It’s that time of year once again. Following the successes of this feature in both 2020 and 2021, it’s back for another sequel in 2022.
As always, what’s about to follow is a subjective list and is based on who performed the best, anywhere in the world, in a Rally2 car this year relative to what’s expected of them – not necessarily who was the fastest or best driver in this class this year.
That’s why, as always, some big hitters naturally miss out – not least Yohan Rossel who follows in the footsteps of Jari Huttunen in topping the Top 10 Rally2 drivers of the year one year and slipping out of the top 10 the next.
Others who could make a justifiable case for themselves are Kajetan Kajetanowicz (involved in the thick of the WRC2 title fight until the bitter end), Efrén Llarena (European Rally champion but lacked a consistently credible rival and missed out on the Spanish Superchampionship), Hayden Paddon (returned to the class and won some important rallies, including his first ever asphalt rally) and Osian Pryce (shading four-time British champion Keith Cronin to finally become BRC champion himself).
But there’s only space for 10 drivers, and so here are those 10:
10 Chris Ingram
Potentially an eyebrow-raising or unexpected one to kick off proceedings, but Chris Ingram showed a real marked improvement in 2022 – somewhat deceptively so – which means he fully warrants his position in this list.
Seventh on the Monte looks solid if unspectacular, but the clue is in the detail. After the first evening where he struggled with a gearbox problem, Ingram was 3m52.8s off the lead. Come the end of the rally, he was 3m46.6s down.
Rally winner Andreas Mikkelsen would’ve upped his pace if he had to, but on his first visit to the rally Ingram proved he really did have the speed to fight. And it’s that – Ingram’s clear signs of speed – that were impressive in 2022.
For years, largely because he’s had to, he’s been the consistent one but this year we got to see what he can do with the hammer down. Ypres is another case in point where the speed was rapid but a result went begging due to a spin and unfortunately-timed rain.
It all ended with that crash down a ravine in Greece, but Ingram can be proud of what he produced this season. He showed that, on his day, he can be as fast as the best in the world – answering a big question that hung over his head before the season began.
9 Sami Pajari
In some respects, Sami Pajari’s 2022 season was disappointing in the slipstream of his 2021 Junior WRC success, as he failed to defend that title and lost out in WRC3 too.
But armed with a Rally2 car Pajari was deeply impressive, not least on Rally Japan where he was a perennial threat for victory before falling backwards on the wrong tires when the rain lashed down.
Pajari’s Rally2 program wasn’t large in 2022 but his body of work was more than enough to suggest he’ll be a star of 2023. Fifth on his WRC2 debut in Sardinia – keeping a cool head in the searing heat – was a promising start but his performance on home ground was even better.
Running third in class behind the flying Teemu Suninen and Emil Lindholm was exceptional considering his experience, only for broken suspension to limit him to 10th. Spain was a similarly mature drive to seventh.
Driving in one of the coveted Toksport Škoda Fabia RS Rally2s next year, don’t be surprised if Pajari’s name features higher here in 12 months’ time.
8 Tom Kristensson
From the ashes Tom Kristensson rose in 2022. After a pretty disappointing 2021 (for a multitude of reasons) in his Junior WRC title-winning Ford Fiesta Rally2 prize drive, Kristensson regrouped and rediscovered his mojo this year.
Given the job it did for Jari Huttunen a couple of years ago, linking up with Kowax 2BRally in Poland was a smart move – and Kristensson soon found his feet in a Hyundai.
Which was the bigger highlight? Winning three rounds of the Polish championship on his way to the title, or taking that fine second place on ERC Rally Poland? Probably the latter.
But the net result is Kristensson is now a driver who’s got his confidence back, and his consistency. The only crash he had was on Barum Rally Zlín which claimed plenty of others this year too.
7 Heikki Kovalainen
“I’m not Kalle Rovanperä,” Heikki Kovalainen has been heard to mutter this season. Maybe not, but for a first year of Rally2 rallying you could’ve fooled us!
Kovalainen’s not new to rallying. It was actually his first passion before grand prix racing and he’s done several seasons now in Japan with a Toyota GT86. But 2022 was his first full year in a four-wheel-drive Škoda Fabia R5, but you wouldn’t have known it.
Kovalainen’s Japanese season scorecard reads a little like this: 1st, 1st, DNF, 1st, 1st, 1st, 40th, 1st. There’s a couple of blips in there (and there weren’t too many drivers consistently in equivalent machinery) but that’s some going.
It was all capped off brilliantly with points on his WRC debut at the end of the year – 10th overall and fourth in WRC2.
Kovalainen is heading home next term for a crack at the Finnish championship. The fast gravel roads will take some adapting to, but 2022 proves that at 41, Kovalainen is more than adept.
6 Josh Moffett
Undefeated across the Irish National season and scarcely beaten in the premier Irish Tarmac Championship, Josh Moffett and his Hyundai i20 R5 were a truly potent combination in 2022. Devastating, even.
And nobody really expected them to be. There could be no doubting Moffett, an ITRC champion the last season the series ran without WRC driver Craig Breen, but he and the i20 hadn’t gelled perfectly in 2021. Whatever changed, it changed for the better in Moffett’s case.
Aside from the season-closing Ulster Rally where he deliberately checked back his pace in order to bank the championship, Moffett was only beaten twice all year. Firstly in slightly controversial circumstances with bogey times on the Circuit of Ireland and secondly in Killarney where Callum Devine outdrove him.
