After an exciting trip to Africa, the World Rally Championship is back on European shores this week as the second half of the 2021 season begins.
And for the first time since Rally Portugal in May, all three of the support series will be in action on the super-fast stages of Estonia. Action is guaranteed.
Let’s remind ourselves how it all stands in WRC2, WRC3 and Junior WRC and look forward to who will be vying for honors on Rally Estonia which begins on Wednesday evening.
WRC2 entry list:
|20||Andreas Mikkelsen||Ola Fløene||Škoda Fabia Rally2 evo|
|21||Mads Østberg||Torstein Eriksen||Citroën C3 Rally2|
|22||Marco Bulacia||Marcelo Der Ohannesian||Škoda Fabia Rally2 evo|
|23||Adrien Fourmaux||Renaud Jamoul||Ford Fiesta Rally2|
|24||Jari Huttunen||Mikko Lukka||Hyundai i20 R5|
|25||Nikolay Gryazin||Konstantin Aleksandrov||Volkswagen Polo GTI R5|
|26||Sean Johnston||Alex Kihurani||Citroën C3 Rally2|
|27||Oliver Solberg||Aaron Johnston||Hyundai i20 R5|
|28||Georg Limmanäe||James Morgan||Volkswagen Polo GTI R5|
|29||Tom Kristensson||David Arhusiander||Ford Fiesta Rally2|
At long last, the heavyweight clash between Norwegians Andreas Mikkelsen and Mads Østberg looks set to begin as both title protagonists head to Estonia with eyes only for victory. We caught a glimpse of the needle between these two WRC refugees on Rally Italy, but Mikkelsen’s early retirement cut the contest short.
Both will fancy their chances in Estonia. Mikkelsen has recently contested two high-speed rallies in the European Rally Championship while Østberg enjoyed a two-day test with his Citroën C3 Rally2 in Finland last weekend. Mikkelsen is under the bigger pressure to win though given that Sardinian retirement which could prove particularly costly to his title bid.
The man they’ll both have to better however is Nikolay Gryazin. The Volkswagen Polo GTI R5 pilot has been rapid this season but the results haven’t quite strung together to back up the promise. Fast rallies are Gryazin’s bread and butter though so if he can have a clean run, expect him to be right at the top of the timesheets.
Other dangermen include Hyundai duo Jari Huttunen and Oliver Solberg; particularly Solberg given his strong 2020 Estonia showing and his determination to make amends for a sub-par Safari Rally Kenya in the i20 Coupe WRC.
Elsewhere, Adrien Fourmaux drops back into WRC2 to pilot an M-Sport Ford Fiesta Rally2 with Tom Kristensson for company as team-mate. Sean Johnston also makes his return to the WRC after a gut-wrenching Rally Italy.
Leading WRC3 entries:
|30||Kajetan Kajetanowicz||Maciej Szczepaniak||Škoda Fabia Rally2 evo|
|31||Egon Kaur||Silver Simm||Volkswagen Polo GTI R5|
|32||Fabrizio Zaldivar||Carlos del Barrio||Škoda Fabia Rally2 evo|
|34||Emil Lindholm||Reeta Hämäläinen||Škoda Fabia Rally2 evo|
|35||Pepe López||Diego Vallejo||Škoda Fabia Rally2 evo|
|36||Mikko Heikkilä||Topi Luhtinen||Škoda Fabia Rally2 evo|
|37||Emilio Fernández||Ruben Garcia||Škoda Fabia Rally2 evo|
|38||Alexey Lukyanuk||Yaroslav Federov||Škoda Fabia Rally2 evo|
|39||Raul Jeets||Andrus Toom||Škoda Fabia Rally2 evo|
|40||Priit Koik||Kristo Taam||Ford Fiesta Rally2|
Yohan Rossel has been a class act in WRC3 this year, securing two victories and two further podium places from four starts. Rossel’s absence in Estonia then is a huge opportunity for Kajetan Kajetanowicz who looks the overwhelming favorite for victory this week.
Kajetanowicz has some Estonian demons to lay to rest in 2021 after rolling out of third place on the powerstage 10 months ago, but he will be more than aware of the chance he has to claim maximum points with title rival Rossel watching from home instead.
It won’t be a one-man show though. Several local drivers – Egon Kaur, Raul Jeets and Priit Koik – will undoubtedly have their say but perhaps the most exciting entry is the #38 Škoda Fabia Rally2 evo of Alexey Lukyanuk.
The double European champion will make a one-off world championship appearance and is known for his balls-out approach, so could be a real one to watch. The Fabia is unfamiliar to Lukyanuk though, as he usually drives a Citroën C3 Rally2 and before that used a Ford Fiesta R5.
Emil Lindholm is a real talent but hasn’t quite been able to show it in WRC3 this term, while Finnish compatriot Mikko Heikkilä could be a dark horse as he makes his second category start following a third place on Arctic Rally Finland five months ago.
And don’t rule out Pepe López who shone in both Portugal and Italy with his speed. His second spot in class and eighth overall in Sardinia was more than deserved.
Junior WRC entry list:
|47||Mārtiņš Sesks||Renars Francis||Ford Fiesta Rally4|
|48||Sami Pajari||Marko Salminen||Ford Fiesta Rally4|
|49||Jon Armstrong||Phil Hall||Ford Fiesta Rally4|
|50||Martin Koči||Petr Těšínský||Ford Fiesta Rally4|
|51||Lauri Joona||Mikael Korhonen||Ford Fiesta Rally4|
|52||Robert Virves||Sander Pruul||Ford Fiesta Rally4|
|53||William Creighton||Liam Regan||Ford Fiesta Rally4|
|54||Raul Badiu||Rareș Fetean||Ford Fiesta Rally4|
Junior WRC standings:
The juniors are back, and already the contest is threatening to become a three-horse race between Mārtiņš Sesks, Sami Pajari and Jon Armstrong. All three are fast, experienced and are justifiable shouts for the win in Estonia.
Armstrong is quite unlucky to find himself 13 points shy of the title lead as he opportunistically won in Croatia and led again in Portugal before his engine suddenly expired. He has shown well in the past on fast rallies so is more than capable of setting the score.
Sesks was off-color on the opening round but kept his head beautifully in Portugal to come up trumps. Pajari is one of the WRC’s most exciting rising stars and has speed in abundance although will need to iron out some costly errors if he wants to go all the way.
Lauri Joona has been quieter than expected thus far in 2021 but Estonia should suit the Finn, while Robert Virves will be a real thorn in the side of this rivals as he bids for glory on home turf. William Creighton has shown great promise and could be a dark horse, although his Estonia preparation suffered a wobble when he crashed in pursuit of a Junior British Rally Championship victory last weekend.