Rally Australia: 5 Headlines To Watch Out For
It's here! The final round of the 2019 World Rally Championship season. It has been a fight involving three drivers that have dominated the year, taking twelve of the thirteen rally wins this year, but it is Ott Tanak who is walking away from Toyota with the 2019 Drivers Championship in the bag with one round to spare over Thierry Neuville and Sebastien Ogier.
However there are still titles to be won, and bosses to impress to get 2020 contracts under lock and key, so without further adieu, here are five headlines to watch out for next weekend in down under.
TEAM GAMES AFOOT WITH THE CONSTRUCTORS CHAMPIONSHIP IN THE BALANCE
Whilst Ott Tanak has the sealed the drivers championship with one round to go from Toyota, the Japanese manufacturer will attempt to do what M-Sport did last in 2018, taking the double.
Currently Toyota are eighteen points behind Hyundai in the constructors championship, and the defending champions may have quite the task to beat the Korean team, who have been waiting to claim a WRC title for years.
Thierry Neuville, Dani Sordo, and controversially Craig Breen (it was originally thought that Rally Australia would be Andreas Mikkelsen’s last hurrah with Hyundai, but the Norwegian’s career with the team is now officially over) will attempt to score enough points to take the title away from Toyota as they build their dream team for 2020 comprising of Thierry Neuville, Ott Tanak, Sebastien Loeb and Dani Sordo, although there is a rumour swirling that Neuville could now jump ship to Toyota, but that is outrageous as Ogier joining Toyota in 2020.
CAN TÄNAK LEAVE TOYOTA ON A HIGH?
The 2019 Rally Australia was never meant to be Tanak’s last rally with Toyota, however it is what it is.
The Estonian has taken a whopping six rally wins on his way to taking the drivers championship, however Toyota still have the constructors championship to win, albeit it being a tall order. He has taken ten wins with the Toyota team in his two years with the Japanese manufacturer, and will want to end his championship on a high by winning Rally Australia, which would be his thirteenth rally win of his career before heading to Hyundai for the next two years of his career.
WHAT CAN HAYDEN PADDON DO TO IMPRESS M-SPORT?
Whilst Rally Australia marks many occasions for WRC, the most noteable is the return of Hayden Paddon. The former Hyundai driver last raced in Rally Australia, and has a strong record here, finishing in second place last year, and third the year before.
The former Rally-winner will be racing for M-Sport, and with the possibility that Elfyn Evans could be on his way to Toyota, there is a good chance that Paddon would be in the frame for a potential seat, or even half-seat for 2020.
This would be huge for the thirty-two year old, as this seems like his best opportunity to return to the sport after dominating rallying in New Zealand for this calendar year.
IS THIS LAST-CHANCE SALOON FOR CRAIG BREEN?
Craig Breen has had an eventful year. The Irishman who was left without a seat in 2019 will have had three outings with Hyundai this season once we finish Rally Australia and thus the season, and whilst he impressed on his debut in Finland, taking sixth place, he ruined all that good work in GB.
Breen is unlikely to have a future with Hyundai in 2020 despite the three outings. With Neuville and Tanak on full-season contracts, and Loeb and Sordo confirmed to share the third car, there is no possibility of Breen fitting in unless Hyundai run a fourth car, something they haven’t done for years.
Nevertheless, a strong result that would help solidify Hyundai’s constructors championship would help his campaign for more outings.
A CHANCE FOR ANYONE?
Rally Australia has always proven to be an opportunity for any driver to take a win. In 2016, Andreas Mikkelsen took the win, and in 2018, the top three were comprised of Jari-Matti Latvala, Hayden Paddon and Mads Ostberg.
This is a good chance for Latvala and Meeke to give Toyota more information on them for the 2020 season. Both are in contract negotiations for next season, however the current running theory is that they could share a third car, although currently Meeke has the advantage with the backing of Makkinen, whilst Latvala has the backing of the big bosses at home. A win, or at the very least a podium would go a long way in the two veterans future.
So what do you think? Will Hyundai claim their first ever title in WRC, or will Ott Tanak save the day on his final round with Toyota? Please leave your thoughts in the comments section below.