WRC Live: Rally Poland 2024

Stunning victory for Kalle Rovanpera, despite he arrived only the day before the start without pre-event test. Evans completes Toyota great weekend and Fourmaux gains his third 2024 podium on Ford. Neuville keeps championship lead thanks also to Super Sunday and Power Stage points. Bad Luck for Tanak and Mikkelsen

Honestly, no one would have expected a victory from Kalle Rovanpera at the Rally Poland. The two-time Toyota world champion was called in at the last second by the team to replace Sebastien Ogier, who had an accident during reconnaissance that forced the Frenchman to withdraw after hospital checks. There were no serious injuries for the eight-time world champion, but as a precaution, the doctors ruled him out of the Polish race.

Rovanpera did not have Rally Poland in his seasonal program and arrived when all the other crews had already completed the route reconnaissance. For this reason, the Finnish driver and his navigator Jonne Halttunen were given an extra day to write their pace notes. Despite the absence of a pre-event test with his Yaris Rally1, Rovanpera had been cautious in his statements before the start, but after a careful beginning, he increased the pace and took the lead in the race, never relinquishing it.

Good polish result also for Elfyn Evans

The final result of the Rally Poland is a triumph for Toyota, with Elfyn Evans securing second place. Ford M-Sport also celebrates thanks to Adrien Fourmaux’s third-place finish, marking his third podium of the season after those in Sweden and Kenya. Hyundai, however, isn’t smiling too much but manages to contain the damage. The Alzenau team saw Ott Tanak retire immediately after hitting a deer, and Thierry Neuville struggled throughout the weekend outside the top positions. Nevertheless, they found an excellent performance from Andreas Mikkelsen, who was in contention for victory for a long time but unfortunately lost almost a minute on stage 16 after lightly hitting a bank and damaging a tire. Neuville still secured a valuable fourth place for the championship.

The real surprise of the weekend was Latvian driver Martins Sesks, who impressed everyone in his first experience with the Ford Puma, even without the hybrid system. Andeas Mikkelsen finished in sixth position followed by Munster and Katsuta.

In the Super Sunday standings, which award seven points to the day’s winner, Ott Tanak secured victory ahead of Rovanpera and Fourmaux, who earned six and five points respectively. The Power Stage, on the other hand, was won by Thierry Neuville, adding five points to his total in addition to the three points for fifth place in the Super Sunday.

Neuville strengthens his leadership in the overall standings and now commands with 136 points, followed by Evans at 121 and Tanak at 115. Among the manufacturers, Hyundai remains at the top with 311 points, followed by Toyota with 301 and Ford M-Sport with 156.

A clear victory in WRC2 for Sami Pajari with the Toyota Yaris Rally2, securing a 22-second lead over Solberg’s Skoda and more than a minute ahead of the other Skoda driven by Estonian Virves. Pajari’s excellent performance and dominant race have earned him a well-deserved call-up to Team Toyota Gazoo Racing, where he will make his debut at the upcoming Rally Finland driving the Yaris Rally.

Saturday: Rovanpera still dominates

The second day concludes with Kalle Rovanperä still leading the way in his Toyota, but now Mikkelsen is right behind him in the Hyundai, trailing by 9.4 seconds. During special stage number 13, Mikkelsen arrived at the stop with visibly damaged right rear tire. The Welshman is currently in third position, 16.1 seconds behind his teammate. The gap widens further after the top three positions, and in fourth place, Adrien Fourmaux maintains his position with the first of the Ford Puma cars, 37 seconds behind. Martins Sesks continues to perform well, trailing by 58.2 seconds, and Thierry Neuville is just one-tenth of a second behind him. Gregoire Munster in a Ford and Takamoto Katsuta in a Toyota complete the Rally1 standings.

Sami Pajari

In the WRC2 category, Sami Pajari leads with the Toyota Yaris Rally2, demonstrating his worth for a potential debut in the Japanese Rally1 at the upcoming Rally Finland. Pajari holds a 26.3-second advantage over Oliver Solberg’s Skoda and a 29.4-second lead over the other Skoda driven by Estonian Virves.

The third and final stage will consist of only four special stages, with the Power Stage determining the overall outcome and awarding crucial points for the standings. It will be interesting to follow the battle for Super Sunday standings, a highly coveted opportunity for drivers to earn valuable points according to the new regulations.

Elfyn Evans: “I mean.. what can we say, these things happen. We had no spare for the rest of the loop. We tried what we could. It’s been a good weekend up until that point.”

Kalle Rovanpera: “I tried my best the whole day. The afternoon was more enjoyable. We weren’t fast enough at the beginning of the rally. The last day will be difficult with the notes.”

