The first World Rally Championship round of the post-COVID-19 era is now in the history books, and what a rally it was.
But who were the strongest performers? DirtFish senior staff writer David Evans casts the rule over the Rally Estonia field.
Ott Tänak 10/10
Rally Estonia result: 1st
Was it ever in doubt? If we’re completely honest, it wasn’t. But it still had to be delivered. And the reigning world champion delivered it in some style. Some. Style.
A puncture on the first stage proper skewed the early story, but from SS3 onwards everything was back on track and this Estonian dream was realized. The rally was won by Saturday evening, Sunday was about controlling proceedings. And the Saaremaa man was in complete control.
Since arriving at Hyundai Motorsport, Tänak has targeted improvement in the i20’s ability on fast rallies. He and the team have worked tirelessly to make this happen. This weekend that hard work was repaid in spades – and a much reduced gap to the top of the table.
Craig Breen 10/10
Rally Estonia result: 2nd
Think you know about pressure? Really? Craig Breen knows about pressure. Not that he was about to admit it. “Pressure? That’s for the tires…” he grinned.
Behind the mask, the Irishman knew this was his moment. And he stepped up. Emphatically. Second from the second stage, he fended off his team-mate Thierry Neuville and then stared down a six-time world champion it what was – prior to this weekend – recognized as the fastest rally car ever created. Has the Waterford driver’s call on a full-time seat ever been more justified?
Thierry Neuville 4/10
Rally Estonia result: DNF
Came to Estonia needing to finish ahead of championship rivals Sébastien Ogier and Elfyn Evans. He was doing just that when it all went wrong and his i20 Coupe WRC was flung from the ruts to the ditch on a fast seventh-stage left-hander. The left-right wheel was ripped from the Hyundai and he was left to drag it out of the stage.
Even worse, an engine problem then robbed him of the opportunity to salvage any points from the powerstage. The team elected to retire the car on the road section, to investigate the engine issue. Neuville felt hard done by and it was hard to argue: from third overall to no points at all via an innocuous-looking moment in the ruts was harsh.
Pierre-Louis Loubet 4/10
Rally Estonia result: DNF
Starred on his debut in a Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC in Italy (Rally di Roma) in late July and then turned in a solid and sensible opening first day aboard the Korean machine on the loose in Estonia.
Drove sensibly to bag experience of what were some of the trickiest conditions on high-speed stages, there’s nothing like the ruts in top gear to open your eyes to what these events are all about. Hitting a rock broke the steering to curtail what would likely have been a top-eight finish.
Esapekka Lappi 6/10
Rally Estonia result: 7th
I’ve always banged on about how these ratings are a reflection of both car and the crew. The Ford Fiesta WRC wasn’t up to the job in Estonia – but we all know the entirely valid reasons for that. Malcolm Wilson’s team have the technical know-how to make a car more than capable of challenging and beating the best of the best – they’ve done it twice in the last four years – but right now the team’s focus is on survival.
Short-term gain could cause some significant long-term pain. Lappi drove like a hero all weekend. He left nothing in the locker and threw the car at every corner. He was supremely spectacular and typically understated – not least in his description of a penultimate-stage spin. “The car jumped out of the ruts in a sixth-gear left-hander and spun. That’s it.”
Teemu Suninen 6/10
Rally Estonia result: 6th
Like his team-mates, struggled for seat time through lockdown and then ruined his shakedown when he landed the Fiesta WRC on its side on his fourth run at the stage. The Finn showed tremendous fortitude to put that issue (his second shakedown moment of the season) to one side and get on with it.
He and Lappi were running neck and neck throughout the event, but the younger of the two Finns grabbed sixth when his team-mate spun in the penultimate test. Ultimately, Suninen knew he had to make this one stick and a top-six was the best he could realistically hope for.
Gus Greensmith 4/10
Rally Estonia result: 8th
The Manchester driver is his own harshest critic and he knows he wasn’t fast enough in Estonia. Greensmith is a driver who relies quite heavily on his pre-event preparation and missing onboards and the ability to do his homework ahead of the rally undoubtedly impacted on his speed here.
After showing good speed in Finland last year, Greensmith’s result certainly fell short of what might have been expected, but ruts like those found on the roads around Tartu demand absolute, total commitment and an hand-in-glove understanding of the car and what it can do. He’s not there yet.