But the rest of the year belonged to Moffett who made Irish rallying look easy – and it really isn’t. Win, after win, after win. The domination of the National series for example, on top of his ITRC heroics, was stunning. Nobody else stood a chance. A majestic year that he’ll have to go some distance to top in 2023.
Moffett gets bonus points too for his utterly thrilling style of tail-happy driving. That’s a dying art these days so it’s genuinely appreciated to watch.
5 Mads Østberg
For the first time since 2005, Mads Østberg didn’t feature, at any stage, in this year’s WRC. Instead, he travelled the world to mainly Hungary, Chile and Italy – but as far afield as Qatar and Mexico – to get his competitive fix.
And boy was he competitive. Undefeated in Hungary to clinch that title, Italy was less kind to Østberg as he lost his engine in Sanremo, crashed in Como and was only third on Rally Internazionale del Taro.
But the fact we’ve used the word ‘only’ there in relation to third place points to how good Østberg’s year has been.
Qatar and Rally of Nations Guanajuato were the two highlights. Leading Nasser Al-Attiyah in Qatar just isn’t the done thing – particularly on your first visit – before he retired with a water leak, and although Rally of Nations was a team event Østberg was comfortably the fastest individual driver.
Although he’s gradually falling down the order, along with Andreas Mikkelsen (who’s to come) Østberg has maintained his place on this list ever since the feature began two years ago. He beats Moffett in this year’s ranking because of the number of different countries he managed to win in.
4 Stéphane Lefebvre
Much like French compatriot Eric Camilli, former works Citroën driver Stéphane Lefebvre has become a forgotten man of the WRC’s recent past. But 2022 proved he is still a fiercely capable driver.
The bulk of Lefebvre’s season was focused on the Belgian Rally Championship which he absolutely dominated. And that’s no mean feat for any driver to win, let alone sweep.
But armed with a Citroën C3 Rally2, Lefebvre was practically untouchable. The only event of the season he didn’t win was Rally du Condroz-Huy – and he was leading before his transmission broke.
His WRC form was less sensational – a victim of a 30-minute penalty because of a route-note crew infringement and then ripping the rear-right wheel off on the Monte and sixth in Croatia – but he was the only driver to beat Mikkelsen in a straight fight on pace in Belgium (but was a bit too cheeky with his corner cuts).
All in all, a season to be proud of. One of his best to date.
3 Mathieu Franceschi
No matter how many times you re-read it, it doesn’t get any more unbelievable. Trust me, I’ve tried to make sense of it.
For Mathieu Franceschi to have won 100% of the rallies he started this year is just utterly, utterly bonkers. It’s the sort of trick reserved for online gaming, not real-life rallying.
At the center of that success was the French Gravel Championship which Franceschi made look easy as he swept to all six rally victories. His other Rally2-powered victory of the season came in Italy behind the wheel of a VW instead of his usual Škoda.
Franceschi’s command of his craft this year was so absolute that it’s never, ever been done before him. To say we await his step up to the ERC with intrigue next year would be a massive understatement.
And to explain it, the only reason Franceschi misses out on the top spot here is because the level he was competing at was not at the standard of the WRC where the top two plied their trade this season.
2 Andreas Mikkelsen
Andreas Mikkelsen may feel like the biggest loser of the entire 2022 WRC season – denied a WRC2 title due to two engine failures and losing out on a Rally1 reprieve he felt he deserved – and he’s been pipped to the post here too.
In fact Mikkelsen placed second in last year’s rankings too – not that that’s the part that’s going to worry him too much.
In many ways, despite the fact it didn’t yield a title, Mikkelsen was more impressive in 2022 than 2021. His focus shifted from being determined to win rallies to being determined to win the championship, and that showed in his expert management of events.
The quickest driver in a Rally2 car pretty much anywhere, he set an incredibly high standard for the others to chase and, by extension, was and remains the class benchmark.
Reliability probably cost him the title, but Mikkelsen didn’t put his best foot forward either with that embarrassing Olympic Stadium crash on the very first corner of Acropolis Rally Greece. And ultimately it’s that mistake that costs him the top spot here.
1 Emil Lindholm
Who had Emil Lindholm down as this year’s WRC2 champion? He didn’t. Co-driver Reeta Hämäläinen didn’t either. But the stealthy Finns snuck their way into the battle and ripped it from the grasp of both Mikkelsen and Kajetan Kajetanowicz.
Lindholm’s 2022 looked set to follow a familiar trend to the past where he showed great speed but got sucked into a snowbank in Sweden. But from there, Lindholm was only off the podium once all season.
The WRC2 Junior title was Lindholm’s aim and he came out on top there in a close fight with fellow Toksport Škoda driver Chris Ingram, but he soon started to realize that his overall points were beginning to build rather nicely too.
Greece was the game changer. Just as Mikkelsen dropped the ball, Lindholm won in commanding fashion and then sourced the budget to race Kajetanowicz to the line. Lindholm did a better job in Spain before Kajto crashed in Japan and Lindholm had it in his hands to lose from there – which he didn’t.
In arguably the most competitive WRC2 field ever, for a driver with such limited world championship experience to come out on top is truly testament to Lindholm’s growing ability as a rally driver.
A deserved winner of our 2022 rankings.