How the stars aligned to give Sesks his WRC break

Latvian driver makes his Rally1 debut in Poland this week, before contesting home round of WRC next month


Latvia will be blessed with rallying’s biggest stars coming to its shores. Both of Toyota’s world champions, Kalle Rovanperä and Sébastien Ogier, will surely be mobbed with selfie-hunters from Riga to Liepāja and everywhere between.

They likely won’t be the most popular driver in town, though. It’ll be hard for the locals to ignore a Ford Puma Rally1 adorned with the white and maroon flashes of the Latvian flag.

After years of climbing the ladder in the World Rally Championship’s support categories and the European Rally Championship, it’s finally Mārtiņš Sesks’ time to shine at the top level.

First he’ll take on Rally Poland, his car running without the bonus of a hybrid unit to propel him quite as quickly as the WRC regulars. Making your WRC debut is a momentous occasion – yet it’s arguably not the biggest week of his career. That’ll be in July, when his car is fitted with the same hybrid unit as the other WRC pilots and he gets to take on his home rally on level terms, with the nerves and uncertainty of his first time out of the way.

Poland is the beginning of the big break. But Latvia is the reason it’s happening at all.

If any one of those factors hadn’t happened, then the Rally1 drive would never have materialized Mārtiņš Sesks

“I think there was actually a lot of things which came together in the right time,” Sesks tells DirtFish.

That first factor is WRC coming to Latvia for the first time this year, a long-held ambition of the Rally Liepāja event on which the nation’s world debut is based. That rally was also reason number two: his career trajectory changed in 2022, having been given a chance by Team MRF to pilot a Škoda Fabia Rally2 evo on his home ERC round – which he duly won, which in turn earned him a full ERC season the next year where he finished as runner-up to Hayden Paddon.

Sesks picks up the list of reasons again: “It was our last year’s great performance in ERC; our first [full] season we were vice-champions. Then, when you look at this year’s WRC calendar, Poland and Latvia were in ERC last year and we won both rallies. So it means that, at least in the ERC, we were the fastest guys.

“Then we had a meeting with WRC Promoter who were really interested in helping us; without them, it wouldn’t be possible. And then we came to M-Sport, and they were interested as well.

“It was just the right things happening at the right time. If any one of those factors hadn’t happened, then the Rally1 drive would never have materialized.”

FIA European Rally Championship 2023 Stop 3 - Mikolajki, Poland

Sesks won Rally Poland when it was an ERC event last year

It’s quite a turnaround from Sesks’ failed bid to become Junior WRC champion, where he finished as runner-up in his second season and then had his third season fall apart, his title tilt against Sami Pajari petering out with two retirements in the last two rounds.

Now Sesks will make his top-level debut two rounds before his former title rival – Pajari’s first outing with Toyota has been pushed back to Rally Finland.

That experience in Junior WRC was a clear moment where it seemed like the wheels had fallen off his ambitions to make it to the top. But it wasn’t the only one.

“There were even more times when I thought that ‘this is it’ for my rallying career, that I would go no further,” said Sesks.

“We started with Opel, it was my first international season. We won the ERC Junior U27 title and it felt like everything would start happening quickly, that I’d get lots of opportunities. But it wasn’t like that. It was just a junior title.


Sesks' livery for his Rally1 competition debut was revealed last week

“Then Junior WRC was very up and down; we had really good races and we had harsh crashes which were difficult to recover from. When we got the opportunity in ERC with MRF tires, I thought, OK, I will do a few races in ERC and probably that’s it for the year. And that turned out completely differently to how I was imagining it.

“This opportunity with Rally1 is the same. If you asked me one year ago if it would be possible, I would say, ‘No way.’ No way that I’m doing two rallies in a Rally1 car. I learned that you just have to be humble, do everything you can and then if something happens, it will happen without your input. If you make a good showing of yourself, the opportunity will just come. You cannot really change that by yourself.”

Sesks’ preparation for his first bout as a WRC heavyweight is already complete; he was able to briefly shake down a hybrid-equipped Puma at M-Sport’s evaluation center, then had a one-day test in Estonia in the same car he’ll drive in Poland sans-hybrid.

“It was incredible,” said Sesks of his Estonia test. “It’s quite hard to explain to somebody who hasn’t driven a Rally1 car how it is to drive that and what the feeling is to drive it. It’s really something incredible.”

It would be easy to get carried away. Everyone wants to make a good first impression. But running without hybrid aboard his Puma does provide one luxury: he’s going to be slowest no matter what. His pace in Poland doesn’t really matter. Getting comfortable with the feeling that, the faster he goes, the more downforce he’ll generate and thus be able to go even faster still, is the key area.


M-Sport newcomer tested the Puma Rally1 in Estonia

M-Sport team principal Richard Millener has set Sesks one goal for Poland – finish the rally in one piece. That has to happen, or Sesks’ date with destiny in Latvia won’t.

“The car is the same one that we plan to use with Latvia, so he knows if he were to have a substantial accident in Poland, he wouldn’t be doing his home event,” said Millener. “We’ve told him that Poland is for enjoying himself, getting used to the car and to use the experience of the rally to build himself up to his home rally, which is the one he really wants to do. So there’s no expectation from us.

“I think Mārtiņš is a sensible enough guy to know that to fight against the top guys will be impossible. But to be there or thereabouts and, if there are any problems for any of the other guys from dropping back or having an issue, he could be there or in the right area to inherent positions. So it’s more about him getting to the end of both rallies, enjoying his time in the car, pleasing the sponsors that are funding him and hope that brings more opportunities in the future.”

For one week in July Sesks will be one of the stars, not merely among them, as he is in Poland this week. Latvia gets only the one shot at being in the WRC before it drops off-calendar again and Estonia rotates back into the schedule – but Sesks will surely be hoping he won’t follow Latvia back to the ERC in 2025.