Hyundai Motorsport will be chasing redemption through the forests of Estonia next week from 20 to 23 July as the 2023 FIA World Rally Championship (WRC) enters its second half of the season.
With two double podiums in 2020 and 2021, followed by a third-place finish in 2022, Rally Estonia has quickly become a favourite for the Hyundai Shell Mobis World Rally Team. One of the most recent additions to the WRC calendar, the Estonian stages present a striking contrast to those of recent events; the smooth, fast roads feature hills, crests and jumps similar to Rally Finland. These sections are intertwined with technical sections on the country’s narrow forest passes to make for an exciting event for both drivers and fans alike.
The Belgians Thierry Neuville and Martijn Wydaeghe secured a podium here in 2021, while the Finnish crew Esapekka Lappi and Janne Ferm will make their inaugural Hyundai appearance on Estonian gravel at the event. The third Hyundai i20 N Rally1 Hybrid crew will be Teemu Suninen and Mikko Markkula, who step into the car for the first time after the Finnish driver was revealed as part of the Hyundai Motorsport Driver development Programme (HMDP) in June.
Rally Estonia comprises 21 stages totalling a competitive distance of 300,42 km. It has proved to be a relatively successful location for Hyundai Motorsport, scoring a win, five podiums, 22 stage wins and 10 stage 1-2 finishes across the past three outings.
Through the co-driver’s eyes
Rally Estonia proves less of a challenge for co-drivers than the previous two rounds, according to Janne Ferm. The main task is to find areas to save time on an incredibly fast and flowing rally.
Ferm said: “Rally Estonia is not a very difficult rally, especially if you come from Finland where you are used to crests and jumps. From the co-driver’s point-of-view, there are long straights with a few sections that are busy, but they tend to come one corner after another. The wide roads are quite simple in places compared to Sardinia and Portugal.
“For us, the challenge in Estonia is finding where you can cut or go wide and that’s basically what the co-drivers and drivers will do during the recce. The main differences between Estonia and other rallies are that it is very high speed and some of the jumps are man-made. The surface here is quite difficult; the sand doesn’t absorb the water as much, so last year it flooded massively on the Power Stage. It’s similar to our home soil, although it’s a bit sandier in comparison to Finland.”
Hyundai Motorsport team principal Cyril Abiteboul said: “Rally Estonia has historically provided us with good results, including a win here in 2020. Thierry and Teemu both know how to get on to the podium here, and Esapekka comes to Estonia on a run of good form, despite a disappointing end to his Safari Rally Kenya.
“We continue to work closely as a team to develop the performance of our Hyundai i20 N Rally1 Hybrid to maximise our points haul at every rally for the rest of the season. Following the weekend we had in Kenya, we hope that Estonia will allow us to come back fighting and that we can leave the rally with podium.”
Crew Notes: Thierry Neuville/Martijn Wydaeghe
Neuville said: “Rally Estonia is a challenging event for me every year. Fast and wide roads mean the average speed is very high, so you need to really to commit to it and feel comfortable in the car. Most of the time you are running a low car, at least on the first pass. On the second pass you might have to rise the ride height because of the ruts. Generally, you need to find the balance between a stiff car to get the precision and the directivity, but also keep enough traction. It’s hard to find the right balance but those are the main challenges.”
Crew Notes: Esapekka Lappi/Janne Ferm
Lappi said: “As everyone knows, in terms of speed this event is similar to Finland and Chile. The driving style is you are either full throttle or braking – there is no in-between. Normally in central European rallies, you need to drive a different way, but in Estonia and Finland you are full throttle and that is the biggest difference.
“One of the main challenges in my point of view is that road usage is not so clear; you can cut from the bushes and use the exits if there is a field. To be able to comfortably go outside of the road you have to have perfect pace notes at that speed, that is the trickiest thing to get right.”
Crew Notes: Teemu Suninen/Mikko Markkula
Suninen said: “I’m really excited to get in the Hyundai i20 N Rally1 Hybrid, especially when it’s one of my favourite rallies. I’ve been dreaming of it for a long time, and I’ve been working hard to get back to the top class so it’s great to be here.
“Normally Rally Estonia is one of the fastest rallies on the whole calendar and it’s like a sprint, so we have to drive flat out from start to finish. The surface is normally quite soft, so the grip level is really high, especially on the second loop with some big ruts. My main goal is to bring some good manufacturer points, but I also need to show good pace, and if the feeling is good, then we will push for a strong result.”