Here’s a high-octane start to an article. Don’t hesitate, don’t overthink it, just answer to yourself as quickly as you can.
Name an Estonian World Rally driver.
I’m prepared to hedge my bets and say that you just named Ott Tänak, if not Markko Märtin.
(If you didn’t, send me your contact details as I want you on my pub quiz team! I’m still harboring ambitions that a WRC pub quiz is actually a thing…)
The duo, who worked together for years, are certainly Estonia’s highest profile rally talents as the only two (so far) to have won WRC rallies. Tänak meanwhile stands as the nation’s only ever World Rally champion.
But the talent pool runs far deeper than just Märtin and Tänak. In fact, I’m equally willing to hedge my bets that there have been a lot more Estonian drivers in the WRC than you were either aware of or have remembered.
I think you can see where this is going.
With Estonia the country of the moment as it prepares to host round eight of the 2023 season this weekend, what better time than to remind ourselves of some of the former – and current – WRC talent that’s hailed from this beautiful country beyond the two mega stars?
Currently rally director of Rally Estonia, Urmo Aava is an accomplished WRC driver in his own right.
A veteran of over 50 WRC starts, Aava was a seasoned JWRC competitor in the mid 2000s, pedalling both a Suzuki Ignis and Swift S1600 to some fine results including two category wins in Turkey 2006 and Sardinia 2007.
But he also had a shot in the big leagues, driving for World Rally Team Estonia in a Citroën C4 WRC on 10 of the 15 rounds in 2008. And Aava impressed, winning five stages with a best result of fourth on the Acropolis.
The following year he was handed two chances in a Stobart Ford in Ireland and Norway before Aava’s WRC career began to peter out.
A driver perhaps closer associated with the ERC rather than the WRC, Raul Jeets has seven world championship starts to his name – and all of them in Škoda R5/Rally2 cars.
His debut came on Rally Poland 2017 where he unfortunately crashed out, but next time out he recorded a strong sixth in WRC2 on Rally Finland.
Jeets didn’t compete in the WRC in 2018 or ’19 but returned for two rounds in both 2020 and ’21, including his home event.
Jeets’ best finish was fifth in WRC3 and 17th overall on Rally Estonia 2021.
A bit of a legend behind the wheel of a front-wheel-drive Honda Civic R3 (remember those beauties?), Martin Kangur hasn’t competed at all since Rally Estonia 2015.
A stalwart of the Intercontinental Rally Challenge in the early 2010s, Kangur also plunged into the WRC with Honda, entering four events between 2010-11 but sadly failing to finish any of them without the need for super-rally.
He returned in 2014 for a four-round WRC2 campaign in a Ford Fiesta S2000, peaking with a seventh place finish in Sardinia.
Most famous for the narrowest of narrow title defeats to the late Craig Breen in the 2011 WRC Academy series, Egon Kaur still competes in the WRC to this day – lining up in WRC2 this weekend in a Škoda Fabia RS Rally2.
Before that 2011 season in a Ford Fiesta R2 though, Kaur first appeared in the WRC at just 19 years old with a Renault Clio Ragnotti before three drives in a Group N Subaru between 2008-09.
After the heartache of missing out on the WRC Academy title on countback, Kaur was missing from the WRC for years – save for a one-off WRC2 drive in Sardinia 2014 which ended in retirement.
But in recent years he’s been a far more consistent presence, with five WRC3 drives in 2021 and three more in WRC2 last year. Estonia marks his second start of 2023 after a run to 11th place in Sweden.
If you don’t remember Karl Kruuda, you’ll certainly remember his livery in the later years which was famously distinctive and colorful. But he was fiercely talented behind the wheel.
After contesting a JWRC season in 2010 with a Suzuki, Kruuda soon stepped up to four-wheel-drive and a full SWRC program in 2011 with a Super 2000 Škoda.
But despite strong speed, his first WRC class win would have to wait until 2014 where he topped WRC2 in Sweden with a Fiesta S2000. In a year where he switched between the Ford and a Peugeot 208 T16 R5, Kruuda completed the Scandinavian set by also winning in Finland.
Two three-round seasons would follow in 2015 and ’16 before a one-off drive at home on 2020’s Rally Estonia. If you’d like a fun fact, all but one of Kruuda’s 36 WRC starts were alongside Martin Järveoja, who of course became world champion alongside Tänak in 2019.
The second of three drivers on this list to be competing on Rally Estonia this weekend, Georg Linnamäe already has over 20 world championship starts despite only turning 25 two weeks ago.
Debuting in the WRC when his Peugeot Rally Cup Iberica commitments coincided with Portugal and Spain’s WRC events in 2019, Linnamäe has become a consistent presence in R5/Rally2 cars since 2021.
