Wed 26 Jun 2024

Preview: ORLEN 80th Rally Poland

Kalle Rovanperä has been given just 48 hours to prepare for ORLEN 80th Rally Poland (27 – 30 June) after he was called in to replace Toyota team-mate Sébastien Ogier late on Tuesday.

While this week’s fixture did not originally form part of the Finnish youngster’s part-time 2024 WRC schedule, a dramatic Tuesday leading up to the event resulted in Rovanperä and his co-driver Jonne Halttunen boarding a plane late Tuesday evening to the rally’s base in Mikołajki.

Ogier and co-driver Vincent Landais were forced to withdraw from this seventh round of the FIA World Rally Championship after being involved in a road traffic collision during reconnaissance. Although Landais was discharged from the hospital on the same day, Ogier remained under observation overnight, before being discharged on Wednesday morning.

With the approval of the FIA and event stewards, Rovanperä will start the rally instead – joining GR Yaris Rally1 colleagues Elfyn Evans and Takamoto Katsuta as the Japanese manufacturer squad bids to overturn its 13-point deficit to championship leaders Hyundai. He has also been granted permission to complete the reconnaissance in an additional time, running into Thursday morning.

“It was good to hear at midday that Séb and Vincent were OK, that was the main thing,” reflected Rovanperä, reliving his Tuesday. “Then I got the call from Kai [Lindström – Toyota Gazoo Racing WRT Sporting Director]. I was just changing some spark plugs on my jet-ski to go on the lake and he called…I knew what it was about.

“On a rally like this I would want to fight for the win, maybe this week it is not really so easy to do, but we will of course do our best to bring some good points for the team.”

Back on the calendar following a seven-year hiatus, Poland’s super-fast sandy roads host the first of three high-speed gravel rounds in a row. One man aiming to pick up exactly where he left off is Thierry Neuville, winner last time here and current leader of the championship.

Neuville, who teams up with Ott Tänak and Andreas Mikkelsen in a three-strong Hyundai i20 N Rally1 attack, arrives to Mikołajki 18 points clear of Tänak and Evans and is eager to make amends for an error at the previous round in Italy.

“Rally Poland is an event that I really enjoy,” he affirmed. “Starting first could be a huge advantage or disadvantage depending on how much cleaning of the road we will be doing, but we will have to see when we get there. We expect to be consistent and fast to bring home some decent points for all three championships.”

M-Sport Ford has set its sights on a return to the podium after a strong opening half of the year. In addition to Adrien Fourmaux and Grégoire Munster, the British team fields an additional Puma Rally1 car for Latvia’s Mārtiņš Sesks on his top-level debut. Sesks, who was already showing off his skills at a special demonstration event in Warsaw last Sunday, will drive a non-hybrid Puma this week before upgrading to a full-spec car for his home round in Latvia next month.

The rally begins Thursday evening and includes 19 special stages totalling 303.16km before Sunday afternoon’s finish.

Latvia
Starts: Thursday, July 18, 2024 at 4:31:00 AM
Italy
Starts: Friday, July 26, 2024 at 7:00:00 AM
Hungary
Starts: Saturday, July 27, 2024 at 6:00:00 AM