Sesks’ WRC debut will give “confidence boost” to ERC drivers

Mārtiņš Sesks feels his fifth-place finish at Rally Poland proves how competitive the ERC is


Mārtiņš Sesks was the talk of the WRC service park at Rally Poland last weekend. He was the talk of the media, he was the talk of the fans and he was the talk of anyone who took even a passing interest in what was happening in the Masurian lake district.

If it weren’t for Kalle Rovanperä’s incredible effort to win the rally after his last-minute call-up, Sesks would undoubtedly have been Rally Poland’s star performer. Arguably, he was anyway.

Right from the event’s second stage, when Sesks went second-fastest through Friday morning’s opener, the Latvian made people sit up and take notice. And that was no flash in the pan. Sesks was on the pace all weekend, held off Thierry Neuville in impressive fashion on Saturday afternoon, and went on to finish fifth overall – in a hybrid-less car.

For the man himself, this was proof. Proof that his own ability merited an opportunity at rallying’s top table; proof that the European Rally Championship is a valid training ground for the WRC’s next generation of stars – talent that can perform at the highest level from day one.

Sesks has been an ERC frontrunner for the past two years, winning three rallies in that period and finishing second in the standings to Hayden Paddon in 2023.

Martins Sesks

Latvian driver won all but two stages on his home round of ERC last year

His wins have come on home ground in Latvia and in Poland – the two events where he has most experience. But perhaps that points more towards the depth of talent in the ERC than Sesks’ abilities.

“We are not always winning in the ERC, but we are quite competitive already here,” Sesks told DirtFish when asked if he knew he had the ability to compete at WRC level.

“But of course, we have different tires, different tire manufacturers, different cars so there is lots of common things. And, you know, past years in the ERC, Hayden Paddon and Mads Østberg are the guys from the WRC.

“So I think the competition level is quite high in the ERC because we finished sixth in Sweden two weeks ago and we finished here fifth, so…” he smiled.


Sesks could only manage sixth position on ERC's Royal Rally of Scandinavia in Toyota GR Yaris Rally2

Whether or not Sesks intended that as a jibe against the current lack of depth in the WRC’s top class, it is somewhat damning: a top-tier WRC debutant was able to score a better result than he managed on his previous appearance in a much more familiar car and championship.

Sesks added: “First of all I think the most important thing [was] we showed that drivers from ERC are capable of driving WRC1 car, and I think it gave a bit of a confidence boost to my fellow drivers in ERC that they are capable of it as well.

“So, I think this one should bring a bit more knowledge to everyone that what’s happening also with the non-hybrid and hybrid cars that we are competitive in that as well.”

No doubt, he will be the talk of the ERC service park in Estonia this weekend as well, for Sesks is in the middle of a very busy spell with a full-hybrid Rally1 debut in Latvia two weeks later.

Reigning ERC champion Hayden Paddon will be one of Sesks’ rivals in Estonia, and is well-placed to appraise Sesks’ debut as a one-time WRC rally winner. For Paddon, Sesks’ Poland performance was impressive but not unexpected.

“No I wasn’t surprised,” he told DirtFish. “He’s definitely been very fast and we’ve seen that in the last couple of seasons in the European championship. On fast gravel rallies he’s very, very fast and he did a great job in Poland, there’s absolutely no denying that.


Rally Poland performance reflects well on standard of competition in ERC

“To come out and do a top-five in your WRC debut is pretty impressive, but there’s an aspect that all of us who have competed against him probably somewhat expected it as well. He could surprise a few more in Latvia as well.”

Sesks may well have blazed a trail for other ERC drivers to follow, down the route of non-hybrid Rally1 cars. But Paddon believes that WRC2 still plays an important role in developing drivers.

“The ERC is at a very high level,” he said. “Even speaking to Oliver [Solberg] in Sweden, he was saying how fast the pace was in Sweden compared to what he’s used to in WRC2.

“I think the main difference between WRC2 and ERC is WRC2 you’ve got to be a very versatile driver, you’ve got to be fast on all sorts of different surfaces, different countries and everything, whereas ERC really highlights when you have a lot of fast people come in for one or two rallies, so it’s a little bit different in that respect where ERC is a bit more of a sprint format.

“WRC2 it’s more about the total package and doing it over a wide variety of different stuff.”