Round two of the World Rally Championship – Arctic Rally Finland – has generated a lot of excitement and conversation among the competitors, fans and media alike; and with good reason.
The World Rally Car entry is superb, with 13 cars taking the start and at least half of them in reasonable contention to win the rally. But that superb entry extends below the top-level too, with a gargantuan 39 Rally2 cars set to race in the Arctic Circle this week.
As has become tradition ahead of each WRC round, here is DirtFish’s preview of the support classes that will be competing, which in Finland’s deep freeze is WRC2 and WRC3.
Arctic entry list:
|20||Andreas Mikkelsen||Ola Fløene||Škoda Fabia Rally2 evo|
|21||Adrien Fourmaux||Renaud Jamoul||Ford Fiesta Rally2|
|22||Eyvind Brynildsen||Veronica Engen||Škoda Fabia Rally2 evo|
|23||Sean Johnston||Alex Kihurani||Citroën C3 Rally2|
|24||Jari Huttunen||Mikko Lukka||Hyundai i20 R5|
|25||Esapekka Lappi||Janne Ferm||Volkswagen Polo GTI R5|
|26||Ole Christian Veiby||Jonas Andersson||Hyundai i20 R5|
|27||Nikolay Gryazin||Konstantin Aleksandrov||Volkswagen Polo GTI R5|
|28||Georg Linnamäe||Volodymyr Korsia||Volkswagen Polo GTI R5|
|29||Martin Prokop||Michal Ernst||Ford Fiesta Rally2|
The Monte Carlo Rally entry list in WRC2 was impressive, but you’d be forgiven for mistaking the Arctic Rally Finland list as the World Rally Car entry! Quality is an understatement.
In early points leader Andreas Mikkelsen and WRC returnee Esapekka Lappi there are four world championship wins between the 10 drivers, with countless more starts as Martin Prokop completes the line-up in a brand-new Ford Fiesta Rally2.
The question therefore is: who will win?
In all honesty it could probably be at least six of those drivers. Mikkelsen is competing in Rally2 with the sole aim of dominating the category and certainly did that on the Monte, so assuming he won’t do it again on the snow of Finland would be foolish. But fellow Scandinavians Lappi, WRC3 champion Jari Huttunen and his Hyundai team-mate Ole Christian Veiby will all be in the mix too as Hyundai starts its WRC2 season.
Sean Johnston's Arctic preparations
The American tells DirtFish how previous winter training and Mexican food will be the keys to a successful Arctic Rally Finland.
Lappi is perhaps the driver that starts with the most pressure on his shoulders given a lot will be expected of him. To many, nothing short of a victory would be acceptable from the former M-Sport man but in reality, a podium finish in this company would more than prove his credentials.
It will however be intriguing to see how stacks up against Mikkelsen as another WRC exile who is keen to restore his place at the top, but it must be remembered that Lappi has considerably less recent experience in the category than Mikkelsen.
Lappi’s team-mate Nikolay Gryazin could be a dark horse given his searing speed, but that speed can often culminate in accidents as we saw on the recent Otepää Winter Rally.
M-Sport’s Adrien Fourmaux could be a real joker in the pack too. The Frenchman has progressed immensely since his last snow rally 12 months ago (Rally Sweden 2020) but on that occasion he was merely a distant player in the lead fight. On a surface not overly familiar to him, don’t expect Fourmaux to win but absolutely expect him to pull something surprising out of the bag. After all, that’s become his speciality of late.
Top Arctic entries:
|30||Teemu Asunmaa||Marko Salminen||Škoda Fabia Rally2 evo|
|31||Emil Lindholm||Mikael Korhonen||Škoda Fabia Rally2 evo|
|32||Mikko Heikkilä||Topi Luhtinen||Škoda Fabia Rally2 evo|
|34||Eerik Pietarinen||Antti Linnaketo||Škoda Fabia Rally2 evo|
|35||Johan Kristoffersson||Patrik Barth||Volkswagen Polo GTI R5|
|36||Mattias Ekström||Emil Bergkvist||Škoda Fabia Rally2 evo|
|38||Egon Kaur||Silver Simm||Volkswagen Polo GTI R5|
|39||Gregor Jeets||Kauri Pannas||Škoda Fabia Rally2 evo|
|47||Fabrizio Zaldivar||Carlos del Barrio||Škoda Fabia Rally2 evo|
|51||Michał Sołowow||Maciej Baran||Citroën C3 Rally2|
As usual, the WRC3 line-up for the WRC’s first adventure into the Arctic Circle is an eclectic mix of local stars and established pedallers who will all start the rally fixated on the top step of the podium.
Some 23 cars have entered into the category this weekend so, instead of listing out all 23, DirtFish has selected the top eight seeds and selected two other drivers from the remaining 15 that are worth keeping an eye on.
The battle that is sure to garner the most interest however is the fight between World Rallycross Champions Johan Kristoffersson and Mattias Ekström – and for good reason. Both are titans of off-road racing and have a justifiable case to believe they will be the ones coming out on top. All bets are off.
Oops… I borrowed my moms car for the Recce.. Sorry, Mamma! 😇 Thanks @Emil_Lindholm and other for helping us! 🤝 pic.twitter.com/ZEq9QHaOcs
— Mattias Ekström (@mattiasekstroem) February 24, 2021
Teemu Asunmaa heads the entries, and if last month’s Arctic Rally (which used a lot of the same stages but in the opposing direction) is anything to go by, he’s a shoe-in for a success here. Asunmaa finished second and first Rally2 behind Juho Hänninen’s Toyota Yaris WRC.
Fellow Finns Emil Lindholm – who impressed with fourth in class and 11th overall on the Monza Rally last year – Mikko Heikkilä and Eerik Pieterainen will undoubtedly be factors in the equation too as will Estonians Egon Kaur and Gregor Jeets. Watch Jeets’s times with interest as 2021 is just the fourth season in the 20-year-old’s career, and Arctic Rally Finland only his fourth start in a four-wheel-drive car.
Carlos del Barrio starts his first event without Dani Sordo and with new driver Fabrizio Zaldivar in Finland, while Michał Sołowow – a former IRC, ERC and WRC support class regular – begins his first rally since Rally Sweden in 2020 and his first in a Citroën C3 Rally2.