Steering a Volkswagen Polo GTI R5 in 2021 and ’22, he achieved a best result of fourth in WRC2 on the Acropolis when he briefly switched to a Škoda.
This year Linnamäe is Hyundai-mounted and equaled his best finish of fourth in Sweden, but has since struggled with issues on each of his past three events.
Jaan Mölder Jr
A blast from the past, Jaan Mölder Jr is another Estonian talent to have cut his teeth in the JWRC.
But Mölder’s first foray into the WRC was with all-wheel-drive power, piloting a Group N Mitsubishi on three rounds in 2005.
Three campaigns in the JWRC then followed with both Ford and Suzuki S1600 power – the undisputed highlight being class victory on Rally GB in 2006.
Thereafter, despite a raft of fourth place finishes, Mölder would only make the podium once more when he was second (and ninth overall) to a certain Sébastien Ogier in México, 2008.
Egon Kaur wasn’t the only Estonian driver on the WRC Academy entry list in 2011. Step forward Mike-Ove Niinemäe, who also drove in the one-make Fiesta R2 category.
Niinemäe wasn’t as successful as his compatriot though, failing to finish any higher than seventh all year – a result he secured in both Sardinia and France.
The then 18-year-old then disappeared from the world championship for a good few years, driving back home instead, before two JWRC appearances in 2017 with an R2T Fiesta.
Niinemäe’s best result proved to be ninth in Corsica as he retired in Sardinia.
Yet another Estonian to rise through the WRC’s junior ranks, albeit from a different generation to names already listed.
Sander Pärn – co-driven by Martin Järveoja’s cousin Ken – first appeared in the WRC in a Citroën C2 R2 before a few rallies in a Subaru, but his first proper crack at the WRC was a JWRC assault in 2013.
In a season dominated by Pontus Tidemand, Pärn netted two podiums (second in Finland and third in Spain) to finish fourth in the championship, but the best was yet to come as in 2014 he lifted the Drive Dmack Cup – the successor to JWRC – with three wins from five.
That earned Pärn WRC2 prize drives in an R5 Fiesta for 2015, where he scooped a best result of ninth in both Portugal and Poland. He returned for more in 2016 and finished a career-best seventh in Spain, but hasn’t rallied at all since that year’s Rally GB.
Like Georg Linnamäe today, Pärn also had Welshman James Morgan as a navigator.
Aigar Pärs spent just one season in the WRC, amassing six starts in a Suzuki Swift 1600.
Contesting the 2007 season, Pärs struggled to keep tabs with the championship pacesetters and suffered his fair share of accidents, too.
His best result by far was eighth in class in Germany.
After his WRC season, Pärs returned to rally in Estonia but hasn’t driven since 2011.
Roland Poom’s WRC career has to go down as a ‘what might have been’.
Debuting on Rally Finland 2018 at just 22 years old, Poom then put together a four-round JWRC campaign the following year and scored two podiums – second place in Sweden and third in Finland.
He graduated to four-wheel-drive for 2020 but the transition wasn’t all that smooth with a crash in Sweden, but he managed a solid 15th in WRC3 on Rally Estonia 2020.
That proved to be his last WRC outing as he made two rally starts in 2021 but neither in the world championship.
For two seasons, Martin Rauam could call himself a driver in the WRC as he took on the PWRC in his Mitsubishi Lancer Evo IX.
His first rally was México in 2007 where transmission trouble sadly ruled him out, but the first year was all about learning and Rauam secured two eighth places in Argentina and New Zealand.
Despite exclusion from the Acropolis, Rauam’s 2008 season was far more prosperous with a fifth in Argentina, fourth in Turkey and then a podium in New Zealand which helped him to sixth place in the championship.
Rauam hasn’t rallied since his season-ending Rally Japan where he retired with an engine problem.
Competing in the WRC as recently as 2020, Ken Torn belongs to the younger generation of Estonian drivers and looked destined for big things when he topped JWRC on Rally Finland, 2018.
That was just his fourth start on the world stage and comfortably the best result of his debut 2018 season.
But unfortunately Torn was never able to put together a full season challenge. In both 2019 and 2020 he would only start two events, with just one more top-three result in Sweden 2020 as mechanical problems forced him out twice.
Since, Torn has become an ERC Junior champion in 2021 and drove a Rally2 Fiesta in the series last term, but hasn’t competed at all this season.
For all the Estonian drivers that have contested JWRC, Robert Virves got the job done for the nation by becoming the first Estonian driver to win the championship last year.
As a result, he is now competing in WRC2 and will start this weekend’s Rally Estonia in a Fiesta Rally2 alongside new co-driver Craig Drew.
Mentored by Tänak, Virves is looking like Estonia’s next big hope but he’s far from the only youngster making an impression with both Romet Jürgenson – one of six FIA Rally Star finalists – and teenage wonderkid Jaspar Vaher making waves as well.