Less than two weeks after the conclusion of the World Rally Championship’s first ever visit to Rally Estonia, the crews are reconvening for a much rougher, tougher but better known quantity: Rally of Turkey.
And of course, tucked in the slipstream of the Rally1 crews are the Rally2 cars fighting for WRC2 and WRC3 honors this weekend. While the number of entrants is significantly down from Estonia in both classes – with no Junior WRC drivers either – the quality is still absolutely there.
Here’s how it stands in WRC2 and WRC3 ahead of Rally of Turkey, and who you can expect to be fighting at the front on the WRC’s roughest gravel challenge.
Citroën’s Mads Østberg is very much in the driving seat in WRC2, scoring his third victory from as many starts in Estonia to boast a 20-point lead at the top. He’s a driver you would expect to go well in Turkey; except he isn’t going to be there.
So with Østberg momentarily leaving the door open behind him as he watches from home, who’s going to be there to capitalize?
The obvious bet is Pontus Tidemand. The Toksport Škoda Fabia Rally2 evo pilot is the man who’s second in the points table as things stand, and is the only other driver to have won an event in WRC2 this season; doing so on Rally México.
Tidemand is a solid points scorer, and heads to Turkey with reduced competition. With neither Hyundai drivers – Nikolay Gryazin and Ole Christian Veiby – on the start list either, only team-mate Eyvind Brynildsen and M-Sport’s Adrien Fourmaux can stop him in his tracks.
Fourmaux could be a headache for Tidemand though. While he is widely recognized as an asphalt expert, Fourmaux has been thrashing his Ford Fiesta Rally2 on gravel almost habitually of late with Turkey his fourth gravel rally start in five weekends.
And his performance in Estonia was impressive. While he may not have had the outright pace, he battled through to take his first WRC2 podium with second place – ahead of Tidemand. And Turkey isn’t about speed, it’s about survival.
Just like WRC2, the WRC3 championship leader is absent in Turkey. And just like WRC2, the Rally México winner looks set to be the one to cash in.
Jari Huttunen is the man currently on top after Estonia and, despite the sporadic appearances of many in WRC3, he leads purely on merit as all of the top four drivers have started two rallies like Huttunen – or even three in the case of Oliver Solberg who is another Turkey absentee.
Instead, it’s Marco Bulacia who starts as favorite, lying second in the points following his México win and a subtly impressive drive to fourth in Estonia. His main opposition in Turkey is likely to come in the shape of Škoda-driving Kajetan Kajetanowicz.
The Pole may well feel he has a point to prove after binning it from a podium position on Estonia earlier this month, but he’ll do well to unruffle Bulacia whose mature head belies his tender age of just 19.
Emilio Fernández is something of a dark horse in his Fabia; the Chilean was second to Bolivia’s best in Mexico. His compatriot Alberto Heller is another not to discount, while a whole host of Turkish locals – led by Yağız Avci – are keen to show the WRC3 regulars a thing or two about how to drive on Turkish soil.
American driver Sean Johnston is also something of a threat, given his impressive class debut in Estonia. Last year’s Junior WRC champion Jan Solans and Johnston are tipped to have a close battle as both are spending 2020 learning the ropes in the Rally2 class.
An interesting but somewhat irrelevant subplot in Turkey will be the allure of fully fledged world championship points. With the event known for its attrition, the chances of Rally1 cars failing to make the finish is high, paving the way clear for the leading Rally2 cars to prop up the overall top 10.
Check out the 2018 event as the perfect case in point. WRC2 winner Jan Kopecký was seventh overall with Simone Tempestini and Chris Ingram second and third in class but eighth and ninth overall. That’s great marketing value for a lot of these drivers.
The other intriguing albeit ultimately irrelevant equation is who will win the Rally2 class outright? Three times out of four this season the WRC3 winner has outpaced the WRC2 winner, so can the WRC2 boys get their own back? We’re about to find out.