M-Sport’s lead World Rally Championship driver pairing of Teemu Suninen and Esapekka Lappi are expecting to battle among themselves in Estonia, already dismissing any hopes of beating Toyota or Hyundai on pace.
Hyundai and Toyota have taken part in several national championship events around Europe in the last two months in preparation for the WRC’s return.
M-Sport did not participate in any events as a works team with its WRC line-up between México and Estonia, with Lappi competing on the South Estonia Rally with the privateer JanPro outfit and Suninen only driving a first-generation Ford Fiesta R5.
Lappi’s plan to use Jämsä Äijät Ralli as additional preparation for the return of WRC was also thwarted by an engine failure before the event began.
M-Sport’s lack of preparation relative to its rivals has left both drivers looking solely at one another as the main competition in Estonia.
“I believe it’s just beating the other guy from the team!” said Lappi, who was second on Friday morning’s shakedown stage, when asked by DirtFish what his target would be this weekend.
Suninen reciprocated and stressed that both M-Sport drivers would need to rely on luck for a top-six result.
“Our only chance to beat them is some technical issues, some punctures or some mistakes,” he said.
“Let’s say, the speed that we have had before in the previous years in the past rallies is not giving confidence to get good results, especially now when we haven’t been able to drive any tests.”
M-Sport is bringing a damper upgrade to Estonia to cope with the Rally Finland-like jumps, but that brings another slight setback for Suninen due to his lack of familiarity with the new damper.
“[Friday] will be my first kilometers with this car in this type of conditions, and actually I’m having my first jumps with this damper that I have on this rally, so there’s a lot of question marks in my mind,” he said.
“We need to get the best out of it and try to do a good job.”
Lappi was equally pessimistic, though pinpointed Hyundai’s Thierry Neuville as the most realistic driver to beat on pace.
Neuville starts third on the road in Estonia, the highest-placed Hyundai in the running order.
He has notably struggled on the similar Rally Finland since the current generation of cars was introduced in 2017, with a best finish of sixth in both ’17 and ’19.
“If we are really lucky, maybe with Thierry it’s possible. But the rest, no chance,” said Lappi.