Rallye Monte Carlo 2020 Review.

The shakedown on Wednesday was interesting from the aspect of drivers acclimatizing to their new cars. The top three best times were sent by Seb, Thierry and Elfyn. Of the new drivers, Kalle and Gus, well the young Finn clearly showed why he is in that Toyota for the whole season.

With two stages on Thursday event, first up was SS1 Malijai – Puimichel – 17.47 km. Well, Seb was really on it, winning the stage from Ott Tanak, and Elfyn third, with less than 2 seconds covering the top three.

Into SS2 Bayons – Bréziers – 25.49 km, and well Seb was demoted to second place after Thierry set a blistering time to move from fourth place into the lead. The Belgian was a massive 25.5 seconds faster than Seb.

Friday

With six stages covering a total of 122.58km’s, it would be a very interesting day. The running order looked like this- 1. Suninen 2. Tänak 3. Neuville 4. Ogier 5. Evans 6. Lappi 7. Loeb 8. Rovanperä 9. Greensmith 10. Katsuta 11. Jocius

Elfyn won the SS3 Curbans – Venterol 1 – 20.02 km from Seb Loeb, with Ott Tanak going well now. The result of Elfyn’s great time was that he jumped from fourth into second place, just 5.4 seconds from the leader, Thierry.

The young Welshman continued his great form in SS4 St-Clément-sur-Durance – Freissinières 1 – 20.68 km, winning the stage from Seb Ogier and with Thierry third fastest and almost nine seconds slower, we had a new rally leader. However, there was a huge shock, with Ott Tanak having a massive crash. He’d slid wide on a flat out left hand kink, with the car skating along on the edge of the road before colliding with some trees at the side of the road and then the car flipped over end to end, before falling down the side of the hill, coming to rest on the road further down. The main structure of the car was intact incredibly. Ott and Martin were taken to hospital for checks.

The final stage of the morning loop, SS5 Avançon – Notre-Dame-du-Laus 1 – 20.59 km was won by Elfyn, going 4.2 seconds faster than Seb Ogier, and he increased his lead over Thierry who was now 8.9 seconds behind the Welsh ace. Further back Kalle was showing his quality and setting a great time in compared to Esapekka Lappi, just seven tenths between the two Finns at the end of the stage.

After the service break the battle between the three continued, with Seb Ogier winning SS6 Curbans – Venterol 2 – 20.02 km and he jumped ahead of Thierry into second place, and was now just 3.3 seconds behind Elfyn who was holding the lead.

Seb Ogier won SS7 St-Clément-sur-Durance – Freissinières 2 – 20.68 km from Elfyn who was only six tenths of a second behind, whilst Thierry lost a few seconds and was now ten seconds from rally leader Elfyn.

Thierry fought back though on SS8 Avançon – Notre-Dame-du-Laus 2 – 20.59 km, winning the stage from Seb, who was just one second behind, and then Elfyn who lost the lead to the charging Frenchman, but the gap between them was just a little over a second.

Day one standings

1 S. Ogier J. Ingrassia Toyota Yaris WRC 1:43:31.5
2 E. Evans S. Martin Toyota Yaris WRC +1.2
3 T. Neuville N. Gilsoul Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC +6.4
4 S. Loeb D. Elena Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC +1:06.9
5 E. Lappi J. Ferm Ford Fiesta WRC +1:57.2
6 K. Rovanperä J. Halttunen Toyota Yaris WRC +2:19.2
7 T. Katsuta D. Barritt Toyota Yaris WRC +5:18.7

 

Let’s hear from the drivers.

Toyota Gazoo Racing WRT

Sébastien Ogier (1st)

“Overall, I am happy with the day. This morning I didn’t feel perfectly comfortable in the car and I was a little bit cautious, so I was not in the best rhythm. But for this afternoon we made some little adjustments to the setup and I felt more confident, and I could set some good times. We feared that the tyre choice was not optimal, but in the end, it was not that bad, as it was much drier than expected in the second stage of the loop. The gaps are still very small but it is nice to be in this position.”

Elfyn Evans (2nd)

“It was a really good morning for sure. The conditions were not so easy and the grip was quite changeable, but the Yaris gave me good confidence, so I was able to relax and enjoy driving the car. The afternoon was not quite so good – the conditions in the last stage were deteriorating with every car that passed and we were probably a bit too brave on the tyre choice. But overall, it’s been a good day and hopefully it will be more of the same tomorrow.”

Kalle Rovanperä (6th)

“I’m happy with today as we’ve improved a lot from this morning, which was quite difficult for me. Again, the conditions were new, going with slick tyres on some icy sections, so it was quite a careful morning. But it was getting better with each stage and the middle stage of the loop was good on both occasions. I’ve still got a lot to learn but I’m getting more comfortable in the car all the time. Tomorrow will be a new challenge, with a different style of stages I think, and we need to see what the conditions will be like.”

Hyundai Motorsport

Thierry Neuville (3rd)

“It has been a bit of a frustrating day for us. We had a difficult morning, fighting to pick up the pace and to have a good clean run. We faced some challenging conditions, and I couldn’t find the right feeling to push hard. It got better towards the end of the day and we were improving constantly with Dani Sordo as my road note crew. In the end it worked quite well, and I was confident. Step by step we found our way forward and we also worked on the set-up of the car to make it feel more comfortable. We need to continue in this way. I am happy Ott and Martin are okay; it was a huge crash at high speed but most importantly they are doing well.”

2020 FIA World Rally Championship
Rallye Monte-Carlo 2020
22-26 January 2020
Thierry Neuville, Nicolas Gilsoul, Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC
Photographer: Helena El Mokni
Worldwide copyright: Hyundai Motorsport GmbH

Seb Loeb (4th)

“I had a good day today. For sure, I think we had some more mud on the road, but also the drivers out front are very fast. I couldn’t match their speed. The gap to them is quite large so there’s no point to take risks. The running order will be different tomorrow; it may not make much difference, but we will see what the second half of the rally brings.”

Ott Tanak (Retired)

“First of all, Martin and I feel fine. We are recovering well and will be fit soon. In the early stages with the car we’ve been improving step by step. Last night, I really couldn’t understand everything that was happening. Overnight we managed to work quite a lot with the engineers and this morning the car already felt better. Still, of course, it would have been nice to continue for a bit longer to improve the feeling and to adapt again, but it is how it is. Yes, we had some moments already before the accident. Basically, in the first stage this morning, we were caught out by black ice where we had a spin. I must say it was proper Monte-Carlo; we really had some tricky conditions and it’s been challenging. I’m sure everyone had some moments and it’s normal in these kinds of conditions.”

M-Sport Ford WRT

Esapekka Lappi (5th)

“It has been quite a tough day for us. We’re learning a lot of new things, but still we were expecting to be a bit closer. We wanted to close the gap, but we’ve been consistently losing the same amount to the top guys stage after stage. We’ll work with the team to understand where we’re losing and how to find a solution, and hopefully we can be better tomorrow.”

Teemu Suninen (16th)

“After what happened yesterday, today was just about driving through the stages and getting the experience. It was tricky with the conditions this morning as they had changed quite a lot from when the route note crews went through, but it was better this afternoon and we were able to make some different choices with the tyres which should give us good knowledge for the future.”

 

Saturday

The running order looked like this- 1. Greensmith 2. Suninen 3. Katsuta 4. Rovanperä 5. Lappi 6. Loeb 7. Neuville 8. Evans 9. Ogier

The first stage of the day, SS9 St-Léger-les-Mélèzes – La Bâtie-Neuve 1 – 16.87 km, was won by Thierry, whilst Seb Ogier was second fastest and Elfyn in third and less than six seconds covered the top three.

Elfyn hit back, setting the fastest time in SS10 La Bréole – Selonnet 1 – 20.73 km, 7.6 seconds faster than Seb Ogier and Thierry was a further 13.8 away from our new rally leader. Top M-Sport Ford was Esapekka Lappi was in fifth position.

After lunch service, SS11 St-Léger-les-Mélèzes – La Bâtie-Neuve 2 – 16.87 km, Thierry hit the front again, winning the stage from Seb Ogier, who moved into a joint lead with Elfyn who was third quickest. The gap that the two leaders had fallen to eleven seconds.

The final stage of the day, SS12 La Bréole – Selonnet 2 – 20.73 km was won by Thierry as well, but the big surprise was that Seb was third fastest and dropped to second overall, with Elfyn regaining the lead. The three of them had been battling all day and just 6.4 seconds separated them. Further back, young Finn Esapekka had been catching Seb Loeb, and the gap was now just 14.1 seconds between them. The even younger Finn Kalle Rovanperä had driven to a very good sixth overall. His debut event was going very well.

 

Standings at the end of Saturday.

1 E. Evans S. Martin Toyota Yaris WRC 2:28:35.1
2 S. Ogier J. Ingrassia Toyota Yaris WRC +4.9
3 T. Neuville N. Gilsoul Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC +6.4
4 S. Loeb D. Elena Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC +2:24.3
5 E. Lappi J. Ferm Ford Fiesta WRC +2:38.4
6 K. Rovanperä J. Halttunen Toyota Yaris WRC +3:27.3
7 T. Katsuta D. Barritt Toyota Yaris WRC 10:31.1

 

Let’s hear from the drivers.

Toyota Gazoo Racing WRT

Elfyn Evans (1st)

“Overall it’s been a solid day and it feels good to be leading. I’m pretty happy with the weekend up to this point: the car has been giving me great confidence and the team has been working very well together. It was a very difficult afternoon loop, as we opted for the slick tyres like our rivals but there were still some icy sections out there. I was a bit too careful in the first stage of the loop, and then a bit too optimistic at the end of the last one on the final icy corner and we went off, but luckily, we didn’t hit anything. There’s a big fight on for tomorrow and we need to keep focused and not think about it too much.”

2020 FIA World Rally Championship / Round 01 / Rallye Monte Carlo / Jan 23-26, 2020 // Worldwide Copyright: Toyota Gazoo Racing WRT

Sébastien Ogier (2nd)

“It’s been a consistent day. The only regret we can have is being too cautious in the last stage on the tricky section on the ice. But I always prefer to be too cautious than in the ditch. This is always my strategy on this event and obviously it has paid off quite a few times. Taking risks can work, but not always. At the end of the day I’m not unhappy with today: It’s still very close and all is possible tomorrow. It’s a nice fight and now the plan is to be strong tomorrow and there is still a good chance to win this rally. We’ve had to push hard on these same stages in the last few years already, which is good experience to have.”

