Sébastien Ogier and Julien Ingrassia have won the Monza Rally and with it, clinched the 2020 World Rally Championship title after team-mates and title rivals Elfyn Evans and Scott Martin crashed out on Saturday.
Ogier trailed Evans by 14 points ahead of the season finale, but when Evans was caught out in treacherous conditions on what proved to be the final of Saturday’s mountain stages, Ogier – who was already doing his bit by leading the rally – suddenly had his destiny in his own hands.
The now seven-time World Rally Champion absorbed all the pressure to regain the title he lost to Ott Tänak last year and joined an elite club alongside Juha Kankkunen in winning the drivers’ title for three different manufacturers (Volkswagen, M-Sport Ford and Toyota).
Tänak and Dani Sordo came home second and third – just 1.4 seconds apart after swapping places on the last stage – to secure the manufacturers’ championship for Hyundai, a slender five points ahead of Toyota.
Ogier’s final winning margin was 13.9s as he took it easy on the powerstage with no need to push. His final points total of 122 ensured he defeated Evans by eight points in the final standings.
Takamoto Katsuta sensationally won the powerstage – his first ever stage win in the World Rally Championship.
“It doesn’t sound so bad I have to say,” said Ogier when asked at the stage finish how it felt to be a seven-time champion.
“The team have made such a great effort. Of course we feel for Elfyn, he made a really strong season, I’m sure next year will be the same so I’m looking forward to another year.
“A lot of people have suffered around the world so I want to be decent, I don’t want to jump around but it’s a decent achievement,” he added, referencing the global pandemic.
“It’s such a pleasure to drive the Yaris so thank you guys.”
Evans scored three powerstage points after two stalls on the final Serraglio test.
The torrential conditions that battered the Monza circuit proved to be a real challenge for the crews, with comparisons drawn between Rally GB and even the Safari Rally.
Both Ogier and Thierry Neuville were caught out on Friday morning, locking up at the same corner. While Ogier nudged a haybale, Neuville’s skirmish was more dramatic as he careered into a barbed-wire fence.
That ultimately set the tone for Neuville’s event, which would soon be over two stages later. Clouting a concrete bollard that formed one of the several man-made chicanes on the stages, Neuville was forced to drop his speed with damage which then proved to be his final downfall.
Approaching a watersplash, Neuville was simply too slow and the water drowned his Hyundai i20’s engine.
M-Sport’s Esapekka Lappi had shot into the lead ahead of Neuville’s team-mate Sordo, benefiting from an inspired tire call on the previous stage as he chose the snow compound. It was a move that was copied by all thereafter, and ultimately by the end of the day Lappi was overhauled by Sordo – albeit only by 1s.
Subsequent 10-second penalties for the front two for skipping a chicane closed Ogier – who suffered from a misted windshield and an overshoot on Friday – to just 4.3s behind, and as the rally headed into the mountains on Saturday he hit the front. Sordo overhauled him again on SS8, but once Ogier retook the lead he would not let go and ultimately went on to win.
Evans was third at this point, keeping tabs with his team-mate, and was in a position to claim his first title subject to powerstage points. But then his fateful incident happened; the rear of his Yaris spinning away from him and sliding down a bank.
Not only did this alter the complexion of the drivers’ championship, it proved a decisive swing in the manufacturers’ battle too as Tänak was promoted to third.
The event’s final four stages, back within the confines of the Monza circuit, proved much calmer affairs, and despite a late scare for Lappi who chose the wrong tires on Sunday’s opener to come under late pressure from Kalle Rovanperä, the positions remained steady until the end.
Rovanperä survived a brush with a mountain face on Saturday’s first stage to record fifth place behind Lappi’s fourth-placed Fiesta (pictured below) and round out what has been a superb debut year at rallying’s top level.
Such was the attrition in Monza though, Rovanperä’s fifth-placed Toyota was the lowest placed Rally1 car not to have retired at any point throughout the weekend.
