Rallying's Top 10 up-and-coming talents, Part 1

Talented drivers struggling to break into major championships has been a common problem in motorsport for quite some time, but it's hard to think of a discipline that has suffered with it more than rallying.

Subaru and Suzuki leaving the World Rally Championship in 2008 meant there were only four WRC factory drives available between then and 2013 - and only the brilliant Sebastien Ogier was able to break through during that period.

Things have improved since – Volkswagen and Hyundai have arrived, and a new generation led by drivers like Mads Ostberg, Thierry Neuville and Andreas Mikkelsen became WRC mainstays.

2015's revelation was Hayden Paddon, who secured a long-term future with Hyundai - and the Korean team fielded even a fourth car in selected rounds for their test driver Kevin Abbring, who performed on a solid level throughout the season.

Although Citroen opted to focus on developing their new-gen car instead of participating fully in the 2016 season, the French squad will be back alongside Toyota and in 2017. And with DMACK getting two entries in, 2017 could potentially see as many as 14 available factory drives.

Below, we take a look at the young drivers who could end up playing a major role in snapping up the seats.

Honourable mentions

Rallying's talent pool is deep enough to warrant a list of honourable mentions - drivers who didn't make the top 10 in the end, but could be worth keeping an eye out on anyway.

Among the most notable is Slovakia's Martin Koci, who was one of the strongest JWRC drivers in 2014 and impressed on his WRC2 debut as he challenged Stephane Lefebvre for the lead in Monte-Carlo, only to crash out on the final day.

He continued his participation in the series with the support of Peugeot, but technical issues ruined most of his campaign.

Estonian Karl Kruuda has been competing in WRC support classes since 2010 and finished fourth in WRC2 last year but he was limited to just three outings this time around and two of them were ruined by mistakes.

Germany's Fabian Kreim and Spain's Jose Antonio Suarez both had notable cameos, showing good pace on their respective home events - and the latter even secured a Peugeot factory seat for 2016.

21-year-old Simone Tempestini was a quiet WRC2 entrant in five rallies but, more importantly, took third in WRC3 with two victories, finishing right ahead of 2014 ERC Junior runner-up Andrea Crugnola

Henri Haapamaki made the most of his three WRC3 apperances as he finished on the podium each time and came close to winning in Finland, while Pierre-Louis Loubet impressed many by finishing second on his debut in Portugal at the age of 18.

Marius Aasen dominated the 2015 Drive DMACK Cup, the series from which JWRC champion Quentin Gilbert graduated, finishing within the top two in four out of five rallies.

He was followed by Britain's Tom Cave, runner-up for a second consecutive year, and Max Vatanen, 1981 WRC champion Ari’s son.

Marijn Griebel took third in the ERC Junior category for Opel, 17 points behind runner-up Ralfs Sirmacis, who was another debutant in the category.

A newly-established but not awfully popular ERC Ladies category was part of an effort made by the FIA to encourage women to take part in rally events, but the sport remains dominated by men, with only a handful of women able to achieve good results.

Arguably the best-known of them is 2015 Australian championship runner-up Molly Taylor, who focused on her national series after taking sixth in both JWRC and WRC3 last year.

10.  Emil Bergkvist

Age 21

2015: ERC Junior champion, 11th in ERC

After ending a rather successful motocross career, Bergkvist took part in his first rally at 16 - but only ventured past local Swedish competitions last year. His series of choice was the German ADAC Opel Rallye Cup – which he won at his first attempt.

His collaboration with the marque then continued in ERC Junior, in which he made a sublime start, winning his first two rallies. A frontrunner for the rest of the season, he would only win again in the Czech Republic finale, topping 10 of 15 stages and securing the title.

To top off his successful season, he entered the final ERC event in Valais in the main category as a Peugeot junior, and finished an excellent fourth.

Bergkvist plans to participate in a WRC support class next year and, whichever category he enters, he should make an immediate impact.

9.  Terry Folb

Age 25

2015: 3rd in JWRC, 6th in WRC3

Folb started his career at the relatively old age of 22, much later than most of the drivers on this list. He largely stuck to the national scene and registered only two retirements in 24 rallies - no small feat for a beginner. That consistency allowed the newcomer to finish third in the Citroen Racing Junior Trophy.

In 2015, he stepped up to JWRC and made a superb debut in Monte Carlo by challenging the dominant Quentin Gilbert for the lead in day one, only to fall victim to the treacherous conditions.

His first JWRC season ended up winless, but he came rather close in Spain – and finished a respectable third overall.

There was no beating the more experienced Gilbert, but Folb, a debutant, was certainly among the best of the rest. Taken on by Daniel Elena's All Sports Management, he was a logical choice for Sebastien Loeb Racing's first foray into rallying – and duly got the seat for a second JWRC campaign.

8.  Ole Christian Veiby

Age 19

2015: 2nd in JWRC, 2nd in WRC3

Entering JWRC in 2015 as a 19-year-old rookie, Veiby quickly emerged as a rising star of the category.

The Norwegian was consistently among the frontrunners during his Junior WRC campaign – he dropped back from second in Monaco and Portugal to take third and fifth respectively and he was rewarded with another third place in a faultless Rally Finland.

In the Wales finale he finally took a win - even though he was helped by issues for category champion Gilbert. The victory allowed Veiby to clinch the runner-up spot, his bid helped by the fact he made it to the end in every rally.

Veiby is in the same management stable as compatriot Andreas Mikkelsen, and given he drove a Volkswagen in the European Rallycross Championship (finishing third in the standings), it would not be a shock to see a connection between Veiby and the German WRC team sooner or later.

7.  Teemu Suninen

Age 21

2015: 9th in WRC2, 9th in WRC3

Suninen's path to rallying has certainly been unconventional. He started out in karting, posting results that could've seen him make a go of it in single-seaters. But instead he would join European Rallycross in 2012, emerging victorious on his fourth appearance, before finally making the switch to rallying.

He made his WRC3 debut last year on his home event, going on to win in dominant fashion. He then teamed up with Mikkelsen’s former co-driver Mikko Markkula in 2015, starting off with three rallies in WRC3, which included a sublime win in Italy.

The Finn then moved straight into WRC2 midway through the season and, while he took a few events to settle in, he would cap off the season by outgunning M-Sport's new signing Eric Camilli for the Wales win.

Suninen’s introduction to the international rally world has been a success, and a return to WRC2 for a title challenge would certainly open some doors for the youngster.

6.  Quentin Gilbert

Age 26

2015: JWRC champion, WRC3 champion

Gilbert has been something of a slow burner, with 2015 marking his eighth season in rallying. It took him until 2013 to first take on a WRC category, though he immediately impressed by finishing third in WRC3.

He mixed campaigns in WRC2 and the Drive DMACK Cup the following year, but his performance in the former did not do justice to his talent – apart from a victory on home soil, he could not do better than sixth. In the latter series, he finished third.

In 2015, Gilbert would take a step back to sweep both JWRC and WRC3. He was not only the fastest, but the least error-prone, winning by several minutes in both Monaco and Portugal and then adding victories in Finland and Spain as well.

Gilbert's dominant season was certainly aided by his experience and the fact he helped develop the car he drove, but there is no questioning his talent. A JWRC title means a fully-funded WRC2 campaign – and given that Citroen seems keen, he'll need to ace 2016 to put himself into the picture for a WRC move the year after.

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About this article
Series WRC
Drivers Quentin Gilbert , Terry Folb , Emil Bergkvist , Teemu Suninen , Ole Christian Veiby
Article type Analysis