Rally Italy was unpredictable. It brought surprises. Almost all our pre-event podium predictions were wrong – only David Evans got one position spot on, the ever-reliable Dani Sordo coming in third once more. Colin Clark, at least, guessed a Hyundai would be on the top step – albeit the wrong one.
Who met expectations, who performed miracles and who sunk below the standard expected of them on Rally Italy? Colin has delivered his verdicts.
Ott Tänak – 10/10
Italy result: 1st
It’s very hard to overstate just how important this win is for Tänak and Hyundai.
Remarkably, it was over 15 months since the once-invincible Tänak had stood on the top step of the podium before last Sunday. There’s no question that the long wait to taste victory champagne once more was beginning to nark the sublimely talented 2019 world champion.
But my goodness, this was a victory with style, class and intelligence written all over it.
Remember the end of rally interview that Tänak gave just a couple of weeks ago in Portugal? The one where, when asked what needed changing with the Hyundai, Tänak’s one-word answer was “everything”.
Very little actually changed on Tänak’s Hyundai between Portugal and Italy. That is a measure of the supreme quality of his victory.
You’d have got long odds on two things: Tänak winning the rally, first of all. But also on his still underperforming – and, let’s face it, fragile – Hyundai getting through the championship’s toughest day thus far on Saturday.
Get through it they did, with perhaps the most impressive pace and performance of the year.
Hyundai needed this win maybe even more than Tänak did. Make no mistake, the i20 is still a long way behind both the Ford Puma and the Toyota GR Yaris, but Tanak has given the team hope and a renewed belief.
Thierry Neuville – 2/10
Italy result: 41st
Once again Neuville was let down by his car on Friday, when a transmission failure scuppered any chance he had of fighting for a podium place.
What we saw on Saturday was nothing short of recklessness from the raging bull-like Belgian. On what was widely anticipated to be the most arduous day of the championship so far, Neuville went out with only one spare tire and a determination to hunt down those ahead of him.
Now, I’m a huge fan of Thierry’s never-say-die attitude. But sometimes you have to pick your fight and there’s no doubt Saturday’s itinerary was not a day for extreme risk.
Neuville has been sensational over the last couple of events but there’s no doubt he’s ridden his luck and has made the most of a few fortuitous breaks.
It wasn’t luck that ran out this time, it was a bad strategy call. We don’t see those happening very often from the otherwise wily Neuville.
Dani Sordo – 8/10
Italy result: 3rd
This was another tremendously professional performance from the always-dependable Spaniard. Dani is the ultimate team player and once again showed why he is such a valued member of the Hyundai team.
Sordo’s biggest asset is that he fully understands his limits and rarely pushes beyond them. As a team boss, you can almost always rely on him to bring the car home. And on a rally like this one, with the pace that we know Sordo has, bringing the car home was always going to deliver a haul of manufacturer points.
Sordo, I suspect, is making things a little difficult for the bosses at Hyundai. It has cut the gap to Toyota in the manufactures championship and if it genuinely want to continue to challenge for the title, then a third points-scoring driver of Sordo’s caliber is an absolute necessity.
So what does Hyundai do? Drop Solberg? Absolutely not. But I think it will have to find a fourth car for its young charger on selected events and give the points-scoring responsibilities to the dependable Sordo instead.
Craig Breen – 8/10
Italy result: 2nd
Sardinia was Breen’s most impressive performance in the Puma to date by quite some margin. OK, Monte delivered a maiden podium for the Breen and M-Sport partnership but it’s fair to say there’s been a lot of head-scratching at the lack of performance from him since, in what is undoubtedly a massively quick and drivable machine.
But here’s the thing. Breen has always been one to take his time, and I suspect that’s what we’re seeing here.
I’m sure Malcolm Wilson would have demanded that Breen put it all on the line from day one but that’s just not Breen’s modus operandi. Slowly getting to know what he’s got, understanding the potential and working out where to best use that potential will without question pay off as the season progresses. This was total vindication of the Breen way.
The WRC hasn’t seen the best of Breen yet but that day is coming. Small steps, always going forward, is what we’ve gotten used to. But this performance was considerably more than a small step forward. Fingers crossed it could herald the beginning of a golden patch for the new-for-2022 partnership.
Pierre-Louis Loubet – 8/10
Italy result: 4th
I’ll put my hands up and be the first to admit that I really didn’t think that young Loubet has this kind of performance in him. And I based that entirely on his miserable time in the Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC last season, where he was quite obviously miles out of his depth and could barely keep the car on the road.
But this was, in comparison, a truly sensational effort from the 2019 WRC2 champion.
He was quick, not just on Friday where road cleaning was obviously an advantage, but throughout the whole weekend.
