STARS and cars of the FIA World Rally Championship will get some high-speed practice in Estonia this weekend less than three weeks before the fastest rally of the season at Neste Rally Finland.
PHOTO: Toyota’s Ott Tänak is aiming for another win on his home rally in Estonia (Rally Estonia pic)
The super-quick gravel roads of the Shell Helix Rally in neighbouring Estonia have lured all four WRC manufacturer teams to the event – which is not a championship round, but has been designated an official WRC promotion – eager to switch into speed mode ahead of Finland on 1-4 August.
Finland has the highest average speed in the WRC, around 125 kilometres an hour. Drivers reach far higher top speeds on the smooth gravel straights and make a spectacular sight as their cars fly high and long over the many jumps on the stages.
Home hero and championship leader Ott Tänak tops the Estonia entry in his Toyota Yaris. The 2018 winner faces stiff competition from the Hyundai i20s of Andreas Mikkelsen and new signing Craig Breen, Elfyn Evans in a Ford Fiesta and Esapekka Lappi in a Citroën C3.
“I know from last year that competing on these fast roads is a really good preparation for us and the team before Rally Finland,” Tänak said.
Five-time WRC rally winner Markko Märtin, the first Estonian to score a WRC victory, will make a popular return to the stages in a Ford Fiesta.
A strong support category is headed by Teemu Suninen, who steps back from M-Sport World Rally Car duties to debut the team’s latest Fiesta R5.
The Finn faces competition from WRC 2 regulars Eerik Pietarinen and Nikolay Gryazin, both in Skoda Fabias, Toyota WRC protégé Takamoto Katsuta in a Fiesta and teenage sensation Oliver Solberg in a Volkswagen Polo GTI.
More than 100 cars will contest the event, which starts with a Friday-afternoon qualifying stage for manufacturer-team drivers and finishes on Sunday after almost 152 kilometres of competition.