We say the same thing every weekend, but what an entry list we have for Rally Portugal, round four of the 2021 World Rally Championship.
As ever there’s plenty of intrigue at the front of the pack with Adrien Fourmaux maing his gravel debut in the top class in a Ford Fiesta WRC, but that enthusiasm extends down to the support classes too with all three – WRC2, WRC3 and Junior WRC – in action this week.
WRC2 grabs all the headlines with a packed field of 11 cars but the competition in WRC3 is no less impressive while the first Junior rally of the year in Croatia proved just how finely balanced that series is too.
But instead of DirtFish previewing the expected battles as has become tradition, we decided to reach out to two men with a far better idea than us. Step forward Sean Johnston and Alex Kihurani, the American rallying crew staking a claim for a future in the WRC’s top class.
The duo are Junior WRC graduates, competed in WRC3 last year and are in the WRC2 fight this year so there really isn’t anybody better to quiz about this weekend’s entry list.
While they sadly won’t be competing this week, their Citroën C3 Rally2 will be on its way to Sardinia and they’ve already been testing in Portugal ahead of a week at 321 Perform to ensure they’re as prepared as they can be for next month’s encounter.
You can read about that very soon on DirtFish. But for now, here are Johnston and Kihuarni’s thoughts on this weekend’s WRC2, WRC3 and Junior WRC entries.
Seeded entry list:
|21||Marco Bulacia||Marcelo Der Ohannesian||Škoda Fabia Rally2 evo|
|22||Esapekka Lappi||Janne Ferm||Volkswagen Polo GTI R5|
|23||Mads Østberg||Torstein Eriksen||Citroën C3 Rally2|
|24||Teemu Suninen||Mikko Markkula||Ford Fiesta Rally2|
|25||Nikolay Gryazin||Konstantin Aleksandrov||Volkswagen Polo GTI R5|
|26||Eric Camilli||François-Xavier Buresi||Citroën C3 Rally2|
|27||Ole Christian Veiby||Jonas Andersson||Hyundai i20 R5|
|28||Martin Prokop||Michal Ernst||Ford Fiesta Rally2|
|29||Georg Linnamäe||Volodymyr Korsia||Volkswagen Polo GTI R5|
|30||Oliver Solberg||Aaron Johnston||Hyundai i20 R5|
|31||Tom Kristensson||David Arhusiander||Ford Fiesta Rally2|
Sean Johnston: “Coming off his commanding performance in Finland, Lappi has to be someone to watch out for this weekend, but the same can be said of Østberg after his performance in Croatia. Camilli and Suninen are also usually quite fast on gravel and we all know what Solberg can do. It’s such a stacked field in Portugal, it’s really hard to say!
“Mikkelsen has been in incredible form this season so I’d have expected him to be near the front, but am bummed to see him miss the rally after testing positive for COVID-19. It seems about everyone I know who’s gotten it has had a different experience with the illness, so I’m hoping that Andreas [Mikkelsen] has a symptom-free case, a quick recovery, and can be back in action out in Sardinia.”
Alex Kihurani: “Mads [Østberg] is obviously another contender but I think Oliver will be very quick, he has lots of relevant experience and seems to have the edge on outright pace. Eric [Camilli] is another one to watch out for too; he wasn’t right at the front on his last gravel outing in Sardinia but I’m sure that will be righted this weekend.”
SJ: “Tom [Kristensson] is incredibly talented and a good friend, and I think with this being his first gravel rally in the Rally2, the expectation for him should just be to go out, get the experience, have fun and bring the car to the end of the rally. I was gutted for him that that mistake crept in in Croatia and he wasn’t able to do that there, but I know he’s fast and I know he learns quickly so I expect him to be within a second a kilometer of the top guys by the end of the rally if not earlier.
“Fighting for the victory shouldn’t be his objective, but with some potential attrition, there’s every reason a smooth clean drive and a developing pace throughout the weekend could net him a good result!
AK: “Tom’s always been really good at preserving the car on rough rallies as well so I think he’ll be able to use his head, have a consistent performance and probably pick up the pieces as others fall by the wayside. Due to the depth of the field, the pace is going to be bonkers, so I’m also expecting a lot of attrition!”