Kalle Rovanperä (6th)

“I’m not quite so happy with today, but it’s still OK: We’re doing exactly what we should do and driving without any mistakes. It was quite tricky conditions through the whole day, and we took it quite safe because we’re not fighting for any positions. I’m still learning how to use the car in the best way in all the different conditions. When you know these things, you can be faster. We have been going without taking any risks, so the times are quite OK when the road is clean.”

Hyundai Motorsport

Thierry Neuville (3rd)

“I am happy with what we have achieved today, and with the job of the whole team. We made a big improvement compared to yesterday and I am feeling more confident. Three stage wins out of a possible four and we’re in the fight for victory, that’s the positive we can take away from today. I am pleased with the performance we have delivered. Thanks to the corrections we got from the stages, we were able to push much harder without increasing the risks to go off. That was important and I was confident to give it everything. The plan for tomorrow is to go for the win but trying to be safe at the same time.”

Seb Loeb (4th)

“It has not been a good day for me; I have been struggling to get in the right rhythm. In these conditions, when you are not feeling at 100%, you lose time. The conditions have been difficult to read, with grip levels continuously changing. I made a small mistake in the final stage of the day, when I lost the car and spun on the final icy corner. But overall, we have just tried to stay secure. The three guys in front are flying so now my target to defend fourth place and hope for a better day tomorrow.”

M-Sport Ford WRT

Esapekka Lappi (5th)

“Everything felt much better this afternoon. We made some changes to the car which delivered a lot more grip, and also the information from the route note crews was much more precise. That brought a lot more confidence, and we were able to set some much better times and get a lot closer to Loeb ahead. But still 14 seconds is a lot to find when you’re talking about the nine-time World Champion! I think he knows tomorrow’s stages better than anyone so I’ll just focus on myself and hopefully we can show another improvement.”

Teemu Suninen (11th)

“Our pace was pretty good on the sections that were dry, wet or muddy, and I set some top-three times through those splits. But I lost a lot of time on the icy sections – especially when on the slicks. Maybe it was because I know I have to bring the car home to the finish, but still we could have gone faster. Experience always helps though, and I think we made some good tyre choices throughout the day so I was pleased with that.”

Gus Greensmith (66th)

“Considering how much work went into the pre-season it’s fair to say that my confidence was pretty shattered yesterday. I think it was the lowest point in my career, so today was all about rebuilding that. I was in no mood to make any mistakes through the first stage, but then I got back into things and managed to set the fifth fastest time in the next one. Then after that, I became a bit of a slush plough for the guys behind – but you’ve just got to pick yourself, keep working hard, and one day it’ll all come good.”

Sunday.

Just 63km’s left and four stages remained then and the startlist looked like this – 1. Suninen 2. Katsuta 3. Rovanperä 4. Lappi 5. Loeb 6. Neuville 7. Ogier 8. Evans.

The day started well for Thierry, who won SS13 La Bollène-Vésubie – Peïra-Cava 1 – 18.41 km and with Elfyn second fastest, but five seconds slower meaning that his lead over the Belgian who was now up into second place at the expense of Ogier. Esapekka Lappi was also going well and catching Loeb, who was just thirteen seconds ahead now in fourth place and his teammate, Teemu had now climbed into tenth place as well.

Thierry was really after this win, taking SS14 La Cabanette – Col de Braus 1 – 13.36 km as well, and took the lead. There was a change in fourth overall, as Loeb dropped a massive 42 seconds after sliding off the road and now Esapekka was up to fourth place. Thierry said that it wasn’t a good stage for him, but the clock said otherwise. He was on the limit of what the car wanted to do. There were just eleven seconds between Thierry in the lead and Ogier who was holding third.

 

Well, SS15 La Bollène-Vésubie – Peïra-Cava 2 – 18.41 km fell to the quick Belgian as well, who was just 1.4 seconds faster than Ogier with Lappi going third fastest with a good time. Elfyn was left trying to work out where his pace had gone. He felt he’d had a good run, but was only fourth quickest.

 

Time then for the final stage, SS16 La Cabanette – Col de Braus 2 [Power Stage] – 13.36 km and it was four out of four, for Thierry who got the nod for the stage victory, even though Ogier had set exactly the same time. Teemu Suninen was third in the stage, getting some good extra points for the driver standings. Of course, with Elfyn just fourth quickest and 3.2 seconds from Ogier, the man that had led coming into today now fell to third place, just 1.7 seconds from second place. The biggest news though was Loeb, who had fallen behind Kalle Rovanperä, who had finished in fifth position on his debut.

 

The Belgian duo and Hyundai had taken their first Monte Carlo victory with a drive full of risk, and it had paid off. They’d also taken the powerstage, giving them a perfect start to their championship challenge and in total took nine stage victories. Seb Ogier had got second place on the final stage, but what a drive from the Welsh Wizard, Elfyn and Scott Martin to their first ever Monte Carlo podium. They’d taken four stage wins against Seb Ogier and Julien Ingrassia who took three.

Final Overall Classification – Rallye Monte-Carlo

1 T. Neuville N. Gilsoul Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC 3:10:57.6
2 S. Ogier J. Ingrassia Toyota Yaris WRC +12.6
3 E. Evans S. Martin Toyota Yaris WRC +14.3
4 E. Lappi J. Ferm Ford Fiesta WRC +3:09.0
5 K. Rovanperä J. Halttunen Toyota Yaris WRC +4:17.2
6 S. Loeb D. Elena Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC +5:04.7
7 T. Katsuta D. Barritt Toyota Yaris WRC +11:27.9
8 T. Suninen J. Lehtinen Ford Fiesta WRC +13:30.4
9 E. Camilli F.X. Buresi Citroën C3 R5 +13:42.2
10 M. Østberg T. Eriksen Citroën C3 R5 +14:21.8

 

Let’s hear from the drivers!

 

Hyundai Motorsport

Thierry Neuville (1st)

“This is an amazing way to start the season and a fantastic feeling. I am really pleased that we have finally taken victory in Monte-Carlo; it’s been something we’ve chased for a while. We’ve come close before but now we’ve done it. It has not been an easy weekend, but I have picked up confidence as the event progressed, working very closely with the team and my gravel crew, who have done a great job. We’ve really been able to increase our feeling and comfort in the car the past few days. I could really push, and we’ve seen the results from the stage times. We were also able to take maximum points in the Power Stage. Our 13th WRC win – such a lucky number! My thanks to the whole team, it’s the perfect way to start a new season.”

Seb Loeb (6th)

“This has certainly not been the rally we were hoping for; it has been a difficult one all weekend and it seems the planets were not aligned for us. We were going OK until the second day but then yesterday we were backed up. Today was all about our tyre choice, which was not the right one for the conditions. We were already struggling at the end of the first stage, and I made a mistake at a tight hairpin in the second stage because I had no front grip. We just had to complete the rally, conserving our tyres to make it to the end. It’s not nice to tackle stages in that way but it was all we could do. We never give up. Huge congratulations to Thierry, Nicolas and the entire Hyundai Motorsport team for the victory. It takes something to win Rallye Monte-Carlo, so just enjoy these moments.”

Toyota Gazoo Racing WRT

Sébastien Ogier (2nd)

“I feel good honestly, it’s a positive result. Of course, I had hoped to deliver even more and bring the team a win straight away. But it’s always such a huge challenge to adapt to a new environment, especially on such a challenging rally, so I think we can be happy. I tried to stay in my comfort zone the whole weekend, not overdo it. We missed it by just a little bit, but 22 points is very good for the championship. There were some good moments during the weekend where we felt good in the car, some where I didn’t have enough confidence to really push the limits, but I really feel this car’s potential. I really enjoyed to drive it and I’m sure with a little bit more time, we’ll make great things together.”

Elfyn Evans (3rd)

“Obviously I feel a little bit disappointed today because I think we had the potential to win the rally. It’s difficult now because when you lead the rally, your expectations are raised and the win becomes the target of course. But it’s generally been a positive weekend. Unfortunately, I didn’t quite the feeling that I needed today. I was pushing hard but the speed wasn’t coming so naturally. I wasn’t nailing every corner and that ultimately cost us the handful of seconds we missed out by. We still have a little bit of learning to do, but overall it’s not a bad start and we can build on it.”

Kalle Rovanperä (5th)

“It has been a nice weekend. It was really tricky learning a new car in these conditions – and I think the conditions were really tricky this year, as they were changing a lot. It was getting better all the time and when there were conditions, I was more familiar with, I could do a bit better. There were so many things I learned during the weekend. It really helps to have a clean rally at the start of the season and also some good points.”

Takamoto Katsuta (7th)

“I’m so happy to have reached the end of the rally with lots of experience. I can see that I made a lot of progress from the start to the end of the weekend. I learned a lot about how to drive in different conditions and with different tyre options. I’m also getting more understanding about the car. On Saturday morning the conditions were very difficult and I made a mistake, but after that I could reset my mind and I had a pretty good feeling. My times at the end were pretty fine compared to other drivers who’ve done the same stages many times. Thank you to my co-driver Dan, my gravel crew Juho and Craig and the whole team – they did a brilliant job.”

 

M-Sport Ford WRT

Esapekka Lappi (4th)

“This is my best result from Monte and I think the best we could have done this weekend, so I am really happy with that. I managed to concentrate only on myself and what we were doing, and that seemed to work pretty well. It was a very challenging event and not always so easy, but we improved stage by stage and learnt a lot over the course of the weekend – so I’d say it’s been a positive start to the season.”

Esapekka Lappi made a great debut in his M-Sport Fiesta WRC. Photo credit, M-Sport.

Teemu Suninen (8th)

“When the conditions were dry or wet, I was really pleased with my pace on those sections, and we showed that again on the Power Stage today – setting the third fastest time and two fastest splits. But on the icy sections we were losing a lot and I have some work to do to be more consistent there. It’s good that I can set strong times on an event like this, but I need more experience to do it all the time.”

Summary

Well, what an incredible opener we were treated to. Spellbinding driving from the top three. Some would have been surprised by the performance of Elfyn and Scott, who took the fight to two crews that have either won this rally, or have actually won it. They are also crews that have fought for the world championship for the last few years. Who knows if this is the start of a special year for them both?

For Thierry and Nicolas, who have come close to winning this rally for the last few years, they took a great victory. It was an impressive drive from them. What we don’t know is how Ott and Martin would have done should they have not crashed.

2020 FIA World Rally Championship
Round 01, Rallye Monte-Carlo
23-26 Janvier 2020
Thierry Neuville
Photographer: Austral
Worldwide copyright: Hyundai Motorsport GmbH

The M-Sport team managed to get a good result after their troubles early on. Esapekka led their charge up the leader board, in the way you’d expect from the Finn, and was in a good position to benefit from the problems for Seb Loeb.

