This weekend (July 15-18) sees the second Rally Estonia to take place since it became a full World Rally Championship calendar event, with last year's three-day-event being extended out to the more customary four days, starting Thursday. An estimated 25,000 people are expected, regional daily Lõuna Postimees reports.
Unlike last year, when the event was organized amid the early stages of the coronavirus pandemic, the 2021 rally will allow spectators to attend the podium and opening event and to stroll around the maintenance park – in fact, Lõuna Postimees reports (link in Estonian) only one test, at Elva, remains unchanged since the inaugural WRC race.
The official Rally Estonia site reports that this year's race, round seven (of 12) of the 2021 WRC season, sees 24 stages covering a distance of 324.16 km – making it the largest motorsport event to be held in the Baltic States.
Lõuna Postimees reports that the Health Board (Terviseamet) has eased restrictions on rally ticket sales – though only one individual can purchase one ticket – while one-day tickets have also been made available, with Rally Estonia director Tarmo Hõbe calling this year's event: "Different and unfamiliar, but at the same time good - meaning the rally doesn't end in a few days, but the 320-kilometer race can be enjoyed longer," which, he added, means that more organization was required.
Spectator passes are divided up among 16 cohorts, in agreement with the Health Board, with 1,500 tickets per cohort (up from the original figure of 1,000, while, Hõbe said, around 3,000 spectators are coming from outside Estonia, primarily the neighboring states of Latvia, Finland and Lithuania.
Southern Estonia has comparatively low rates of the coronavirus at present, with the more populous Tartu County having 39 reported active cases, while most of the adjacent counties have posted single-figure statistics.
Rally Estonia's official site reports that Thursday starts with an opening ceremony at the National Museum (ERM) just outside Tartu city, segueing into the first 1.64-kilometer stage, while Friday's stages number eight, totaling 128.24 km and altered from last year's race, and center around the town of Otepää, more popularly known as Estonia's winter capital
On Saturday, four new stages cover 132.18 km, including the longest stage of the overall rally, Peipsääre, near the shores of Peipsi Järv (Lake Peipus) and finishing with a re-run of the same stage at Tartu which opened the event Thursday evening.
The final day, Sunday, brings together six stages covering 52.1 km – three stages run twice in fact – with the last (Tartu vald) 6.51-kilometer leg making up the customary five-extra-point power stage, finishing in the maintenance park.
Local hero and 2019 WRC champion Ott Tänak, and his co-driver Martin Järveoja, currently lies in fourth place in the drivers' table with Hyundai, while the top three places are occupied by six-time world champion, Frenchman Sebastien Ogier (Toyota), Welshman Elfyn Evans (Toyota) and Tänak's teammate at Hyundai, Thierry Neuville of Belgium.
As to the weather, the forecast is set to be warm, up to 30C or more, though cloudy with a chance of rain over the Thursday and Friday, with clear skies but, conversely, slightly cooler temperatures, on the Saturday and Sunday.
Rally Estonia has been held annually since 2010, originally as a domestic event. In 2019 it became a WRC promotional race, gaining full WRC-status in the coronavirus-blighted 2019 season and off the back of Ott Tänak's maiden championship title victory.
Editor: Andrew Whyte