Estonia is the unlikely host to the return of the World Rally Championship this weekend.
After six months on the sidelines – following three early events in Monte Carlo, Sweden and Mexico – the WRC teams are facing a high-speed challenge in a country with roads much like neighbouring Finland.
But, unlike Finland and the other WRC casualties this year including New Zealand, Estonia has plenty of promise including a frantic fight at the front.
“The target is very easy – we have to take the maximum from every event now. It will be a short sprint so there is no way to hold back anymore,” says defending world champion, Ott Tanak, who leads the Hyundai team to Estonia.
He is the obvious favourite, and favourite with the fans, because he is Estonian.
The rally is based in Tartu, Estonia’s second-largest city, with high-speed gravel stages in the Estonian countryside.
“Having the first event back in Estonia is special for us. It’s a big thing for Estonia to run a WRC event. I really hope we have a home advantage and it’s most important we really use it,” says Tanak.
But the championship leader is Sebastian Ogier, driving a Toyota Yaris, ahead of his team mate Elfyn Evans.
Ogier is a five-time world champion and originally intended to retire at the end of 2020, although he is now hinting strongly that the COVID-hit campaign this year will not be his last.
“I’m happy that we are able to compete again after so long. Rally Estonia will be new for many of us, but I’m always excited to take on a different challenge,” says Ogier.
“It’s certainly going to be a very demanding rally with very fast roads. We will be starting first on the road. The target will be to try to fight as best as we can.”
Once Estonia is done, the shortened WRC will continue with Turkey from September 18-20, Rally Italia from October 8-11 and Belgium from November 19-22.