It was a very good debut from Kalle Rovanperä. He consistently set times which put him inside the top seven, including setting the fourth fastest time on stage seven. He and Jonne did what was expected of them and got to the finish.

Next time the championship will be heading to Rally Sweden.

Rallye Monte Carlo 2020 Preview

The 2020 season begins as ever in the ever iconic event that is Rallye Monte Carlo. Ott Tanak begins his title defence having made the switch from Toyota to Hyundai over the winter. He will, I am sure you know, will not however be running with the number one on his car, deciding instead to stick with number eight.

Rallye Monte Carlo has a reputation of being a super tricky event, and this year’s 88th edition is unlikely to be any different. Here are the stages that await the crews:

Thursday, January 23 2020

5 pm Official Start

Quai Albert 1er in Monaco

8:38 pm SS 1 – Malijai / Puimichel

17,47 km

10:26 pm SS 2 – Bayons / Bréziers

25,49 km

Friday, January 24 2020

8:36 am SS 3 – Curbans / Venterol

20,02 km

9:56 am SS 4 – Saint-Clément-sur-Durance / Freissinières

20,68 km

11:21 am SS 5 – Avançon / Notre-Dame-du-Laus

20,59 km

1:54 pm SS 6 – Curbans / Venterol

20,02 km

3:14 pm SS 7 – Saint-Clément-sur-Durance / Freissinières

20,68 km

4:39 pm SS 8 – Avançon / Notre-Dame-du-Laus

20,59 km

Saturday, January 25 2020

9:38 am SS 9 – Saint-Léger-les-Mélèzes / La Bâtie-Neuve

16,87 km

10:56 am SS 10 – La Bréole / Selonnet

20,73 km

2:08 pm SS 11 – Saint-Léger-les-Mélèzes / La Bâtie-Neuve

16,87 km

3:26 pm SS 12 – La Bréole / Selonnet

20,73 km

Stop at the Gap-Fontreyne Service Park

Sunday, January 26 2020

8:17 am SS 13 – La Bollène-Vésubie / Peïra-Cava

18,41 km

9:08 am SS 14 – La Cabanette / Col de Braus

13,36 km

10:55 am SS 15 – La Bollène-Vésubie / Peïra-Cava

18,41 km

12:18 pm SS 16 – La Cabanette / Col de Braus

13,36 km

 

Shakedown will take place on Wednesday afternoon from 4pm. There will be keen interest in the drivers that have switched teams over the winter to see what kind of times they set on the Route de la Garde 3.35 km stage. We’ll have to wait and see how many runs the crews decide to do, as they attempt to get a feel for their new cars in a competitive environment.

Look back to last year:

Last year Seb and Julien took a win with their return to Citroen, which was their sixth victory in this event. Ott Tanak took third. He was the early leader, but suffered a puncture early on day one, dropping him out of the fight for the lead. Between them, in second, was Thierry Neuville.

There are two drivers who are making their debut in full blooded WRC machinery this weekend. Kalle Rovanperä and Gus Greensmith will step into their respective cars from Toyota and Ford. Yes, I know that Gus drove in three events last year, but he and Edmund haven’t driven one of these cars in Monte before. Last year he drove to a very good win in the WRC Pro class.

Let’s hear from the drivers:

Hyundai Motorsport

Photo credit, Hyundai Motorsport

Ott Tanak

“The start of a new year begins with probably the most demanding event of the season. To make it even more challenging, we have a new team and a new car to learn while tackling the tricky conditions. It will never be an easy job, but it is important to get a good start and to score some points. With the event held at the end of January, the conditions are normally inconsistent, and a lot depends on the altitude. In the lower conditions you can have dry tarmac, then the higher you go it starts to freeze. With the extreme conditions, its normal to find some unpredictability in this rally.”

Thierry Neuville

“Rally Monte-Carlo kicks off the season and we are straight into the dark stages. It’s a very tough event, and tyre choice is crucial. It’s a difficult event in which to compete; there’s a lot of hesitation and you need good pace notes, as well as accurate information from your weather crew. With different altitudes in the stages, high concentration is key. Conditions are constantly changing and the most dangerous thing for us is black ice. We have been competing in Gap for a few years now and we know which sections are in the shade all day and will be slippery, but there will always be some surprises waiting for us in Monte.”

Seb Loeb

“You never know what to expect at Rallye Monte-Carlo. It could be fully dry, wet or feature a lot of snow, which changes the driving conditions. It can even change between the stages and the road sections, which means tyre choice is even more important. You need to find the right rhythm to be fast without taking major risks. This rally you need to approach with your head; it’s not just flat out, it’s a question of reflection. My previous experience feels like a long time ago, so the rallies feel newer to me than other drivers. We only had one day in the car before Monte-Carlo last year, so hopefully with our current knowledge of the car we will be able to get an even better result than last year.”

 

Toyota Gazoo Racing WRT

Photo credit, Toyota Gazoo Racing WRT

Sébastien Ogier

“I’m excited to start my first rally in the Toyota Yaris WRC. Every car has different characteristics and it takes some kilometres to learn about them, but so far it has been good in the tests. We want to fight for a seventh title this year, and I believe we can have a good chance with this car. Rallye Monte-Carlo is an event with special emotions for me. I remember at the end of the 1990s, coming to spectate and Tommi was winning a lot – he was the first idol I had in rallying. Myself and Julien obviously have a very strong record too, and every year there is more and more pressure to try and continue that. It’s always a big challenge and one that I definitely enjoy.”

Elfyn Evans

“I’m looking forward to Rallye Monte-Carlo and my first event with Toyota. This is the first time in my WRC career that I’ve changed teams, but everybody’s been very welcoming and I’ve got a good feeling in the car, so I’m excited about the season ahead. My first time driving the Yaris WRC was in our test for the Monte in December, and quite quickly I was able to get a nice feeling and some good confidence. On this event the challenge is always the range of conditions you can possibly face. When you’re setting up the car, you need something that gives you confidence and I think we’ve got some good options with that in mind.”

Kalle Rovanperä

“Rallye Monte-Carlo will be a special event for me. It’s a big step up from an R5 car, with a lot more power and downforce, but so far, I’ve found the Yaris WRC to be quite easy to drive in the tests. Still, I have a lot to learn and I think it will take a few rallies to really adapt to the car and how everything works. I will need to think differently at the beginning of the season, and I hope that I will have the patience for this. I think Monte-Carlo is not the easiest place to start with a new car and a new team. The weather is changing all the time and you cannot always have the right tyre choice for the conditions. It will be a big challenge for us, but hopefully we can make it through.”

 

M-Sport WRT

2020 FIA World Rally Championship
Ford Fiesta WRC 2020 Livery
January 2020
Photo: Drew Gibson

Esapekka Lappi

“Monte-Carlo is always a tricky start to the season, but I’m looking forward to getting started. Straight away the Fiesta felt very logical and easy to drive, and that always gives a driver a lot of confidence. I hope I’ll be able to use that confidence next week, but Monte is always a challenge and you never know what to expect.

“We had wet roads on the test and the car felt good in those changing conditions. But in Monte you can have wet roads, dry roads, icy roads, full snow, and sometimes all of that in the same stage! You have to give this rally a lot of respect, but that’s what we plan to do and we want to get this new partnership off to a strong start next week.”

Teemu Suninen

“I’m really looking forward to this season and straight away I could see that Esapekka and I would work well together. We had a very similar set-up on the test, and it looks like we want to take the car in the same direction.

“I tested on dry asphalt and had a really good feeling, but for the more tricky  sections where there is a lot of ice and snow I will have to rely on my experience. This is my fourth time in Monte so I’m starting to know the stages a bit better. The rally is always a lottery, but I have a very experienced gravel crew who I trust 100 percent – so anything is possible!”

Gus Greensmith

“Monte is a special one for me. It’s where I claimed my first victory (winning WRC Pro 2 last year), and there’s no other rally than gives me more satisfaction behind the wheel. Knowing that I will drive these amazing stages with the Ford Fiesta WRC this year is beyond my wildest dreams!

“Everyone wants to win here, and the changing conditions make it one of the biggest challenges on the calendar. The smallest mistakes pay a heavy price, but I do think this is a strong event for me. I’ve always relished tricky conditions, but experience is something you need here too. I’ll have to make up for that, and hope to produce a strong performance to kick off this 2020 season.”

Summary

Here we go then! Who will win the first round of this new season? Will we see another win going to Seb Ogier, or perhaps we’ll see a new winner this year? Thierry challenged in 2017, and was close last year, or perhaps we’ll see Ott Tanak take a first victory?

 

Podium challengers could be Elfyn Evans, Teemu Suninen and Seb Loeb. Finally, how will Kalle Rovanperä get on? The son of Harri Rovanperä has made his own name on his way up the ladder. There will be mistakes, that is expected. Still, expect to see him win some stages as well.

Enjoy!

Interview with M-Sport Team Principal, Richard Millener, Autosport International 2020, Part Two

Welcome to Part Two of my Interview with Rich Millener.

Warren

Let’s talk about Esapekka. Have you just signed him up on a one-year contract?

Rich

Yes, just one year at the moment, with the potential for further if we both agree, but it was a bit of a tough decision for him and tough decision to come with us, but a tough time for him. He found himself in Australia, finding he could be out of a job and it came to fruition. You’ve got to have four, five years of WRC at the top level to get your experience, and he’d just done that, had a tough season at Citroen and then it looked like it was all over, so luckily he found a way to come with us which is great and we really wanted him to have him on board and as I said we can prove a point and we can help him show his best and that’s the goal, we only chose him because we think he’s capable. If we didn’t think he was capable, we’d have stuck with Teemu and Gus, but he was there and we both agreed that we wanted to get him in the car and that’s happened, so yeah, we’re looking forward to it.

Warren

Teemu as well, a second consecutive year for him.

Rich

Yes, he did some really good performances last year, especially on tarmac, some really quite promising stage times, when you keep reminding yourself of his experience level, a couple of silly mistakes which he would be the first to admit to, which we want to try to get rid of. That really made his season, you know the history books say one thing, but we know the pace was good for the rest of it, and then a couple of problems from our side, and it was a bit of a mixed year. We want to try and take that away and go from there really.

Warren

Gus is doing a lot more rounds. He did Portugal, and then did a couple more because of Elfyn Evans’ situation.