Most intriguing entries:
|32||Yohan Rossel||Alexandre Coria||Citroën C3 Rally2|
|34||Nicolas Ciamin||Yannich Roche||Citroën C3 Rally2|
|35||Kajetan Kajetanowicz||Maciej Szczepaniak||Škoda Fabia Rally2 evo|
|36||Egon Kaur||Silver Simm||Volkswagen Polo GTI R5|
|37||Emil Lindholm||Mikael Korhonen||Škoda Fabia Rally2 evo|
|38||Chris Ingram||Ross Whittock||Škoda Fabia Rally2 evo|
|42||Armindo Araújo||Luís Ramalho||Škoda Fabia Rally2 evo|
|43||Bruno Magalhães||Carlos Magalhães||Hyundai i20 R5|
|47||Bernardo Sousa||Victor Calado||Škoda Fabia R5|
|49||Alberto Heller||Marc Martí||Citroën C3 Rally2|
|51||Jan Solans||Rodrigo Sanjuan de Eusebio||Citroën C3 Rally2|
|52||Pepe López||Diego Vallejo||Škoda Fabia Rally2 evo|
|56||Josh McErlean||Keaton Williams||Hyundai i20 R5|
|57||André Villas-Boas||Gonçalo Magalhães||Citroën C3 Rally2|
A gargantuan 25 Rally2 cars from M-Sport Ford, Škoda, Citroën, Hyundai and Volkswagen will do battle in the WRC3 class – a list so big that DirtFish has only been able to pick some highlights.
Of those, the men at the top of the championship table will hog the limelight but there are several intriguing entries including a gaggle of Portuguese experts. Armindo Araújo, a two-time Production WRC Champion, is perhaps the highest profile but several others are just as quick.
Pepe López has proved his incredible turn of speed in Spain so could spring a surprise while Hyundai junior and DirtFish Olympus Rally podium finisher Josh McErlean makes his first WRC start of the year, one spot ahead of soccer coach André Villas-Boas in the running order!
AK: “It’s a bit tricky with Yohan [Rossel] because he’s been blindingly quick on Tarmac but on gravel he’s been less consistent. However, he seems to do better in the rougher, twistier rallies as shown by his Sardinia performance compared to his performance on the flat-out roads in Estonia. Portugal is going to be closer to Sardinia in character, so he should have good pace.
“Obviously Kajto [Kajetanowicz] will always be one to watch. As the overall Rally2 winner in Turkey last year, it’s clear he does well on rough rallies. It’s also nice to see Egon Kaur back on the WRC scene since he lost the WRC Academy title to Breen by one point back in 2011, so I think everyone knows he can be quite fast too. Yohan, Kajto and Egon would be who I’m particularly looking out for.”
SJ: “I think Alex’s assessment is on point and I have nothing meaningful to contribute!”
Seeded entry list:
|59||Jon Armstrong||Phil Hall||Ford Fiesta Rally4|
|60||Mārtiņš Sesks||Renars Francis||Ford Fiesta Rally4|
|61||Sami Pajari||Marko Salminen||Ford Fiesta Rally4|
|62||Lauri Joona||Ari Koponen||Ford Fiesta Rally4|
|63||Martin Koči||Petr Těšínský||Ford Fiesta Rally4|
|64||William Creighton||Liam Regan||Ford Fiesta Rally4|
|65||Raul Badiu||Rareș Fetean||Ford Fiesta Rally4|
|66||Robert Virves||Sander Pruul||Ford Fiesta Rally4|
AK: “Throughout Jon [Armstrong]’s career, he’s done a really good job of having to step away for financial reasons but then coming back and producing results straight away. I think Sweden last year was a bit of an anomaly to see him off the pace, but gradually throughout Croatia he seemed to get his pace back, which was really positive to see.
“I think of course Sami [Pajari] has been the fastest on pace but a little bit ragged at times, perhaps because he is still so young. [Mārtiņš] Sesks I assumed would be quite dominant if Sami wasn’t being consistent, but he seemed to be off the pace in Croatia, possibly a little bit spooked by his heavy accident on Monza.
“However, I was really surprised by Martin Koči’s pace. There’s been quite a few young drivers that have been in Rally2 cars competitively for years, and then decide to go back to the two-wheel-drive machinery in the JWRC and really struggle. Fabio Andolfi won in WRC2, and Bernardo Sousa won ERC Azores Rally, but both struggled in the JWRC after their victories. Therefore, I wasn’t expecting Martin to come in and set the pace right away in a two-wheel-drive car.”
SJ: “I thought Jon’s drive was incredible and like Alex said, he’s certainly shown that pace in the past and for me it’s just so rad to see him fight so hard to get his financial support together and then to come out and perform like that. For me I think he’s definitely going to have a big confidence boost after this result at the start of the season, so It’ll be exciting to see him push in the coming events as there’s every reason to believe that he can walk away with the title this year if he can keep this level of performance up consistently.
“It’s great as well to really enforce that coming from the sim into the real thing is definitely possible and that there are a lot of transferable skills. To see Jon demonstrating that in the world of rallying is awesome, and as a fellow sim-transplant, it makes me happy for sure!
“Sami’s pace was also incredible and I also loved his fighting spirit, to roll and carry on and then keep setting fastest stage times is the spirit of rallying. And, like we saw after the first stage in Croatia, every driver in the championship is capable of setting fast stage times near the top, so it’s going to be fun to watch the season unfold, I think it’s going to be a really good battle this year in the Juniors.”