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From open-heart surgery to rally stages – how Kovalainen overcame his «biggest challenge»


For many, undergoing open-heart surgery would usually spell an end to any extreme activities like tearing through a Finnish forest or navigating through a twisty Japanese mountain road in a rally car. Not for Heikki Kovalainen.

The Formula 1 race winner and childhood rally fan has overcome the “biggest challenge of [his] life” to recover from a potentially life-altering surgery and return to the cockpit in Japan earlier this month. If anything, rallying — a discipline the Finn turned to after seven years competing in Japan’s Super GT came to end in 2021 — has been a shining light at the end of a dark and concerning tunnel. The former Renault, McLaren and Lotus/Caterham F1 driver of 111 starts has clung on to the thought of returning to the rally stages and used this to drive him on through his recovery.

“This is the biggest challenge of my life, and it’s one of the biggest events of my life to be honest,” Kovalainen tells Motorsport.com.

“The first motivation was just to be able to return to a sort of normal lifestyle. But then I have to admit that being able to return to rallying or even to a race car one day was also at the back of my mind. It would have been quite a big decision not to be able to race or drive rallying anymore. I still feel that I have the passion and the motivation, especially for rallying now. I have the passion to continue, perhaps not in the WRC or the very top of the world level, but still, you want to continue driving. These were the driving forces.”

Kovalainen can count himself very lucky as the Finn had been enjoying this rally chapter of his career — that has already delivered back-to-back Japanese Rally Championship titles (2022-23) for Rally Team AICELLO — completely oblivious to the heart condition he was carrying. The diagnosis of an ascending aortic aneurysm was only delivered after a chance medical check-up that his doctor friend convinced the 42-year-old to undergo last November as it had been more than 10 years since his last thorough examination. The findings were not something that could be ignored and pushed to one side, given an aneurysm — a weak spot in a blood vessel wall — can tear or rupture, causing severe life-threatening internal bleeding.

“It was a pure coincidence that we then decided to check the heart, so in a way I was lucky to get this checked,” he says.

Following the diagnosis, shortly after a transmission failure ended his outing in a Skoda Fabia Rally2 car at the World Rally Championship Japan finale, Kovalainen informed the AICELLO team that his rallying plans for 2024 were put on an indefinite hold with his health the utmost priority.

Kovalainen put his rallying plans on hold after learning of his condition

Kovalainen put his rallying plans on hold after learning of his condition

Photo by: Red Bull Content Pool

The 2008 Hungarian Grand Prix winner faced a dilemma most hope to never encounter. While his case was not deemed an emergency, it was not something the much-loved competitor and dedicated family man could simply ignore. Fully aware that an operation carried a risk of life-changing side effects that raised the prospect of never competing again, Kovalainen — who declares himself as not one of life’s risk takers — elected to undergo open-heart surgery at Tampere University Hospital, Finland in April this year.

“I could have continued without an operation, but with very heavy restrictions, and that didn’t appeal to me very much,” he says. “My lifestyle is so active, even if you take rallying away, I enjoy doing sports and cycling and mountain biking and just generally my life is quite active.

“I considered the options that I was given quite carefully and, even though there are possibilities that something goes wrong during the operation or there might be some effects afterwards, I was willing to take that chance. I thought the odds were on my side. I’m still relatively young and fit and well and if you delay this operation, the chances might be worse in the future. One other consideration was that the rate the aorta was dilating, there was a chance I will have to have this operation within the next five to 10 years.”

“Once I made the decision, it [not driving again] did cross my mind if something went wrong and I don’t recover as expected, I was fine with that» Heikki Kovalainen

While Kovalainen admits his own motorsport career has been risk-averse and conservative at times, he is most certainly resilient, revealing that tough moments in his circuit racing days have helped him deal with this health challenge.

“It’s a rough talk when they’re [doctors] talking to you because they have to go through all the options — there is a possibility that you get a stroke or you get permanent disabilities from the operation, so it’s a rough talk,” he adds. “But I guess throughout the career, I’ve had sort of rough moments. It was a different kind of rough talk, so I’m sort of used to it.

“Once I made the decision, it [not driving again] did cross my mind if something went wrong and I don’t recover as expected, I was fine with that. When you are leaving home for the operation and leaving your family [wife and one-year-old son] and you never know how it’s going to be, there is a little bit of emotion there as well. On the day of the operation, I was totally calm and totally fine with the decision.

“Even in the morning when I went to the hospital, they [the doctors] said to me, ‘Are you feeling nervous and do you want to take some medicine to relax you?’ And I said, ‘I’m cool with this.’ In my life, I don’t feel like I’ve been a risk taker. I’ve actually been quite on the conservative side, in my driving and generally all the decisions I take. I thought it doesn’t feel like a big risk to me.”

Not a risk taker, but Kovalainen is a Formula 1 grand prix winner, topping the podium at the 2008 Hungarian GP

Not a risk taker, but Kovalainen is a Formula 1 grand prix winner, topping the podium at the 2008 Hungarian GP

Photo by: Sutton Images

Kovalainen was correct, the odds were on his side as the operation proved successful. Following nine days in hospital, he returned home where the road to reappearing on the rally stages began. The first five weeks of the journey he describes as being “a little bit rough” as he dealt with a raised body temperature and flu-like symptoms. Talking also proved a challenge initially after suffering inflammation from a tube being placed down his throat during the procedure. However, it wasn’t long until the thought of actually donning the crash helmet and race suit again was a realistic prospect.