Rich

Yes, going from three to nine is a big step, no R5 this year, so concentrating fully on WRC which is great, but it’s the biggest step he’ll make and it’s the top level and you’re in the limelight, and got all the pressure on you. He’ll want to prove himself, doesn’t want to be seen as someone who’s not capable of results. At the same time, it’s tough competing with those guys and he’ll have some good times and bad times. Our goal is to help him through it, he’s taking it incredibly seriously, to be fair to him. We mentioned to him in the middle of last year we thought he ought to get a bit more serious on a couple of issues, we said his personal fitness needs a bit of a look at and he’s dropped 21 kilos since Germany last year, which is incredible and that is dedication and for us to mention something like that and to go away and do what we’ve asked is great and shows his commitment to the project. It’s not just that, he’s upped all sorts in the background as well, and he’s really doing everything he can and it’s our responsibility and our job to do everything we can, and so we’re excited to see what he can achieve.

Warren

Finally, sum up Elfyn’s year. Came close to that win, had the problem in Estonia, missed three rounds.

Rich

He had a strong year, considering how many events he did, and he finished equal fourth in the championship and missed five rallies effectively. Two through retirement and three because of the injury, so if you think he hasn’t scored on five rallies and still fourth he’s done right in between and we knew that kind of performance would eventually get him a drive somewhere else. As much as we’re all disappointed, that he’s gone, we’re also happy that he got the opportunity to go show that he’s got the speed with another manufacturer, because you run the risk that people think he’s only ever going to stay at M-Sport and now he’s got his opportunity to show what he can do. It’s going to be hard for him, he’s got to prove it now over the next two years, but he’s capable, so we wish him the best of luck.

 

Many thanks to Rich for his time!

All photos courtesy of M-Sport

Interview with M-Sport Team Principal, Richard Millener, Autosport International 2020, Part One

Rich Millener had a lot to say about the new season at Autosport International.

Here is part one of my interview with M-Sport’s Team Principle.

Warren

Your feelings after the win that got away?

Rich

It was a bit of a baptism of fire for me in some ways. Doing the job in the background for the last three or four years. I approached Malcolm at the end of 2018 when Seb Ogier left and asked if I could do the team principle role, to which he agreed- this was surprising- if you don’t ask, you don’t get. It was a nice opportunity to be given. I think last year was a bit of a learning curve in some ways. It wasn’t hugely different from what I’ve done before- there were elements we knew – More involved in areas that I’ve not been involved with before, and then we had the Corsica issue. It was a very easy job at the start. Three rallies in and three good results. Fourth rally in and on for a win. I think people thought M-Sport were going to be in the way and pretty competitive, but unfortunately it unravelled. Then we had a tough mid-season and then we came back stronger at the end of the season.

I think overall not bad but there are a few things I’d like to change this year. There was nothing I wanted to change this past year, because you’re still learning. You don’t come in and try to change everything as you don’t have the experience to do it. Overall, I think we were very happy – the whole team is aware of the structure and how it’s working. We’ve tried to improve communication with mechanics and engineers, every part of the team really, just to work together as best we can, and just try to continue to improve. The drivers are all capable of winning, so we just want to perform as best we can, to give them everything we can to do well.

Warren

What do you think Lappi has brought to the team so far in terms of his experience with the previous cars he has driven?

Rich

Ah, difficult to say at the moment, as he’s done so little. He’s done two and a half days in the car so far, but the experience he has as he’s been with two manufacturer teams already, and we’re the third, all the current generation cars, which is great. He’s got experience and knowledge of the two rivals. He has been through the highs and lows himself and has won a rally and then had a tough season last year, so the kind of pressure of being in the top level of WRC, he’s been there which is great.

To promote a younger person into leading a team, you run the risk of that being difficult for them to get their head around and be prepared, but he’s kind of ready and nothing seems to stress him out which is great and like Malcolm said, the team and environment is very good, we’re a younger team with all the same goals, we’re all hungry to improve and win and so is he. If we can make him feel comfortable, then we know he can perform well. That’s our main goal at the minute. He seems to understand British humour, which is helpful so he can see a joke and be serious at the same time, and I think if he feels comfortable, then he should be on the pace right away.

Warren

Are you looking at any events for victories?

Rich

I think Monte Carlo will be difficult. I’m not sure tarmac would be EP’s favourite subject, but on the other side, Teemu’s tarmac pace has been really good the last few rallies. We didn’t do any testing before Christmas, we didn’t have the budget to do that, so we did that this year instead, a really good test, but unfortunately no snow but, we know how much that rally can change, so Monte will be hard. Sweden, we expect to be strong, like last year with Teemu, again it will depend on the road conditions and how much snow there is. Now really the rest after that, we should be strong in all of them and there’s no reason we can’t challenge in all of them. So, we’re not focusing on anything in particular, just be the best for all the events.

Warren

Now, three new rounds and this is a question that I asked Esapekka and Teemu. How do you go about preparing for Rally Safari?

Rich

I think Safari realistically is going to be quite different from what people expect. I think a lot more of the European style event is likely. It won’t be horrendously rough, it won’t be huge great deep-water splashes, cars will look pretty much look as they are. If people are expecting snorkels and everything that goes with it, which is great but we have the reality of the costs of designing a one-off car and it’s not feasible for anybody. However, having said that all new stages, very different from what we’ve seen, it’s quite sandy in places which is a different skill, fast and actually narrow in some places and if you go offline, there’s big rocks and everything.

The temptation to cut will be there, but the reality of cutting might not be so ideal and there is the wildlife, you know that you can’t get away from wildlife, there’s still going to be that gone are the days of the star helicopters and everything that went along with that because going to that level again would be like doing two rallies for the price of one. We can’t really afford. It will be very interesting, we sent some people out to the candidate rally to try and understand what it’s about, the same with Japan, New Zealand we know a little bit more, but all these new rallies are good for the drivers, because everyone’s in the same boat, new stages and new pace notes. I don’t think any of the drivers this year have been to any of these places, so that will be interesting. We’ll just prepare in the normal way, testing is most difficult because we don’t know the exact conditions you’re going to get in Safari, so you don’t know where you’re going to test. We’ve got a few options in mind, and I think that will be a key part of doing well.

Warren

Do you know if Rally Chile is going ahead?

Rich

It looks like it will be cancelled, and I don’t think there will be a replacement to be honest, I think it’s too late in the day to be able to find a solution to the logistics, to change everything around. We’re all planned around the thirteen rallies. Fourteen was always a push to be honest. It’s hard on the guys, yes less rallies than say Formula One, but you’re away for a longer time, over a week and last year with Argentina and Chile we were away for over three weeks and it was hard to keep morale up in the team because a lot of people have families and kids and it’s a long time for fifty people that you work with day in and day out. Thirteen is not a big drama for me. I appreciate that we need to go to new places, and it’s a shame that we’ve lost them, but we can still have a good championship.

Warren

I’m of the opinion that Formula One has too many races.

Rich

Yes, you become a casual fan, because you switch it on and it’s always there, which is great because it’s in your mind at the time, you don’t build up to the weekend, ah F1’s on at the weekend, I’ll watch that, but then it’s on every other weekend and WRC isn’t strong enough to warrant that many events, so got to be careful. I think thirteen or fourteen is acceptable.

 

The 2020 M-Sport lineup. Photo credit, Warren Nel

Look out for Part Two soon!

Interview with Teemu Suninen, Autosport International 2020

Teemu Suninen starts his second full season with M-Sport Ford. Photo credit, M-Sport

Warren Nel

Let’s talk about your stats from last season. It was really interesting to note that you took more stage wins last year than Esapekka last year. Anyway, give us an idea of your hopes for this new season.

Teemu Suninen

It would be the same before the new season, because we are having new rallies that we haven’t seen so I don’t have any expectations for the new rallies, as we have seen the pace can change quite a lot between rallies, which we saw last year like Sweden, and Germany I was able to set top three times all the time, Citroen were struggling in Germany, yet the rally after they improved and took the top two spots and then Toyota took the top three positions in Germany, and then in Turkey they were nowhere, so it’s difficult to say what the expectations are for the new events.

Warren

What are your hopes though?

Teemu

My hopes are to have more podiums and it would be great to finish the season in the top five or six and try to be close with the second group of drivers.

M-Sport Ford’s new livery. Photo credit Warren Nel

Warren

Are you hoping to be closer to the top three drivers?

Teemu

Yes, basically to be more consistent, everyone can challenge them on some rallies but not in all rallies.

Warren

There’s three new rounds, Safari, New Zealand and Japan finishing the season. In terms of those events you can’t test outside Europe, so how are you going to prepare for those events?

Teemu

That’s a good question, because it’s not easy to find the same kind of roads, they are quite different to the roads in Africa, so I think we need to be quite open minded about with the roads and testing places for Kenya, yeah and we doing the recce in Japan and we saw what kind of roads there is and everyone is wondering where can we find these kinds of roads, because it’s so different. They are in a deep forest, there is no sunshine in the daytime, as they’re so deep in the forest, and a lot of leaves on the tarmac, so it’s never clean and it is also quite slow. It going to be quite challenging with the daylight lights and not losing too much power from the alternator.

Warren

You scored one podium last year. Are there any events that you’re looking to get a podium this year apart from Italy? Score a few more and perhaps your first win?

Teemu

Proper rallies like Portugal and Sardinia, also Turkey. In those rallies I try to get a good pace and set good times.

Thanks to Teemu for his time.

Interview with Gus Greensmith, Autosport International 2020

Gus Greensmith at last season’s Rally de Portugal. Photo credit, M-Sport Ford

Warren Nel

Well, Gus last time I spoke to you was twelve months ago when you were looking forward to Portugal. How do you feel that event went for you?

Gus Greensmith.

It was a learning event. Clearly, it’s gone pretty well, because now I’m here in a WRC car, but it was great. It was great to beat Seb Ogier and Seb Loeb, the first stage I’d done in a world car, so that was an eye-opener for some, and then it went from there. The pace was pretty good, obviously you’ve got the three guys at the front, Seb, Thierry and Ott are steps ahead at the moment, but then if you look at those I was fighting with, Teemu, Elfyn, Esapekka we were separated by tenths, so it went well.

Then there was the call up for Finland, which was less than a week away from the rally, not prepared and again we were doing good times there, and Germany as well. Yes, it was a pretty narrow window to get prepared for a world rally car, it all went well, now we’re here. Pretty much straight after Finland that I got the offer for this year, so I’d known about it for a very long time.

Since then there’s been a big weight loss, 21 kilos just to get the weight to be perfect, so it been very busy behind the scenes since then and worth every second.

Warren Nel

Looking ahead to the season ahead, just take me through which events you’ll be taking part in.

Gus Greensmith

Monaco, Mexico, Argentina, Portugal, Sardinia, Finland, Turkey, Germany and depending on results maybe we can see one or two more, but results will have to be strong for that, so we’ll have to see. I have my rounds that I kind of picked, where I want to push, where I want to show my worth, aside from that it’s all about be flat out on every rally, that’s the benefit of only having nine, the fact that we don’t have to be prepping for every event, I’ve got a little bit longer to prepare myself for some of the rallies, which for me is extremely important. At the end of the day, you’d always prefer the full calendar, it’s also a good thing to have that extra time week or two to prepare will make a difference, and I proved that in Portugal, I proved that in every rally I’ve done, for me the nine rallies seems quite a bit perfect, and if we can get one or two more with some good results then all the better.

