Jon Armstrong continued his fast return to rally driving this year by claiming second in Junior WRC’s third round - Rally Estonia. Navigated by Phil Hall, the-English based crew finished 24 seconds behind winner Sami Pajari and 32 seconds ahead of Mārtiņš Sesks.
It was a crucial result for the Codemasters DiRT Rally Team as it keeps them in the overall Junior WRC battle. Finland’s Pajari now leads the championship, just 15 points ahead of Armstrong, with two rounds remaining.
Armstrong scored five stage-winning bonus points on Rally Estonia which could also play an important role in the championship standings at the end of the year.
“We are really happy to finish second on Rally Estonia,” explained Armstrong. “Pre-event we were thinking third would be a great result.
“Just because of the high-speed nature of the roads and the event, in general, was a lot more like Finland than what I was expecting.
“I didn’t really know how competitive we would be but early on we saw that the pace wasn’t so bad. Our confidence was good and we were only 13 seconds off the lead at the end of the first full day.
“It is definitely an important result for the championship. To get so many points on an event we knew was our weakest of the year is very promising.”
Story of the rally:
Rally Estonia was marked by Armstrong at the start of the year as his trickiest event on the calendar. The high-speed, undulating gravel stages don’t typically suit drivers from the British Isles. The fact that the Junior WRC has four drivers from Estonia, Latvia, and Finland also gave Armstrong underdog status heading into the championship’s third round.
But it didn’t take long for Armstrong to spring yet another surprise. A string of second-fastest times on Friday was brought to an end by a brace of stage wins to close out Rally Estonia’s first full day.
Armstrong finished as Pajari’s nearest challenger, 12.9 seconds behind the leader. It was an amazing day for the Northern Irish driver who reckoned he had never driven so well on fast gravel stages before.
The promising start increased Armstrong’s expectations of a strong result but unfortunately, like it did on Rally Portugal, rallying was ready to play a curveball on Saturday morning.
Armstrong’s stage-winning pace disappeared overnight as Stages 10 to 13 turned into a case of damage limitation. Running hard compound tyres on the front of his Ford Fiesta Rally4, Armstrong struggled to find grip on damp sections of the stages. He lacked the car balance and feeling required to match the fastest times.
Brake issues added to his woes but Armstrong kept pushing to minimise the effect it had on his stage times. The issues were resolved on Saturday’s midday service but it had cost him a position on the Junior WRC leaderboard.
Armstrong bounced back straight away after service, picking up a stage win and a brace of top three times. The fightback was on as Armstrong closed the gap to second-placed Martin Koci to one second ahead of Sunday’s final six stages.
“The fight for second on Sunday was nice to be involved in,” said Armstrong. “It’s always a cool feeling waking up and knowing you are going for a big attack on the first stage.”
Big attack? It certainly was as the 26-year-old trumped all his Rally4 rivals on Sunday’s opener to regain second place in the Junior WRC classification. Armstrong repeated his stage win on Neeruti’s second running and with only a couple of stages remaining he had done all the hard work to solidify a runner-up finish.
It was a stunning drive quickly recognised by Junior WRC’s championship manager, Maciej Woda:
“Another exceptional performance on Rally Estonia must be Jon Armstrong,” said Woda
“It’s very rare for a British driver to out-perform Scandinavian and Baltic drivers in their own territory which Jon has done.
“Like Sami, he has demonstrated fast times on every round this season making the championship very exciting.”
Attention now turns to Junior WRC’s next round in August, Ypres Rally Belgium. The asphalt rally is one of Europe’s most famous but is making its WRC debut this year.
Final Junior WRC Rally Estonia results:
1 Pajari 3:19:03.2s
2 Armstrong +24.1s
3 Sesks +56.4
4 Joona +3:43.7
5 Badiu +4:42.3
6 Creighton +5:37.1
7 Virves +1:13:58.0
Junior WRC standings after Round 3:
1 Pajari 71 pts
2 Sesks 67
3 Armstrong 56
4 Joona 40
5 Koci 34
6 Creighton 28
7 Virves 27
8 Badiu 17
Armstrong’s Rally Estonia stage progress:
Stage // Stage result // Overall position
SS1 // 3rd // 3rd overall
SS2 // 5th // 5th overall
SS3 // 2nd // 3rd overall
SS4 // 2nd // 3rd overall
SS5 // 2nd // 3rd overall
SS6 // 2nd // 2nd overall
SS7 // 2nd // 2nd overall
SS8 // 1st // 2nd overall
SS9 // 1st // 2nd overall
SS10 // 4th // 2nd overall
SS11 // 5th // 2nd overall
SS12 // 4th // 3rd overall
SS13 // 4th // 3rd overall
SS14 // cancelled
SS15 // 1st // 3rd overall
SS16 // 3rd // 3rd overall
SS17 // 2nd // 3rd overall
SS18 // 4th // 3rd overall
SS19 // 1st // 2nd overall
SS20 // 3rd // 2nd overall
SS21 // 2nd // 2nd overall
SS22 // 1st // 2nd overall
SS23 // 3rd // 2nd overall
SS24 // 3rd // 2nd overall