Russian driver Nikolay Gryazin says he will not look to step up to the World Rally Championship’s top flight until he’s proved himself in WRC2.
The 23-year-old tested M-Sport’s Ford Fiesta WRC shortly before last month’s Arctic Rally Finland. He then went on to land a WRC2 podium in Lapland, finishing behind his Printsport Racing team-mate Esapekka Lappi and Toksport’s Andreas Mikkelsen.
Gryazin made his WRC debut at the start of 2019 and made an immediate impression with a maiden WRC2 win in Finland, ending the year fourth in class and with a Hyundai Motorsport N deal for 2020. However he has moved back to a private car for this season.
Despite getting a taste of WRC action, Gryazin isn’t prepared to move up the ladder until he has become “unbeatable” in the Rally2 class.
“Testing the Fiesta [WRC] was incredible,” Gryazin, who will compete on all 12 rounds of this year’s WRC, told DirtFish. “I was very happy to do this. The car was really nice to drive and actually a little bit easier than the R5 [Rally2].
“Like you can imagine, this is where I want to go, but it’s very difficult to go there without the factory helping. It’s still quite early for me. I need to drive more rallies and to take more experience. I need to understand exactly how everything is before I step up; when you get to the World Rally Championship [top level] then you have to be unbeatable in an R5 car.
I don’t have a second chance at the WRC, so I have to make this first chance workNikolay Gryazin
“I don’t want to get into a World Rally Car and be the last one [finishing]. When it’s like this, it’s sometimes a better story to be competing in [WRC2] class – this is where the R5 is most competitive. I don’t have a second chance at the WRC, so I have to make this first chance work.”
The World Anti-Doping Agency’s December 2019 ban (initially for four years, but subsequently reduced to two) on Russian athletes competing in world events means Gryazin can’t drive under his national flag, something he feels hinders him in sourcing sponsorship.
“In Russia, the WRC is still something new. It’s not Formula 1 and to find money for the WRC, for an R5 car is difficult. And Russian companies are patriotic and want to support Russia – it’s difficult when I have to drive with this white flag.”
Eyebrows were raised when Gryazin shifted away from Hyundai to a program centred around a Volkswagen Polo R5. News of that move came soon after the announcement that Volkswagen Motorsport would close its doors for good.
“I have a good relationship with Hyundai,” Gryazin said, “and it would be a very nice experience to come back to them again, we know each other. For this year, I bought a Polo and now we run with different teams, sometimes SRT, sometimes Printsport, sometimes somebody else. The plan is to find the best team.
“The news that Volkswagen is stopping came after we had bought the car. The news is quite s***, but what can we do? We are not the headquarters of Volkswagen. We were quite surprised by the news. For this year, we believe the programme will be OK, spare parts should be available.”
As well as his WRC effort, Gryazin will compete on numerous smaller rallies ahead of each world event. He has entered next month’s Rallye Le Touquet in northern France, but he’s already concerned at the viability of these events.
“It’s difficult because of the [coronavirus] pandemic,” he said. “We find a rally, but then it goes. I prefer to do these smaller rallies, I think it’s better than testing because you are driving on a road which is changing like a rally.”