Yamamoto gets up to speed on fast gravel in Estonia

TOYOTA GAZOO Racing WRC Challenge Program driver Yuki Yamamoto took the chance to gain good experience driving fast gravel roads in the GR Yaris Rally2 at Rally Estonia on July 5-7.

Rally Estonia has been a regular event in the FIA World Rally Championship in recent seasons, but this year was running as a round of the FIA European Rally Championship, where cars like the GR Yaris Rally2 form the top category. The event is known for its fast and flowing roads, similar to those found in Finland, but these are mixed with narrower and more technical sections. With a soft and sandy surface, these sections in particular can become heavily rutted by the second pass of each stage.

This would be the first rally on fast gravel roads in four-wheel drive machinery for Yamamoto. Unfortunately, Hikaru Kogure was not able to join him in competition while he recovers from a collarbone injury diagnosed following his last event in Sardinia. He was still able to take part in the pre-event reconnaissance to discover the stages and will be ready to return to action soon.

The rally began on Friday evening with a short super special stage in Tartu before a full day of nine stages on Saturday making up 117.84 competitive kilometres. Yamamoto, co-driven by Marko Salminen, was running at the rear of a competitive 20-car Rally2 field through Saturday and experienced a wide range of conditions including deep ruts, particularly on the four stages that were driven twice. Still, he was able to post some encouraging times and complete the day cleanly in 13th overall.

On Sunday, with the road order reversed, Yamamoto experienced different conditions again running third on the road as one of the drivers cleaning a line through the loose gravel for the rest to follow. As on Saturday, heavy rain also created muddy conditions in places, especially on the rally-ending Power Stage, but Yamamoto reached the finish without issues in 12th position overall.

Yuki Yamamoto:

“I think this rally has been really good. The previous couple of rallies went not so well for me, so I really wanted to finish this rally and with a good feeling. I think we managed it well: Sunday especially had really tricky conditions but still we got all the kilometres which is the most important thing. So I can be very happy. On Saturday the conditions weather-wise were OK but there were some massive ruts. It was good practise, keeping eyes open all the time and following the line and adjusting immediately. And the car was just really nicely on the ruts, so I could trust the car and I think the day was really solid. Then on Sunday, we had lots of road cleaning to do, which was a different kind of situation we don’t normally have, so that was nice experience. We didn’t try to push too hard but still the pace has been solid and consistent. The ERC is really competitive and I can analyse the onboards of the top guys to improve. Overall, I think this has been really good learning and good preparation before Rally Finland.”

Juho Hänninen (TOYOTA GAZOO Racing WRC Challenge Program instructor):
“This was a nice rally with Yuki after two more difficult events. We knew that this kind of road character and territory is more familiar but the conditions were really tricky and changing quite often. By finishing the rally, Yuki gained a lot of good experience in different conditions, and generally good mileage, especially if we come back to this rally in the future. There were some sections where the times were pretty good and even when it was more challenging, and the pace was dropping down a little bit, he was more in the window than on previous events. It was good to see he could be patient and drive at a speed which was well under control, but where he was still able to learn. At the same time, in this strong field, he could see the level that the fastest drivers are at, reminding him there’s still a long way to go and a lot of work to be done. It was a pity that Hikaru could not take part as well, but at least he could do the recce and the main thing is that he’s recovering well so that he can take part in Rally Finland and the pre-event test.”


  • 1 Georg Linnamäe/James Morgan (Toyota GR Yaris Rally2)1h44m33.1s
  • 2 Robert Virves/Craig Drew (Škoda Fabia RS Rally2) +2.2s
  • 3 Nikolay Gryazin/Andris Mālnieks (Citroën C3 Rally2) +1m11.2s
  • 4 Mads Østberg/Patrik Barth (Citroën C3 Rally2) +1m23.2s
  • 5 Hayden Paddon/John Kennard (Hyundai i20 N Rally2) +1m59.2s
  • 6 Jon Armstrong/Eoin Treacy (Ford Fiesta Rally2) +2m20.1s
  • 12 Yuki Yamamoto/Marko Salminen (Toyota GR Yaris Rally2) +4m30.2s

What’s next?

Yamamoto and Kogure will return to WRC2 action at Rally Finland on August 1-4. Known as the fastest rally in the WRC, the event takes place on gravel roads around the city of Jyväskylä where the pair have been based since they joined the TGR WRC Challenge Program.