Teemu Suninen was the first high-profile casualty. He was looking forward to the Monza Rally but in the end wound up having a miserable time. After going 10th-fastest on Thursday’s opener, his M-Sport Fiesta dropped a cylinder on Friday morning – an issue that could not be cured despite the efforts of the mechanics in the 15-minute flexi-services following each stage.
Suninen pressed on until SS4 when the problem proved too severe to power through. With internal engine damage, he took no further part in the weekend.
Gus Greensmith had a weekend to forget in the third M-Sport car, retiring from 10th spot on the rally’s third stage when he clipped a post and damaged the front-right corner of his Fiesta. Returning on Saturday, he was caught out in the changeable conditions in the afternoon and lost the rear of his car, crashing into an Armco barrier and sliding off the road after bouncing off the bank.
Ole Christian Veiby – who replaced Pierre-Louis Loubet in the 2C Competition Hyundai – made exactly the same error as Greensmith but his car remained on the road, blocking it and bringing the stage to a halt. It had been a difficult Rally1 debut up until that point, not aided by an overshoot that ended up costing him three minutes as Veiby struggled for traction in a muddy field.
Katsuta was another driver in the wars at Monza, the Toyota junior retiring on the very first stage after clouting the barrier with the front-right corner of his Yaris WRC.
But he showed strong pace upon returning, setting two second-fastest stage times across the weekend as well as his powerstage win.
Running as high as third at one point, Andreas Mikkelsen (pictured above) secured sixth overall and the WRC3 class win, narrowly besting Oliver Solberg in their Škoda Fabia Rally2 evos. Jari Huttunen got the better of Marco Bulacia and Kajetan Kajetanowicz to land the WRC3 title. He finished eighth overall and third in class in his Hyundai i20 R5.
Mads Østberg secured the WRC2 title with ninth place, beating Pontus Tidemand – who had a broken front-right rim on the final stage – to the prize.
Adrien Fourmaux had looked to be the man to beat, carving out a lead despite a puncture, only for a collision with the scenery on Saturday to break suspension and steering arms, costing him 26 minutes.
Success was sweet for Østberg who, after claiming his first ever world title, said: “It’s unbelievable I’m really happy to be honest.
“It was such a difficult weekend and it’s been so many ups and downs all through the year. We are winning the championship as the underdog, the other teams have done more rallies than us and it’s been a real team effort for everyone.
“For sure it’s really special to be world champion, even though it’s WRC2 it’s still a world championship and we’ve won it.”
Tom Kristensson bagged the Junior WRC title and the keys to a brand-new Ford Fiesta Rally2. With Sami Pajari crashing on Friday and chief rival Mārtiņš Sesks puncturing and then crashing out for good, Kristensson just had to cruise to the finish to earn himself the plaudits.
“It’s the best day in my life for sure,” said Kristensson. “It’s always difficult to find words in this moment it’s just unbelievable.
“To be here and to be a Junior world champion is just amazing. It was my last chance, my last year and I’m just really happy.”
Leading powerstage times
1 Katsuta (Toyota) 11m05.564s
2 Tänak (Hyundai) +1.414s
3 Evans (Toyota) +2.373s
4 Lappi (M-Sport Ford) +2.498s
5 Sordo (Hyundai) +2.936s
Final positions after SS16
1 Ogier (Toyota) 2h15m51s
2 Tänak (Hyundai) +13.9s
3 Sordo (Hyundai) +15.3s
4 Lappi (M-Sport Ford) +45.7s
5 Rovanperä (Toyota) +1m11.1s
6 Mikkelsen (Škoda) +3m56.2s
7 Solberg (Škoda) +4m12.1s
8 Huttunen (Hyundai) +5m15.4s
9 Østberg (Citroën) +5m27.4s
10 Tidemand (Škoda) +5m53s
Final WRC drivers’ championship standings
1 Ogier (Toyota) 122
2 Evans (Toyota) 114
3 Tänak (Hyundai) 105
4 Neuville (Hyundai) 87
5 Rovanperä (Toyota) 80
Final WRC manufacturers’ standings
1 Hyundai 241
2 Toyota 236
3 M-Sport Ford 129