It feels like just yesterday that Mads Østberg, Jari Huttunen and Tom Kristensson picked up the WRC2, WRC3 and Junior WRC titles respectively for 2020. Such is the quick turnaround between this and last season however that the WRC is back up and running just six weeks after it was all over.
While the formation of the Junior WRC (both the schedule and who will tackle it) is thus far unknown, both WRC2 and WRC3 for Rally2 cars are ready to rumble and WRC2 in particular looks poised to be an epic tussle for supremacy with some real star quality in the ranks.
Here’s how it all stacks up in WRC2 and WRC3 ahead of the 2021 season and its opener, the Monte Carlo Rally.
Monte entry list:
|20||Adrien Fourmaux||Renaud Jamoul||Ford Fiesta Rally2|
|22||Marco Bulacia||Marcelo Der Ohannesian||Škoda Fabia Rally2 evo|
|24||Eric Camilli||François-Xavier Buresi||Citroën C3 Rally2|
|25||Andreas Mikkelsen||Ola Fløene||Škoda Fabia Rally2 evo|
|27||Enrico Brazzoli||Maurizio Barone||Škoda Fabia Rally2 evo|
|28||Sean Johnston||Alex Kihurani||Citroën C3 Rally2|
Pick a winner at your leisure. The 2021 WRC2 field is looking incredibly strong with two former factory drivers, one current factory driver and one sure-to-be factory driver all factored into the equation.
For Monte, it’s top seed Adrien Fourmaux, former M-Sport man Eric Camilli and three-time WRC winner Andreas Mikkelsen that look the safest bets.
Fourmaux and the Ford Fiesta Rally2 have become an incredibly potent combination over the last 12 months and the M-Sport man has a good record on the Monte Carlo Rally, as you might expect for a Frenchman who grew up on asphalt. He finished 10th overall and second in class in 2019 before taking second again in WRC2 last year.
However, Camilli was a superb ninth overall last year in a Citroën C3 R5 which has now been upgraded to a C3 Rally2.
Stepping up to a WRC2 campaign this year, Camilli will be out to prove a point while also spreading a positive message with his ‘Sports & You’ entry promoting the Ace Africa charity – supported by Marseille soccer manager André Villas-Boas – that uses the power of soccer to change lives of disadvantaged children in northern Tanzania.
Don’t expect the battle on the stages to be so generous though. Mikkelsen’s Toksport Škoda Fabia Rally2 evo will be the yardstick, and the former Volkswagen and Hyundai works pilot will be pulling no punches. He’s there to win.
Mikkelsen’s team-mate Marco Bulacia will be a dark horse both this week and throughout the course of the 2021 season. The Fabia is not a new machine to the Bolivian despite his switch to a Citroën for last year’s WRC3 season, but the Monte Carlo Rally is a brand-new event to him so learning will be key.
The other big names to watch out for this year are Hyundai’s duo of Ole Christian Veiby and Oliver Solberg who will pilot the i20 R5 in the first half of the year before switching to the new i20 N Rally2 when it is ready in the second half.
Solberg’s presence in the WRC2 battle will garner the most interest. The teenager has been on a rapid rise through international rallying in the last couple of years, with his two-year Hyundai deal only strengthening the belief that he’s a WRC driver in-waiting.
While he hasn’t elected to score points on the Monte, Solberg will be competing and benchmarking his times against the others while Veiby watches from home.
The man Solberg displaces from Hyundai’s WRC2 setup – Nikolay Gryazin – will also be in action, armed with a Volkswagen Polo GTI R5.
For whatever reason Gryazin never found the same blistering pace he has been known for when driving a Hyundai, so it’s hoped a switch back to a family-run car will unlock his true potential. Like Solberg, Gryazin will contest the Monte but won’t score championship points.
The final two WRC2 entries are Italian gentleman driver Enrico Brazzoli and rising US star Sean Johnston. Both are elevating from WRC3 into WRC2, but Johnston will remain in a Citroën C3 Rally2 with Saintéloc.
“We were setting top-five stage times in Rally2 at points last year so we don’t feel like it’s a wildly inappropriate step for us to make and for sure the running order will be a lot better in WRC2,” Johnston tells DirtFish.
“And then having the gravel crew for the rest of the Tarmac rallies as well will be great to have from a performance but also a safety standpoint. It’s useful for Alex [Kihurani, co-driver] and I to build our skill working with the gravel crew.
“For sure having the added media bonus doesn’t hurt either. We want to boost the profile of the World Rally Championship in America and build up support for our journey.
“Getting to the end of the rally is the primary goal this weekend. The conditions are always so crazy and tricky every single year that that really needs to be objective number one but I’d be happy with a top-five result if we can make that happen.”
Monte entry list:
|29||Nicolas Ciamin||Yannick Roche||Citroën C3 Rally2|
|30||Yohan Rossel||Benoît Fulcrand||Citroën C3 Rally2|
|55||Yoann Bonato||Benjamin Boulloud||Citroën C3 Rally2|
|31||Miguel Díaz-Aboitiz||Diego Sanjuan de Eusebio||Škoda Fabia Rally2 evo|
|32||Cédric De Cecco||Jérôme Humblet||Škoda Fabia Rally2 evo|
|34||Giacomo Ogliari||Lorenzo Granai||Citroën C3 Rally2|
|35||Fabrizio Arengi Bentivoglio||Massimiliano Bosi||Škoda Fabia R5|
|36||Johannes Keferböck||Ilka Minor||Škoda Fabia Rally2 evo|
|37||Cédric Cheran||Stéphane Prévot||Škoda Fabia R5|
|38||Tom Williams||Giorgia Ascalone||Ford Fiesta Rally2|
|39||Hermann Neubauer||Bernhard Ettel||Ford Fiesta Rally2|
|40||Davy Vanneste||Kris D’alleine||Citroën C3 Rally2|
|57||Mauro Miele||Luca Beltrame||Škoda Fabia R5|
While the WRC3 entry list is much meatier than that of WRC2, it perhaps lack the same strength in depth with several of last year’s WRC3 stars spending the extra money to enter WRC2 instead.
The battle here is likely to be between three Frenchman in their Citroën C3 Rally2s. With last year’s class winner Eric Camilli now in a different class, expect Nicolas Ciamin, Yohan Rossel and Yoann Bonato to duke it out for honors as they did 12 months ago when they occupied second to fourth position in WRC3 behind Camilli.
Then, it was Ciamin that placed the highest ahead of Bonato and Rossel, but Bonato is the driver with the strongest CV. However, Bonato has lots of experience on Michelin tires but has switched to Pirelli for the Monte, so could that make a difference?
Others to watch include Tom Williams who was a Junior WRC competitor two years ago and Kevin Abbring who, although unregistered for championship points, will be a feature in the lead battle in his Volkswagen Polo GTI R5.
As for the title quest, it’s not currently known who will be entering future rallies so it’s too early to draw any potential conclusions.