This evening, Friday, 13 July, sees the kickoff of the biggest autosport event in the Baltics, the Shell Helix Rally Estonia, with an opening presentation in Tartu City centre.
According to the official Rally Estonia site, no fewer than three WRC teams are starting in the rally, with a total of 103 crews from 12 countries, and for the first time LHV autolaen AUTOEXPO is to be held at the same time in Tartu city centre.
Whilst not an WRC event, the rally is a round of not only the Estonian and Latvian rally championships but also the FIA European Rally Trophy, and is seen by some as a warm up for the WRC Rally Finland at the end of the month.
Estonian drivers competing
The actual driving starts tomorrow, Saturday morning, and first up is the Toyota Yaris WRC of Toyota Gazoo Racing World Rally Team, driven by local hero Ott Tänak and codriver Martin Järveoja.
"It has been always really fun to drive on the roads of Estonia.,'' Ott Tänak, 30, said.
''I am happy that we are able to attend this time with our team and Toyota Yaris WRC in Rally Estonia. This is a great opportunity to bring the real WRC to our home roads and it seems that this year's entry list is going to be really strong,'' he went on.
Järveoja, also 30, added that ''Starting at Shell Helix Rally Estonia is a good way to give something back to our fans in Estonia. I hope we can offer them a weekend full of excitement and good emotions,'' before noting that the rally also provides good preparation for the forthcoming Rally Finland.
''For me personally it is very special that I can compete with Toyota Yaris WRC in my hometown Elva, where one super special stage of the rally is being held,'' Järveoja added.
Not only Estonians have lined up to praise Rally Estonia. New Zealander Hayden Paddon, who drives for Hyundai Motorsport, on of the WRC teams competing, has also expressed his enthusiasm for the event.
"I'm really looking forward to Shell Helix Rally Estonia in July. I've always followed it closely in the previous years and have really liked the looks of the fast flowing roads – which are my favourite type,'' the 31 year-old said.
Irishman Craig Breen, 27, of the Citroën Total Abu Dhabi World Rally Team added that ''I am very happy to go back in Estonia. I did this rally two times in the past and have good memories. This is a very good opportunity to get time on a fast road, and is a great preparation for Rally Finland. I am really looking forward to Rally Estonia.''
Strong starting lineup
There is a reported total of five WRC cars in the entry list; in addition to Tänak, Paddon and Breen and their co drivers, the cars of Estonians Georg Gross/Raigo Mõlder, winners of Rally Estonia 2013, and Valeri Gorban/Sergei Larens of Ukraine compete in a Ford Fiesta WRC and Mini Cooper WRC respectively.
The secondary R5 cars category will also see strong competition, with a total of nine teams from Finland, the Baltic States and Russia participating.
The venue of the official opening, awards ceremony and overall hub of the rally is Tartu; of track entertainment includes a conert by Russian singer Nyusha.
As regards the technical side, the service park and HQ for the rally are to be located in the south Estonian town of Otepää. Besides stages in Tartu, the town of Elva as noted is to host a Super Special stage. The gravel stages of South Estonia are considered by those in the know as the best in the country.
Shell Helix Rally Estonia rally passes, concert tickets official program and fan gear are reportedly on sale in all Circle K petrol stations around Estonia, as well as in Sportland rallyshops in Tartu.
The Rally ends on Sunday, 15 July. Weather is set to remain warm throughout the weekend with temperatures in the mid-20s most of the time, though Saturday will be cloudy with a chance of some rain.
Editor: Andrew Whyte