“It was difficult to speak to people — every time I talked to somebody, I had to start coughing and, when you wake up in the morning, you just don’t feel quite normal with this flu-type headache and heavy feeling,” he explains. “The doctors just convinced me that this is part of the recovery and not to be concerned about it.

“But then, after five weeks, things started to turn around and then quite rapidly within the next three to four weeks, I started to feel a lot better, and I was able to then move around a bit more. After eight weeks, I had a check-up with the doctor, and I was allowed to resume a bit of training with a bit of jogging and cycling, also go to the gym and do some strength training, but not heavy weights.

“I felt pretty good and, after 12 weeks, we did a very thorough check-up. We took images of the heart and checked the functionality and blood tests and checked the chest bone with the X-rays and it was all healed as well as they could expect. They told me that you can do whatever you want and no restrictions, and so then obviously, the idea for me to return to the rally immediately came to my mind.”

Making a full recovery from open-heart surgery is one thing, but jumping behind the wheel of a brand-new Toyota GR Yaris Rally2 car is most definitely an altogether different challenge given the circumstances. Would the body be able to sustain the violence of taming a rally car through a stage, would the speed still be there as it was before? These were among the questions facing Kovalainen ahead of the first test.  

 

“It was a moment of joy [to be back in the car],” he says. “There were some sort of question marks, so it was quite exciting, but straight away when I jumped into the car and put the belts on the first test day, I had no pains anywhere after my first run.

“The concern for me was that, in rallying, you have to change direction with the wheel quite quickly and the hands and arms have to work quite hard and how that sort of twisting motion was going to feel across my chest, because obviously they [the doctors] opened the chest [in the operation]. After my first run, I realised that there’s no issues. It was quite a big relief actually, and my vision and my other senses felt totally normal. Up to that point, it was a bit nerve-wracking, was I going to have to call it a day or do I need more time to recover? All these questions were sort of lingering in my mind.”

Kovalainen returned to competitive action in the Japanese Rally Championship two weeks ago

Kovalainen returned to competitive action in the Japanese Rally Championship two weeks ago

Photo by: Tadayoshi Nakajima / Connect

With the questions answered in the most emphatic fashion expected, Kovalainen once again teamed up with regular Japanese Rally Championship co-driver Sae Kitagawa to tackle Rally Kamuy in Hokkaido, Japan two weeks ago. The journey from open-heart surgery to rally stage was complete. While brake issues hampered the pair on the final stage on the way to 14th overall, in reality, the result on the timing screens was secondary to the victory of merely being able to compete.  

But this is just the start of the resumption of a promising rally career. Now that this challenging chapter of his career is over, Kovalainen jokes that he’s not working towards being the next “Kalle Rovanpera” but is already setting himself mental targets and is planning to contest more Japanese Rally Championship events, including Rally Japan and even some rallies in Europe.

“There are a lot of things that I can improve,” he says. “I probably won’t become another Kalle Rovanpera, but I can still do a lot better. That sort of thing drives me.

 

“I still want to continue in Japan. I’m really enjoying working with the team and the Toyota guys there, and we have the new car now. There are eight rounds a year plus the WRC event, so it’s about the right number. I’m enjoying being home as well, and also at the same time in Japan the level is about right for me that I can be competitive, and I can be fighting for the wins there. I know most of the roads now, and most of the rallies are familiar to me, which makes a big difference in rallying.

“We did the Finnish Rally Championship last year through my sponsor Secto, and also this year we had some plans to do some events in Europe, but we had to put everything on hold due to the operation. But we are probably going to be doing some events towards the end of the year.”

While grateful to be able to continue his passion for motorsport, this rollercoaster of the past eight months has given Kovalainen not only a new perspective on life, but a new-found respect for the skills of today’s medical professionals.

“I never wish for this to happen to anyone, but in a way, it was interesting to see how all the medical science nowadays works and the nurses and the doctors and the surgeons and how they operate and how the hospitals are,” he says.

“It’s quite mind-blowing what they can do, and in a way that also gives you a bit of perspective. I’m glad that I have come out of it now and am living proof that these operations can go well.»

What could Kovalainen achieve with his second chance?

What could Kovalainen achieve with his second chance?

Photo by: Tadayoshi Nakajima / Connect



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Ford wants to commit to WRC future but 2027 rules must be «right for everybody»


Ford wants to keep the «opportunity to compete as a manufacturer» in the World Rally Championship in the future but has highlighted a need for an open set of 2027 regulations.

The American automotive brand is one of the WRC’s most successful manufacturers scoring 94 rally wins, a stat only surpassed by Citroen in the championship’s history.

Ford is one of three car makers currently represented in rallying’s top level alongside Toyota and Hyundai, competing with its Puma Rally1 hybrid, but the marque has been operating as a semi-factory team through partners M-Sport since 2013.

However, it has since extended its partnership with M-Sport which has been charged to help deliver the marque’s full factory Dakar Rally programme with its new Raptor T1+ entry unveiled at last week’s Goodwood Festival of Speed.

