Toyota Gazoo Racing World Rally Team are ready to increase the pace for round eight of the 2023 season at Rally Estonia, (20-23 July), the first part of a double-header in northern Europe that takes in some of the fastest roads in the FIA World Rally Championship.
After a trio of rough and increasingly demanding gravel rallies in Portugal, Sardinia and Kenya, attention now turns to smoother and quicker roads with Rally Estonia followed two weeks later by Rally Finland: the fastest round of the WRC and a home event for TGR-WRT.
The team have a strong record in Estonia: their reigning drivers’ champion, Kalle Rovanperä scored his maiden WRC victory on the event in 2021 and won again last year. He currently leads the 2023 standings by 41 points over Elfyn Evans, who completed a one-two finish for the team in Estonia last year.
Both were part of a second successive 1-2-3-4 finish for TGR-WRT on Safari Rally Kenya last month, along with Sébastien Ogier and Takamoto Katsuta. With Estonia not included in Ogier’s part-season programme, Katsuta steps up once more to help the team defend a 48-point lead in the manufacturers’ championship.
TGR-WRT continue to develop the GR Yaris Rally1 Hybrid and improve performance. They will introduce a powertrain upgrade in Estonia that includes an updated internal combustion engine.
While many of the roads used in Rally Estonia are wide and flowing with plenty of jumps and crests, others are narrower and more technical. In these sections the soft sandy surface can become heavily rutted by the second pass of each stage.
The service park will again be situated at the Estonian National Museum in the country’s second-largest city, Tartu – around two hours south-east of the capital, Tallinn. The popular ceremonial start in the centre of Tartu on Thursday evening is followed by an opening super special stage adjacent to the service park.
Friday is the longest day of the rally with 83 competitive miles: the familiar Peipsiääre and Mustvee stages to the north and Raanitsa to the south are all run twice either side of mid-day service, before a single pass of Neeruti rounds out the day. Saturday’s format is different, with two stages run twice in the morning before service, and another pair of tests repeated in the afternoon. The Tartu super special is revisited upon returning to service in the evening. Sunday’s finale is made up of two runs over the mostly new Karaski stage and an extended version of Kambja, which again hosts the rally-ending Power Stage.
Jari-Matti Latvala (Team Principal): “The last event in Kenya marked the mid-point of the 2023 season and after an incredible result there, our lead in the drivers’ and manufacturers’ championships shows that the team have done a really good job so far in the face of some close competition. Of course, we want to continue this strong form in the next rallies in Estonia and Finland, where the focus is very much on performance. They require a different mindset from the drivers compared to the rougher events we have had recently: if you want to win, you will need to push from the first corner of the first stage. We were strong in Estonia a year ago but we have still been working hard to improve our performance for these rallies and it’s great that we can bring new updates to the car.”
Kalle Rovanperä (driver car 69): “Rally Estonia is definitely one of my favourite events on the calendar. I have spent a lot of time in Estonia and the fast and flowing roads suit my driving style really well. I have good memories from the rally and it has always been an enjoyable one for me. Even in 2020 when I didn’t have much experience, we were able to fight for the podium, and then 2021 was very special as it was our first win. Last year the weather made a difference and I hope we can have some rain this year too, because we will be opening the road again on Friday. Like on any rally, the plan will be to aim for the win, and especially as this is one where we have been so strong before.”
Elfyn Evans (driver car 33): “Estonia brings a complete change of territory and with it a change of mentality. We’re coming off the back of some rough and relatively low-speed rallies and moving onto extremely high-speed smooth gravel, so these next events are all about confidence and commitment behind the wheel. As a driver, you need to trust your pacenotes and also have a good feeling with the car, so we were working hard during our pre-event test last week to try and get everything right. Hopefully we can go into it feeling good from the beginning and really enjoy the driving, which is really key to performing well on a rally like this one.”
Takamoto Katsuta (driver car 18): “I like the kind of high-speed stages we have in Estonia and Finland. It’s going to be a big challenge but I’m looking forward to these rallies. In Estonia, the stages are very fast but there are also some narrow and twisty sections. The surface can be quite soft, so the ruts can make the second pass of stages even more difficult. As a driver you still need to commit but also have to be able to manage the ruts. I will try to do my best and I hope that I can perform well and get a good result for the team.”