Warren Nel

If we go back to Portugal, you picked that event, but you hadn’t intended doing the other events, take us to that moment when you found out you were doing more events.

Gus Greensmith

I was always going to be doing more events, we just didn’t know which and it just coincided that they needed a driver. I literally landed from holiday, I was jet lagged and it was about eight pm and I got a phone call from Rich and he said, you don’t share this to anyone, but you’ll be driving the world rally car in Finland, so I was like what the f***, er right fine, no problem, I’m up for any challenge, and yeah, it was grand!

Warren Nel

What did you learn in that weekend, as it’s a pretty spectacular event?

Gus Greensmith

It was, for sure, the toughest rally of my career, for many reasons. One, not the prep I wanted to put in, two, it’s such an abstract rally compared to the calendar- You have to be flat out, fully committed and be confident with the car and unless you are then things just don’t click, so to be fighting with Teemu and beating him on the first day was incredible, alright but the pace as a package for the Ford team wasn’t good enough, we were cleaning the roads, so from that point in it was really tricky to find the speed, but comparatively against the team, those behind, our times were quite strong.

Warren Nel

This season you’ve got nine rounds, which event are you most looking forward to?

Gus Greensmith

Portugal I’m doing again, that’s the one that I’m going to go for it, see how far we can get up the leaderboard, I think we can be really strong there. Obviously, we won in Monaco last year, pretty dominant, I’d like to do the same this year, but to put a strong performance this year, then you’ve got to look at Turkey, it’s a rally that I suit well, got to do well there. The thing is I’ve got to deliver on every rally, if I want to earn my place in this sport full time, which is my ambition.

Warren Nel

In terms of scoring points for the team, have you got a set amount to be scoring?

Gus Greensmith

No, for me I’ve got the good job, I’ve got the third car, so they can just send me off as a loose cannon, and I just go and drive and try not to crash. Still, at some point in the year I’ll have to play the team game and score some points, but for now that’s Teemu and Esapekka’s job. For me, it’s about getting the best results in each individual rally.

Warren Nel

In terms of your preparations and testing, has it been good?

Gus Greensmith

Yeah, I got back from two days testing in Monaco, it was really good, went really well, really positive by the end of the day, I think all the footage looked really sideways, but for me, Monaco it’s quite important to be confident with the car, rather than finding the ultimate setup and time, you’ve just got to be confident in changing conditions, so that day was about throwing it in, I did it last year, so I don’t see why it shouldn’t work again.

Warren Nel

I said that fans had been watching the testing videos which had been posted online and were saying how the car looks quite lairy and sideways.

Gus Greensmith

Yeah, people love it and it’s not the fastest way, but unfortunately when you’re driving in Monaco you’ve just got to be prepared to throw it into a corner that’s going to have no grip in it what-so-ever, so we have to send it in, and I want to be the fastest person transitioning from tarmac to the ice, and that’s why in the test you saw me throwing the car around from corner to corner, I want to when I get here I know exactly what’s it going to be like before anyone else.

Warren Nel

Who are your safety crew for the tarmac rounds?

Gus Greensmith

I’ll have a Canadian called Anthoine L’Estage an eight time Canadian champion, an incredible understanding of how snow changes and develops and hugely important for my success on tarmac rallies, and then on the passenger side I’ll have Steve Lancaster, a very experienced co-driver working with him, and it’s worked really well before, so I see no reason to change something that isn’t broken.

2020 FIA World Rally Championship
Ford Fiesta WRC 2020 Livery
January 2020
Photo: Drew Gibson

Many thanks to Gus for his time!

Rally Spain, Day Three- Thierry Neuville wins Rally Spain, Ott Tänak wins the World Championship!

With just four stages totaling 74km, the startlist looked like this- Meeke, Katsuta, Ogier, Suninen, Evans, Latvala, Loeb, Tänak, Sordo, Neuville.

First up then was SS 14 – Riudecanyes 1 (16,35 km), and Ott Tänak had one goal. To pass Dani Sordo. The Spaniard was on it though, and whilst Thierry won the stage, Dani took the second fastest stage time and with the Estonian just a few tenths behind i20 pilot, the gap opened up a little. Elfyn was finding some pace as well, going fourth fastest and reducing the gap to Jari-Matti.

The first run through SS 15 – La Mussara 1 (20,72 km) was won by Dani, whilst Ott Tänak took the second fastest time and young Finn Teemu was third. Seb Ogier was eighth, complaining of wheelspin at the rear.

Into SS 16 – Riudecanyes 2 (16,35 km) and the Dani and Ott battle continued. The Hyundai pilot won the stage, and had increased the gap to Ott, whilst Seb Ogier’s changes to his car improved things, but made other things worse. Elfyn was finding some pace, and had reduced the gap to Latvala to fifteen seconds.

The final stage then, SS 17 – La Mussara 2 Power Stage (20,72 km) and there were some surprises. Elfyn had set the early benchmark time. Dani and then Thierry tried their best to beat it, and then Ott Tänak flew through, like he has on so many occasions this year and took the fastest time, and as a bonus, beat Dani Sordo’s time as well by six seconds, thus clinching second place overall. We have a new world champion crew, and the first from Estonia as well! What a drive from Ott Tänak and Martin Jarveoja in their Yaris WRC.

 

FINAL STANDINGS

  1. Neuville / Gilsoul (Hyundai i20 WRC) 3:07:39.6
  2. Tänak / Järveoja (Toyota Yaris WRC) +17.2
  3. Sordo / Del Barrio (Hyundai i20 WRC) +17.6
  4. Loeb / Elena (Hyundai i20 WRC) +53.9
  5. Latvala / Anttila (Toyota Yaris WRC) +1:00.2
  6. Evans / Martin (Ford Fiesta WRC) +1:14.2
  7. Suninen / Lehtinen (Ford Fiesta WRC) +1:47.6
  8. Ogier / Ingrassia (Citroën C3 WRC) +4:20.5
  9. Ostberg / Eriksen (Citroën C3 R5) +8:24.6 (1st RC2 & WRC2Pro)
  10. Camilli / Veillas (Citroën C3 R5) +8:47.2 (2nd RC2 & 1st WRC2)

 

Driver Quotes.

Hyundai Motorsport

Thierry Neuville (1st)

“What a weekend! We have been consistently quick on all three days, and we did absolutely everything we could. It wasn’t enough to keep the drivers’ championship alive until Australia but my congratulations go to Ott for securing the title. Our focus now moves fully onto the manufacturers’ battle. We have taken good points this weekend, and increased our lead but there’s now a crucial rally to come in Australia to get the job done. The car has proven itself to be quick on all terrains in recent rallies, and we can head to the season finale in a positive frame of mind.”

2019 FIA World Rally Championship
Round 13, Rally de España
24-27 October 2019
Thierry Neuville, Nicolas Gilsoul, Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC
Photographer: Helena El Mokni
Worldwide copyright: Hyundai Motorsport GmbH

Dani Sordo (3rd)

“I am happy to finish on the podium in my home rally but of course we would have preferred to keep hold of second place. Ott was on a mission today, and we missed out by 0.4 seconds. A podium is always special but it’s even better with the support of the Spanish fans. We’ve had a competitive rally and for the team this has been an important result. Thank you to the team for giving us a car that has worked so well all weekend. These sorts of results don’t come just from the crews, it is a full team effort and they’ve all done a great job.”

Seb Loeb (4th)

“It has been a positive rally for the entire Hyundai Motorsport team. While our own performance has been a bit frustrating since Saturday, we took reassurance from Thierry and Dani’s pace. The Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC is a fantastic car on all terrains, as we have seen this weekend. We pushed as hard as we could today, but we just could not set the sort of times we’d have wanted. However, this is a team effort and we leave Spain with a lot of valuable points for the manufacturers’ championship, which sets things up as nicely as possible for the final round.”

 

Toyota Gazoo Racing WRT

Ott Tänak (2nd)

“It’s hard to know what to say in this moment. The pressure this weekend has been on another level. This has been the target of my life. I knew I couldn’t make any mistakes, but still I had to do a good result to make it happen. So, it was massive pressure and it was difficult to get used to it at the beginning. But in the end, I was somehow able to relax and do my normal driving. This morning I had a good feeling in the car and could drive with a good rhythm, but Dani [Sordo] was always a bit faster, so I knew it would be hard in the Power Stage to get the points we needed. I pushed hard and, in the end, it paid off. I’ve had to overcome a lot in my career, so it’s nice to finally achieve this. Thank you to the team; they have done a great job.”

FIA World Rally Championship / Round 13 / Rally RACC Catalunya/Rally de Espana / Oct 24-27, 2019 // Worldwide Copyright: Toyota Gazoo Racing WRC

Jari-Matti Latvala (5th)

“I’m happy with my weekend. I think we had a consistent run and we didn’t really make any mistakes during the weekend, and the performance was overall at a good level. I was lacking some confidence at the start of this rally so I must be happy with the result and that we could score some good points for the team. Maybe we could have got fourth place today if I had pushed hard, but it would not have benefited us in the manufacturers’ championship and this was the most important thing, to keep it open going to the final round in Australia.”

Kris Meeke (29th)

“I enjoyed the rhythm back in the car today. We know that the Yaris WRC is really strong on asphalt, and I had a good feeling again this morning. We had to back off in the Power Stage because there was no way in which we could have helped Ott wrap up the championship, and it was important not to get in the mix and potentially take points away from him. We’ll go to Australia with something to fight for still in the manufacturers’ championship and we’ll give it our best.”

 

M-Sport WRT

Elfyn Evans (6th)

“Sixth place isn’t the result we wanted this weekend. At times we were able to show the speed we were capable of, but unfortunately, we weren’t able to do that all the time and I was struggling with the general feeling. But we made a small change for the Power Stage and I was able to really push. We secured a good result there, and moved up again in the championship which is a positive.”

Elfyn and Scott had a mixed weekend, but we did see more pace on the final day. Photo credit, M-Sport

Teemu Suninen (7th)

“I was really pleased with my pace and consistency on Tarmac this weekend, and now we can focus on the next step which is to be even faster with that same consistency. On the Power Stage I knew I could be fast but I braked too late, touched the rock face, and lost a lot of time. Without that, I know I could have scored some really good points there. Still I am really pleased with my performance, and looking forward to the last rally in Australia.