Thierry Neuville: “The drive was good, but I just missed one corner on the braking. The car wouldn’t turn, I lost a good second there. Other than that, it was a cool run. I enjoyed it. I was on the right tyre, it’s cleaning quite a bit. We had a good compromise.”

Saturday morning: Rovanpera strikes back

Kalle Rovanperä, despite arriving at the last second in Poland and not having done reconnaissance of the course like his rivals, seems to have no problems in this race and is once again showcasing his great talent. The two-time world champion is currently leading Rally Poland, although his Toyota’s advantage over his teammate Evans is only 0.4 seconds, with Mikkelsen continuing his excellent performance with Hyundai in third position, just 2.4 seconds behind.

The Norwegian is doing an outstanding job, especially on a challenging weekend for Neuville and Tanak. Adrien Fourmaux holds the fourth position with Ford, while Martins Sesks continues his positive race. Even without the hybrid part of his Ford Puma, he maintains an excellent position in the standings during his debut. Perhaps the assistance of the hybrid unit is less necessary in this race, given fewer restarts and consistently high speeds along the special stages, where aerodynamic efficiency matters more for Rally1 cars. However, the question arises naturally for everyone: Is hybrid technology truly necessary for Rally1?

Mārtiņš Sesks

Unfortunately, the first special stage of the morning was once again interrupted due to undisciplined behavior by spectators. This poses a significant issue for Rally Poland, which has recently returned to the WRC calendar and now faces potential heavy penalties

Leg 1: Mikkelsend leads on Toyotas

Many, too many problems in the afternoon of the first stage at Rally Poland, due to undisciplined spectators. Special stage number 6 was interrupted and then restarted, while stage 7 was definitively canceled after only three cars had passed. Too many spectators situated in dangerous areas forced the race direction to make this decision. Certainly not a good start for a rally that returns to the WRC after having similar problems in the past.

Evans is very close to Mikkelsen

Only the show stage this evening is missing, which however will have a minimal impact on the ranking given its length of only 2.5 km, and at the lead is Andreas Mikkelsen with Hyundai. The Norwegian has a 1.6-second advantage over Evans’ Toyota and 2.1 over Rovanpera’s, with an excellent Martins Sesks who is fourth at 6.2 seconds with the Ford Puma. Fifth position for his teammate Fourmaux at 7 seconds, then the gaps become more significant with Munster sixth at 20.8 and Neuville seventh at 29.6. Katsuta closes the Rally1 classification at 32.6, and behind the Japanese driver is Sami Pajari’s Toyota Yaris Rally2, first in WRC2 ahead of local idol Kajetanowicz on Skoda and Irishman McErlean on another Skoda.

Kalle is reducing gap from the top

Kalle Rovanpera made an excellent recovery, who seems to have fewer adaptation problems in the afternoon compared to the morning and, despite not having carried out pre-race tests and having one less day of reconnaissance, seems able once again to fight for victory.

Pajari leads WRC2

Friday morning: Neuville cleans the road and Mikkelsen leads

The rally had an eventful beginning on Friday. One of the main protagonists, Ott Tanak, had to retire after hitting a deer during special stage number 2. The damage to his Hyundai was too severe to continue.

Thierry Neuville also faced a challenging day. As the first car on the road, he had to clean the stages, but the Belgian driver didn’t expect these conditions. The reconnaissance was done in wet conditions, and now the dry conditions caught him off guard, with a significant amount of loose gravel affecting grip.

Mārtiņš Sesks, what a start!

Taking advantage of a favorable starting position were drivers who began further back, but Martins Sesks was undoubtedly the biggest surprise. The Latvian driver, in his debut race with the Ford Puma Rally1, is currently second behind Mikkelsen’s Hyundai by 7.4 seconds. While Neuville and other drivers who started at the front will likely improve with cleaner stages, Sesks’ performance remains remarkable.

Evans holds the third position for Toyota, trailing by 11.9 seconds, followed by Rovanpera at 14.2 seconds. The Fords of Fourmaux and Munster are close behind. Neuville, in seventh place, is 32.2 seconds behind the leader and ahead of Katsuta. Neuville reported issues with the handbrake, causing all four wheels to lock up when pulled. This inconvenience led Neuville to miss a junction, costing him precious seconds.

Polish crowd is not easy to manage

Unfortunately, special stage number 3 was canceled due to safety concerns related to the crowd’s presence. Organizers had no choice but to call it off after only four Rally1 cars had passed through.

