The 2021 FIA Junior WRC Championship is poised to have one of the most unpredictable and competitive seasons in its 20-year history thanks to an extremely talented line-up of entries.
2021 marks 20 years since Sebastien Loeb and Daniel Elena set upon their WRC dynasty by capturing the attention of every major team by winning every Junior WRC round they entered. The dominant duo went on to win the championship, catapulting themselves into the rallying stratosphere.
This year’s crews will do battle in identical M-Sport Poland-built Fiesta Rally4 cars and will all be looking to emulate their heroes and former Junior WRC icons such as Loeb, Ogier, Neuville, Sordo, Evans, Breen, Latvala and Meeke. The crews, exclusively equipped with Pirelli tyres and Wolf Lubricants, will be facing stiff competition in order to have their name added to the prestigious list of former Junior WRC Champions and win the biggest prize in rallying.
The 2021 FIA Junior WRC Champion will be able to choose from two prize packages the traditional prize package is still available including the M-Sport Fiesta Rally2, 200 Pirelli tyres, free registration for the 2022 WRC 3 Championship as well as five free entries. M-Sport, Pirelli and WRC Promoter have also provided an alternative and sustainable prize option too with five fully funded drives in the brand-new M-Sport Fiesta Rally3 in the WRC’s yet to be named Rally3 category championship.
The 2021 driver line-up sees a real mixture of Junior WRC rookies and veterans vying to become the next star of the WRC. All of this year’s drivers have unique specialities with strong potential to be rally winners in Junior WRC’s 20th anniversary year.
Maciej Woda, FIA Junior WRC Championship Manager:
“This year’s line-up of drivers is going to provide even more excitement to our championship which is an incredible way to celebrate our 20th year. We have championship contenders from last year going up against championship contenders from years gone by and other well-known junior championships. 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. 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 recognise their effort. It’s a very special privilege to be organising the FIA Junior WRC Championship 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!”
Martins Sesks / Renars Francis
A Championship contender in 2020, Martins Sesks would eventually finish runner up to long-time rival and 2020 Junior WRC Champion, Tom Kristensson. Sesks had a difficult rookie season in 2019, despite setting fastest stage times on two out of the four rounds he contested. 2020 saw Sesks develop with mature drives earning him his maiden Junior WRC victory on Rally Estonia and a total of three podium finishes while taking at least one stage win on every Junior WRC round.
“We have a three-year plan which started in Junior WRC two years ago, the first year for getting used to the WRC and the experience, it didn’t go really well but we came back stronger last year. I think we were building our pace through the season and were championship leaders until the last round. We are now turning out focus on one target: the highest place in the championship and really looking forward to it. The competition is really high this year, I had some nice battles with Sami last year and he will be really fast this season. I think the other guys will be strong too, it will be really competitive, everyone has been the fastest guy at some point in their careers which will also make it really fun too!”
Sami Pajari / Marko Salminen
Sami Pajari burst onto the Junior WRC stage at just 17 years old on Rally Finland in 2019, raising eyebrows after mixing it up with the top-three and taking stage wins. The young Finn really stepped up on every rally in 2020, with flashes of rally winning pace helping him to secure the Wolf Stage Points award with a total of 19 stage wins. Pajari finished third in the 2020 FIA Junior WRC Championship, claiming the Rookie Award thanks to being the highest placed rookie.
“I am really looking forward to starting my second full season of the FIA Junior WRC Championship, the start of the year has been successful for us, we did two rallies and won them both without any major issues. I have a good feeling right now, I think if things continue like this I shouldn’t have too many problems. I am feeling more confident now, I know the car and am comfortable, most of the guys in our championship are at a similar level too. I am really looking forward to battling again this year, especially after some close competition with Martins last year.”
Robert Virves / Sander Pruul
Robert Virves made a one-off appearance on Rally Estonia in 2020 and was able to fund his drive thanks to a crowd-funding campaign that captured the passion of Estonia’s rally fans. He didn’t disappoint either, leading most of the rally and taking everybody by surprise until heartbreak came by a puncture with only three stages to go. Virves hit back straight away with two stage wins and was able to claim third on his Junior WRC debut. Despite his disappointment, he proved more than anything that he will be one to watch for 2021.
“I am more than excited to be able compete in a high-level championship such as Junior WRC, let’s see what will happen! I did Rally Estonia with Junior WRC in 2020, it was a nice experience, I did quite controlled drive, we tried to make sure we reached the finish and not make any stupid mistakes. This year will not be easy, that’s for sure, we are doing a preparation rally in San Remo before Croatia. I’m not saying we will push for a win in Croatia, but you never know!”
Lauri Joona / Ari Koponen
Lauri Joona’s maiden Junior WRC podium escaped him in the closing moments of his first Junior WRC rally in Sweden 2020. The Finn made an impressive start and was sat third with a ten second gap over fourth on the final stage, then an untimely puncture in torrential rain saw him slip all the way to ninth. He had proven to everybody watching that he has the potential for some strong results and went on to win AKK’s Flying Finn Future Star Award. Joona is back for more Junior WRC action in 2021 and it’s just a matter of time before his first stage win and podium comes through.
