This year’s World Rally Championship titles may be headed the way of Kalle Rovanperä and Toyota this season – barring any spectacular capitulation – but it’s Ott Tänak and Hyundai that are on top of the world just now.
Yet another victory for Tänak has reminded us all (if we ever needed reminded) just what a special talent he is, as he fended off Elfyn Evans’ advances for the Ypres Rally Belgium win.
But there were plenty of others who had a far rougher time of it on the notorious Flanders stages. Here are Colin Clark’s driver ratings from round nine of the season:
Kalle Rovanperä 1/10
Ypres Rally result: 62nd
This was a performance that reminded me very much of Croatia in 2021. OK, he barely made it five kilometers into that event before he was caught out by a slippery corner but to be honest, he was actually quite lucky to get past the five kilometer marker on the opening stage in this one.
His pretty hefty shunt on SS2 was preceded by a very close call on SS1. Rovanperä took a cut on a right hander that was way deeper than anyone else dared, hit something very solid, and propelled his GR Yaris Rally1 miles into the air.
How he avoided destroying his front-right suspension is a mystery to anyone who’s seen the footage!
Are we perhaps seeing a bit of a weakness emerging here in the Boy Wonder? It’s too early to say that, but what we can say is that his Tarmac form perhaps has room for improvement.
Elfyn Evans 8/10
Ypres Rally result: 2nd
I think this was perhaps Elfyn’s strongest event of the season so far. Take out that unfortunate penalty and the puncture on Friday and Evans would have more than likely won this one.
It’s taking a while, but that learning curve in the new Rally1 car that has at times seemed way steeper than Evans expected, is at last showing signs of like it’s levelling off, and levelling off at a point that will deliver wins for him in the not too distant future.
I think Evans is already preparing himself for an assault on the 2023 championship and is using his time wisely this year to build his pace and confidence to a level that will allow him to compete with his flying team-mate.
Evans’ ultimate strength for me is his patience. He won’t push beyond what he knows he can do no matter how much it might be tempting to do so. Find some consistency and a fraction more speed before the end of the season and 2023 will be a year to look forward to.
Esapekka Lappi 7/10
Ypres Rally result: 3rd
An unexpected second podium in a row for the ever likeable Lappi. Another driver who started with a very definite strategy and stuck to it religiously.
He knew he wouldn’t have the speed here but was also fully aware of the jeopardy that this event presents and went about ticking off stage after stage in a remarkably unspectacular fashion.
And he kept on doing that all the way to the podium. Firmly setting out his credentials for perhaps a more complete season in the Toyota factory team next season.
Takamoto Katsuta 6/10
Ypres Rally result: 5th
The remarkable points scoring run that Katsuta is on is still very much alive.
After a horrendously difficult second half of last season Taka-san needed to dial back the speed and dial in the reliability. And that’s what he did once again here in Ypres.
Measured pace and very limited risk were good enough for another top five finish here.
Ott Tänak 9/10
Ypres Rally result: 1st
After Estonia you’d have got very long odds against Ott Tänak winning the next two events on the bounce but that’s exactly what he’s gone and done.
Finland was one of the bravest performances I’ve ever seen but this one was different. The car, even although it was perhaps still a little twitchy, seemed way more drivable and Tänak was able to measure his push in an intelligent and controlled manner.
Two wins in a row is enormously encouraging for Hyundai, Tänak and his army of fans. But what I find even more encouraging is that Tänak seems to have rediscovered his swagger – that intimidating presence is back, and dare I say it, there are glimpses of that aura of invincibility that seemed to resonate from every inch of his being back in 2019.
Hyundai needs a rejuvenated Tänak and so does the championship. King Kalle is threatening years of domination and Tänak at his best is perhaps the only one who can stop that.
Thierry Neuville 3/10
Ypres Rally result: 20th
I really was enjoying watching a very much on form Thierry Neuville mastering the testing Ypres stages for the best part of the opening two days – and then the unthinkable happened.
Neuville putting his Hyundai i20 N Rally1 off on a relatively innocuous corner on Saturday’s penultimate stage was so far off-script that for a second or two the media room descended into an almost ecclesiastical silence. And then it erupted into an almost football rabble like cacophony of indignation, debate and, from certain local quarters, anger.
It really should not have happened. He looked so comfortable and Hyundai was, almost, cruising to a 1-2 formation finish.
I think it was more than the pressure of his home event that ultimately got to Neuville. I think the emergence of Tänak as perhaps the team’s dominant voice was at the back of his mind and played a bigger part in this disastrous off than anyone would care to admit
Oliver Solberg 7/10
Ypres Rally result: 4th
Just the most remarkably gutsy performance from young Solberg. He made a huge mistake in Finland, and boy, didn’t that vile cesspit depths of social media occupied by the thankfully few keyboard warriors let him know.
He had to endure more abuse on various social platforms than to be honest I’ve ever seen in rallying. Maybe only Adamo has had to put up with more, but he’s a grown man with skin as thick as a crocodile’s. Solberg is only just out of childhood!
But he dealt with the pressure, the scrutiny and the expectation with maturity that was beyond his years and drove an almost faultless event to bring home his best ever finish in the championship.
Craig Breen 1/10
Ypres Rally result: 63rd
I can’t bring myself to give him zero points but there are plenty of folk out there who would argue that’s what the out of form Breen deserves. A lackluster opening day was followed by a disastrous off on the second stage of day two.
What is going in in the Breen camp right now? So many of us, who are die in the wool Breen supporters, are completely at a loss to explain how the championship’s most consistent performer has plummeted to the point where he is now the championship’s most consistent crasher.
It’s bewildering and worrying in equal measures. These last three events are without any question Breen’s strongest on the calendar – and he’s crashed out of all three.
It’s easy to say a reset is needed but I suspect it’s way more complex than that. Like young Solberg, Breen has a fantastically strong support network behind him and he desperately needs that support network to come up with solutions and come up with those solutions in a very timely manner.
How long will Malcolm Wilson’s patience last is perhaps the more pertinent question. Wilson has a car that he knows can win rallies and his drivers, rather than presenting him with silverware, are constantly presenting him with smashed cars and increasingly costly repair bills.
It can’t go on.
Gus Greensmith 4/10
Ypres Rally result: 19th
A few small mistakes, one biggish mistake but no car destroying exploits from the battling Greensmith.
Gus is in a bit of a difficult place right now and knows that he needs to find improvements if he is to return to the level that we saw glimpses of at the start of the year.
Fair play to him though, he keeps trying and is as brave as anyone. But that elusive last bit of performance and reliability seems to be frustratingly eluding him right now.
Adrien Fourmaux 0/10
Ypres Rally result: DNF
An absolutely unforgivable error on the final day from the massively likeable, massively talented but ultimately massively silly Fourmaux.
Fourmaux has very much been on his final warning for a few rallies now and what was building into a very commendable result was destroyed by a crazy lack of judgement on that fat left hander of SS19.
The instructions could not have been clearer – forget the fight with Solberg and bring that car back in one piece. It ultimately came back in a thousand pieces accompanied by yet another enormous repair bill and a driver with a massive question mark pinned large to the middle of his back.