At least in one of the Baltic countries, the rally season has finally started. Lithuania and Latvia have to wait for it for almost a quarter of a year. The roads of the first event of the Estonian Rally Championship not only welcomed the local people but also became a training ground for many crews from all over the world. So it is – Otepää talveralli.
The Otepää talveralli took place in the southern part of Estonia and offered the participants four different sections of road, which were run twice. This consisted of 84 kilometers of special stages. Everything was compact, with formalities, reece, and shakedown on Friday, and the race itself on Saturday.
Many Estonian elites gathered at their national championship, which this year should be extremely interesting. Behind multi-champion Georg Gross with the Ford Fiesta WRC, there was a whole bunch of ultra-fast crews with R5 / Rally2 and Proto equipment. Pacenotes master and trainer Egon Kaur switched from the Proto car to the VW Polo R5. Young Gregor Jeets has grown out of a Rally4 car and will drive a Škoda Fabia R5 Evo this season. Roland Poom joined the famous Sainteloc Junior Team and started with a rare in these lands Citroen C3 Rally2 and a very experienced co-driver Darren Garrod. Also well known are Georg Linnamae, Roland Murakas, Priit Koik. While with the older and slower Mitsubishi Lancer Evo’s, Ranno Bundsen, and Timmo Korge appeared in R5 car rearview mirrors.
But the focus is not on Estonian leaders – it was on guests. As test days for World Rally Championship teams are quite limited, they are looking for opportunities to gather sports kilometers somewhere else. This is especially important now, as the change in WRC tire supplier means teams lack experience with the new rubber. Especially on ice and snow. And the second round of the championship in the north of Finland, which will take place soon, differs in its specificity from the WRC Swedish Rally, which has been irreplaceable on the calendar for a long time. So only the Hyundai team took the opportunity to taste the winter stages in this event. Meanwhile, the Toyota car is already grown in Finland, and M-Sport, which sacrifices this season, is focusing on survival, the production of the 2022 WRC car, and the development of the Rally3 program. In addition to WRC best, N.Gryazin, R.Al-Rasheed, four Polish, two Lithuanian crews and several others came to train on a unique surface.
The Hyundai team has solidly gathered information about the specifics of the narrow and wide, hilly and extremely snowy roads that await in the Arctic. Ott Tanak calmly gathered victories in all stages, and Thierry Neuville continued to improve communication with a new neighbor in the car – Martijn Wydaeghe. Although it wasn’t that easy because the conditions were really tough. The first stage run included snow-plowing, and in the second run of the same special stage, front runners had to deal with thinner tracks left by weaker cars. Georg Gross picked up the maximum points for the Estonian Championship and climbed the third step of the podium. Although he was furiously pursued by Egon Kaur and Nikolay Gryazin. But Nikolay landed wrongly after one jump in the fourth special stage and destroyed the VW Polo GTI R5. The good news is that the crew left unharmed. A similar fate befell the young G.Jeets. Nikolay, on the other hand, argued that participation in such rallies/tests is intended to seek out the limits, and to make such mistakes here is better rather than in the more important events of the World Rally Championship. The former Estonian champion Timmu Korge returned to the rally tracks and finished in 7th place behind the fastest R5 Estonian trio E.Kaur, G.Linnamae, and R.Poom. After winning the championship, Timmu mainly drove a Lada VAZ 2105 and various other cars. In Otepää, he relied on the Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution IX. The seventh-place was also reached for the Lithuanian V.Jurkevičius, but due to several mistakes in the last stage, they remained ten, only a few seconds behind P.Koik, R.Bundsen, and T.Korge. Guests from Polish crews, for whom these roads were a considerable challenge, remained outside the top ten.
Two-wheel drive cars also had a really intense battle for the positions in Otepää talveralli. T. Niinemets with BMW M3 E36 was just five seconds ahead of K. Kasari with Ford Fiesta Rally4.
Estonians, like other Baltic countries, will now have to wait for the grass to grow. And now we are waiting for the Finnish WRC stage 🙂
Say Thank you and become part of Rally Week:
Interviews with Lithuanians on this rally: