With Ott Tänak’s announcement that he will be walking out of his Hyundai contract one year early at the end of the 2022 World Rally Championship season, it’s easy to forget he and all of his rivals were actually competing at the weekend.
Rally Spain was the penultimate event of the year and hot on the heels of Kalle Rovanperä’s title success in New Zealand, Spain was the setting for another coronation as Toyota lifted the manufacturers’ title too.
But things weren’t so rosy in all corners of the service park as, yet again, M-Sport Ford’s mechanics had work to do to one of the Puma Rally1s.
Here are Colin Clark’s driver ratings from Rally Spain 2022:
Sébastien Ogier 10/10
Rally Spain result: 1st
A vintage performance from Ogier to claim his first win of the Rally1 era. With so many of the current crop of drivers struggling to master the intricacies of these new cars, it’s surely a mark of just how good Ogier is that he can jump back into the car on Tarmac for the first time since Monte and look so comfortable and so self assured.
Starting from seventh on the road on Friday should have made life difficult for the eight-time champion, but he never look remotely flustered or compromised, and once he moved to the top of the times you could never really see him losing this one.
A performance full of quality and class. And those doughnuts on the finish podium? Beautifully executed for the fans and, as he said himself, worth every penny of the Scrooge-like fine the bureaucrats decided to levy on him.
Kalle Rovanperä 7/10
Rally Spain result: 3rd
Maybe Kalle was suffering a little from post-title blues but this was a strangely lacklustre performance from the newly crowned champion. Road position flattered to deceive on the Friday but when the conditions were more even on Saturday, Kalle struggled to keep up with his team-mate and fell back into the clutches of a chasing Thierry Neuville.
It doesn’t really matter though, he did enough to secure a podium and with that the second manufacturers’ title in a row for Toyota.
Maybe this was just a very little reminder that Rovanperä is as yet not the finished article and there are still improvements to come. If that’s the case, the opposition should surely be worried.
Elfyn Evans 5/10
Rally Spain result: 6th
Ok, Elfyn really wasn’t helped here by a couple of punctures, but even when he managed to get a clean run in it was a long way short of the Evans of old. Stage times that bounced between fifth and sixth fastest is not a reflection of what Elfyn is truly capable of.
But I’m sure I’m not the one who is starting to worry. These cars have far fewer adjustable variables than the previous generation of vehicles and Evans has more or less said he’s tried everything to master these cars and now it’s about adjusting his driving style to match the dynamics of the new machinery.
It’s like a world class golfer having to totally remodel his swing. Everything feels unnatural, anti-intuitive and it takes time and lots of practice to get on top of it.
Evans is a driver fully prepared to put in the hard work – fingers crossed it pays off sooner rather than later.
Takamoto Katsuta 5/10
Rally Spain result: 7th
This event was preparation for what will be the biggest event of Katsuta’s career so far in Japan in just a few weeks.
And you now what, it wasn’t such a bad warm-up.
Takamoto is very much a confidence driver and when the confidence is there he’s very much capable of winning stages and fighting for podiums.
I’m really not sure he’s back to that level though, and with this kind of performance I’m sure a decent result is possible in Japan but that much coveted podium finish will require some very big steps up from his current form.
Thierry Neuville 8/10
Rally Spain result: 2nd
Fair play to Thierry, the team might be in turmoil but he is still very much capable of focusing on the job in hand and delivering performances like this one.
We know how good he is on Tarmac and we know the Hyundai i20 N Rally1 seems to be a little more predictable on this surface but Neuville still had to fight set-up difficulties to come out on top in his battle with Rovanperä.
This performance will give the Belgian real hope that with just a few more small steps forward, he might just get a machine capable of delivering that so far frustratingly elusive driver’s title.
Ott Tänak 6/10
Rally Spain result: 4th
Subsequent events might well explain Ott’s lack of fight in this event. Why take unnecessary risks in a car you know to be unpredictable and for a team you know you are leaving?
Tänak feels he has been badly treated at Hyundai and on the evidence that I’ve seen that’s hard to argue with.
He brought his car home here without a scratch and I’m sure he’ll do the same in Japan.
How good would it be though for Tänak to go to Japan and show everyone just what he is capable of, and Hyundai just what what it will be missing?
Tänak in warrior mode is the most capable and most intimidating driver out there – I’d love to see that just one more time in the colors of Hyundai.
Dani Sordo 7/10
Rally Spain result: 5th
Sordo told me before this event that he wanted to see how his comparative pace was here before making any decisions on his future in the WRC.
Well for the best part of two thirds of the rally my money would have been on Sordo calling it quits at the end of this year.
Then we came to SS14 Montmell – and one of the most devastatingly rapid stage times of Sordo’s career. It was Sordo at his unbridled best! Something we’ve not seen for many years.
On the evidence of just that one stage he’s ably demonstrated that not only does he possess the nouse, dependability and guile to score podiums, but he clearly still has the pace.
Now then Dani, how many rounds can we put you down for in 2023?
Craig Breen 4/10
Rally Spain result: 9th
We heard lots of reasons why Craig once again wasn’t able to maximise the performance of his Puma Rally1.
But you know it might just be time for him to take a leaf out of Evans’ book and start looking more inwardly if he is to rediscover the form that took him to a string of podiums last year.
Breen’s capabilities are undoubted but this year, a season that promised so much, has been nothing short of catastrophic.
Maybe the change of co-driver in Japan will be the reset that is so obviously needed.
Gus Greensmith 2/10
Rally Spain result: DNF
A second big off in a row for Greensmith here has very much put the brakes on what was promising to be an encouraging reversal of his poor run of form.
He clearly has speed but we only see it in very rare glimpses. Consolidating a safe pace is fine, but you have to be capable of moving that pace forward, even in small steps. It seems whenever Gus embarks on this strategy it invariably ends in a shunt.
But he is nothing if not tenacious and I’m sure he’ll find a way to more consistently deliver the pace we know is there.
Adrien Fourmaux 5/10
Rally Spain result: 8th
An impossibly difficult situation for the young Frenchman having sat out the last two events following his car-breaking exploits in Ypres.
But you know what, he did a very decent job here.
First Ford home and no real dramas is a confidence-building result that will more than anything help to rebuild the fractured trust and strained relationship between Adrien and the team.
He’s a complex character young Fourmaux, but I actually really like him and he’s got attitude and potential.
Realising that potential is not guaranteed however and he still has a lot of hard work to do if he is to establish himself as top-tier regular.
Pierre-Louis Loubet 5/10
Rally Spain result: 10th
Yet more progress from Loubet. Ok, not the rally-leading pace we saw in Greece but a third WRC stage win on merit offered us a glimpse of just what could be possible with this young man.
He’s very much on an upward trajectory in terms of pace and performance and as a team boss, I don’t think Malcom Wilson could ask for much more.
Its been a miserable year for M-Sport, well not quite, Monte was magnificent. But at a time where positives are hard to find Loubet is the perhaps the one bright hope.