The World Rally Championship’s finale in Japan didn’t disappoint. There was drama and chaos at every tight and twisty turn, causing several drivers to run into rally victory-ending problems.
Even on the final day when it looked like Elfyn Evans might get his first win of the season, a puncture cruelly ended any hopes of a victory challenge, allowing Thierry Neuville to win the final round of the season.
And that means it’s also the last chance Colin Clark has had to rate each Rally1 driver’s performance this year:
Thierry Neuville 9/10
Rally Japan Result: 1st
Another strong performance from Neuville to round out what has been a difficult year for the Hyundai driver.
This rally was supposed to be the crowning glory for the all conquering Toyota team but Neuville very much had different ideas.
It wasn’t a perfectly poised performance, but it was tenacious and it was dogged, and it delivered the result that the team so desperately wanted.
Once again the Hyundai proved to be a bit of difficult beast at times but Neuville drove through that and kept a consistent pace that maintained the pressure on the Toyotas.
Ultimately the Toyota challenge disappeared in a plethora of punctures but Neuville deserved this one.
Calm and calculated, a performance that bodes well for Neuville and Hyundai’s chances next year.
Ott Tänak 7/10
Rally Japan Result: 2nd
A long way from vintage Tänak, but a podium on his final outing in Hyundai colours to secure a team one two is a decent way to sign off from what has been a turbulent period in Tänak’s career.
Once again he was beset by technical issue, first with the differential and then, almost predictably, by the hybrid unit.
But the issues that Tänak had to contend with can’t disguise the fact that he’s never really got to grips with this car on tarmac and the results he’s managed have been ground out and hard earned.
Not so long ago Tänak was almost untouchable on this surface, not in the Hyundai though.
Dani Sordo 10/10
Rally Japan Result: Ret
Ok, so Sordo only completed one stage but he gets fulls marks from me for saving us from a potential ecological disaster during his fiery exit from the rally.
If Sordo had stopped his car 50 meters before or after the exact spot where he did eventually come to a smouldering stop then it’s entirely possible that we could have seen a conflagration that would have been visible from outer space!
The countryside here is tinder dry and with fallen leaves crisp and plentiful it’s frightening to think just how quickly a catastrophic fire could have taken hold had Sordo not had the presence of mind to stop in a place that was remarkably free of overhanging trees.
Or maybe it was just luck that he stopped where he did.
Either way, I don’t care, I’m going to continue believing you just saved half of the Aichi prefecture Dani – you’re a very good boy indeed.
Kalle Rovanperä 5/10
Rally Japan Result: 12th
A win would have capped off a fabulous season for the uber-talented young Finn – but that never really looked on the cards here. Yes he was there or thereabouts for most of the opening day of the rally but he struggled to find the sweet spot with the set up on his Yaris Rally1 and never really seemed entirely happy.
A mistake early on Saturday morning sealed Rovanperä’s fate and from then on in it was all about testing and getting a better understanding of these demanding Japanese stages.
Those looking to challenge Rovanperä next year will see his Tarmac ability as a potential chink in his seemingly invincible armour and look to exploit that to the max.
Elfyn Evans 7/10
Rally Japan Result: 5th
Evans seriously looked as if he could take his only win of the season here in Japan with a far more competitive showing than we’ve seen for some time.
After Spain Evans admitted that something in his driving would have to change and whatever that was, it was working here – for most of the rally.
But winning rallies is all about consistent pace and performance and sadly that consistency is yet to come in Evans’ so far futile pursuit of a win in this new Rally1 machinery.
He will take encouragement from the stage wins and obvious progress made here. Lots of work still to do though for Evans to get back to the kind of form that saw him come so close to winning the championship in the previous generation machinery.
Sébastien Ogier 8/10
Rally Japan Result: 4th
Without any question the quickest driver out here over the course of the rally but once again his chances were scuppered by inexplicable punctures – and boy did he let Pirelli know exactly what he thought of their rubber.
On the face of it he has a point, his chances on too many rallies this year have gone because of seemingly unexplained tire failures and that’s just good enough.
A handicap free Ogier though has once again demonstrated that he has lost none of his pace or ability behind the wheel and he has to still be considered one of the WRC’s elite drivers, capable of winning any rally he starts.
That makes him incredibly value property to what could be an under pressure Toyota team next season.
Takamoto Katsuta 10/10
Rally Japan Result: 3rd
This is one of the stories of the year for me.
Let’s go bak a few years to when Toyota started their development program.
If you’d told me then that the next time the WRC goes to Japan a Japanese driver will stand on the podium I’d have laughed you out of the room. That’s a measure of how far Taka-san has come over the intervening years
And don’t underestimate the importance of this result for rallying as a whole. Akio Toyoda, the big boss at Toypta, is the most powerful man in the automotive industry and this project is very much his baby. Having a Japanese driver in the Toyota factory team was his dream – and it looks like he’s very very close to achieving that dream.
The profile of the sport in this part of the world continues to grow and that can only be good for our chances of attracting new manufacturers – and a very big part that is down to the remarkable rise of Katusta.
Craig Breen 1/10
Rally Japan Result: 24th
Another absolute shocker of an event for Breen.
It’s painful to watch someone who so often in the past has been a joy to watch and more pertinently a joy to listen to disappear into the depths of despair and self doubt that comes as a result of a myriad of mistakes.
There’s something seriously wrong here and you have to hope that the short winter break allows Breen to address the issues, exorcise the demons, reset the dials and come back out next season fighting fit and ready to take on the best in the world once again.
The rally world needs Breen’s entertaining, joyous presence – and I desperately miss it!
Gus Greensmith 3/10
Rally Japan Result: 6th
Sadly, really not a lot of positives for Greensmith to take from this one.
Yes he was hampered by a technical issue early on but he was consistently a long way off the pace here.
It was a promising start to the season for Greensmith but the progress sadly stopped, and if anything, he’s gone backwards in relation to those around him.
Gus has shown in glimpses this year that the pace is there but pace alone is not good enough at this level.
The target for next year has to be a little more pace, a lot more consistency.