The second round of the 2022 FIA Junior WRC Championship takes place in Croatia this week for the championship’s only sealed surface event on its five-round calendar.
The rally made its debut in 2021 and was Junior WRC’s opening round, which saw an epic fight open up at the front, with five different stage winners and four different leaders. The rally quickly became a favourite for all involved, offering stage characteristics never-before-seen in the World Rally Championship and providing crews with a tough and testing challenge.
Returning to Junior WRC from Croatia Rally is Jean-Baptiste Franceschi, the 2021 FIA ERC Junior Champion and winner of the 2018 Junior WRC Tour de Corse. Franceschi is returning to international competition after suffering almost career ending injuries just a week after winning his ERC Junior title in 2021. Franceschi is entering the championship thanks to his prize package for winning the 2021 ERC3 Junior title, which he earned four fully-funded drives in Junior WRC, all thanks to the support of M-Sport, Pirelli and WRC Promoter.
Croatia Rally’s stages feature many characteristics that are commonly found on fast gravel events such as fast corners that swoop over treacherous blind crests requiring supreme confidence and total commitment. Due to the high speeds and technical nature, crews must analyse every detail of their pace notes, Sami Pajari learned this the hard way in 2021, when leading the rally he went barrel rolling out after misjudging a high speed crest jump.
Inclement weather could also be a huge factor to consider for the Junior WRC crews on Croatia Rally. Croatia’s smooth asphalt is slippy in dry conditions and with rain forecast throughout the rally, tyre choice will prove to be pivotal. Junior WRC crews will be permitted a total allocation of 22 Pirelli tyres to use on shakedown and the rally. Although their total allocation must not exceed 22 tyres, they will be able to choose from 18 x P Zero RA5 (hard), 10 x P Zero RA7+ (intermediate) and 12 x Cinturato RW1 (wet) tyres, all exclusively supplied by Pirelli.
Heading into Croatia it has been announced that championship partner Wolf Lubricants has extended its partnership with Junior WRC to continue its role as Official Technical Partner for the 2022, 2023 and 2024 seasons. The renewed commitment comes at an exciting new phase for Junior WRC, with the introduction of the new M-Sport Poland Ford Fiesta Rally3 with four-wheel-drive. The lubricant technology advances that Wolf delivers in the harsh conditions of Junior WRC testing helps Wolf to develop more advanced products for the road. Innovative frontier applications like Junior WRC are a perfect technological platform to develop the lubricants of tomorrow while also supporting exhilarating and ambitious young talent – the future champions of the WRC.
Maciej Woda, FIA Junior WRC Championship Manager, said:
“I am really excited about Croatia Rally, we had a huge fight here last year and I hope for the same again after what we saw on Rally Sweden. I expect it to be a very dramatic and entertaining rally, especially if there is inconsistent weather like the forecasts are predicting. It has been quite a while since we have had a truly mixed weather rally in Junior WRC, if we do it will be a true test of skill for the drivers. The low grip conditions on Croatia Rally are a unique characteristic and I think it means we could see some impressive overall times from the Fiesta Rally3 compared to the more powerful Rally2 cars. I am really happy to see the return of JB Franceschi to the championship for a variety of reasons. He was part of the championship in 2018 and was a contender for the title, he is sure to add some drama and he deserves the opportunity to fight for the title after the battle he has had to recover in the past few months. JB is also the first driver to benefit from the ERC Junior prize package as a reward for winning the 2021 ERC3 Junior Championship which is supported by M-Sport, Pirelli and the Promoter.”
52 Jon Armstrong / Brian Hoy: “I’m not so sure I have a target on my back, I think it’s one of those rallies where the conditions are going to be tricky and going absolutely flat out might not be the best option. Last year we were quite smart in our approach which worked and it won us the event. This year we need to do something similar, try to bed ourselves into the rally, get a feel for the conditions, try and stay out of trouble and see where we are at the finish.”
53 Lauri Joona / Mikael Korhonen: “I think my expectations depend on the weather, I think it’s a tough rally for the drivers. You need to be awake all the time and see where you can drive fast as well as slow down. Overall I think it’s a really tough rally, I only experienced wet Tarmac on a test day recently so it could be difficult for me if it rains.”
54 Sami Pajari / Enni Malkonen: “I think it will be quite interesting because now we have the experience of the rally, we are using a lot of the same stages as last year. To be honest I really enjoyed the rally last year, the stages are quite fast and flowing. The only negative or question mark for me is if it will rain which we don’t know yet. I think it’s a good challenge, the pace will be really high in the category.”
56 William Creighton / Liam Regan: “Feeling good and looking forward to it, I think it’s one of the most tricky events on the calendar so it is going to be difficult and a big challenge. The roads aren’t too dissimilar to what you have back home in Ireland so it will be nice if that works out well for us.”
57 Robert Virves / Aleks Lesk: “Last year was quite a disaster but overall I think it’s a nice rally, it’s a real challenge to everybody and I would say it’s one of the best rallies on the calendar. I enjoy driving on Tarmac, we had a short event on tarmac without much testing but I feel quite good as I have a good base feeling with the Fiesta Rally3.”
58 Jean-Baptiste Franceschi / Anthony Gorguilo: “Very excited to be back, it’s crazy for me to be here and looking forward to the rally. The last time I drove on tarmac was Rally du Var so I hope it will be ok but I am confident. First of all I want to find back my confidence which I hope won’t take too much time. I want to push as soon as possible to be in the fight at the front.”
64 McRae Kimathi / Mwangi Kioni: “This is going to be tough, it’s a new surface for me, it’s my first time on Tarmac. From what the Junior WRC guys have told me there are lots of moments on this rally that are very tricky. It’s going to be very very interesting for me, I haven’t done any testing for this event due to my commitments at home so this is going to be a baptism of fire for me.”