At the launch, Ford Performance Motorsports global director Mark Rushbrook stated that he wants the marque to «own» rallying and said that the brand wants to commit to the WRC beyond 2026 if the future of Rally1 and Rally2 is «right for everybody».

The FIA is expected to reveal its 2027 technical regulations in December this year which will be key as the championship aims to keep its current manufacturer base and attract new brands.

«What happens in Rally1 and Rally2 has to be decided, what is the future, and that’s where we need to make our decision,» Rushbrook told Motorsport.com.

Adrien Fourmaux, Alexandre Coria, M-Sport Ford World Rally Team Ford Puma Rally1

Adrien Fourmaux, Alexandre Coria, M-Sport Ford World Rally Team Ford Puma Rally1

Photo by: Tomasz Kalinski

«We want to [commit], it just needs to be right for everybody.»

The FIA hinted in February’s proposals that the 2027 rules would be based around the current Rally1 concept using a common safety cell to reduce costs to approximately €400,000 and allow manufacturers and tuners to develop cars based around B-class, C-Class and compact SUV production models.

When asked which direction the WRC should take with its technical rules, Rushbrook felt the ability to be able to use a range of powertrains is important, adding: «We definitely want to keep the opportunity to participate as a manufacturer [in the WRC].

«We definitely want to have the full pyramid with rally racing. But it seems like different manufacturers want different things, so if the FIA can write the regulations such that you’ve got the ability to like in Dakar where you can go with combustion engines, naturally aspirated turbo, you can go with a hybrid, if you got that opportunity in rallying as well you can attract more manufacturers.

«Technical parity which is what Dakar does now with the equivalence of technology and with the torque sensors on the [vehicles]. So I think it’s things like that.

«But then there is also the promotional side of it, aside from the technical rules, making sure that it is engaging for fans to really embrace the sport.»

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WRC expects increased Rally1 field for inaugural Rally Paraguay


Paraguay’s inclusion on the 2025 World Rally Championship calendar is likely to bolster the Rally1 field following an explosion in local interest in the category.

The WRC will head to the South American nation for the first-time next year as part of multi-year agreement announced last month.

Paraguay is set to complete the championship’s long-held ambition to host two rounds in the region, with Chile set maintain its place on the schedule.

A burgeoning local rally scene that has helped produce established WRC2 and Junior WRC drivers Fabrizio Zaldivar and Diego Dominguez has played a role in triggering a desire for Paraguay to host a round of the WRC.

Since the announcement the WRC has received plenty of enquiries for Rally1 drives from local competitors which has the left the championship organisers confident the top class will see at least three extra top-flight entries at the event next year.

Interest in Rally1 cars in South America was evident last year when Alberto Hellar rented a M-Sport Ford Puma to contest his home round in Chile.

Fabrizio Zaldivar, Marcelo der Ohannesian, Skoda Fabia Evo Rally2

Fabrizio Zaldivar, Marcelo der Ohannesian, Skoda Fabia Evo Rally2

Photo by: Red Bull Content Pool

“I’ve had interest from five different competitors in Paraguay who want to get hold of a Rally1 car,” WRC event director Simon Larkin told Motorsport.com.

“This is a big step and whether we can find out from the existing teams to run that many extra cars, I don’t know, but I guarantee you we’ll have probably three extra Rally1 cars for Paraguay, and I think we’ll have maybe one or two who will do both South American events.

“This is not a one off. We’re going there [to Paraguay] for a minimum of three years. I think we can grow something really special there.

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“We’ve been working with Paraguay president Santiago Pena and met with him a few times and he’s been personally driving this project.

“It’s a country that has a huge amount of passion for rallying. It is their motorsport. We were there at the start of the Transchaco Rally, and I think there’s 31 or 32 R5 cars or Rally2 cars in Paraguay. It’s bigger than the fleet that’s in Argentina and bigger than the fleet that’s in Chile combined.”

As previously reported, the WRC is expected to reveal its full 14-round calendar later this month with rounds in Paraguay and Chile set to run within a three-week window to ease logistics on the teams.



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Sebastien Ogier declared fit for WRC return in Latvia


Sebastien Ogier will make a return to the World Rally Championship in Latvia after being declared fit to compete following a reconnaissance crash that ruled him out of Poland.

The eight-time world champion and co-driver Vincent Landais escaped serious injury after being involved in road traffic accident while preparing pacenotes ahead of Rally Poland last month.

Ogier spent a night in hospital following the head-on collision with a road car, before being discharged wearing a neck brace. The Frenchman was forced to withdraw from event with his Toyota GR Yaris Rally1 entry being taken over by two-time world champion Kalle Rovanpera, who went on to win the rally.

Ogier has since undergone further medical checks after returning home and on Thursday was back behind the wheel of a Sebastien Ogier edition GR Yaris road car at the Goodwood Festival of Speed.

It was previous unclear if the Frenchman would return for next week’s round in Latvia which was recently added to the 40-year-old’s partial WRC campaign.

However, Toyota has now confirmed that Ogier and co-driver Landais are fit to compete.

Sébastien Ogier, Vincent Landais, Toyota Gazoo Racing WRT Toyota GR Yaris Rally1

Sébastien Ogier, Vincent Landais, Toyota Gazoo Racing WRT Toyota GR Yaris Rally1

Photo by: Toyota Racing

“It was quite unfortunate what happened during our preparations in Poland,” Ogier said.

