The next generation of World Rally Championship stars have set our their stalls for success, with eight drivers from six different nations committing themselves to this year’s Junior WRC.
The 2021 Junior WRC season is a landmark one as it marks 20 years since Sébastien Loeb and Daniel Elena won the inaugural title in crushing fashion in their Citroën Saxo S1600.
Since then, the WRC’s dedicated series for youngsters has spawned another top-class champion pairing in Sébastien Ogier and Julien Ingrassia, with WRC rally winners Dani Sordo and Elfyn Evans also winning the series in 2005 and 2012 respectively.
This year, the stars of the future will drive Ford Fiesta Rally4s from M-Sport Poland for the final time, with the 2022 Junior WRC catering solely for four-wheel-drive Rally3 Fiestas which is now an officially homologated rally car.
Last year’s Junior WRC runner-up Mārtiņš Sesks and third-placed man Sami Pajari both return to compete for honors, and they’ll be joined by several others with prior category experience.
Jon Armstrong heads this list, with Raul Badiu, Robert Virves, Martin Koči and Lauri Joona all entering the fray. William Creighton completes the line-up as the only driver without any Junior WRC experience heading into the season.
The champion from this bunch will be able to decide if they’d like to pedal a Fiesta Rally3 or Rally2 on five WRC events in 2022.
They’ll earn the chance to do that over five rounds in 2021, beginning with next month’s Rally Croatia before trips to Portugal, Estonia, Belgium and finally Spain.
“Normally it’s pretty clear who our strongest contenders are when going into the first round of the championship but this year it’s not the case,” said Junior WRC championship manager Maciej Woda.
“We have championship contenders from last year going up against championship contenders from years gone by and other well-known junior championships.
“For this year’s crews, it has been especially difficult to pull together the support to enter the championship, they have all worked incredibly hard to get to this point and I want to take this opportunity to recognize their effort.
“It’s a very special privilege to be organising the Junior WRC in its 20th anniversary year, we have some special celebrations planned for later in the year and I cannot wait to share more details about them.
“For now, let’s look forward to Croatia Rally and a very competitive Junior WRC field.”
Now we know who’ll be gunning for glory, DirtFish has picked out four drivers to watch out for over the course of 2021:
Nationality: Northern Ireland
Career highlights: 3rd in Drive DMACK Cup 2016
Perhaps the highest profile driver on the entry list, the 2021 season could be a huge one for Jon Armstrong and his new co-driver Phil Hall. His press launch was certainly a statement of intent, as Armstrong brings Codemasters and the DiRT Rally franchise to real-world rallying, competing for the Codemasters DiRT Rally Team.
Armstrong’s competition experience is vast in this class but limited in recent times. He started the season-opening Rally Sweden in Junior WRC last year but crashed out heavily and wasn’t able to start any further rounds.
The plan for 2021 will be simple: to become Junior WRC Champion. It won’t be an easy task, but if Armstrong can get up to speed quickly and score a solid result in Croatia, he has more than enough talent to go the distance.
Career highlights: 1st in Finnish SM3 class 2019
Sami Pajari is a dangerous proposition for his opponents as he boasts the ultimate blend of youth and experience. At the tender age of just 19, time is very much still on the Finn’s side but with a full season
of Junior WRC experience already under his belt, so is experience.
This year will be just his fifth behind the wheel of a rally car, but in that time Pajari has already shown that he has all the minerals to forge a career at the very highest level. Last year’s Junior WRC campaign was a case in point as he took the fight to champion Tom Kristensson and Mārtiņš Sesks on several rallies.
He’s already shown his stuff this year too, winning the RC4 class on Arctic Rally Finland by over two minutes from fellow Finn Lauri Joona – who himself will be one to watch in this season’s Junior WRC having won the prestigious Flying Finn Future Star scheme in 2020.
Nationality: Northern Ireland
Career highlights: 2nd in Junior BRC (2017 & ’19)
Had things played out marginally differently, William Creighton could find himself where his fellow Motorsport Ireland Rally Academy drivers Josh McErlean and Callum Devine are. Indeed, both of those two have narrowly pipped him to the Junior British Rally Championship crown over the years.
Creighton is ready for a new challenge, and the Junior WRC certainly represents that. Most of his rallying to date has been in a Peugeot 208 R2 in the UK and Ireland but when the BRC season was aborted in
2020, he made a trip to Rally di Roma in the ERC with his Ford Fiesta Rally4.
Finishing second in class on last weekend’s Rally ValMez, Creighton racked up useful miles ahead of the opening Junior WRC round and will be looking to put those to good effect next month.
Quick with a wise head on his shoulders, what Creighton perhaps lacks in international experience is counteracted by his ability to get the job done when it matters.
Career highlights: ERC Junior Under-27 Champion 2018
The stage is set for Sesks to follow his former Opel team-mate Tom Kristensson and win the Junior WRC title. After all, Sesks was the only driver other than Kristensson to win a round last season.
At 21 years old, Sesks is still a youngster but has plenty of experience in rallying and in the Fiesta, having driven the M-Sport Poland machine since 2019. His 2020 season was impressive too with three podiums and a win before a crash on the Monza finale as he looked to steal the title from Kristensson’s hands.
Pre-season talk is cheap, but realistically Sesks will probably find himself starting Rally Croatia as an early title favorite. It’s time to see if he’s up to the billing or if he’ll be usurpsed from one of the seven other hungry chargers.