Ott Tänak has finished fifth in the opening stage of his home rally in South Estonia Thursday evening.
Finn Kalle Rovanperä (Toyota) came fastest in the opening 1.64-kilometer stage in Tartu with a time of 1:42.8, followed by Tänak's Hyundai teammate, Irishman Craig Breen (Hyundai), then Teemu Suninen (Finland, M Sport Ford), and Englishman Gus Greensmith (M Sport Ford). Tänak and co-driver Martin Järveoja were 0.9 seconds behind the front man in the stage which started just before 8.40 p.m. local time.
A pre-race warmer test saw the Estonian finish in second place.
The course suits rivals Toyota, Tänak said, meaning a close fight is in store for the close to 30,000 spectators expected over the weekend.
Commenting on the race on the Betsafe blog, Tänak said that: "It has been difficult for Hyundai to compete with Toyota in fast rallies from the outset, but we did a good job last year."
"They have certainly responded this year, and the competition will be intense," he went on.
This year's race, round seven of the 2021 season, is the second full WRC calendar race to take place; Rally Estonia had run for about 10 years prior to that as a domestic event. The inaugural event saw stricter coronavirus restrictions in place, and though spectators are dispersed into cohorts for this race also, areas that were off-limits last year, including the maintenance park, are now open to race-goers.
One such race-goer is President Kersti Kaljulaid, who noted on her social media page that: "Two years ago I drove in Saatse, not far from here, along summer gravel roads, at a presidential speed. At one point it was no longer possible to identify what color my official car really was, and so I scrawled the words 'DUST FREE' on the hood when I stopped next to a church."
"Getting home without being buried under dust or having to dry out clothes in the yard is something that should be a part of a nice countryside trip. However, once a year, I'm surely glad that we don't have dust-free roads. That time is here again"
"I thank the organizers for this effort. Your contribution to Estonia's sports, but also to the development of the whole region and country, is much greater than just these four days and the few hundred kilometers that every car passes through".
"Wishing everyone a successful rally, hopefully it will end with the right result".
The course totals 314 km over 24 stages, Thursday evening to Sunday afternoon, considerably more than last year's event (233.4 km over 17 stages).
While the bulk of the rally last year centered on Otepää, stages on the shores of Peipsi Järv (Lake Peipus) have been added for 2021.
Ott Tänak noted that with the soft roads and dry weather, tire selection and other aspects should be relatively straightforward, though forecast thunderstorms may make things more interesting, he said.
The full schedule is below; readers with Estonian can follow ERR Sports portal's live blog here.
Rally Estonia itinerary with distances and start times: (completed stages in bold).
Practice Abissaare (6.23 km) 9.01
SS1 Tartu 1 (1.64 km) 20.38
SS2 Arula 1 (12,68 km) 9.40
SS3 Otepää 1 (17.05 km) 10.28
SS4 Kanepi 1 (16.54 km) 11.16
SS5 Kambja 1 (17.85 km) 12.08
SS6 Arula 2 (12.68 km) 15.34
SS7 Otepää 2 (17.05 km) 16.22
SS8 Kanepi 2 (16.54 km) 17.10
SS9 Kambja 2 (17.85 km) 18.08
SS10 Peipsiääre 1 (23.53 km) 8.06
SS11 Mustvee 1 (12.28 km) 9.08
SS12 Raanitsa 1 (22.76 km) 10.36
SS13 Vastsemõisa 1 (6.70 km) 11.39
SS14 Peipsiääre 2 (23.53 km) 15.06
SS15 Mustvee 2 (12.28 km) 16.08
SS16 Raanitsa 1 (22.76 km) 17.34
SS17 Vastsemõisa 2 (6.70 km) 18.37
SS18 Tartu 2 (1.64 km) 20.08
SS19 Neeruti 1 (7.82 km) 7.21
SS20 Elva 1 (11.72 km) 8.09
SS21 Tartu vald 1 (6.51 km) 9.08
SS22 Neeruti 2 (7.82 km) 11.41
SS23 Elva 2 (11.72 km) 12.29
SS24 Tartu vald 2 (6.51 km) 14.18
Editor: Andrew Whyte