“Now after some rest, and some good help from my medical team, I could recover pretty quickly and I’m looking forward to being back in a rally car in Latvia. The challenge of a new rally is generally something I like and that’s one of the reasons we added this event to our programme.

“The target for us will be to find the feeling for the very high-speed roads quickly after missing Poland, but I’m always excited for a new challenge and let’s see what we can do.”

Toyota will field a four-car line-up for the WRC’s first visit to Latvia which will include full-time drivers Elfyn Evans and Takamoto Katsuta, and Rovanpera.

A total of 10 Rally1 cars are set to take part with Hyundai represented by championship leader Thierry Neuville, Ott Tanak and Esapekka Lappi. M-Sport will enter three Ford Pumas for Adrien Fourmaux, Gregoire Munster and home hero Martins Sesks.

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The other byproduct of M-Sport’s non-hybrid WRC experiment


M-Sport is hopeful the strong debut of its non-hybrid version of its Ford Puma World Rally Championship car will help stimulate its Rally1 car sales.

The Ford squad took advantage of a new FIA regulation introduced this year that allows teams to enter non-hybrid powered Rally1 cars in WRC events by fielding rising star Martins Sesks in Poland earlier this month.

Without the hybrid, the car produced 130 fewer horsepower and had to carry 100 kilograms of ballast to be located in pace of the hybrid unit and its relevant equipment in the car.

The idea behind the FIA’s regulation tweak was to provide a cheaper Rally1 option at €150,000 less than the €800,000 hybrid version and offer a Rally1 platform to help younger drivers bridge the gap from Rally2 to Rally1.

Its maiden outing in Poland, supported by the WRC Promoter, resulted in an impressive drive from 2023 European Rally Championship Sesks, who finished fifth overall and came within 0.3s of claiming a stage win.

While the project’s main focus was to offer a young driver the experience of Rally1, M-Sport team principal Richard Millener says the rally put the car in the shop window for prospective buyers.

Martins Sesks, Renars Francis, M-Sport Ford World Rally Team Ford Puma Rally1

Martins Sesks, Renars Francis, M-Sport Ford World Rally Team Ford Puma Rally1

Photo by: Tomasz Kaliński

M-Sport bases a core part of its business on building and selling rally cars but has sold only one Puma Rally1 since its introduction in 2022.

“I hope [we can sell some more cars]. That was also part of the goal to showcase it and show that you can still come here and have fun and be in amongst the top guys and more importantly a long way ahead of Rally2,” Millener told Motorsport.com.

“We wanted to prove it can do that and still be competitive and it can give this opportunity to youngsters to come and prove what they can do.

“People were saying if you just remove the hybrid, it is a Rally2 car but if you had watched Martins in a Rally2 car he would never have had the same feeling or feedback. These Rally1 cars are amazing to watch and that is why I always say that we can’t get rid of them. We must have a top category in WRC and something like this to showcase what this is about.”

Sesks’ pace across Poland’s high-speed gravel stages raised questions surrounding the necessity of the hybrid units in Rally1 cars moving forward, but Millener feels this outing masked the hybrid’s true performance.

“It would be a very different conversation if we were at a different rally,” he added.

“We know on the fast rallies it [the hybrid] is less advantageous, but you can still see that Martins was on the edge everywhere and probably the bits he was missing out on were the bits where people were using the hybrid.

“It definitely goes to show the hybrid is still a requirement to win but he did a fantastic job without it.”

Sesks will pilot a full hybrid version of the Puma when the WRC visits Latvia next week, which marks the final round of his two-rally programme.

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What to look out for at the Goodwood Festival of Speed


One of the highlights of the annual motorsport calendar is upon us, as the great and good of Formula 1, sportscar racing, rallying and more descends on West Sussex for a four-day celebration of the cars and stars that make racing special.

As ever, the Goodwood Festival of Speed will be a spectacle not to be missed. Here’s what to look out for at this year’s event.

1. Horseless to hybrid; pioneers to the present

The Le Mans-winning BMW V12 LMR of 1999 will make a welcome return

The Le Mans-winning BMW V12 LMR of 1999 will make a welcome return

Photo by: JEP / Motorsport Images

The pursuit of performance over 130 years of motorsport provides a vast canvas upon which the Duke of Richmond & Gordon’s team has painted toothsome portraits across five epochs to the present. The contrasts in each window are staggering.

Pioneers of Propulsion features an 1893 Salvesen Steam Wagonette presaging such pacy delights as Darracq 200bhp and Fiat S76 ‘Beast of Turin’, Sunbeam 350bhp, Bugatti T35, Alfa Romeo P3 and Napier-Railton and Auto Unions. Don’t miss the wacky French Leyat Helica.    

Progression of Power focuses on the 1950s and 1960s, spanning BRM V16, Maserati 250F, shark-nose Ferrari 156s, Honda RA272 (driven by RB F1’s Yuki Tsunoda), Lotus-Cosworth 49 and whistling gas turbine Howmet TX sportscar and Lotus 56B, the latter with marque founder Colin Chapman’s son Clive and grandson Magnus up.

