Which World Rally Championship driver has impressed you most this season?
Sébastien Ogier surely has to be a contender, for keeping himself in the championship picture despite missing two rallies.
Esapekka Lappi must be up there too, for his strong start to life at Hyundai.
And what about Yohan Rossel? Leading WRC2 against class heavyweights Oliver Solberg and Gus Greensmith is certainly an impressive feat.
I’m not here to discredit any of their performances so far in 2023, but I’d like to introduce you to another candidate.
The Frenchman and his Irish rival William Creighton have been the class acts of Junior WRC thus far. And considering this is Creighton’s third successive season in JWRC and just Pellier’s first, it’s to Pellier’s credit that he’s so firmly in the race.
“Ha ha, yeah, I think most people would say the same like you – you are super fast! But in my opinion I was also fast a few years before but it looks [like] nobody saw it before!” Pellier laughs.
There’s certainly shades of ‘Valtteri Bottas 2.0’ about Pellier, whose career has undergone a radical reset since the COVID-19 pandemic.
“That’s completely true,” he tells DirtFish.
“There are two different timings to my career – the first before COVID and then I actually restarted after COVID.
“Before COVID I was driving an R5 car and I was already in European championship with Peugeot one time, I already won one round of JWRC in Tour de Corse. I had many opportunities with constructors like Alpine, I developed the R-GT.
“But with COVID, during 2020 year, initially I was Peugeot Sport driver and my program was to promote the new 208 Rally4, but with the COVID situation everything was canceled and finally after this I had no more driving opportunities and I finally decided to stop my career, to stop to try to become professional.”
But an opportunity in the Opel e-Rally Cup in 2021 brought Pellier back behind the wheel.
“To be honest, at the start it was just an opportunity,” he admits, “but finally I discovered something completely new – new races, new countries also and a new challenge with electric power.
“So finally it was a good challenge for a guy like me to restart from zero and to say, ‘OK, maybe if I can win this one it’s still good to win something new, to restart from zero, to just drive a small car but very, very fast.’
“And finally I learned lots of small things with this comeback at the start of the pyramid.”
Pellier’s right when he pointed out he has always been a fast driver – some stellar results like that 2016 JWRC Corsica win, or third on the hugely-competitive Rallye du Var in 2018 with a Citroën C3 R5 prove that.
But what he’s managed to achieve since his career pause has been quite sensational.
Winning all six rounds of the Opel e-Rally Cup launched him into Junior ERC last season with a Corsa Rally4, and guess what? Pellier cleaned up again – winning five of the six events.
It therefore shouldn’t really be a surprise that Pellier has fought for victory in both Sweden and Croatia this season, but his Swedish performance was mightily impressive given it was his first-ever winter rally.
He lost out to Creighton by just 0.6 seconds.
“Yeah, to be honest, in Sweden it was also a big surprise for me because I discover everything – tires, car, snow, ice and we were very happy with our pace,” Pellier explains.
“Before the season our goal was, and it still is, to win the championship. It’s my last year opportunity in this championship [as next year I am too old to compete] so our best plan for next year is to win the championship.”
As it stands, Pellier trails leader Creighton by 21 points heading into this weekend’s third round of five – Rally Italy Sardinia.
But he’s incredibly unlucky to not be ahead, as engine problems halfway through Croatia denied him a certain victory on a weekend where rival Creighton crashed.
“We made the first stage of Saturday morning when William crashed, in this stage the car was OK,” Pellier remembers. “But in the next one directly we had an alarm on the dash so we finished the stage in road mode, normal mode, and when we were at the stop point we checked and we saw we had a problem.
“We continued on the third [stage] but when we started immediately we had the same alarm, so we continue in road mode until the end. We came back to the service and M-Sport explained the situation and we can continue but only in road mode to save the engine.
“We tried to manage the big gap because we were four minutes ahead. To be honest, at this moment I think we all had it in mind [that] it would be very, very difficult to go to the end of the rally as we still had a day to complete and with big road sections on motorway, but OK we had to try and Saturday was OK.
“But unfortunately on Sunday we had only two cylinders and even if I was in road mode I cannot put full throttle, I have to keep maybe 20% of the throttle and yeah… pfft, the engine say ‘bye bye’.”
It was unfair, but rallying so often is. Pellier knows that, which is why he’s sanguine about his lot despite no longer having any dropped scores to lean on.
“For sure we have no more dropped scores, but to be honest I think our big rival for the championship is William and it’s not a very good result for him also in Croatia because he finished seventh,” Pellier points out.
“The very bad luck for us was to retire on the last day because we can’t score any points, and we also lost lots of stage win points [because we couldn’t go fast]. So it’s double bad luck, but we will see what happens for the next rounds.
“For sure, I think for Sardinia it will be maybe not the super-fast guy who will be the winner at the end so we need to keep in mind this situation and to manage each situation also, and we will see.
“But for sure, we need to take big points now! Six weeks ago we were completely cool in the lead of the rally and next stage everything falls. Before the end it’s never finished.
“We will fight for the victory and I think with William, who is a very fast guy, it will be a great battle.”