Jon Armstrong is hoping for a solid points-scoring finish on this weekend’s Rally Croatia as he opens his 2021 Junior World Rally Championship campaign.

Many expect the Fermanagh driver to be one of the main challengers for the prestigious title, which brings with it a prize of a M-Sport Fiesta Rally 2 car, 200 free tyres from Pirelli and registration into the WRC3 category in 2022.

A podium finish would be a good start for the 26-year-old, and he admits he cannot wait to get into action against a high-quality field comprised of some of the world best young drivers.

“I am really buzzing to make my return to the world stage,” admitted Armstrong.

“As every piece of the puzzle came together, like the car being wrapped, my race suit arriving, and the flight schedule coming ever closer, it just feels so exciting. Finally, I have a proper programme to get my teeth stuck into.”

Jon will drive an M-Sport Poland-prepared Rally4 Ford Fiesta, and he is leaving no stone unturned as he prepares for the unfamiliar tarmac stages.

“I have been doing plenty of research into Rally Croatia and the stages themselves,” he revealed.

“This prep will give me the confidence I need in recce to make good notes that will pay dividends on the rally.

“I have also been doing plenty of simulator training as well as running to keep my fitness up.

“I am doing everything I can to prepare myself the best I can – it’s all about thinking of the bigger picture.”

Last year Jon had similar Championship aspirations heading into the first round of the 2020 series in Sweden, but a spectacular crash on the snowy stages spelt the end of his title challenge, with Covid and budget issues then intervening to bring an early end to his season.

That threatened to be his last chance, but he has worked hard in the intervening months to secure funding from Codemasters, who will back him for the five-round series.

Jon will have a new navigator this season, with experienced JWRC competitor Phil Hall sitting alongside the Fermanagh man for the first time.

The pair have begun to build their relationship with a testing session in Wales last week, as Jon notched up some high-speed milage after a long break from action.

Rally Croatia will make its WRC debut on April 22-25.

Shakedown gets the action under way on Thursday morning before a total of 20 timed stages from Friday to Sunday.

WRC crews face over 300 stage kilometres for the first time in 15 months, making Croatia a proper challenge for Armstrong’s first asphalt world rally since 2017.