Wed 20 Apr 2022

Conditions to be key in Junior WRC counter

FIA Junior WRC leader Jon Armstrong tops a seven-strong M-Sport Poland Ford Fiesta Rally3 entry for round two of the series at the Croatia Rally this week (21 - 24 April).

Ulsterman Armstrong holds a nine-point advantage over rival Lauri Joona after he edged the Finn by just 2.7sec at February's season opener in Sweden. Now, the pair are getting set to resume battle in Zagreb, the city where Armstrong scored his maiden victory 12 months ago. 

But this year is different. While blue skies and dry roads characterised the 2021 fixture, this week’s forecast reveals the potential for rain showers on Friday and Sunday. 

If the weather predictions are correct, we could have a real shake-up on our hands. Wet asphalt takes no prisoners - the drivers know that - and they will have to tune their approaches to suit. 

“I think it’s one of those rallies where the conditions are going to be tricky and going absolutely flat-out might not be the best option,” explained Armstrong. 

“Last year we were quite smart in our approach and it won us the event. This year we need to do something similar, try to bed ourselves into the rally, get a feel for the conditions, try and stay out of trouble and see where we are at the finish.”

Joona, self-admittedly, is still building his pace on sealed-surface rallies. The 25-year-old recently tested on wet asphalt in Italy and echoed Armstrong’s views ahead of the weekend. 

“I think my expectations depend on the weather,” he said. You need to be awake all the time and see where you can drive fast as well as slow down. 

“Overall I think it’s a really tough rally. I only experienced wet Tarmac on a test day recently so it could be difficult for me if it rains.”

Reigning champion Sami Pajari is vying to get his season back on track after a fuel pump issue sidelined his Fiesta during Sweden’s opening day. Amazingly, the Finn recovered to take seven stage wins at the winter event. 

William Creighton will be in fine form having driven his Fiesta Rally3 on similar terrain just a few days ago at a local rally in Ireland, while Robert Virves is another driver looking to make up for lost ground following his poor start to the year. 

A familiar face returns as Jean-Baptiste Franceschi makes his Junior WRC comeback using a prize drive supported by M-Sport Poland, Pirelli and WRC Promoter.

Franceschi has recently recovered from injuries sustained in a crash at Rallye du Var last November and previously won the Junior WRC category on the Tour de Corse in 2018. 

Kenyan hotshot Mcrae Kimathi rounds off the entry with fellow compatriot Mwangi Kiono alongside. The 27-year-old finished fourth on his debut at Rally Sweden and aims to build experience during his rookie season. 

“Croatia will be a very new experience for us. I have never driven on Tarmac before, so it’s going to be very exciting,” he explained. 

 "From what I have gathered, it becomes really slippery in the wet, so this is something we will have to be very careful about.”

  • Full coverage from the Croatia Rally will be available on WRC+ All Live here, including every stage broadcast as it happens as well as key interviews, features and expert analysis from the service park.
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