Evolution of Revolution showcases Lancia Stratos, Le Mans-winning Matra-Simca 670C, Porsche 936/77 and Alpine-Renault A442B, plus F1 Renault RS10 and Audi Quattro rally cars as the sizzling turbo era advanced. Innovation Unleashed stars McLaren F1 GTR, Audi R8C, BMW V12 LMR and Ferrari 333 SP Le Mans icons, while the Future of Speed showcases the 2022 hill-record-shattering McMurtry Speirling, manufacturer specials and the driverless Indy Autonomous Challenge.  

2. Verstappen tops roster of sporting superstars 

Reigning F1 world champion Verstappen will be reunited with the RB16B in which he won his first title in 2021

Reigning F1 world champion Verstappen will be reunited with the RB16B in which he won his first title in 2021

Photo by: Red Bull Content Pool

World champions have coloured the Festival’s history since 1993. But to have the reigning Formula 1 title holder in attendance – in this case triple champion Max Verstappen – is unprecedented. Currently third in the all-time rankings with 61 GP victories, the 2024 points leader will wow onlookers on Sunday in a 2021 Red Bull Racing-Honda RB16B.

Superstars pepper the entry as ever. NASCAR legend Richard Petty, with 200 stock car wins on his slate, left a huge impression in 2004. At 87 ‘The King’ is back with son Kyle and the bewinged 1970 Plymouth Superbird.

Emerson Fittipaldi, 77, is the earliest F1 world champion in action. Fifty years after he secured his second crown in three years, ‘Emmo’ is reunited with his 1974 Brazilian and Belgian GP-winning McLaren M23-5. Fellow champs Damon Hill and Kimi Raikkonen line up too.

Double world endurance champion and six-time Le Mans winner Jacky Ickx, 79, represents the sportscar speciality, piloting a Porsche 936/77. Swedish rallymeister Stig Blomqvist, 77, commemorates the 40th anniversary of his 1984 WRC victory in an Audi Quattro, and flying Finn Kalle Rovanpera, 23 – champion of 2022-23, fresh from winning Rally Poland from the subs’ bench – exercises a Toyota Yaris Gazoo Racing.

3. Red Bull 20 reunites alumni for RB17 launch

Original Red Bull drivers from 2005 Klien and Coulthard will be on hand to mark the team's 20 years in F1

Original Red Bull drivers from 2005 Klien and Coulthard will be on hand to mark the team’s 20 years in F1

Photo by: Mark Capilitan

That Red Bull Racing has been in F1 for almost 20 years – snaring seven drivers’ world championships, through Sebastian Vettel and Max Verstappen, and six constructors’ titles – is an extraordinary record for the team that debuted in 2005.

Almost as telling is that the Austrian-founded energy drink offshoot’s equipe is the ninth longest-serving in F1 history, having surpassed BRM, which spanned three decades, and with Minardi’s and Ligier’s totals set to be swallowed next season.

To celebrate its 20th term in F1, Oracle Red Bull Racing has corralled 18 cars spanning the RB1 of 2005 to last year’s RB19 for inspection in the Cathedral Paddock, showcasing Cosworth, Ferrari, Renault and Honda powerplants.

Seven are set to hit the hill, with Christian Klien (RB1), Mark Webber, Daniel Ricciardo, team chief Christian Horner and David Coulthard in Vettel-era RB6-9 of 2010-13, and current team-mates Verstappen and Sergio Perez in RB16B and RB19 of 2021 and 2022 respectively.

On Friday the wraps will come off design guru Adrian Newey’s two-seat RB17 Hypercar. Powered by a hybrid engine developing more than 1100bhp, a run of only 50 of these technical tours de force will be made by Red Bull Advanced Technologies.

4. Wattie leads Niki Lauda tribute

Watson (left) raced alongside Lauda at Brabham and latterly at McLaren

Watson (left) raced alongside Lauda at Brabham and latterly at McLaren

Photo by: Ercole Colombo

Technically gifted and versatile, three-time F1 world champion Niki Lauda’s career is showcased in a colourful tribute led by Brabham and McLaren team-mate John Watson. BRM’s sleek P160 and P180 and the lumpen March 721X masked the Austrian’s potential initially, but stellar subsequent stints with Ferrari, Brabham and ultimately McLaren bore bountiful fruit.

Wattie drives Niki’s 1978 Swedish GP-winning Brabham-Alfa Romeo BT46B ‘fan car’ for period team owner and F1 ringmaster Bernie Ecclestone. Sonorous Ford Cologne Capri RS3100 and BMW 3.0 CSL ‘Batmobile’ provide contrasting V6 and straight-six soundtracks.

5. WRC legends attack forest stage

Current WRC aces including Rovanpera and Neuville will tackle the forest rally stage

Current WRC aces including Rovanpera and Neuville will tackle the forest rally stage

Photo by: Gary Hawkins

Double world rally champion Kalle Rovanpera (2024 Toyota GR Yaris Rally1 Hybrid) and five-time runner-up Thierry Neuville (2021 Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC) in the house will delight fans on the Forest Rally Stage originated by Hannu Mikkola. Neuville scored his 20th WRC win in Monte Carlo this year and will star in the contemporary class. A sensational range of machinery from Alpine A110 through Group B legends – Audi Quattro, Ford RS200 Evo, Lancia 037 and Delta S4, MG Metro 6R4, Peugeot 205 T16s and Porsche 911 – to Subarus, Mitsubishi, Ford Escort RS Cosworth and Focuses make it a must-see.   

