It was a rotten job, but someone had to do it.
After several days of slaving over a spreadsheet, I found the answer to a question that others had, wisely, not taken the time to calculate. Being a heavy-duty spreadsheet geek, however, I did it anyway. Three attempts later, I was surprised at what I’d found.
The question: what points would have been awarded for Rally Japan last year had the new 2024 WRC points system already been in place?
It seemed a particularly interesting test case given the top three was the same at the end of each of the three days. Takamoto Katsuta went on an absolute flyer after his early tangle with a tree next to a soon-to-be world-famous stream turned car park. Would the new points system reap greater rewards for Taka? Were the top three being Sunday drivers?
This is a chart of what the gaps between the Rally1 cars looked like over the 3 days. The chart doesn’t include Adrien Formaux and Dani Sordo, given their rally ended in the aforementioned stream.
Evans took the lead on stage three and didn’t look back; that uptick from the rest of the field on stage 14 is due to him having a bit of a wobble on that test. Ogier took a hit on stage eight and Kalle’s time loss stemmed from opening the road in biblically wet conditions on the Friday. As for Thierry, he took a chunk of time out of Elfyn on stage five, then went off on the first corner of the next stage; Hyundai team-mate Lappi was slow on the first day but then picked up the pace to stave off Katsuta and Tänak.
Katsuta’s pace average 100.75% of the rally leader once stages two and three – when he hit a tree and then limped to service – are discounted. He scored 10 points despite his nine stage wins; would he have achieved more with the new points system?
The principle of the revised system is to penalize drivers who cruise through Sundays. That, surely, should give Taka a nice bonus for his late-rally pace?
Let’s find out. Firstly, the end of Saturday points:
Grégoire Munster finishes eighth – but he failed to finish the rally, having retired on Sunday. Under the new system, he won’t be allowed to keep those points. It breaks both my heart and my spreadsheet to take them away from him [but we’re taking them away anyway! – Ed].
Now, the Sunday points. There’s a caveat, of course; the new points system had no impact on the manner of driving on Saturday or Sunday.
The cream of the crop did come out on top on Sunday. Katsuta’s stage-winning streak gives him maximum points ahead of Neuville, who retired on Friday. While Evans hadn’t fully backed off while leading, the trio of leading Toyotas had collectively left time on the table. They were by no means flat-out.
So, the big question. What are the combined scores on the doors and how do the 2023 and 2024 systems compare?
There are a few surprises. First of all: Lappi comes out with equal-second best points despite finishing fourth, tied with Ogier.
Evans pointed out to DirtFish last week that he felt a win was “devalued” by the new points system and, based on Japan, he’s right both in spirit and mathematically. His profit over Seb for his hard work gets cut from a six-point benefit to only three, even though he was faster than Séb on Sunday (Ogier claims the Sunday difference back with his one powerstage point).
Ott complained his car was so bad that it was like driving with two front punctures. In this new system, that appears to matter less; his points haul now increased by 50%. Neuville is the big winner – his points haul more than doubles, having put his foot to the floor for all of Sunday, not only the powerstage.
Katsuta, for all his stage wins, benefits little: he gets two extra points. He was the fastest driver on Saturday but had little extra to show for it; only his Sunday driving, second-best to Neuville, went rewarded.
The proportions seem odd.
If you are fastest on day one and two, then fastest on day three, you take home the same 25 points. Now though, if you are second fastest on day one and two and second fastest on day three, you take home 21 points instead of 18. Third-fastest takes 18 instead of 15.
What this does do is close the field up when it comes down to the championship table. Compare Evans and Neuville: Evans led and controlled the rally but outscored Neuville, who crashed out and retired, by only nine points. With the old system, the difference had been 20.
On the flipside, Rovanperä, who was running third and took it relatively easy on Sunday as the slowest Rally1 driver and without a powerstage bonus point, would find himself outscored by sixth-placed Tänak.
If changing the Sunday points one way or another solves the much-maligned ‘Sunday driving’ problem, then dishing out powerstage points on top risks turning the scoring silly. To finish first, first you have to finish. But you might not need to finish in first place to be first in the standings any longer.
Monte will be the first indication of whether this change is for better or worse. What do you think; stick to tradition, or a much-needed change?