 

Citroën Total WRT

Sébastien Ogier (8th)

“Clearly, this wasn’t the result that we were hoping for coming into this round. We were determined to fight right to the end but unfortunately, it was all over for us early in the weekend. After the issue on Friday, inevitably our adrenaline and motivation levels were never quite the same, but we did what we could to be as professional as possible, to work on the car’s tarmac set-up and still try to push hard. Congratulations to Ott and Martin for deservedly winning the titles. They have done it in style.”

Sébastien Ogier and Julien Ingrassia used the rest of the weekend to test new ideas on the C3 WRC. Photo credit Citroën Racing

Esapekka Lappi (DNF)

“I’m disappointed that my rally came to a premature end, especially as I had enjoyed a pretty solid and consistent opening leg up to that point, in terms of pace. The gaps were small and we were up for the fight, because I felt comfortable in my C3 WRC. I was looking forward to seeing how much progress we made on tarmac and the times set by Sébastien and Julien suggest that we have definitely moved in the right direction. I will now look forward to Australia and finishing the season on a high with the best possible result.”

 

DRIVERS’ WORLD CHAMPIONSHIP

  1. Ott Tänak – 263 points
  2. Thierry Neuville – 227 points
  3. Sébastien Ogier – 217 points
  4. Andreas Mikkelsen & Elfyn Evans – 102 points
  5. Kris Meeke – 98 points
  6. Jari-Matti Latvala – 94 points
  7. Teemu Suninen & Dani Sordo – 89 points
  8. Esapekka Lappi – 83 points

 

MANUFACTURERS’ WORLD CHAMPIONSHIP

  1. Hyundai WRT – 380 points
  2. Toyota Gazoo Racing – 362 points
  3. Citroën Total WRT – 284 points
  4. M-Sport Ford WRT – 218 points

 

Summary

Well, it’s happened at last! We have a new world rally champion crew. Ott Tänak and Martin Jarveoja have secured their first world crown, and finally broken the run of fifteen consecutive French world champions. It’s the first drivers’ world championship for Toyota as well since Didier Auriol won in 1994.

FIA World Rally Championship / Round 13 / Rally RACC Catalunya/Rally de Espana / Oct 24-27, 2019 // Worldwide Copyright: Toyota Gazoo Racing WRC

Thierry and Nicolas did their best to hold them off, with a great drive in Spain to their third win of the year. Sébastien Ogier and Julien Ingrassia started well on Friday, but after their problems, they really weren’t in the running. They will be back next year, even stronger to gain the title back before they retire.

Elsewhere in the service park, Dani Sordo and Seb Loeb put together some very good drives that have helped Hyundai in their fight for the manufacturer’s championship. Their lead over Toyota is eighteen points heading to Rally Australia.

In the M-Sport camp, Elfyn found some pace and came close to a stage victory, only being eclipsed by Ott Tänak right at the end. This result, plus the points that he scored for sixth position have lifted him back into fourth overall in the championship standings, equal with Andreas Mikkelsen. This battle to finish best of the rest in the standings will be decided at the final round next month down under.

We have one round left then, Rally Australia from the 14th to 17th of November. Pop back then for my preview.

Rally Spain, Day Two- Hyundai Continue to Lead Rally Spain

With seven full tarmac stages today, the battle for the rally win and championship continued. The startlist looked like this – Ogier, Katsuta, Suninen, Evans, Latvala, Tänak, Meeke, Sordo, Neuville, Loeb.

 

We started with SS 7 – Savallà 1 (14,08 km) and straight away, Thierry who’d set the fastest time, moved into the lead, setting a time almost five seconds faster than overnight leader Loeb, who could only get the sixth best time. Meeke and Ogier were second and third in the stage with the result that the Toyota pilot now moved ahead of Dani and into third overall. Elfyn had the goal of getting ahead of Latvala, and was over two seconds quicker than the Finn.

 

The longer SS 8 – Querol 1 (21,26 km) saw the demise of Kris sadly, after hitting some Armco with the right-hand-side of his car. This put the Brit out for the day, and now we had a Hyundai 1-2-3 again, with everyone gaining a place. Latvala gapped Evans again, after going second fastest, and thus increased to thirteen or so seconds. Ogier was now in eighth place. Meaning he was in the points scoring positions.

 

Into SS 9 – El Montmell 1 (24,40 km) and there wasn’t much to separate the top three of Tänak, Ogier and Sordo covered by just 1.7 seconds, and the gap between the Estonian and Spaniard reduced to a little under ten seconds.

 

After lunchtime service the rerun of SS 10 – Savallà 2 (14,08 km) saw Ott top the times again, as he and Martin found their rhythm, and now the gap to Dani was a little over seven seconds. How would the Hyundai pilot react in the next one? Meantime Thierry was pulling away at the front from his illustrious teammate, the gap now more than fifteen seconds. In the battle between Elfyn and Jari-Matti, the Finn was winning, with the gap now almost twenty seconds.

 

Next up, SS 11 – Querol 2 (21,26 km) and the top three, Tänak, Latvala and Neuville were separated by just six tenths of a second. Super close! The gap was coming down bit by bit between Dani and Ott, as the Estonian looked for another podium.

 

The last big stage of the day, SS 12 – El Montmell 2 (24,40 km) and we had a change in the podium positions, but not who you might have expected! Dani passed Loeb, as the Frenchman could only manage the eighth fastest time, almost eight seconds slower than Ott. Further down the gap between Elfyn and Latvala remained around twenty seconds, despite the Welshman being a little faster than Jari-Matti.

 

Now it was time for the final stage of the day, SS 13 – Salou (2,24 km) and Thierry set the best time from Dani and Ott, and the Estonian was now ahead of Loeb and in third place, and just a few seconds behind second place as well.

 

CLASSIFICATION DAY TWO

  1. Neuville / Gilsoul (Hyundai i20 WRC) 2:25:15.8
  2. Sordo / Del Barrio (Hyundai i20 WRC) +21.5
  3. Tänak / Järveoja (Toyota Yaris WRC) +24.6
  4. Loeb / Elena (Hyundai i20 WRC) +25.2
  5. Latvala / Anttila (Toyota Yaris WRC) +46.8
  6. Evans / Martin (Ford Fiesta WRC) +1:09.2
  7. Suninen / Lehtinen (Ford Fiesta WRC) +1:24.5
  8. Ogier / Ingrassia (Citroën C3 WRC) +4:09.9
  9. Ostberg / Eriksen (Citroën C3 R5) +6:35.2 (1st RC2 & WRC2Pro)
  10. Camilli / Veillas (Citroën C3 R5) +6:38.2 (2ndRC2 & 1st WRC2)

 

The Driver Quotes

Hyundai Motorsport

Thierry Neuville (1st)

“We have been fully motivated and confident with the car on these tarmac stages today. We had the perfect start to the day with two more stage wins and moving into the rally lead. From there, we were able to gradually increase our advantage stage by stage, adopting a clever approach to keep things smooth and clean. We took things a bit easier once we saw Kris (Meeke) have his issue this morning, especially in the big cuts to avoid punctures. Overall, we’re in the position we want – and need – to be. Nothing’s over until it’s over so we will keep pushing with our sights set firmly on securing victory tomorrow, and a good team result for the manufacturers’ championship.”

2019 FIA World Rally Championship
Round 13 Rally de España
24-27 October 2019
Day 2, Action, Thierry Neuville, Nicolas Gilsoul, Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC
Photographer: Fabien Dufour
Worldwide copyright: Hyundai Motorsport GmbH

Dani Sordo (2nd)

“We have done our best to continue the 1-2-3 formation that we achieved yesterday but it’s been a more challenging day. We have pushed as hard as we could, even if we’ve been missing some time here and there. It has also been important to stay cautious at times, particularly in the cuts, as it is so easy to run into trouble. Tänak has been driving well, as we expected, so our job today has been trying to defend our position. There’s not a lot of time between three crews battling for second place, so tomorrow will be a critical day. We will keep fighting as hard as we can.”

Seb Loeb (4th)

“We started this morning’s loop almost like a completely new rally, swapping the gravel stages for tarmac. It doesn’t matter what surface we have, the stages in Spain are great and the atmosphere is incredible. We have had to adopt some caution at times today to avoid making mistakes. The feeling with the car and the balance has been nice but for some reason the times just haven’t been there. In the final stage, I stalled the engine which cost us some time and lost us third place. But overall, I don’t think we could have done much more. We will check this evening to understand where we’re losing out. Thierry has been going very fast and the team is still in a strong position overall, which is the positive we take into Sunday’s stages.”

 

Toyota Gazoo Racing WRT

Ott Tänak (3rd)

“I’m really happy with how today turned out. This morning, I was really struggling and I couldn’t find any rhythm. The car was feeling good but I was a long way from being close to the limit. It was difficult to get used to the pressure of the situation. But I managed to reset for the afternoon and I could improve the rhythm. Tomorrow is another long day with some demanding stages, so there is still a big job to do.”

FIA World Rally Championship / Round 13 / Rally RACC Catalunya/Rally de Espana / Oct 24-27, 2019 // Worldwide Copyright: Toyota Gazoo Racing WRC

Jari-Matti Latvala (5th)

“Overall, I must say that today has been good. At first this morning, I struggled with the brakes a bit after the change from gravel, but in the second stage already I had a very good feeling with the car. The afternoon started pretty well too. On El Montmell I ran wide, hit something and damaged the steering arm so we lost a bit of time there. But otherwise, it has been a positive day. Tomorrow I’m going to try to keep the pressure on and see what happens, as we need as many points as we can get.”

Kris Meeke (39th)

“When you transition from gravel to asphalt on this event, you’re always wondering what the car is going to feel like. The rhythm was really nice this morning and the car felt incredible. Not far into the second stage, I went to brake for a fast left that tightened. I knew the corner very well, but immediately I locked the rear wheels and I didn’t make the corner. I touched the barrier at the rear of the car and that was it. I’m really frustrated. I had to put it on the line today to try and get among our rivals for the manufacturers’ championship. I think we could have had the speed to do it but unfortunately that small mistake cost us.”

 

M-Sport WRT

Elfyn Evans (6th)

“We’ve been trying hard all day but just weren’t able to find the pace as the day wore on. In terms of the balance of the car, the feeling was improving all the time but it just didn’t seem to affect the times at the end of the stage. It was always two or three seconds here and there, and that’s what makes the difference. Unfortunately, we just haven’t had an answer to the guys at the front today.”

Teemu Suninen (7th)

“I think it’s been a pretty good day for us and I had a good feeling with the car in the afternoon. I was able to really focus on my driving and I think we set some good times. But no matter what we did, or how long the stage was, we were always three seconds behind Sébastien [Ogier]! I don’t think that’s a bad thing, but hopefully one day we will be three seconds ahead! We know where the level is, and we’re not too far away so that it definitely a good thing.”