6. Sorcerers and apprentices showcase F1 teams

Bruno Senna will drive the McLaren-Honda MP4/4 in which his uncle Ayrton won his first world title in 1988

Bruno Senna will drive the McLaren-Honda MP4/4 in which his uncle Ayrton won his first world title in 1988

Photo by: James Sutton / Motorsport Images

Formula 1 up the garden path has long been an FoS fan favourite, and the team personnel enjoy putting on a show too, often giving their development programme’s young guns a weekend to remember. 

Alongside Red Bull, McLaren and Williams are strongly represented. Half a century on from his world championship with the Woking team, Emerson Fittipaldi (M23-5) will be joined by Bruno Senna in a magnificently svelte Honda-powered MP4/4, in which uncle Ayrton won the first of his three titles in 1988.

Current Williams racers Alexander Albon and Logan Sargeant sample Cosworth DFV-engined FW08-2, a sister to Keke Rosberg’s 1982 turbo hordes-vanquishing championship winners. Teenaged American F1 Academy racer Lia Block and team principal James Vowles will share it.

Rising star Ollie Bearman, 19, who finished seventh in March’s Saudi Arabian GP for Ferrari as substitute for Carlos Sainz to become the youngest Briton to score F1 world championship points, is to saddle the Prancing Horse’s 2017 SF70H with FoS veteran Marc Gene.

Alpine is also supporting the event with Australian protege Jack Doohan and Germany’s Sophia Florsch taking turns in a 2012 E20. Dane Frederik Vesti drives a 2021 Mercedes in the marque’s set.

7. Sunday shootout to crown king of the hill 

Pastrana will be out to thrill in his Subaru GL Wagon during Sunday's timed shootout

Pastrana will be out to thrill in his Subaru GL Wagon during Sunday’s timed shootout

Photo by: James Sutton / Motorsport Images

Speed hillclimbs traditionally climax with a run-off to determine which car-and-driver combo can ascend the course quickest against the clock. As a made-for-TV spectacle, Goodwood’s FoS offering has morphed from a pure racing car contest to become a showcase for technology on the 1.1-mile course.

The writing was on the wall for Nick Heidfeld’s outright record of 41.60s, set in a McLaren-Mercedes MP4/13 in 1999, when Frenchman Romain Dumas piloted Volkwagen’s electric I.D. R to 43.86s in 2018 and 42.32s in 2019. When Max Chilton unleashed a 39.08s in an electric McMurtry Speirling prototype in 2023, spectators could barely believe what they had witnessed.

This year’s combatants range from Mark Walker’s 1905 Darracq 200HP Land Speed Record car to the F5000 Eagle-Chevrolet FA74 of Michael Lyons and Joe Twyman’s F1 March 741. BTCC leader Jake Hill (Nissan Skyline GT-R R32) and Le Mans winner Andy Wallace (Bugatti Bolide) will excel.

But watch for the 862bhp Subaru GL Family Wagon Huckster and WRX Airslayer of Travis Pastrana and Scott Speed, the Bridan twins’ sensational Porsche-based Oilstainlab Half11 and the Alpine A110 Pikes Peak to provide the spectacle.

8. Mercedes’ 130 years in racing

The rumbling Sauber-Mercedes C9 of Group C vintage is usually a crowd-pleaser at Goodwood

The rumbling Sauber-Mercedes C9 of Group C vintage is usually a crowd-pleaser at Goodwood

Photo by: JEP

Since the dawn of motor racing in the 1890s to Lewis Hamilton’s British GP victory last weekend, Mercedes has been at the forefront of competition. Its 130-year odyssey is celebrated at Goodwood by a pageant bookended by a 1907 GP car to the current AMG GT3 racers.

Karl Wendlinger drives a 100-year-old Mercedes-Benz Targa Florio, and examples of the W25, W125, W196 and W196 streamliner hark back to the Silver Arrows. Kenneth Acheson pilots his own 1989 Sauber C9 and Nic Minassian a Sauber C11 alongside David Clark’s C-Class DTM car and Frederik Vesti in a 2021 Mercedes-AMG F1 W12 E Performance. 

9. Seventy-five years of grand prix motorcycling

Fans of two-wheeled motorsport will be treated to the sight of past legends including two-time MotoGP champion Stoner in action

Fans of two-wheeled motorsport will be treated to the sight of past legends including two-time MotoGP champion Stoner in action

Photo by: MotoGP

Motorcycle racing has been part of the FoS since its debut in 1993. When Valentino Rossi embraced the 2015 event, the Italian megastar’s following was of almost papal magnitude.

The late seven-time world GP champion John Surtees (1934-2017) was an inspirational godfather to the two-wheeled aces who attended Goodwood events, and they continue to entertain appreciative sell-out audiences as the event celebrates a landmark anniversary.

The inimitable 15-time champion Giacomo Agostini, who at 82 turns back the years every time he straddles an MV Agusta, heads this year’s crop. The Italian is joined by Americans Randy Mamola, Kenny Roberts (Senior and Junior) and ‘Fast Freddie’ Spencer, Australians Mick Doohan and Casey Stoner, and Belgium’s Didier de Radigues.

