Acropolis Rally Greece marks an unusual crunch point in the World Rally Championship’s main support category.
No champion will be crowned in Lamia this week. But it’s a make-or-break rally for two of the three WRC2 title contenders.
An unusual championship dynamic is in play, where the championship leader is in a compromised position but the driver trailing in third looks to be in the box seat.
Andreas Mikkelsen was the favorite to retain has crown again this season. Three wins and a second-place last time out on Ypres Rally certainly show he still has that championship-winning pace – little surprise given his experience at WRC level.
But he has a problem. WRC2 drivers can only enter seven rounds per season, with the best six scores counting towards the final tally in the drivers’ championship.
Mikkelsen suffered two consecutive retirements in Portugal and Italy, where a problem with the air intake system led to engine failures – an unexpected problem for the usually reliable Škoda Fabia Rally2 evo.
That problem was fixed but the damage is already done – with two no-scores, he has to carry a big fat zero on his final scorecard. And with six rallies already complete, Greece is Mikkelsen’s last opportunity to top up his points tally.
Compare that to Kajetan Kajetanowicz’s situation. He’s 24 points behind Mikkelsen and isn’t going to the Acropolis Rally – yet potentially holds the strongest hand. It all comes down to points ceilings – the highest possible score a driver can record with the number of rallies left in their program, minus their worst score.
|1st (+3rd PS)
|1st (+1st PS)
|2nd (+1st PS)
|6th (+1st PS)
|11th (+2nd PS)
|3rd (+2nd PS)
|2nd (+2nd PS)
|1st (+1st PS)
Kajetanowicz has only shown up four times so far this season, leaving only three rallies left on the calendar, all of which he can attend to bolster his points tally: New Zealand, Spain and Japan.
Support category drivers doing ‘flyaway’ events – so called as the vast majority of teams are located in Europe – is a rarity. It was once a requirement but that rule has since been scrapped, saving money for teams and drivers who can consolidate their programs within their own continent to keep costs down.
But it would appear Kajetanowicz isn’t interested in keeping a lid on costs, should he enter all the rounds he’s now eligible to.
Mikkelsen knew after his double retirement mid-season that he’d have to start taking points directly off his privateer Škoda rival to keep his title bid on track. But by Estonia he’d realized he wasn’t going to get that chance.
“It looks best for Kajto at the moment, so we are trying to figure out what rallies he will do, to go and meet him,” said Mikkelsen after his third win of the season.
“But I have heard some rumors of him doing Japan and New Zealand, so…yeah, obviously that’s not happening.”
There’s a third contender in this title race too. Yohan Rossel is somewhat in the same boat as Mikkelsen, though goes to Greece with the option to do one more rally later in the season – most likely Spain.
Rossel doesn’t have a safety net of any kind, having retired in Italy after rolling his Citroën C3 Rally2 and scoring only two powerstage points. But he does go to Greece with an opportunity to take points off Mikkelsen, with the possibility to add a win to his tally and surpass the reigning champion in Spain in late October.
But all the while, the unknown of what Kajetanowicz might do lurks in the darkness. Showing up to the two flyaways in addition to Spain gives him an ace card similar to his Safari Rally win, where only eight WRC2 cars were present, and he won by 19 minutes.
Compare that to his showing in Estonia. Facing off against Mikkelsen and a horde of Finns, he was simply outclassed, finishing fifth, his lowest score of the season so far. He did score podiums in Croatia and Portugal, but he has no wins on European rounds this season – Mikkelsen has three and Rossel two.
It would appear that Kajetanowicz has strategized his season from the off to face thinner fields. And it may end up working.
In New Zealand he’d be hugely up against it to beat Hayden Paddon who, on home soil with a Hyundai i20 N Rally2, is going to be very tough to beat. Spain would be a harder proposition – Rossel, Emil Lindholm and Chris Ingram may well show up and make his job harder there.
But in Japan he’d face very little competition, if any.
Mikkelsen and Rossel’s seasons would already be complete, with other WRC2 regulars highly unlikely to show up either. And any locals lodging a WRC2 entry are unlikely to present much of a challenge.
Heikki Kovalainen has dominated the national series in Japan this year, but his first-generation Fabia isn’t a match for Kajetanowicz’s Rally2 evo. Nor does Kovalainen have any experience at rallying’s top level – this would be his WRC2 debut.
If Kajetanowicz shows up in Japan for his final WRC2 event, just needing to bank points to surpass Mikkelsen and Rossel, it’s highly likely he’ll score what he needs to get the job done.
All Mikkelsen and Rossel can do is aim for the ceiling and cross their fingers.