Making its debut in the World Rally Championship, the Central European Rally was certainly a spectacle to behold, delivering a huge challenge for the competitors and plenty of drama.
Some drivers dealt with the difficult conditions well, others simply pushed it too far.
Here are Colin Clark’s ratings for the penultimate round of the 2023 season:
Kalle Rovanperä 9/10
CER result: 2nd
Quite simply the drive of a champion.
Rovanperä has shown this season that he has developed into an all-round great – his speed has never been in doubt but this year he has added a level of intelligence and strategic thinking that make his almost untouchable.
At 23-years-old, with two championships under his belt, we are witnessing greatness in the making.
Is he currently the best motorsport exponent in the world? In my view it’s not even worth debating – this young man is simply the best, and quite possibly the best of all time.
Elfyn Evans 4/10
CER result: 31st
This one wasn’t really going Elfyn’s way – even before he understeered off into a barn on SS11.
Another season, and another challenge that came close but really not close enough for Evans.
He’s still struggling to extract the full potential from his GR Yaris Rally1 and in some ways this will give him renewed hope ahead of next year. Evans has developed a style and an approach that, most of the time, will deliver him good points and keep him there or there abouts in the championship race.
When he does have that lightbulb moment, and the car dances to the rhythm that Evans sets, he could well be the one to beat.
Right now though, its a safe, stylish, controlled waltz. The scintillating, pacy and punchy tango can’t come soon enough.
Sébastien Ogier 3/10
CER result: 4th
One to forget for the champ.
A broken wheel on SS3 dropped him out of the reckoning and that, coupled with the fact that Ogier was feeling unwell, saw one of the most lackluster days we’ve seen from Ogier in a very long time.
I get it though, he’s only interested in winning these days, particularly when he’s already done what he’s being paid to do and helped Toyota to yet another manufacturers’ crown.
Motivation and the risk versus reward computation are intrinsically linked in this sport – and for Ogier this time they just didn’t add up.
Takamoto Katsuta 7/10
CER result: 5th
A decent showing from Katsuta here on what was an important event in the build up to his home round in Japan.
He showed good pace to stay ahead of Suninen and was one of very few drivers who managed to stay out of trouble all weekend.
He’ll have to find a little more confidence, and ultimately pace, if he is to repeat his podium winning run in Japan last year but this event gives him a firm foundation to do just that.
Thierry Neuville 9/10
CER result: 1st
This was the drive of a team leader – and I know that’s stating the blindingly obvious but there is no question Neuville is setting his stall out for what could be an interesting dynamic with Ott Tänak next year.
And I’m not just talking about the fact that he won this event. It was more his demeanor, his words and his almost statesman-like bearing that were all screaming at the Hyundai management: ‘I’m the man to continue leading this team.’
Neuville is arguably driving as well as he ever has and with the right car, and perhaps more importantly the full backing of Hyundai, he will once again be a major threat next year.
He’s very clever on the stages but, in my view, just as clever off.
Neuville set his stall out in more ways than one on this event and it’ll be interesting to see how it all plays out in the coming months.
Esapekka Lappi 3/10
CER result: DNF
For four almost glorious stages it looked as if Esapekka had put his recent woes well and truly behind him. He was driving effortlessly and beautifully, it was all coming to him unexpectedly easily.
But then, bang – it was all over for yet another rally on stage five.
This is one of those torrid spells that every driver has to endure but I’m not sure the solutions to Lappi’s woes are going to be quite so easy to implement.
It’s not a lack of talent. It’s not a lack of skill, experience or bravery.
To me, there’s something else amiss and Lappi will have to dig very deep if he is to re-discover that scintillating form he demonstrated earlier on in the season.
Teemu Suninen 7/10
CER result: 6th
An encouraging drive from Teemu after his disappointing late mistake in Chile.
His first outing on Tarmac in the Hyundai could not have been more challenging and Suninen acquitted himself well – no great speed but a controlled and intelligent drive that was notable by it’s lack of drama.
Suninen has to prove to the Hyundai bosses that he has the intelligence and the patience to do the job of a third driver, something he failed miserably to show in Chile.
This drive will go a long way towards redemption for that moment of brain fade in South America.
Ott Tänak 8/10
CER result: 3rd
Lots for Tänak to battle against this week but ultimately he overcame many issues to deliver a well deserved podium.
I’m sure he’ll be quietly pleased to see the Hyundai delivering a win ahead of his much anticipated return to the team next season.
Pierre-Louis Loubet 5/10
CER result: 10th
Loubet’s final outing of the year at least saw him make it to the finish of the event. Yes there were mistakes along the way but he’ll count this one as forward progress in a year that’s seen him gong backwards more often than not.
I like young Loubet and I genuinely believe he has pace and potential.
Let’s hope he uses this extended break wisely to identify where it is that he’s going wrong and come back a better prepared an better performing driver.
Grégoire Munster 6/10
CER result: 7th
Munster has, over the course the last two events, maximised his time in the Puma Rally1 and used the opportunity he’s been given very wisely indeed.
Again nothing spectacular but faced with a myriad of situations he’d never encountered before, he coped admirably well.
If, as he stated a while back, these outings were designed to develop his skills to allow him to compete better in WRC2 then I’m sure it’s job done with a very big tick.
I suspect more outings though at the top level and I’m curious to see how far he can progress.
He’s got the right temperament for sure, time will tell however if he has the potential and the pace to establish himself as a Rally1 contender.