Home-grown heroes Davey Todd (fresh from his maiden Isle of Man TT victory), Michael Dunlop and Peter Hickman (who both added to their gold tallies last month), John McGuinness, Jeremy McWilliams, Mick Grant and Steve Parrish guarantee fireworks. Watch too for sidecar world champions Todd Ellis/Emmanuelle Clement, who won legions of fans in winning April’s awesome Goodwood Members’ Meeting shootout.

10. Joest and Shadow family reunions

Joest's remarkable history at Le Mans will be among the numerous celebrations

Joest’s remarkable history at Le Mans will be among the numerous celebrations

Photo by: James Sutton / Motorsport Images

Reinhold Joest’s team’s fabulous Le Mans history is traced from the 935J of 1980 through Group C 956 and 962 to WSC-95, then to Audis, bisected by a Bentley Speed 8. Le Mans winners Stefan Johansson, Dindo Capello, Emanuele Pirro, Benoit Treluyer and David Brabham are among the celebrants.

Building on the superb gathering of Don Nichols’s Shadow Can-Am cars corralled by super-collector Jim Bartel and Era Motorsport’s Kyle Tilley at April’s Members’ Meeting, the monsters are back, joined by F1 stablemates. Hans-Joachim Stuck reunites with a 1978 DN9 in a set spanning Tony Southgate’s DN1 stunner to a DN11.

After causing a stir at the Members' Meeting, Shadows will be out in force again at the FOS

After causing a stir at the Members’ Meeting, Shadows will be out in force again at the FOS

Photo by: Jeff Bloxham / Motorsport Images



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WRC confident it can keep manufacturers amid Hyundai future rumours


The World Rally Championship is doing “everything” to keep its current manufacturers and create a series that can attract at least one new marque in 2027, according to the championship’s promoter.

Rallying’s top flight has long been striving to broaden its manufacturer base, having operated with three brands – namely Toyota, Hyundai and Ford via M-Sport – represented in the top class since Citroen’s exit at the end of 2019.

However, in Poland earlier this month reports circulated that Hyundai is gearing up to launch a Hypercar programme in the World Endurance Championship, casting doubt over the Korean carmaker’s long-term future in the WRC.

Hyundai Motorsport’s president and team principal Cyril Abiteboul has said that an announcement about its motorsport plans, including WRC, will come in due course – which could arrive in September. 

The news comes just a month after the FIA made a U-turn on its plans to change the technical regulations for next year, after coming under pressure from WRC manufacturers, and instead opted for stability for the next two years, ahead of all-new regulations for 2027.

Asked about the speculation surrounding Hyundai, the WRC Promoter believes the championship can maintain its current manufacturers and add one more in 2027.

“I cannot say I have no doubt [all of our current brands will stay] because it’s not our decision, but I’m confident that we will create such a good championship that it’s worth to be there,” Peter Thul, WRC Promoter’s Senior Director of Sport, told Motorsport.com.

“And on top of that, I also hope if we have good [2027] regulations done by the end of the year to get at least one more manufacturer going into 2027. This is our target.

Hyundai i20 N Rally1

Hyundai i20 N Rally1

Photo by: Fabien Dufour / Hyundai Motorsport

“This is our wish, because we have to move the championship forward. And again, I cannot comment on internal thoughts of manufacturers. But as I said, it has to be so attractive that they want to stay in. This is what we can do, and we have to do.

“We will do everything to keep these three on board and we have had good discussions with them. We are open to any suggestions. I think we have never had so much good discussions, whether it’s regulations or sporting regulations.”

The WRC Promoter has declared the FIA’s push towards stability until the end of 2026 as the “right decision”, but Thul has reiterated a need for the 2027 regulations to be issued this year to help manufacturers understand the championship’s future direction.  

“I’m quite positive, I think [the FIA’s call for stability in technical regulations] is the right decision,” Thul added.

“It was good to discuss about all the kind of things, and what we now have is stability. But for us, even more important is that the regulations for 2027 are now done in a very fast way. That means we need it this year because we have to think about the future – I think that everybody knows that there is a need and there is a lot of work already ongoing.

“Let’s say we are not doing the rules, but we know what’s going on and I’m very confident. It’s getting in the right direction. I think everybody has a common sense how it should look like. The only thing is how much flexibility has to be in for the different kinds of drivetrains, this I don’t know.”

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WRC confident it can keep manufacturers amid Hyundai future rumours


The World Rally Championship is doing “everything” to keep its current manufacturers and create a series that can attract at least one new marque in 2027, according to the championship’s promoter.

Rallying’s top flight has long been striving to broaden its manufacturer base, having operated with three brands – namely Toyota, Hyundai and Ford via M-Sport – represented in the top class since Citroen’s exit at the end of 2019.

However, in Poland earlier this month reports circulated that Hyundai is gearing up to launch a Hypercar programme in the World Endurance Championship, casting doubt over the Korean carmaker’s long-term future in the WRC.

Hyundai Motorsport’s president and team principal Cyril Abiteboul has said that an announcement about its motorsport plans, including WRC, will come in due course – which could arrive in September. 

