New old names in Estonia

New old names in EstoniaFrom Chris Biewer [ 15/07/2014 ].
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Even though the Rally Estonia is part of an international championship for the first time this year, the event already has a very good reputation. In the build up to the event we find many old names again. Most rally fans would remember Markko Märtin, and that he runs a team now. But do you remember the name Urmo Aava? And have you had a look at the team Kruuda/Järveoja? No, not them, the other Kruuda/Järveoja!

Markko Märtin today runs a team of Ford Fiesta R5s for quite a number of drivers under the name MM Motorsport. For the younger rally fans it should first be explained who is Markko Märtin.

Markko Märtin was one of the brightest new talents before Sébastien Loeb was invented. In fact he hit the scene very much at the same time as “Hollywood” Petter Solberg, who soon had a huge fan following and is to the day the last Rally World Champion not to be called Sébastien. Both Petter and Markko were snapped up by Subaru at the same moment, being even pitched against each other in Australia 2000, when we still had 3-car teams and not every retirement meant a loss of makes points. I am convinced there was a rule change that stopped us discovering talents, but for ease of reading that’s a story for a different report coming in the next days.

Markko Märtin probably even had to prove more to get that Subaru chance, as Petter already had a number of works car starts at Ford while Markko still had to convince the team bosses with an ageing, self financed Toyota Corolla WRC. After those first Subaru experiments in 2000 Petter got a full program for 2001 while Markko got 9 starts in which he was plagued with mechanical problems. So Petter Solberg then stayed and made a big career at Subaru, while Markko Märtin moved via Ford to Peugeot. At Ford Markko had all of his 5 WRC victories, kicking off with Acropolis 2003 and probably his biggest or most remembered success was winning the Rally Finland 2003. In 2004 this was followed up with victory in Mexico, and a big surprise back to back asphalt wins against Loeb in Tour de Corse and Catalunya. From 2005 at Peugeot it has to be said the 307 WRC never suited Märtin’s driving style. PSA would have been better off to swap Duval & Märtin between Citroen & Peugeot for reasons that again are better explained in a separate article. But while both drivers struggled at PSA, Duval was always crashing and Märtin was the more reliable and maybe more promising driver but the one crash he had ended his career. Indeed after 11 finishes in a row it was his first retirement in a 307.

It was Wales Rally GB 2005 where Märtin’s navigator and close friend Michael “Beef” Park lost his life. It was easily the worst crash in international championship rallying of the past 10 years alongside Craig Breen’s accident at the Targa Florio 2012. While Breen could pick up rallying again pretty soon and today seems even faster than ever before, for Markko Märtin the accident was the certain end of career. Without pointing blame to anyone, that Markko just couldn’t do it any more after that experience somehow is a statement towards the character and human being Markko Märtin is and always was beyond the professional rally driver.

Once his career finished so suddenly Märtin was still found at times helping Ford as test and development driver. This Ford and Malcolm Wilson connection again allowed Markko Märtin to help fellow Estonian Ott Tänak to a big chance in Fords, and surely this means Märtin plays an instrumental role in making rallying the big story it is today in Estonia.

From here it is no surprise that today Markko Märtin has his own team and that he is running Fords. The team is called MM Motorsport – with 3 Ms to make sure Markko Märtin Motorsport and M-Sport are not mixed up. As a web site that is heavy on car statistics, I do however have to go into some numbers. Estonian rally cars have special red number plates. But this does not make it as easy as it sounds. Ukrainian Alex Tamrazov and his team AT Racing for some reason use Estionan rally car reg plates too, so not every red SP(ort) reg plate is an MM Motorsport car. All cars are Fiestas to add to confusion: SP 0054 (S2000, Tamrazov himself), SP 0260 (WRC/RRC, Bernardo Sousa’s usual WRC2 car), SP 0277 (WRC/RRC) & SP 0333 (S2000, Martin Kangur’s usual WRC2 car) are all of AT Racing. For MM – Marko Märtin Motorsport we are looking at SP 0301, SP 0302, SP 0343 (usually Salah Bin Eidan’s WRC2 car) & SP 0345, all are R5 versions and all 4 will start Rally Estonia - quite a big operation.

