There was a brilliant winning performance on Rally Spain but unfortunately it was too late to set up a three-way World Rally Championship title decider, and instead just reminded us what could have been in 2021.
But with the end of the season rapidly approaching, the trip to northern Spain also reminded us of who in the service park is laying it all out on the line to set the fastest stage times and who has already moved their attention to 2022 to avoid further pain at their lack of results.
Thierry Neuville 10/10
Rally Spain result: 1st
After three stages of the rally you’d have got very long odds against Neuville ultimately winning it. He was fighting horrible understeer and at times sounded beaten already. But a remarkable transformation and gritty determination from SS4 onwards led to him taking a thoroughly deserved victory.
He hardly put a wheel wrong all weekend and kept himself in touch throughout this difficult opening three stages by manhandling his i20 CoupeWRC through some very fast, demanding sections that it clearly wasn’t set up for. Neuville is driving as well as he’s ever driven and is the undoubted man to beat on asphalt right now. He’ll look back at the costly errors and technical issues that have plagued his season and surely ask once again “What if?”.
Dani Sordo 9/10
Rally Spain result: 3rd
Stunning performance on the final day to win all four stages and reel in an underperforming Sébastian Ogier. Not many would have given Dani much of a chance to take the final podium place first thing on Sunday morning, but he proved once again that he is the ultimate team player and is still capable of turning it up when asked to.
Ott Tänak 2/10
Rally Spain result: DNF
Yet another weekend to forget for the 2019 World Rally Champion. Off the pace on the first stage, a spin on the second, decent run through the third and then, bang, off in the fourth. It would appear that Tänak and the i20 Coupe WRC just don’t gel on asphalt and this was yet another blindingly obvious example of that.
Neuville seems to be able to bully his way out of trouble with the car but Tänak for whatever reason can’t. He’ll be more than happy to see the back of these last two seasons and keep everything crossed for a 2022 challenger that is better suited to him and his style of driving.
Oliver Solberg 7/10
Rally Spain result: 7th
With enormous pressure on his young shoulders, Solberg at least showed he has the mental capacity to deal with adversity and expectation at rallying’s highest level. We have to remember that this is not an easy car to master and Oliver showed commendable patience to dial himself into the event and build his speed over the course of the weekend.
No real dramas, no real issues, but not real sparks of the brilliance we saw in Rovaniemi. I think that’s OK though. This performance, with a long-term deal in the bag, was exactly what was needed.
Nil Solans 8/10
Rally Spain result: 8th
An unexpected late opportunity to drive the i20 Coupe WRC was fully capitalized upon by the likeable Spaniard. As we’ve seen many times in the past, these cars are far from easy to master for drivers stepping up from the Rally2 class. But Solans absolutely made the most of the opportunity to complete every stage with a beaming smile on his face. And his times were not too shabby either.
Opportunities are few and far between at the highest level of rallying and Solans firmly grasped this one with both hands. Fingers crossed we’ll see him getting further chances in the future but where that will be, or how it will happen, is a little harder to work out.
Toyota Gazoo Racing
Elfyn Evans 8/10
Rally Spain result: 2nd
A great start to the event was the highlight here for Evans in what I’m sure will be looked back upon as a bit of a frustrating weekend for the title contender. He showed us all on Friday morning just what he’s capable of on asphalt but things went backwards from then on.
The optimal window of performance in these cars is so narrow that a car can go from being a stage winner to having to be wrestled around undrivability from one stage to the next. Full credit to Elfyn though for digging deep and keeping the pressure on Neuville right to the end. Anything can yet happen in Monza, and Evans has kept himself in the hunt, poised to pounce should the Monza stages once again bare their teeth.
Sébastien Ogier 6/10
Rally Spain result: 4th
After a disappointing Finland we were all expecting a lot more from the reigning champion in this one. Ogier was very bullish in the event build-up about winning but his rally never really sparked to life. There was definitely something missing and unusually he just didn’t have the answers.
The level and the pace is just so high at the front these days and the jeopardy is massive. Was he just unwilling to commit that last half a percent of performance and risk needing to stay in touch with the top two? Possibly, and with his championship position and impending career shift for 2022, who could blame him?
Kalle Rovanperä 6/10
Rally Spain result: 5th
Young Kalle’s first time in a World Rally Car on Spanish asphalt was neither disastrous nor devastatingly fast. But unfortunately for Rovanperä, the latter is what we expect these days and so this event is looked upon perhaps is a bit of a disappointment – certainly by recent standards.
It’s all still a massive learning process for the future champion and Kalle will take away invaluable experience from this one that I’m sure he’ll use well in the future.
Takamoto Katsuta 3/10
Rally Spain result: 40th
The event couldn’t really have started any more badly than it did with a first stage coming together with the Armco and retirement for the day. From the highs of a maiden podium in Kenya to the lowest of lows on that opening stage is one hell of a fall, yet he picked himself up, rebuilt his confidence and set some decent times on day two and three. Stability is so important when building experience in rallying and Katsuta has a big decision to make going forward. Stick with Aaron Johnston or return to the tried and tested Dan Barritt in the co-driver seat?
Gus Greensmith 6/10
Rally Spain result: 6th
The M-Sport guys are really just seeing out their contractual obligations to the 2021 WRC and as we all know, every penny is being spent on the 2022 challenger. So it’s difficult to be critical of any of the drivers given that Friday is effectively their event test and set-up day.
Greensmith had a trouble-free if quite unspectacular event and once again showed he has found a pace that he can drive all day long without incident. The key about to his success next year is taking that pace to the next level and using the seat time and experiences gained this year to his positive advantage.
Adrien Fourmaux 7/10
Rally Spain result: 16th
Another impressive performance from the youngster in his debut year in top-level machinery. OK, so he made a small mistake that cost him positions on Saturday but his determination to repair the car roadside and complete the loop, even when the engineers were suggesting it was unfixable, was laudable.
Fourmaux certainly is shaping up to be the real deal on Tarmac but he has to show similar form on the loose stuff for us all al to get properly excited about his prospects.