Four years ago, Romet Jürgenson was one of many Estonians with a smile on his face as Rally Spain, the penultimate-scheduled round of the 2019 World Rally Championship, played out.
Amid the bombshell that he would be leaving Toyota for Hyundai, Ott Tänak also had a title to win. And second place on the event, plus first on the powerstage, brought the trophy back to somewhere other than France for the first time since 2003.
Tänak and Martin Järveoja inspired a generation. Aged 19, one Estonian by the name of Romet Jürgenson saw it all unfold before his very eyes, and had a dream of his own.
Now he’s on his way to achieving that, punching in a performance on last weekend’s Rally RACC that was dubbed ‘almost perfect’.
Fastest FIA Rally Star driver on all nine stages to finish five minutes up on his closest competitor, and fastest in class on eight of those nine, the 23-year-old Estonian yet again impressed in the so-called ‘training season’.
His win at the weekend was his third from the five rallies contested so far, but first on gravel – something he’s naturally pretty pleased about.
“The rally went really well, no issues with the car, no issues with myself and Siim [Oja, co-driver], and we delivered, we’re really happy,” Jürgenson said.
“We won our class and it’s a nice story at the end because we didn’t have a result yet on gravel so it’s good to get a result on this surface as well as on Tarmac. We showed pace throughout the event, it was not only one stage but a consistent pace throughout the rally and that’s what I’m most happy about.
“I was spectating here in 2019 and was one day dreaming to be driving these great roads. They were really fast, rocky and abrasive so a lot of new stuff to learn, but learning pays dividends in the end.
“When you are given such an amazing opportunity like FIA Rally Star, for sure you have to cope with pressure, it’s inevitable. We dealt with the pressure quite well.”
But Jürgenson wasn’t the only feel-good story. In finishing second, Max Smart proved his potential – and the worth of his extra six-week training program.
“I’m happy with my performance and second among the FIA Rally Star drivers is really good for me,” said Smart.
“We’ve been working very hard on our consistency, we feel we have that now and this rally was a chance to work on our pace. We improved on every stage and Cam [Fair, co-driver] was giving me some really good tips on braking, turn-in and exit of corners.
“I also got some really good advice on tires from Nicolas Klinger, who is part of the FIA Rally Star team. I felt I was able to put all of that together and could gain important experience by keeping it clean.
“We’ve still got a lot to work on before the Lausitz Rallye but I will use everything I have learned on Rally RACC, as it’s my last chance to try to get a seat in the FIA Junior WRC Championship next year.”
That’s what they’re ultimately all aiming for, and four of them will get that chance. Lausitz (November 9-11) will provide the final opportunity to impress.
Most will be looking for a stronger performance than in Spain. Taylor Gill, winner of the previous two gravel events, had an off on the first stage which bent his steering arm, which restricted him to third.
Annia Cilloniz improved her pace from being five seconds per kilometer down on fastest in Estonia to three seconds per kilometer back in Spain to claim fourth.
Abdullah Al-Tawqi showed great improvements, thanks to guidance from Gus Greensmith and Chris Patterson, but had to contest the final two stages in road mode, while Jose ‘Abito’ Caparo was on-course to be second Rally Star driver home only to crash out on the penultimate stage.
Caparo said: “I feel very good about my performance because we were doing a very good rally with no mistakes before the crash. The speed and the pacenotes were good and we had a very good understanding inside the car.
“I didn’t realize during the recce that our speed for the corner where we crashed would be faster than I thought. So we went a little wide on the first turn, hit a rock and that rock put us out of the road and there was a drop into a field. We did two rolls and ended upside down.
“We will avoid this in the future with more precision on the pacenotes. But it’s one of the things we have to learn. I improved a lot and we were very focused. We will come back stronger for the Lausitz Rallye.”