RALLY SARDINIA PREVIEW: CAN NEUVILLE & OGIER STOP TÄNAK?
As we venture further and further into the 2019 World Rally Championship season, the title fight between the big three gets closer and closer. Last time out Ott Tänak masterfully won Rally Portugal, with Thierry Neuville second, fending off Sebastian Ogier who was in third. It was only right that the three best drivers on the grid finished in the top three.
NEUVILLE V TÄNAK V OGIER: ROUND VIII
Currently in the standings, the top three are separated by just ten points, with Sebastian Ogier on 142 points with two rally wins, Ott Tänak with three rally wins on 140 points, and Thierry Neuville on 132 points with two rally wins. It would be almost nonsensical to predict that the three drivers that have won every rally in the 2019 season.
Last year Thierry Neuville pulled off the impossible and won the Rally on the final stage of the day by overtaking Sebastian Ogier by 0.7 seconds to take the championship lead, and my money is on a Neuville v Tänak battle once more. Ogier has been conservative at the start of rallies, but has struck back in the later stages of the weekend, often claiming a podium.
M-SPORT TO CONTINUE THIER CONSISTENT ROLLERCOSTER
M-Sport have somewhat surprised me this season. After Sebastian Ogier departed from the squad to return to his home with Citroen, the team and team-principal Malcolm Wilson were left stranded without a star driver, and considered pulling out of the sport.
But nevertheless, the former British rally driver put his confidence in young Elfyn Evans and Temmu Suninen.
Since the start of the season, the team arguably should have won two rallies, with Teemu Suninen leading Rally Sweden until he crashed out on Saturday, and with Elfyn Evans leading the Tour De Corse until he suffered a puncture on the power stage, dropping him to third.
Last time out in Portugal the team had another strong finish, with Suninen in fourth, and claiming two power stage points, with Evans in fifth place. Thanks to their consistency, they’re keeping Citroen busy in the constructors championship for third place, and this time out, they will want to score well because, well, they don’t have a good record in Sardinia when Sebastian Ogier wasn’t with them.
MEEKE TO BE EVEN MORE AGGRAVATED
I cannot work out if Meeke is one of the unluckiest sportsman alive or simply cannot have a consistent rally. In Portugal, he was running in second when he made a mistake on the penultimate stage, dropping him to third, and then retired on the power stage after making another stage, throwing away his first podium of the season.
I wouldn’t say Meeke is under pressure at Toyota, as he is fifth in the championship and helping them lead in the constructors race, but let’s just say that if Toyota are defeated by Hyundai in the manufacturers cup, then Meeke could be departing.
ANDREAS MIKKELSEN TO RETURN WITH A BANG
Andreas Mikkelsen isn’t having the season he would have wanted. The twenty-nine year old Norwegian has been, in my opinion, unfairly excluded from rallies by Hyundai in favour of Dani Sordo or Sebastian Loeb, despite finishing second in Argentina, scoring points in Chile and finishing a solid fourth place in Sweden.
After being excluded from a rally he expected he would participated in for a second time in Portugal after Corsica, the Norwegian will desperately want to prove that he deserves a contract renewal with Hyundai at the end of the year, in an attempt to sweeten the souring relationship.
The three-time rally winner has transfer rumours all around him, with a move to every other big team: M-Sport (to become the third driver), Citroen (to replace Lappi), Toyota (to replace Meeke), circulating in the press.
Can The Norwegian score a podium? Maybe. But he might need some help from the big three.
2019 TO BE THE LAST RALLY SARDINIA
The 2019 edition of Rally Sardinia is the fifteen iteration of the event, becoming a regular in the modern day WRC calendar, however its position may be under threat for the 2020 season.
With rallies including Japan, Kenya and New Zealand all swirling around for a return to the biggest rallying stage in the world, European rallies including Corsica, Sardinia and Germany have been under threat for the 2020 season, with multiple sources stating that one of the three will not be on the calendar come next year, with Sardinia the favourite to be on the chopping block.
That would be ashame, despite the mediocre volume of crowds, considering the drama it has created in the past decade, including that awesome 2018 edition.