocus and that’s what’s very much needed ahead of the second half of the season.
Pierre-Louis Loubet – 2/10
Estonia result: Ret
Oh dear Pierre, that opening stage on Sunday morning was far from your finest moment! Showed here that his is still prone to the odd silly mistake or two and that’s a shame because he was making such tremendous progress as part of the M-sport team. He’s young though and much like Greensmith his apprenticeship at the top level is something of a rollercoaster ride.
Put this one behind you and move on Pierre-Louis, one bad rally will not define your season.
Kalle Rovanperä – 9/10
Estonia result: 1st
Once again showed that he is one, if not two classes above everyone else right now. His ability to think strategically and attack when others are in defence mode is unnerving to say the least. Ok, he got a little bit of a break with the weather on Friday’s last stage but watch the onboard – Rovanperä rapidly realised there was an opportunity and went into almost all-out attack mode while everyone else seemed to be struggling just to get through.
And once he’s got his nose infant, he’s almost impossible to catch. He gives away practically nothing – even when he has a “bad stage”. It’s the relentless pace and consistency that marks Rovanperä out. If you’re battling that kind of performance you have to take risks, and if you’re continually on the limit and getting nothing in return eventually you have to accept you can’t catch him, or you crash!
He’s a driver on top of his game right now and the scary thing is he can only get better. Even from first on the road on gravel, you’d be a brave man to bet against this kind of form in coming rallies.
Elfyn Evans – 7/10
Estonia result: 2nd
A very decent start to the rally promised much but when the chips were down, Evans had no response to the pace and performance of Rovanperä. We have to remember that Evans is in a very different position to the Boy Wonder right now though.
He is still building his season and his understanding of the car after a disastrous campaign so far and as long as things continue to go in the right direction then Evans has to believe that at some point soon enough that top step of the podium will be his. On the evidence of Saturday and Sunday’s showing though, there is still quite some way to go for Evans.
Esapekka Lappi – 6/10
Estonia result: 6th
Lappi was looking for a good clean event and a decent haul of points here after a couple of enormously disappointing outings in the Yaris Rally1 car. We know he’s in a difficult position sharing a car with Ogier and effectively being the points scoring safety net for the two full time Toyota pilots. But I get the feeling Lappi is still trying to prove himself – I’m just not sure to who though? Toyota obviously recognize his worth and his value and I guess he has every chance of being a more involved part of the team next year.
But to listen to Esapekka at times you’d have thought he was a man on the edge of a very steep precipice. He is one of the most naturally gifted drivers we’ve seen in a long time and he’s still capable of winning rallies. Self-doubt though is a debilitating thing – I firmly believe a more positive Lappi will deliver more positive results. Let’s see what Finland brings in that regard.
Takamoto Katsuta – 6/10
Estonia result: 5th
Another really decent run from the increasingly impressive Japanese charger.
A disastrous end to 2021 could have flagged a difficult 2022 but Taka-san has risen admirably to the challenge at hand.
He put the shakedown roll behind him to deliver a measured and, at times, assured drive.Yes this was on his target list of podium possibles but after shakedown that was never going to be a realistic outcome.
The confidence should now be there to deliver a podium challenge on his “home” event Rally Finland