Toyota Gazoo Racing
Sébastien Ogier 7/10
Rally Estonia result: 3rd
Hampered by running first on the road on Saturday morning, a tire off the rim on the first afternoon stage was just about the worst possible start to his fightback in the afternoon. Ogier steadfastly maintained it was too early to start thinking about championships, but it’s hard to imagine the Frenchman didn’t drive with one eye on the virtual points table this time around.
When team-mate Evans cut into his lead with fastest time in Arula first thing Sunday, Ogier responded in the way six-time title winners respond, with a pair of fastest times that ended any question over which of the Yaris WRC drivers would take the podium’s lowest step.
Elfyn Evans 7/10
Rally Estonia result: 4th
Arrived back in Estonia just over a fortnight after one of the biggest crashes in his career at the South Estonia Rally and a year on from a back-damaging landing which ruled him out of Finland and Germany last season. He put all of that well and truly out of his mind and got on with the task in hand.
The pace was good, but it never seemed to completely click and the Welshman always looked to be searching for the last tenth. A sixth-gear delamination on the asphalt section of Prangli 2 came as something of a surprise and forced him on to the back foot in the knowledge that another deflation could have signaled the end of his event.
Took the fight to Ogier with a superb fastest time on Sunday’s opener, but lost out in the overall standings – second place in the powerstage (compared with fourth for Ogier) ensured he only dropped one point in the title race.
Kalle Rovanperä 8/10
Rally Estonia result: 5th
Awesome win on the first stage of significance since Rally México in March on Saturday morning. That scratch time was enough for the 19-year-old to make immediate history in the championship, becoming the youngest driver ever to lead a round of the WRC.
But that was as close as he’d come to winning it. A tire delamination on the next test cost him half a minute and – on a rally as fast as this one – that ruled him out of contention. Already down, he was kicked to the tune of a minute’s penalty when his co-driver Jonne Halttunen took the blanking plate out of the radiator in a time control.
Rovanperä saved his ire for powerstage, then let rip. For the second time in three rallies, he took the full five bonus points in what was an outrageous demonstration of high-speed brilliance. Five seconds faster than anybody. Amazing…
Takamoto Katsuta 8/10
Rally Estonia result: DNF
He gets all eight points for Saturday. He was on for the full 10 before he fell foul of a fast right-hander in Kaagvere early on day two. As soon as the Yaris WRC’s left-rear went ditchward in fifth gear, there was very little – actually nothing – the likeable Japanese could do about it.
The ditch tipped him and Dan Barritt into a high-speed roll. That cost them their best ever finish – they’d been running fifth at the time – and two points in these ratings. That driver after driver admitted they too had had a moment there came as no consolation to Katsuta.
What should come as significant consolation is the massive speed he showed through Saturday. The improvement he’s shown in the last 12 months is quite breathtaking and it’s that Taka and Dan need to reflect on rather than cartwheeling their way through the Estonian woods on an early autumn Sunday.
Oliver Solberg 10/10
Rally Estonia result: 1st WRC3, 9th o/a
The 18-year-old delivered the perfect drive to clinch his first ever WRC3 victory. A couple of punctures on Saturday were an irritation, but little more in what was a fine demonstration of both speed and maturity. What’s got to be worrying for the Monster Energy driver’s opposition is the way he won – he rarely looked troubled and had enough in reserve to take care of the Volkswagen Polo R5 in the really tricky places on the small roads.
But when he got up on the wider sections, he was untouchable. Ninth overall and his first ever WRC points were a bonus, but what was most telling for Oliver was the way he dominated the entire Rally2 field, WRC2 factory cars included. Great to see a Solberg back on the roof of his car at the end of a world championship round again.
Mads Østberg 8/10
Rally Estonia result: 1st WRC2, 10th o/a
Was delighted with the development work from Citroën Racing on the C3 R5. The Norwegian has worked hard with the French firm to find more speed from the chassis and it’s working. Landing after a jump caused a rear puncture on the first run through Otepää, but otherwise this was a fairly faultless run for the likeable one-time Rally Portugal winner.
Østberg deserved his WRC2 success, but in terms of like-for-like Rally2 category competition, he was shown the way home by Oliver Solberg.