Teemu and Jarmo continued to learn together. Photo credit, M-Sport

 

Citroën Total WRT

Sébastien Ogier (8th)

“Although it wasn’t easy to find motivation today, I did my best to remain very focused and push hard.  We ended up setting some decent times. I’m pleased that my good feeling in testing has been confirmed here in the rally. The balance of the C3 WRC is better and I have more confidence in the front axle. We’re not quite there, however, there’s still a little something missing. We’re going to keep working hard to find the last few tenths, which are always difficult to get.”

Sébastien Ogier and Julien Ingrassia did their best, despite lacking big motivation, given how things had turned out. Photo credit, Citroën Racing

Summary

Well, what an interesting day. Thierry had done everything right, moving into the lead at the start of the day and then pulling away, and keeping his title hopes alive. It had also been a very good day for Ott, who’d moved up the leaderboard and into the podium positions and is now just a few seconds from second place. Who’d bet against him getting past Dani Sordo tomorrow?

It was a shame that Kris and Seb ended their challenge in the second stage of the day, as they were going really well, having passed Dani Sordo in the stage before. A small mistake, that had big consequences for his hopes.

It was a surprise to see Elfyn and Scott not setting quick times. They just couldn’t set some quick times and drifted further back from the leading drivers, despite feeling that he was setting good times.

Sébastien and Julien drove well, setting good times and climbing the standings into eighth position. It’s hard to see them gaining anymore places though, unless one of the crews ahead suffer a problem.

Thinking ahead to Sunday’s stages, there is a total of 74km over four tests. Talking about the final stage, La Mussara, Miikka Anttila says “This is probably the one stage this weekend that none of the crews have much experience on. The first six kilometres were driven in 2016; the rest not for a long time in this direction. In the beginning, the road turns a lot, and once on top of the hill it’s very fast and flat-out in places. Then it’s back to a slower road down to the finish.”

Perhaps, we’ll know then if Ott Tänak will have won the crown.

Rally Spain, Day One – Seb Loeb leads a One, Two, Three for Hyundai Motorsport

It was good day for Hyundai, but not so good for Citroën, who suffered two separate technical failures on their cars.

With six stages all on gravel today, the start list looked like this – Tänak, Ogier, Neuville, Meeke, Evans, Latvala, Lappi, Suninen, Sordo, Loeb.

 

It was a good start by Seb Ogier, who won SS 1 – Gandesa 1 (7,00 km) from Dani Sordo and Thierry Neuville was right there as well. The short stage didn’t affect Ott Tanak too much either, with the championship leader only losing 1.8 seconds to the reigning champion.

 

With the longer SS 2 – Horta-Bot 1 (19,00 km), it started to unravel for Ogier. He started to lose time very early in the and the problem got worse and worse. By the end, he and Julien had lost 44 seconds and had fallen to fifteenth position. Is this the moment when the championship slipped away from the Citroën pilot? Thierry moved into the lead after winning the stage, with his Spanish teammate just a few tenths behind. Kris now held third, as the top Toyota at this point. Elfyn suffered a part spin, losing a few seconds and falling behind his Finnish teammate, but not by a big margin. Meantime, Ott had made his way up to fourth place.

 

The next stage, SS 3 – La Fatarella – Vilalba 1 (38,85 km), a really long and proper stage. Seb Ogier lost even more time on this long stage, losing almost three minutes, and was now three and a half minutes from the lead. His fellow multiple world champion Seb Loeb won the stage and moved up to sixth place. Meantime, Dani Sordo took the lead with championship hopeful Thierry now falling to second place. Elfyn had a better stage, setting the fourth fastest time and moving up the leaderboard to into fourth place. The drivers to fall behind were Kris, who was just a few tenths behind the Welshman and in fifth, whilst Esapekka was now in seventh place. The gaps were really quite small though, with only twelve seconds covering first and seventh.

 

After lunchtime service, SS 4 – Gandesa 2 (7,00 km), and Dani was quick out of the blocks once more, winning the stage from Teemu. Loeb also went well, making it a one-three for Hyundai in the stage and moving him above Kris and Elfyn and into fourth place. Thierry put a good stage together and continued to hold second overall. Hyundai had found a good set up for their cars, and were going well indeed.

 

Into SS 5 – Horta-Bot 2 (19,00 km) and Loeb won from Sordo, whilst Latvala was starting to feel more comfortable, setting the same time as Dani. Loeb’s pace moved him into third overall, with Ott now falling behind the former champion. Kris was also going well, passing Elfyn. Esapekka Lappi sadly dropped out of the standings with a technical problem. We now had a Hyundai one-two-three! Seb Ogier was well out of the running and despite his complete professionalism really struggling for motivation.

 

The final stage of the day then, and SS 6 – La Fatarella – Vilalba 2 (38,85 km) saw a massive push from Loeb, which gave him a superb stage victory, beating Kris and Thierry and was enough to give him and Daniel the rally lead, whilst Thierry and Dani completed a one-two-three for Hyundai. On the flip side, Elfyn had a terrible stage with an engine problem and he lost 38 seconds and fell to seventh. Not how he would have wanted to end the day, but at least he’s still in the running for the points and we know how fast he is on tarmac.

Driver Quotes at the end of Day One

Hyundai Motorsport

Seb Loeb (1st)

“An incredible day for the team! It is a wonderful feeling to be leading this rally, even if at this early stage of the weekend. There was a bit of a tyre strategy in the morning, and I was only able to get the hard compounds working to their optimum performance at the end of the loop. The conditions were just too slippery and greasy in the opening stages. The afternoon was better and I had a good feeling throughout. In the final stage, the car was perfect and I was just flying. We gave it a push and it was good enough to secure a 1-2-3 for the team to end the first day. We now have two long days of tarmac ahead of us.”

2019 FIA World Rally Championship
Round 13 Rally de España
24-27 October 2019
Day 1, Action, Sebastien Loeb, Daniel Elena, Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC
Photographer: Fabien Dufour
Worldwide copyright: Hyundai Motorsport GmbH

Thierry Neuville (2nd)

“We have had a great start to this rally and the car has been working very well. We had a positive opening loop this morning and continued in the same direction for the afternoon. There were some tricky sections at times but we stayed focused and tried to be efficient. The final stage was particularly tough with some visibility issues, a combination of the sun being low and some fog, so we had to remain concentrated. Aside from losing a second or two at the last hairpin, it was a strong end to an almost perfect day.”

Dani Sordo (3rd)

“All in all, we have had a good day and things are looking good for the team on the standings with the top three positions. The car has been working very well, even with changeable grip levels. The only downsides were a puncture 5km before the end of the morning loop, which lost us some time, as well as a disappointing end to our afternoon. Some places were difficult to drive but there was nothing immediately wrong. I think we can still be happy with our performances today, as we now turn our attention the tarmac stages.”

 

Toyota Gazoo Racing WRT

Kris Meeke (4th)

“This morning I struggled a bit with the setup and so I wasn’t comfortable over the bumps, especially in the long stage, SS3. But everything came together in the afternoon. The car felt a lot different and I could trust it a lot more. I said beforehand that I needed to be within 10 seconds of the lead tonight and the gap is currently 13, so it’s not bad, we’re still there. My pace has been strong on asphalt this year and I know the Yaris WRC works really well, so I’m confident and looking forward to the rest of the rally.”

Ott Tänak (5th)

“It was a really tough and demanding day today. When you’re opening the road during the first loop, it’s constantly slippery, but in a way it’s still manageable. The conditions are always more difficult in the second loop and it can be really frustrating. I pushed as hard as I could and I couldn’t do any more, so we need to be happy with that. Tomorrow is very much a new day and a very different day, and hopefully it can be a stronger day for us.”

FIA World Rally Championship / Round 13 / Rally RACC Catalunya/Rally de Espana / Oct 24-27, 2019 // Worldwide Copyright: Toyota Gazoo Racing WRC

Jari-Matti Latvala (6th)

“This day on gravel was not as simple as last year. After the rain earlier in the week, the grip level was much lower, and it was more difficult this morning. Then in the afternoon, the grip was pretty consistent, but there were many ruts. I wasn’t confident enough this morning, but we made some changes with the suspension in service, and I fought back in the afternoon. I feel a lot more relaxed and confident now and I’m looking forward to the next two days on asphalt.”

 

M-Sport WRT

Elfyn Evans (7th)

“It was shaping up to be a pretty good fight, but it didn’t go our way in the end. We had some speed at times, but then we had a pretty bad misfire on the last stage. We managed to change a few things on the road section and get it going again so it’s just one of those things – and we’ll need to make sure we’re on it from the word go when the action moves to Tarmac tomorrow.”

Elfyn and Scott suffered an up and down day, which ended with an engine problem. Photo credit, M-Sport

Teemu Suninen (8th)

“We found a good rhythm this afternoon and I had a really good feeling with the car. I tried to set some good times, and I was happy that we managed to do that. But I wasn’t so good at managing the tyres on the long stage. On the first pass I pushed too hard, and on the second I didn’t push enough. It’s something I need to improve, but I know it’s a learning curve so I will make some good notes and do some good homework.”

 

Citroën Total WRT

Sébastien Ogier (17th)

“I lost the power steering pretty much at the start of SS2, then the gearshift paddles went and finally the central differential. It was so hard physically to drive the car without power steering, I ended up with blisters on my hands. Obviously, it’s disappointing because the intention was there. We made the right call on tyres and the time on the opening stage confirmed the good feeling we had. Everyone in the team is disappointed this evening, but obviously we’re professionals and our approach has always been to never give up and see where we are at the end of the rally.”

It wasn’t a good day for Seb and Julien. Photo credit, Citroën Racing

Esapekka Lappi (DNF)

“I’m disappointed that my rally has come to a premature end, especially as I had enjoyed a pretty solid and consistent day up to that point, in terms of pace. The gaps were small and we were up for the fight, because I felt comfortable in my C3 WRC. I will now look forward to Australia and finishing the season on a high with the best possible result.”

 

STANDINGS AFTER DAY ONE

  1. Loeb / Elena (Hyundai i20 WRC) 1:21:24.7
  2. Neuville / Gilsoul (Hyundai i20 WRC) +1.7
  3. Sordo / Del Barrio (Hyundai i20 WRC) +7.6
  4. Meeke / Marshall (Toyota Yaris WRC) +13.0
  5. Tänak / Järveoja (Toyota Yaris WRC) +21.7
  6. Latvala / Anttila (Toyota Yaris WRC) +30.1
  7. Evans / Martin (Ford Fiesta WRC) +44.0
  8. Suninen / Lehtinen (Ford Fiesta WRC) +51.8
  9. Katsuta / Barritt (Toyota Yaris WRC) +1:50.3
  10. Ostberg / Eriksen (Citroën C3 R5) +2:59.8

 

Summary

Well, a very interesting first day on the gravel roads in Spain. It’s certainly not the day that the Citroën team would have wanted, and now it is looking very likely that we will see our first Estonian world champion.

