Jon Armstrong was dominant on Ypres Rally Belgium as he took a one-minute victory in Junior WRC, his second win of the season so far.
The Codemasters DiRT Rally Team driver, who is co-driven by England’s Phil Hall, beat Finland’s Sami Pajari on the 20-stage asphalt rally. The two rival drivers now top the Junior WRC standings with one round remaining, October’s Rally Spain.
Armstrong’s Ypres Rally win never looked in doubt as he led from Friday afternoon’s opening stage. He claimed four stage wins in a row which gave the crew a commanding lead they were able to manage over the remaining two days.
“It feels fantastic to grab our second Junior WRC win of the year,” said Armstrong. “We didn’t know what to expect coming into Ypres but we had really good pace early on Friday which was brilliant.
“We were pushing quite hard on Friday so we took it back a notch for the rest of the rally. It wasn’t worth taking too many risks.
“In saying that though, it is always quite difficult to manage a lead for so long but I think we did a good job of that.
“Now it’s time to focus on Rally Spain which finishes off the season. I think this result puts us into the Junior WRC lead after dropped scores which is obviously really important for me.”
Pajari continues to lead Junior WRC after Ypres Rally Belgium but Armstrong’s massive haul of points, both for winning the event and scoring seven stage wins, means he is now just three points behind the young Finn.
Junior WRC’s hotshots will fight for the championship in Spain with their eye on the best prize package in rallying. The 2021 Junior World Rally Champion will receive a brand-new Ford Fiesta Rally2 car and 200 Pirelli tyres.
Story of the rally
Armstrong kicked off Ypres Rally Belgium in supreme form, winning the 15 kilometre opener by 6.2 seconds. Three more stage wins in a row followed on Friday afternoon and his Ford Fiesta Rally4 arrived back to the service area holding a 33-second lead in Junior WRC.
Ypres’ fifth stage was to give Armstrong and Hall a fright, however. Ypres Rally is famous for its deep corner cutting. With open grassy areas on the inside of many corners, drivers opt to shorten their route by putting two or four wheels off the road.
Armstrong’s Fiesta slid wide on one of these cuts on Stage 5. The car hit the edge of the concrete surface which bent the Fiesta’s rear axle. Thankfully the damage wasn’t enough to stop the Northern Irishman as he made it through Friday’s remaining two stages.
Despite the damage, which affected the car’s handling, Armstrong still managed to go fastest on Stage 6 and increased his Junior WRC lead to 49.9 seconds.
Another eight stages lay ahead on Saturday and with a big gap to Estonia’s Robert Virves in second, Armstrong knew he needed to control his pace.
And that’s exactly what he did. Armstrong built his advantage to over one minute by the end of the rally’s second day. In fact, he was only outside the top two stage times once on Saturday, going fastest on two occasions.
The action shifted across Belgium on Sunday from Ypres to the famous Spa-Francorchamps circuit. Four stages stood in Armstrong’s way and they were tests with differing characteristics to those he faced earlier in the rally.
Armstrong overcame the challenge, however, with his measured approach proving enough to seal his second Junior WRC success this season.
“It is great for our championship hopes,” added Armstrong. “I want to thank everyone who has helped make this campaign possible.
“It has been tricky to get back into rallying and it is brilliant to be performing and winning like this.
“Phil has done a perfect job again this weekend. Coming to these rallies for the first time puts so much emphasis on our pacenotes and he has played a huge part in us being fast from the word go this year.”
FIA Junior WRC Championship Manager, Maciej Woda, said: “Huge congratulations to Jon Armstrong and Phil Hall who have both performed exceptionally on Ypres Rally.
“The pair made no mistakes at all and were supreme throughout, this is an incredible victory for them, and it has rocketed them up the championship standings.
“Bearing in mind Junior WRC drops a driver’s worst classification score, Jon is in prime position for the championship heading to Rally Spain.”
Final Junior WRC Ypres Rally Belgium results:
1 Armstrong 2:51:55.4s
2 Pajari +1:00.6s
3 Virves +1:21.7
4 Joona +1:47.8
5 Creighton +3:31.9
6 Sesks +1:11:29.7
Junior WRC standings after Round 4 of 5:
1 Pajari 91 pts
2 Armstrong 88
3 Sesks 77
4 Joona 52
5 Creighton 45
6 Virves 42
7 Koci 34
8 Badiu 17