“I am the 2020 Flying Finn Future Star Award winner after winning the Finnish Junior Championship last year and it’s really nice to be a part of the 2021 Junior WRC Championship. We did one round of Junior WRC last year in Sweden which was a great experience and got good information on how WRC events work. We will be trying for good stage times this year; asphalt rallying is totally new for me and I don’t have any experience on that surface except with gravel suspension. We try to get a good rhythm in Croatia and take it step by step. We are looking to get some asphalt testing before Croatia but right now there is still snow in Finland so we will have to see.”
Raul Badiu / Rares Fetean
Badiu enters his fourth season of FIA Junior WRC, including a cameo appearance on Rally Turkey for the finale of the 2018 championship. The Romanian demonstrated raw speed on all three surfaces Junior WRC competed on throughout 2019 posting top-three stage times and earning a career best of fourth on Rally d’Italia Sardegna before a horrific accident on Rally Finland. Badiu returned to action on Rally Sweden in 2020, taking his first stage win Torsby Sprint and his second came on the second pass of the same stage on his way to fifth overall. Heading to Croatia, Badiu has experience on similar roads with performances to prove it after an ERC3 podium on Rally Hungary in 2020 in an older specification car.
“I’m very excited, I’m happy to be here ready for the start of Croatia, it’s been a very difficult period with COVID and everything. Even under normal circumstances it’s difficult to get to these events but with COVID it’s even harder so to be here at the start is a huge relief. I have a new co-driver for this season, but I want to really thank Gaby so much for everything in this period of my career throughout all the ups and downs. I felt that being it’s my last year of Junior WRC I had to make a change and do something different which is why I chose Rares who I have worked with in Romania last year.”
Jon Armstrong / Phil Hall
With an impressive rally esports career, 2018 WRC eSports champion Armstrong is no stranger to the real world of rallying with an impressive resume heading into 2021. He has experience on WRC events, proving himself as a competitive driver in two-wheel and four-wheel drive machinery thanks to a top ten finish in WRC 2 on Rally Spain in 2017 and two Drive D-Mack Fiesta Trophy victories in 2016.
“After Rally Sweden in 2020 I really didn’t know if I was ever going to get the chance again to come back and give it all another go. I had quite a big crash and I’ve gotten over that but after that it was a scenario of ‘how can I make this happen?’ for 2021 and I’ve been working on getting here ever since. It’s like a dream come true to put this package together, I can’t wait. I think I need to be realistic and build up my speed again and see where we are at come the end of day one in Croatia. My goal in Croatia is just to bed myself back into it and take it from there. Asphalt is one of my favourite surfaces even though I’ve had really good results on gravel too, I feel comfortable on asphalt though and I’m really looking forward to getting back behind the wheel.”
Martin Koči / Petr Těšínský
Martin Koci’s Junior WRC career stretches back before FIA Junior WRC, when the feeder series was known as WRC Academy in 2012 the young Slovakian driver made a one-off appearance on Rally Germany. Koci returned in 2013 to the rebranded FIA Junior WRC Championship and improved year on year, claiming his first Junior WRC victory in 2014. Koci’s strongest season came in his last Junior WRC appearance when he finished on the podium four times in 2016 including one victory and finished second in the championship to Simone Tempestini. Koci went on to contest national championships in Rally2 machinery but claims he has unfinished business in FIA Junior WRC!
“We still want to achieve some goals in WRC, to be honest coming back was not an easy task but Junior WRC made the most sense for me. I think we feel we still have some business to finish off in this category still, we finished third in 2014, second in 2016 but we would like to go one position better. I’m not the youngest but they are the reasons I wanted to come back and I am happy with this choice. I was rallying on national events between my 2017 and now, it’s hard for me to say how it will go so I’m coming to the field with respect as I don’t know what kind of speed I have now. I’m working harder than ever to be as competitive as possible. We have already started our preparation; I did a rally last year on gravel with a Fiesta Rally4 and last week I had a first event with the Fiesta Rally4 on tarmac to get ready for the championship ahead.”
William Creighton / Liam Regan
Croatia Rally will mark William Creighton’s FIA Junior WRC rally debut as he embarks upon his first full international campaign away from national championships in the UK and Ireland. With a primarily asphalt background, Creighton is by no means a stranger to gravel, his last rally win was on the same stages that Rally GB is contested on after winning in the Junior WRC on the 2020 Cambrian Rally. With various national success in previous seasons, Creighton is looking to build his experience as he settles into the pace of FIA Junior WRC.
“We’ve competed on a WRC event before, on Rally GB we did the full WRC rally for the British Rally Championship, but we had to restart the rally on my first attempt. I’ve been on YouTube trying to gather as many videos as I can of the roads in Croatia but watching it on your laptop and experiencing it are two very different things. We’ll be doing as much research as we can heading in though. We’re relatively inexperienced when it comes to rallies outside of Ireland and the UK but the only way you can learn is to go and do them.”