If the second half of this year’s World Rally Championship mirrors the first, it’s quite possible Sébastien Ogier and Julien Ingrassia can take round 12 off. Maybe round 11 too.
Do the math and they might not even need Finland.
Ogier has averaged 22.2 points per round through the first half of the season. His nearest rival Elfyn Evans has averaged 16.5. If that trend continues, the best the Welshman can hope for is 198 points.
By the end of the Acropolis Rally in September, Ogier would have amassed 199.5 – enough to leave Greece crowned the god of rallying for an eighth time.
Is that going to happen? Who knows? One thing’s for sure: while he was trying to dig his Toyota Yaris WRC out of a Lapland snowbank in February, Ogier wouldn’t have predicted being 34 points clear now.
You get the feeling that even Ogier himself is surprised by this one.
Little wonder. There’s a very strong argument to say Toyota hasn’t won the last three rounds of the championship; Hyundai has, in fact, lost them.
Quick recap: Dani Sordo and Ott Tänak in turn looked to have Portugal under control for the Alzenau team. With 22 seconds in hand on Saturday afternoon, Tänak stopped with right-rear suspension failure. Evans win, Ogier third.
More than halfway through the ensuing Rally of Italy and Tänak had 40s in hand over Ogier coming out of Coiluna. More of the same, suspension failure. Ogier win.
And then there’s last month’s Safari, scene of a stellar drive from Thierry Neuville. In the event’s modern form, the Belgian’s minute-strong lead should have seen him up and onto the top step of the podium. Instead, suspension failure on the final morning rules him out. Ogier wins.
So, what are we saying here? Ogier’s lucked into a 34-point lead?
Far from it. Championships are crafted out of pace, consistency and opportunity. Ogier has demonstrated no shortage of those three attributes and is a worthy leader.
No, the questions have to be directed at Hyundai.
Team principal Andrea Adamo is under significant pressure in Tartu this week. Not winning for four rounds isn’t unheard of in the world championship, but successive technical issues are harder to ignore. Adamo needs a win and he knows that better than any of us.
We can expect him to stick his chin out and ask an interviewer to further define pressure. Or perhaps to better quantify the wider meaning of failure or the consideration of success in a philosophical sense.
Adamo’s a fabulous character, one who is usually found operating – and thinking – on a different level to the rest of us. The time has come to cut to the chase. Hyundai, Adamo and the whole team needs a win. Everything else is just noise.
And Tänak has to be among the favorites at home this week.
It’s not often that I disagree with Colin Clark, but I did when I read his rating of the Estonian’s Safari Rally Kenya effort.
To me, the 2019 world champion had driven the perfect rally until the second, rain-hit run through Sleeping Warrior. Stage 13. The one where the heated screen stopped working and he and Martin Järveoja had to stop to wipe the glass. That cost the #8 i20 two minutes and any hope of a good result.
If the screen had retained its transparency, it’s odds-on Tänak would have eased his way past Takamoto Katsuta and silver-lined the tragic cloud which hovered over the broken sister car of leader Neuville.
Africa demonstrated real maturity from Tänak. The influence and experience of Markko Märtin was obvious in the result that was building. It would have been a result as worthy as any one of those opinion-rearranging victories Colin McRae landed in Nairobi.
Rest assured, a fired-up Tänak will have his sights set on a straight six wins from here until one November Sunday in Japan.
He’s miles away, but nothing is impossible. Remember 2018?
With six rounds remaining three years ago, Tänak was 72 points behind Neuville. Three rallies later that gap to the Thierry was slashed to 13 points.
A further three rounds later… Ogier won.
Realistically, the champion’s going to come from the top four. Ogier has to be the favorite, common sense dictates as much.
The Hyundai Motorsport pair know they’ve got a fast car beneath them and their fortunes have to turn around at some point. Adamo’s the first to cheer ‘his people’ when they win and you can be equally sure he’s the first to hold their feet to the fire when it comes to times like this.
Estonia and Ypres should favour Tänak and Neuville respectively. A hot, rough Acropolis might look a little intimidating and what about Finland? Can Hyundai turn around an absence of 1000 Lakes pace on an out-of-sync autumn trip to Jyväskylä?
All-asphalt outings in Spain and Japan could go either way. Victory in eastern Asia would mean an awful lot to both marques.
If there’s one person we’ve overlooked in there, it’s Evans. Is he the dark horse? Not a chance. Last season demonstrated he’s an entirely worthy member of the big four. And he’s Ogier’s closest challenger right now.
Evans has the speed and the craft to win any one of the last six rallies, but three asphalt counters will be of real interest to a driver who’s arguably slightly quicker on sealed surfaces.
So, what have we learned? Not a lot. Ogier might be favorite, but in all honesty, the next six rallies could go in any direction.