Andreas Mikkelsen: “We had a good stage, we’re trying to do the best we can. The car is really nice to drive, still quite slippery on the surface and you still have to take a bit of care. We are too soft with the car, we need it to be a bit stiffer.”

Martins Sesks: “I would say it was quite hectic. The first one was okay. The third one was okay, we had some things in the car which didn’t work on our side. It’s good, we are still learning and it is still amazing to drive.”

Thierry Neuville: “I have a problem with the handbrake, every time I pull the handbrake I lock up the four wheels. And then the cleaning obviously. We knew it was the worst stage of the loop from the recce, but we didn’t know how much we would struggle.”

Super special stage: Hyundais rocks on

Ott Tanak and Thierry Neuville had already proven to be fast during this morning’s shakedown, and the Hyundai pair only confirmed their result also in the opening special stage of Rally Poland, the 2.5 km long Mikołajki Arena show stage. Only one second separated Tanak, first, from Neuville, second; while Elfyn Evans achieved the third time with Toyota at 1.3 seconds behind, with teammate Katsuta fourth at 1.6 seconds. A good fifth time for Andreas Mikkelsen on Hyundai at 1.8 seconds behind, closely followed by Fourmaux on Ford at 1.9 seconds behind, then Rovanpera at 2.1 seconds behind, Munster at 2.7 seconds behind, and newcomer Sesks at 3.7 seconds behind on the other two Pumas.

In WRC2, it was immediately Oliver Solberg setting the pace with his Skoda, 1.4 seconds better than Italian Roberto Daprà on the ‘old’ evo version of the Czech car. Third time for Gryazin’s Citroen at 1.6 seconds behind.

Tough start for Kalle

Rally Poland has just started, and tomorrow it will get serious with seven special stages on very fast dirt roads in central Europe. The same seven stages will be repeated on Saturday’s second leg, while Sunday has four stages planned for the final leg; as always, the Power Stage will close out the race.

The Hyundai Team is very determined to extend its lead in both world rankings, and it seems to be a very good start for the Korean manufacturer with its racing department based in Germany. Kalle Rovanpera, who arrived at the last minute to replace Ogier and without having conducted the pre-event test, is facing predictable difficulties. He had to concentrate the reconnaissance in a single day, certainly not an advantageous situation, and his words at the end of the opening special stage are clear.”

“Winning is possible? I don’t think so. At least in a reasonable or safe way. But that’s the shit, it’s super annoying. You come here just to have a good finish. But when you are driving, it’s shit if you don’t try to win. For sure, I don’t try to win this time. There is no point; we are still late with everything. We are going to have a super long night watching all stages video with Jonne”.

Ott Tanak: “I enjoy this stage and I enjoy these roads, but they are not easy at all, everything needs to be spot on, and you need to have full confidence in everything around you. We will find out tomorrow how we are feeling.”

Shakedown: 1-2 Hyundai

After the scare caused by the incident involving Sébastien Ogier and Vincent Landais, who emerged unscathed but were replaced at the last moment by Kalle Rovanperä and Jonne Halttunen, the Rally Poland officially kicked off with the Lubiewo shakedown.

Martins Sesks

Hyundai cars immediately showed their speed, with Ott Tänak in first place and Thierry Neuville in second on the fast Polish gravel roads, which will highlight the aerodynamic qualities of the Rally1 cars. Tänak’s time was 2:12.5, while Neuville followed just 1.1 seconds behind. Adrien Fourmaux’s Ford Puma secured the third-fastest time, followed by Andreas Mikkelsen’s Hyundai and the other Ford driven by debutant Martins Sesks, who quickly adapted to the M-Sport car.

Ott Tanak

In sixth, seventh, and eighth positions, a trio of Toyota Yaris cars with Elfyn Evans leading the way, followed by Rovanperä and Katsuta. The third Ford, driven by Grégoire Munster, rounded out the Rally1 classification.

It’s worth noting the significant performance difference between the Rally1 and Rally2 cars when the special stages are so fast: Nikolay Gryazin, the WRC2 leader, was over 11 seconds behind Tänak after a short 5.1 km test. This translates to a gap of over 2 seconds per kilometer, justified by the superior power but especially by the refined and efficient aerodynamics of the Rally1 cars. 

Ott Tanak:“I like this rally a lot, but I’ve never been able to win it. It’s a target I’d like to fight for but let’s see for the weekend. It will be a very demanding rally going forwards, very high speed. We hope that we have done a good recce – that’s the crucial part here.”

Kalle Rovanpera:“Yesterday we did 14 hours of recce. It’s not easy, our testing was the 5 kilometres we did just now. Let’s see if we can help the team a bit and impress the fans.”