Now Urmo Aava. Remember him?

If you do, the big news is easy to the point: Urmo Aava is the boss of Rally Estonia 2014! He clearly is a big name to run this event. For his driving talent he should be able to select stages that give drivers the thrill of their lives. And that his career collapsed sooner than it started surely has nothing to do with lack of management talent or having the wrong people around him either, but with the WRC starting to show the negative effects of new rules that WRC managers still don’t want to see.

If we talk about Markko Märtin and Ott Tänak above, Urmo Aava was surely one of the brightest talents to fill this gap, he just really came up at the wrong time. In fact it seems surprising, as remembered as Markko Märtin's name is, from his first tiny debut as a privateer to career end Märtin's WRC career only lasted 6 years. Aava arrived on the scene in 2002, but if you ask me he spent way too much time in the JWRC in these strange Suzuki thingies. At least in 2006 & 2007 he was runners up for the Junior title. Already during that 2007 Juniors season Urmo Aava was given his first works WRCar, starting a number of events for Mitsubishi. But Mitsubishi at that time was a works team who wound down development and involvement, basically they already closed the doors and somewhere along the way they forgot to bin their cars.

Then - strange coincidence thinking back now - Urmo left the JWRC for good for a Citroen C4 WRC drive in 2008. So Aava never actually got to compete Sébastien Ogier as Ogier was to win the JWRC in 2008 before being promoted into a C4 WRC at very exactly that moment Aava lost his C4 WRC drive! Urmo Aava already drove that Mitsubishi Lancer WRC - hardly the best WRCar at the time - to 7th overall in Finland 2007 on only his second ever start in a WRCar. In 2008 in the C4 Aava only once had an accident and finished 4th in Acropolis and 5th in NZ and that in the "B-Team" = M2 cars, bet Loeb's C4 was faster! Aava's C4 WRC team mate in 2008 was Conrad Rautenbach, who - pardon me - was in speed nowhere near in the same league as Aava and still had loads of crashes, often silly ones. Still, despite all this and the rise of Monsieur Ogier, Rautenbach could stay on for 2009 and Aava couldn’t, which very much spelled the end of Urmo Aava's WRC career. This shows that team bosses started to look at money over talent. Aava really just came up at the wrong time. For easy reading I should refer you to a separate future article again on the rules and hick ups in modern WRC. But in basic words between the arrivals of Märtin and Aava the WRC rule makers invented 2-car teams, every retirement is a points loss and if you enter a 3rd car it actually can take makes points away from you rather than gain you some. Especially the 2-car-team thingy, we suddenly had people like Colin McRae, Auriol, Panizzi stranded without a drive, so what chance has a new name from Estonia got, never mind his talent?!

Now the case Kruuda/Järveoja vs Kruuda/Järveoja:

I kid you not. Look up entry numbers 3 & 58. It shows in Estonia rallying has become a big family sport, everyone helps. Sorry if I am ignoring talented names as Martin Kangur, Ott Tänak, Raul Jeets, Siim Plangi at this moment.... But the Kruuda/Järveoja case is special.

To get light into the case, seeded number 3 is of course Karl Kruuda/Martin Järveoja, known from Fiesta S2000 excursions in the WRC2. They are rather talented, even if maybe struggling to get into the best cars. A Fiesta S2000 surely is the most outdated version of a Fiesta for a WRC2 program, though he swapped that now for a 208 T16. Before Kruuda spent quite some time in a Skoda Fabia S2000 but always seemed to struggle putting a full season in (finances?).

Codriver in car 58 is Ken Järveoja. Some fans may remember this name now, Ken is maybe best known for stepping in as a navigator for Martin Kangur on occasions. More recently he was with Sander Pärn in the Fiesta Rally Academy 2013. Ken is the elder brother to Martin.

And maybe the elder brother shall help the younger? Because the big story really is the driver of car 58: Gustav Kruuda. Yes, he is the brother to Karl, and no, I can’t tell you much about his rally heroics so far. Why? Well, he turned 16 only 3 months ago! Yes in Estonia you can get your driving license at 16. Still, just turned 16 and just got his driving license and already he starts his first ERC rally? I somehow have the feeling this is not the last time we have heard the name Kruuda….