The news comes just a month after the FIA made a U-turn on its plans to change the technical regulations for next year, after coming under pressure from WRC manufacturers, and instead opted for stability for the next two years, ahead of all-new regulations for 2027.

Asked about the speculation surrounding Hyundai, the WRC Promoter believes the championship can maintain its current manufacturers and add one more in 2027.

“I cannot say I have no doubt [all of our current brands will stay] because it’s not our decision, but I’m confident that we will create such a good championship that it’s worth to be there,” Peter Thul, WRC Promoter’s Senior Director of Sport, told Motorsport.com.

“And on top of that, I also hope if we have good [2027] regulations done by the end of the year to get at least one more manufacturer going into 2027. This is our target.

Hyundai i20 N Rally1

Hyundai i20 N Rally1

Photo by: Fabien Dufour / Hyundai Motorsport

“This is our wish, because we have to move the championship forward. And again, I cannot comment on internal thoughts of manufacturers. But as I said, it has to be so attractive that they want to stay in. This is what we can do, and we have to do.

“We will do everything to keep these three on board and we have had good discussions with them. We are open to any suggestions. I think we have never had so much good discussions, whether it’s regulations or sporting regulations.”

The WRC Promoter has declared the FIA’s push towards stability until the end of 2026 as the “right decision”, but Thul has reiterated a need for the 2027 regulations to be issued this year to help manufacturers understand the championship’s future direction.  

“I’m quite positive, I think [the FIA’s call for stability in technical regulations] is the right decision,” Thul added.

“It was good to discuss about all the kind of things, and what we now have is stability. But for us, even more important is that the regulations for 2027 are now done in a very fast way. That means we need it this year because we have to think about the future – I think that everybody knows that there is a need and there is a lot of work already ongoing.

“Let’s say we are not doing the rules, but we know what’s going on and I’m very confident. It’s getting in the right direction. I think everybody has a common sense how it should look like. The only thing is how much flexibility has to be in for the different kinds of drivetrains, this I don’t know.”

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Kubica keen for rally comeback but only for fun


Robert Kubica says he misses rallying but would only consider a return to the discipline in the future for «fun» rather than competition.

The one-time Formula 1 race winner and now AF Corse Ferrari Hypercar driver in the World Endurance Championship continues to follow the World Rally Championship closely, having competed in the series from 2013-16.

Kubica has long admired rallying before he rose to fame in F1, while he also won the 2013 WRC2 championship before competing in the top class across the next two seasons, driving an M-Sport-built Ford Fiesta, recording 14 stage wins and a best result of sixth in Argentina in 2014.

After making a final start in 2016, Kubica returned to F1 with Williams in 2019 which then led to a spell in the DTM before a move into sportscar racing and the WEC in 2021.

There has been speculation of a rally comeback for Kubica who attended the WRC’s visit to his native Poland earlier this month.

When asked if he would like to make a return in the future, he told Motorsport.com: «Honestly, I miss rallies a bit. I’m a big fan of them. But now I have my own things to do in my racing programme so since I stopped rallying in early 2016, I see the rallies more from a fan perspective, a supporter.

«I follow what’s going on [in WRC]. I follow the rallies more than anything else.

Robert Kubica, Subaru Impreza WRC

Robert Kubica, Subaru Impreza WRC

Photo by: Andre Vor / Sutton Images

«If [a return] could be a bit of fun then yes, but not in the spirit of competition. Of course, there are some rallies on the calendar that I watch, and I think it would be nice to do. But then I remember how much effort and preparation goes into it. But if you go into it for fun, you can be part of a rally without any real pressure.»

Kubica is now part of the booming WEC scene that has witnessed significant growth in manufacturer interest with nine marques now represented in the Hypercar/LMDh class. This has indirectly resulted in the Pole landing a seat in an AF Corse-run Ferrari Hypercar, following the Italian marque’s return long-awaited return to the championship last year.

Having seen the explosion of manufacturer interest in WEC, Kubica hopes the WRC can experience something similar and believes rallying continues to offer fans and manufacturers «something special».

But as the 12-time F1 podium finisher gears up for WEC’s visit to Brazil this weekend, he admits there is a lot of work required for rallying to enjoy a similar boom period.

«It’s a complex topic and it will require the involvement of different parties,» said Kubica, when asked how the WRC could follow in the WEC’s footsteps.

«I think what is happening now [in WRC] is not something to do with the current days it is a trend that probably started when I was in WRC. Unfortunately, in modern life, people tend to appreciate different kinds of sports and way of racing generally in motorsport.

Andreas Mikkelsen, Torstein Eriksen, Hyundai World Rally Team Hyundai i20 N Rally1

Andreas Mikkelsen, Torstein Eriksen, Hyundai World Rally Team Hyundai i20 N Rally1

Photo by: Tomasz Kalinski

«I still think that rallies offer something special, especially from a fan’s perspective. In the WEC, there has been a big boost in manufacturers in the last two years and the level has gone massively up.

«Manufacturers are attracting other manufacturers, and this is what rallying has struggled to attract new manufacturers and, as I say, this is a complex topic, but fortunately I don’t have to think about it.

«But from a fan’s perspective I would like to see something like what has happened in WEC, it would be very special and beneficial for everyone. This hasn’t happened for a long time. I know people are trying and I think there is not one single silver bullet, but it will require work to try and improve things.»



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