Rally Italy Preview: 5 Predictions
The penultimate (or possibly not) round of the championship is nearly among us and it could be anyones Rally. Here are my 5 predictions.
1. Hyundai Constantly In Top 3
This Rally is absolutely critical for all Hyundai drivers to score as many points as possible, mathematically it is possible for the team to win both championships. However, for both Ott Tanak and Thierry Neuville it seems increasingly unlikely that either of their star drivers are going to win the title. Because of this, we might see a more tactful weekend from Andrea Adamo’s team as they are still well in the hunt for the constructor’s crown after a strong return after the Covid break in which they have achieved four podiums. With Dani Sordo set to take the wheel of the third car even if one of the big boys has an issue, they have a very capable driver who is keen to prove himself after his only prior WRC event this season ended prematurely in Mexico in March. It could be fair to say that so far this season hasn’t quite been as plain sailing for Hyundai as they would have hoped when they announced their driver line up at the end of last season, especially when compared to that of both Toyota and M-Sport with relatively unexperienced teams, the least they would have expected is one championship. As it stands, however, they are not on track to win any so don’t be surprised if they do everything in their power to clinch the constructors.
Tanak had the Rally won last year until a problem in the final stage cost him.
2. Ogier Closes Title Gap
Looking back at Rally Turkey, it seems like a what could have been for the 6-time world champion. After a constant battle for the lead it looked almost certain he would walk away with at least a second-place finish, that is however until that now-infamous Sunday morning where everything that could go wrong went wrong. In fairness to Seb, he hardly made a mistake all weekend and yet came away with nothing. Despite this, he is still the closest challenger to his teammate in the championship battle and thanks to him slipping to second he will at least be glad not to be opening the road on what promises to be yet another treacherously rough event. It is crucial for Ogier to take as many points of Evans as he can and the best way to do this would obviously be to win the Rally and there is no doubt his entire focus will be on winning, that said it is easier said than done as there will be at least three competitors with the capabilities of denying him a much-needed victory. A win here seems more crucial when you consider after Italy (at time of writing) there would only be one round left, that round being Ypres an event that he has no experience on whereas some rivals (predominantly Thierry Neuville) so this is his biggest chance of another win before the end of the season. Sardinia is an event where Seb hasn’t had the greatest of success over recent times winless there since 2015. If Ogier can get the gap down between him and the top spot we will be in for a mouth-watering end of the season.
Ogier has already won an event on gravel this year in Mexico will be keen to take a second victory.
Evans Calm and Calculated
Can he do it? If you asked me a couple of years ago whether I thought Elfyn Evans will be the closest a British driver has been to winning the World Rally Championship since the days of Richard Burns and Colin McRae, I wouldn’t have believed you, but I would have loved the idea. You would struggle to find someone who begrudges the position Evans is currently finding himself as few are as dedicated to the sport or work as hard to constantly improve. Here we are though, two rounds remaining and with an 18-point lead, and up until now he has not made a single mistake and judged everything as it happens, it is because of this I can see yet another calculated drive coming in which he sits back and scores handy points rather than goes all out in search of constant stage winning times. Finishing the Rally without any major incidents has to be the priority for Elfyn this weekend as if he gets to Sunday without issue, he could find himself in a similar position to that of Turkey or even a top 5 finish should feel good and a strong platform to hold the lead until the end of the season. With the uncertainty around the future of the WRC in wales as well Evans has the opportunity to show the world why the mainland UK should be at least in consideration for a calendar spot, it may not be exactly perfect thanks to a reduced season but it sure does feel good to have a Brit (in particular a Welshman) back on the top of the rallying world, let’s hope he can seize this opportunity.
Leating the championship will probably mean Evans drives a similar Rally to Turkey and would be happy with solid points.
More M-Spot Frustration
It can’t be denied that it has been a tough season for the UK based M-Sport Ford faction and I’m afraid to say I don’t see it changing as early as this weekend. Gravel events are however the best chance for the team to get podiums or at least pick up a helpful number of points for the constructor’s championship. There best chance of an upset will most likely come through Teemu Suninen who has something of a love with the surface to be found in Sardinia, he already has a podium on similar terrain this season in Mexico where he finished third, the teams only podium of the season so far. He did show positive signs in Turkey where he set some competitive times, that said all of the Ford’s fell victim to the one issue or another whether that be punctures or technical difficulties. It may be a harder event for the remaining two M-Sport drivers of Esapekka Lappi and Gus Greensmith, the former has had a podium on the event in the past but that was in a Toyota. Gus however, has very little experience in Italy having never competed there in a world rally car, he did do the Rally in an R5 car last year but failed to make the podium. It is hard to say for sure how this event is going to go for the team as they like to throw up a surprise every now and then. I think everybody hopes they do well and I personally would love to see them back at the top end of the standings.
Sardinia will be hoped to be the turning point for M-Sport this season and cause a possible upset.
5. Solberg Steals the Show in Powerstage
As one legend departs the WRC after Turkey, another is set to make a return in Sardinia. Well sort of. When last week, the entry list was reviled there was one partnership that stole all of the attention, it was the entry of Petter Solberg and Andreas Mikkelsen in a Citroen C3 WRC on Pirelli tyres. Nobody quite knew what to make of this initially but thankfully clarity was soon to be given when it was reviled, they would only actually take part in shakedown where the car would be driven by Mikkelsen and the Power Stage where it would be in the hands of the 2003 champion Solberg. Instead of it being a proper competitive entrant, this weekend will act more as a publicity event for Pirelli as they show off their new tyre that will be customary for WRC cars in 2021 and beyond as the Italian manufacturer is contracted to take over as the sole tyre supplier in the WRC. Nevertheless, don’t expect the Norwegian duo to take too much care as they are both very fast drivers with Mikkelsen in particular out to prove a point having been let go by Hyundai for this season. Then you have the complete opposite with Petter, this will be his first outing in a modern WRC car, his first top category drive since 2012, he has nothing to prove and there is no expectation for him to do well but who is ever going to bet against Solberg giving it everything and showing us why he is a fan favourite and pull out an entertaining stage if nothing else. This will be his first Rally since Wales last year and it will most likely be the last time, we see him drive on the world stage so as fans of the sport we should enjoy every moment we can get.
There will be plenty of excitement when Solberg makes his debut in a modern WRC car.