There’s a calmness and a sense of purpose about Loubet that just wasn’t in evidence last year. There is real potential now for even better results as the season progresses.
Loubet is the most improved driver of the season by a country mile.
Gus Greensmith – 4/10
Italy result: 7th
Greensmith’s season seems to have stalled just as he was hoping it would kick on.
Both this event and Portugal a couple of weeks ago should have been good events for the M-Sport driver. But things started to go wrong in Portugal and continued in a similar vein here in Sardinia.
The margins at this level are extremely fine and there’s no question that Gus is close to making a breakthrough. But at times it just doesn’t click and his ‘safe mode’ is a long way behind where it needs to be.
A mistake on Friday put him out of contention for a strong result; from there the weekend was all about testing new setups for the season’s first long haul event in Kenya. It could be a decision that pays off handsomely and, if all goes well, puts Gus’ season well and truly back on track.
Adrien Fourmaux – 2/10
Italy result: Ret
It was all going so well for Fourmaux until that final stage on Saturday. His confidence was returning and his performance was improving.
He’s in a very difficult place right now. I can’t imagine the pressure he must feel as the belts are tightened at the start of every stage, knowing that the slightest mistake could be catastrophic for his career.
Let’s be upfront here, though. He was under the strictest of instructions to bring that car home in one piece and build on the solid performance he delivered in Portugal.
Results were far from the priority and pace was not being judged here by messers Wilson and Millener. Discipline and self-control, however, were.
And that’s where Fourmaux spectacularly fell down.
The suggestion is that he reacted to a charging Rovanperä and tried to up his pace, although I prefer to believe his initial explanation which was that the extreme temperatures on Saturday afternoon caused a momentary lapse in concentration.
Whatever the reason, the outcome was disastrous and only serves to heap yet more pressure on the young man’s talented shoulders
Kalle Rovanperä – 7/10
Italy result: 5th
First on the road was always going to be difficult on Rally Italy – and so it proved to be for Rovanperä.
But what we saw from the championship leader was a different approach and a level of maturity and patience that ultimately delivered enough points to extend his lead at the top of the standings.
I was impressed by Rovanperä’s ability to dig deep here. He was very much on the crest of a seemingly unstoppable wave coming into this one and I’m pretty sure that with his absurdly high levels of confidence and ability he felt that he could continue to ride that wave all the way to yet another improbable victory.
From very early on in the rally that clearly wasn’t going to materialize and from then on, Rovanperä played the percentage game. No silly risks, pushed where it felt good, played safe where it didn’t, and kept the momentum rolling.
An intelligent if unspectacular performance from the champion in waiting.
Elfyn Evans – 1/10
Italy result: 40th
Just an unmitigated disaster of a weekend for Evans.
What exactly happened on stage three is still a little unclear but it would appear that, perhaps, Evans took fractionally too much of a cut and smashed the sump guard of his GR Yaris into a rock, which resulted in terminal damage to the cooling system.
Things just aren’t going Elfyn’s way and a season that promised so much has delivered precious little.
Elfyn has proved himself to be one of the quickest and most reliable drivers over the past couple of years and, while the speed is still clearly there, uncharacteristic mistakes have blighted his season. In all likelihood, his chances of a championship challenge this year have ended.
He tells us nothing has changed in his approach and I don’t doubt that at all. But something has clearly changed in the outcomes the approach delivers. Getting to the bottom of the reason why has to be the priority in the coming events.
Esapekka Lappi – 3/10
Italy result: 44th
Lappi looked imperious on Friday and impossibly silly on Saturday.
OK, that might be a bit harsh. The corner that caught Lappi out is well known to those who have competed here regularly and Lappi had only driven that stage once previously.
Still, there is no getting away from the fact that Lappi made an enormously costly mistake here both for himself and, more importantly, for his team.
With Evans out of contention, the pressure was on Lappi to deliver a good haul of manufacturer points. Winning the rally would have been a bonus, though I’m sure stand-in team principal Kaj Lindström would have been delighted had Lappi brought the car home to a podium finish. That clearly didn’t happen.
In Lappi’s defense, these Rally1 cars are proving to be a bit of a handful for the part-time contingent in this year’s championship.
Hopefully, some good testing mileage before Estonia and Finland will give Lappi another shot at glory in two of his favorite events.
Takamoto Katsuta – 6/10
Italy result: 6th
Sixth place in Italy represents a positive step forward in the rehabilitation of Toyota’s junior team driver.
The last time we were in this part of the world, Taka-san was fourth, but the year before that he had one of the biggest accidents of his career. He put that well and truly behind him to secure an impressive if unspectacular result.