M-Sport Ford World Rally Team will be back up to speed on the high-speed gravel stages of Rally Estonia this week (15-18 July).
Teemu Suninen returns to the British squad’s World Rally Car line-up alongside Gus Greensmith in two EcoBoost-powered Ford Fiesta WRCs. M-Sport’s WRC2 challenge resumes in Estonia with Adrien Fourmaux reverting to a Ford Fiesta Rally2 having excelled on Safari Rally Kenya in a top-level Fiesta, while Tom Kristensson makes his third appearance in WRC2 as part of his prize for winning the Junior WRC title in 2020.
After Greensmith and Fourmaux registered M-Sport’s best result of the season so far in East Africa last month, the focus switches from measured pace to driving flat out on Rally Estonia’s fast and popular gravel stages.
The event marks the start of part two of the 2021 season having made its WRC debut last September when it hosted the restart of the 2020 FIA World Rally Championship following the first wave of the global health pandemic.
Back then, and in line with the constraints at the time, organisers ran a compact three-day event but have reverted to a more traditional format for 2021. This includes a competitive distance of 319.38 kilometres over 24 mainly gravel stages from Thursday to Sunday.
The expanded route has resulted in a flurry of new stages being added to the itinerary or modifications being made to existing layouts. However, the fast-paced challenge remains unaltered with Rally Estonia rivalling Rally Finland as the WRC’s fastest contest.
Crews charge through spectacular open Estonian countryside – peppered with jumps and crests – and forest sections with thousands of fans getting ready to watch the action from the various vantage points along the route.
Compared to Rally Finland, Rally Estonia’s stages are softer in nature with ruts a potential challenge when stages are used for a second time. And with a mid-July date compared to the early autumn slot occupied in 2020, higher ambient and ground temperatures are expected.
Estonia’s second largest city Tartu, in the southeast of the country, remains Rally Estonia’s hub. Following Thursday’s opening city test, Friday’s action is based south of Tartu and includes four repeated stages. Crews head north of Tartu for Saturday morning’s two repeated runs before they travel south of the city for a brace of double-use stages in the afternoon. Three stages repeated are set for Sunday with the rally-deciding Power Stage due to begin at 14h18 local time.
To prepare for Rally Estonia, Greensmith and Suninen shared a three-day test earlier this month, while Fourmaux and Kristensson also got the opportunity to carry out pre-event running in the country.
Team Principal, Richard Millener, said:
“Rally Estonia is a very different event to what we experienced in Kenya. On the Safari it was all about following a game plan and getting to the finish of what was a very tough and challenging rally. Estonia, however, is flat out from the word go.
“All our drivers have experience of the event and Gus and Teemu will head into rally week on the back of a strong three-day test, where we put into place recent damper development and chassis set-up work.
“We start Rally Estonia not only boosted by a strong result in Kenya, where Gus led Adrien home in fourth place, but we can also perhaps count on a more favorable road position for both Gus and Teemu. We hope they take advantage of that and show good speed on selected stages. A couple of stage wins thrown into the mix would be pleasing to see and if we can stay close to the podium positions then we will have achieved our expectations.”
On a high after scoring his best WRC finish to date in Kenya last month in fourth place, Briton Gus Greensmith, 24, will aim to capitalise on a successful test in the build-up to Rally Estonia. Continuing his partnership with vastly experienced co-driver Chris Patterson, Greensmith made his Estonia debut last year and finished eighth.
Gus Greensmith said:
“Kenya was all about being smart, surviving the conditions and managing your pace. Estonia is just about being flat out from the outset and keeping it flat out until the end of the rally.
“I’ve always tended to do well on fast rallies even though we’ve not been as strong as we’d like to have been. But we’ve had a good test between myself and Teemu and I believe we’ve made the car even more drivable and predictable. Looking at the onboards from last year, the majority of the time lost was from big slides or mistakes being made when struggling to get the best out of the car so the changes should help.
“The update made to the engine earlier this year means it pulls better at the top end. It’s a small change but top-end speed is what we need in Estonia so hopefully we can be more competitive than what we were last year. Certainly, the confidence is high in the team after Kenya and a top-six result in Estonia is a realistic target.”
Back in the WRC for the first time since Rally Italia Sardinia in early June, Rally Estonia is almost a home event for Flying Finn Teemu Suninen, 27, who finished sixth last season, his third start in the country.
Teemu Suninen said:
“I’ve always loved the rally, it has challenging roads but also super-high speed so something similar to what we have in Finland. Although it’s similar speed-wise there are less crests and jumps in Estonia but there starts to be quite a few artificial jumps, which are hard to understand how far you can jump.
“The surface is more sandy compared to Finland and I would like to think I can take advantage of my road position and hopefully get a better result than last year. Last year we were struggling a bit with the pace, but hopefully the one and a half days of testing we have done will also help.
“Having done some testing I’m not worried about getting back up to speed in the World Rally Car because I have a good feeling and a good understanding from the aero. I don’t think having the rally in July rather than September will make a big difference, apart from maybe with the tyres, with softs in the morning and maybe some hards in the afternoon. The airflow is quite high in the car on fast stages so the heat should not be a problem.”
Frenchman Adrien Fourmaux, 26, has form on Rally Estonia. He was third in class on his first appearance in 2019 and took the runner-up spot in WRC2 last season. Arriving in Estonia after registering his first stage win in the WRC, Fourmaux reckons time spent behind the wheel of a Fiesta World Rally Car will help his switch back to the Rally2 version.
Adrien Fourmaux said:
“It’s a really good rally for the Nordic drivers because it’s a proper Nordic rally, so fast with some really big jumps! But the surface is more sandy compared to Finland and on the second pass you have some really big ruts and you really need to change the set-up of the car. But the rally is really nice, really fast and the Estonian people are also really nice, waving at you on the road sections like they did in Kenya. I did this challenge of switching back to a Rally2 car from a World Rally Car for Sardinia. Where I need to be careful is on the really fast corners because you don’t have the aero like you do in a World Rally Car. It’s really easy to take too much speed into a corner so I need to switch my brain to the Rally2 car. But I am sure the World Rally Car will help me to be faster because the speed is higher and it can help me to have less stress. The goal is to be able to fight for the championship. Okay, I am against more experienced drivers, but with the testing we have done I am confident I can fight with them.”
Tom Kristensson, who gets his third WRC2 start in the EcoBoost-powered Ford Fiesta Rally2, part of his prize for winning the FIA Junior WRC title in 2020, was topping the JWRC classification on his Rally Estonia debut last year when a mechanical failure put him out. He returns hoping recent lifestyle changes will make him a better driver.
Tom Kristensson said:
“I didn’t do many stages last year after the engine problem on SS3, but I have a taste of the roads and the conditions. I was very sad last year because I had a very good feeling and it’s one of my absolute favorite rallies. With the Rally2 car it will be much easier because of the help from the suspension. I will still need to find the correct line but in the Rally2 car it’s more about driving and not to think how much the car will be able to handle everything. I was struggling a lot before Croatia and also Portugal because there was so much to organise with the budget. But I have done some lifestyle changes. I stopped my normal work so I just have three days a week of work and the rest is for rally preparation. It means I have more time to focus and this is a rally that I feel comfortable going to. I want to find my speed and my pace, whether it’s enough for third or fifth I don’t know but I know it will be good when I am there.”