At the front, Hyundai’s drivers are doing all they can to help Thierry take the fight to the final round, but with Ott Tänak sitting in fifth overall, he’s in a good position to take the title.

Toyota had a reasonable day, with Kris, Ott and Jari-Matti all setting pretty good times, and will look to move up the order tomorrow.

At M-Sport they had their moments, but with the problems that Elfyn had in the longest stage this afternoon, they’ll be wanting more from the weekend. Let’s see what happens tomorrow.

Now, tomorrow sees the crews attack seven stages totaling 121km. We’ll have a better idea if Ott Tänak is set for his first championship by the end of tomorrow.

Rally Spain 2019 Preview – The title battle moves to Spain.

The Championship Rivals

The championship fight between Ott, Seb and Thierry arrives at the dual surface challenge that is Rally Spain! The Belgian is on balance, given he is forty-one points behind Ott Tänak, the driver least likely to win this years’ championship. Very simply, he has to win this event and take the powerstage as well, and hope that neither Ott, or Seb actually finish to take the fight to the final round down under. Even then, he’d still be behind the Estonian. Seb though is closer, just twenty-eight from the leader, giving him the chance to lead the championship should he win and take the powerstage, assuming that Ott doesn’t finish. Now, the championship could be decided in Spain should Ott finish ahead of either of his rivals.

 

The Podium Challengers

There are a number of drivers who could finish on the podium. Now, think back to Tour de Corse, we saw a storming drive from Elfyn and Scott on the tarmac, which almost gave them victory. The M-Sport duo will almost certainly feature at the front, and last time out in Wales they made a great return. Kris and Seb will also be quick enough to take stage victories. Now in the Hyundai camp, we’ll have Dani returning to his i20 and last years’ Rally Spain winners, Seb and Daniel as support to Thierry and Nicolas.

Driver Quotes.

Toyota Gazoo Racing WRT

Ott Tänak

“I’m looking forward to Spain. As always, I will aim to do my best, but we need to be smart. We know that it could be tricky for us on the first day, as we’ll be running first on the road on gravel. The weather could change things too: We saw last year that we can easily get rain in Spain at this time of year. But I believe that our performance should be good on both surfaces: We were already fast on this event last year and hopefully that will be the case again this time, and we can get the result we need.”

FIA World Rally Championship 2018 / Round 12 / Rally Catalunya-Costa Daurada Rally de Espagna 2018 / October 25-28, 2018 // Worldwide Copyright: Toyota Gazoo Racing WRC

Jari-Matti Latvala

“The combination of gravel and asphalt in Spain is something I’ve always really liked. The gravel stages are quite smooth but very slippery, while the asphalt roads are best that we have in the championship: really smooth and fast. I had a test on asphalt in Spain last week and I had a really nice feeling in the car. I’m very motivated and looking forward to being back in the car, fighting for the best possible result as we try to win the manufacturers’ championship again.”

Kris Meeke

“Spain is one of my favourite events on the calendar. I’ve always enjoyed the mixed-surface challenge, and last time I did the rally in 2017, I managed to take the win. I’ve had a really good feeling with the Yaris WRC on asphalt so far, so I’m especially looking forward to that part of it. On gravel, we know there will be a couple of drivers who will have ideal road positions and can be very strong on this event. With the manufacturers’ championship being so close now, we’ve got a job to do and we’re certainly going to have to be on our game.”

 

Citroën Total WRT

Sébastien Ogier

“I enjoy racing on different surfaces so I like this rally and I’m very determined to score big points here if I can. We don’t have any choice, really. We have to close the gap to Ott if we are to retain our hopes of retaining the title. Given the influence of road position, the first leg on gravel is bound to be difficult for us but I’m not going to worry about that any more than usual. I’m confident that we’ll be quicker on tarmac. The feeling in testing was much better than recently but only the times and those of our rivals will tell us whether or not the step forward we have made is big enough.”

Seb and Julien drove to a strong second place last year. Could they take the win this year? Photo credit, Citroën Racing

Esapekka Lappi

“I like the idea of racing on a mixed-surface rally, even though it’s a huge challenge. It’s especially tricky on Saturday morning when you have to switch from gravel to tarmac with no transition and be immediately on the pace from the first corner. I hope it will stay dry on Friday and I’ll be able to make the most of my position in the running order, particularly as we have now shown good pace on gravel. I love the tarmac stages here. The roads are smooth and flowing, very fast in places, and on the whole pretty clean if it doesn’t rain. They are the ones that remind me most of my track racing past. We should be more competitive than on the previous tarmac rounds, because we definitely pinpointed something during testing, but we’ll have to wait for the times on the first few stages on tarmac to see where we really stand.”

 

Hyundai Motorsport

Thierry Neuville

“We are approaching a critical part of the season, where the championship really intensifies. Our aim is clear: to fight for victory and to outscore our rivals. At the same time, we know that Rally de España is a unique event due to the fact that we are running one day on gravel and two days on tarmac. It has very specific characteristics and it is truly the only one like this on the calendar. It poses challenges to which we all look forward. We have shown that we are strong contenders on both surfaces this year and we will keep pushing as hard as we can for the championship.”

2018 FIA World Rally Championship
Round 12, Rally de Espa–a
25-28 Octobre 2018
Thierry Neuville, Nicolas Gilsoul, Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC
Photographer: Austral
Worldwide copyright: Hyundai Motorsport GmbH

Dani Sordo

“I can’t wait to get back behind the wheel of the Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC in Spain, my home rally. This is always a very special event as we compete on both gravel and tarmac in the same weekend. It’s nice to start on gravel. With our advantageous position, starting later on the road, we can hopefully gain some time. Then there’s a big fight on tarmac as there are fast crews in every team, so it promises to be an exciting event. As it is in Spain, it is also double motivation for me. The spectators come to see everybody but I think they support the Spanish drivers a little bit more than the others normally!”

Seb Loeb

“For me, Rally de España is a rally I’ve always enjoyed. I have won it a lot of times but what I like the most is the location: it’s a nice place close to the sea. The mixed surface is something I always enjoyed in the past and it’s the only event we completely change the set-up of the car in the middle of the rally. We are confident we can be on the pace and support the team to extend the lead in the manufacturers’ battle.”

 

M-Sport WRT

Elfyn Evans

“It was great to be back in Wales, and to see that our pace was strong enough to challenge for the top results. We want to see that pace continue in Spain and I see no reason why we can’t do that. I feel as though we have some unfinished business this year, and I’m keen to deliver some strong results over these final events.

“As the only mixed-surface event on the calendar there’s nothing else quite like this rally. The gravel stages can be quite technical in places, and the asphalt roads are as close as we get to rallying on a race track in full Tarmac trim.

“We completed an asphalt test earlier this week and the feeling is good, so I’m really looking forward to getting back behind the wheel and seeing what we can do.”

There’s no doubting Elfyn and Scott’s pace on tarmac and gravel this year. Photo credit, M-Sport

Teemu Suninen

“We completed a three-day test with Elfyn last week, and got to experience three different types of Tarmac roads. We know that the car is very good on this surface, and on gravel as well, so I’m looking forward to showing what we can do next week.

“My aim is to secure a strong result, and it would be great if we were able to challenge for the podium. The battle between the three Finns in the championship is also really exciting, and I want to do well in that fight.

“We need to be focused, and I will try to find a good rhythm straight away. This is a rally that I have done every year since 2015, so it is quite familiar and if I can get everything right then I think we can challenge for a good result.”

 

Here’s the stages! There are 325km over seventeen stages, with six gravel on Friday. Once again, getting through the first day in a good position will help give the good start position for Saturday. This will be key, given that the lower that you run on the tarmac, the dirtier it will be, therefore harder to set a quick time.

THURSDAY 24 OCTOBER

9.01am: Shakedown (2,00 km on gravel)

7.00pm: Ceremonial Start (Salou)

 

FRIDAY 25 OCTOBER

8.00am: Start from PortAventura service park

9.23am: SS 1 – Gandesa 1 (7,00 km)

10.03am: SS 2 – Horta-Bot 1 (19,00 km)

11.13am: SS 3 – La Fatarella – Vilalba 1 (38,85 km)

1.23pm: Service A (PortAventura – 40 minutes)

3.26pm: SS 4 – Gandesa 2 (7,00 km)

4.06pm: SS 5 – Horta-Bot 2 (19,00 km)

5.16pm: SS 6 – La Fatarella – Vilalba 2 (38,85 km)

7.51pm: Flexi service B (PortAventura – 1 hr 15 minutes)

 

SATURDAY 26 OCTOBER

7.30am: Start & service C (PortAventura – 15 minutes)

9.00am: SS 7 – Savallà 1 (14,08 km)

9.41am: SS 8 – Querol 1 (21,26 km)

10.38am: SS 9 – El Montmell 1 (24,40 km)

12.10pm: Service D (PortAventura – 40 minutes)

2.01pm: SS 10 – Savallà 2 (14,08 km)

2.42pm: SS 11 – Querol 2 (21,26 km)

3.38pm: SS 12 – El Montmell 2 (24,40 km)

5.30pm: SS 13 – Salou (2,24 km)

6.00pm: Flexi service E (PortAventura – 45 minutes)

 

SUNDAY 27 OCTOBER

6.45am: Start & service F (PortAventura – 15 minutes)

7.41am: SS 14 – Riudecanyes 1 (16,35 km)

8.38am: SS 15 – La Mussara 1 (20,72 km)

9.48am: Service G (PortAventura – 30 minutes)

10.54am: SS 16 – Riudecanyes 2 (16,35 km)

12.18pm: SS 17 – La Mussara 2 Power Stage (20,72 km)

1.41pm: Service H (PortAventura – 10 minutes)

2.01pm: Podium (Salou)

 

Summary

There could be a new world champion by Sunday afternoon and the first not called Seb since Petter Solberg won in 2003. Who’d have thought in 2004 we would have so many years with French drivers dominating the championship? Now anyone could stand on the podium, and this will have a bearing on the manufacturer’s championship in which the fight between Hyundai and Toyota is really close, with just eight points between them. The Hyundai team are very keen to win this one. This is why they have Dani and Seb in the other two cars, giving them the best possible chance to score more points than Toyota. We really are set for a fascinating weekend.