Revised WRC calendar “changes the game” for young drivers

Teemu Suninen expects new rallies and changes to existing events to level 2020's playing field


M-Sport driver Teemu Suninen believes the revised format of several rallies this year, and the addition of new events “changes the game” for less experienced World Rally Championship competitors.

Suninen – who was on the WRC podium last time out on Rally México back in March – is one of the least experienced of the full-time 2020 drivers with 56 starts to his name.

Toyota’s Kalle Rovanperä has less than half of Suninen’s tally, with 23 at world level and just three in a Rally1 car.

One of the widely considered keys to success in the WRC is detailed knowledge and experience of the rallies, which tend to remain fairly similar year on year, and makes accurate pacenotes a valuable commodity.

But as a legacy of the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, several events are either running at totally different points of the year and thus presenting new conditions, such as Germany and Sardinia. Rally Germany is also being exclusively held in the Baumholder military range for the first time.

In the latest episode of DirtFish Debates, Suninen was asked if the WRC calendar shake-up would also present a shake-up on the timesheets.

“Yeah, for me it changes the game a bit.

WRC México 2020

Photo: André Lavadinho

“They speak [of] positives for some challenges or surprises for young drivers.

“Now we are more at the same level of experience in the new rallies but still, of course the fast guys will be fast even in new rallies. But I believe there will be some surprises, which is good.”

Hyundai’s Thierry Neuville took a slightly different view however. He reckons the teams and drivers have had enough time to prepare, adding that he’s “not scared” by what is looking like an “intense” challenge.

“I would say that there was enough time to keep yourself in a good shape already,” Neuville said.

“We all know that if the season is starting very soon, that it’s going to be very, very intense not only for the drivers and co-drivers but as well for the whole team. Actually even more for the whole team because they have to prepare the cars for every single event.

“I know that our team is well prepared for that and there was enough time to get the logistics working on it as well. So I’m not scared about that and really looking forward actually to getting going again.

“We have spent many months at home and it’s enough now, we have to get going and get driving again.”

Elfyn Evans – who is eight points behind Toyota team-mate Sébastien Ogier at the top of the WRC standings – agreed with Neuville.

Jari-Matti Latvala

Photo: Jaanus Ree / Red Bull Content Pool

He pointed to Germany as an example of how even the events that have been rescheduled should provide “snippets of what we can expect”.

“Well, we obviously know that when it comes to the all-new rallies obviously there’s not so much we can do because obviously we can’t go and recce them beforehand,” he said.

“So it’s simply a case of watching the videos as best as we can. Obviously in terms of the weather conditions, Germany could be difficult. But I wasn’t in Germany last year and I think it was the first full-dry Rally Germany since I don’t know how long, so we’re used to getting rain in places like Germany.

“Of course, we were in Estonia last year so that will help a little bit, so we have snippets of what we can expect and hopefully we can prepare as we do in the normal way.

“Thierry already mentioned it’s going to be a fairly busy and intense end to the year but hopefully we’ve all had enough time to rest and prepare as well as possible for this.”