Seven rounds down, six to go.
The 2023 World Rally Championship is hotting up as it returns after a four-week break for this weekend’s Rally Estonia.
So as we prepare to warm up the tires, engage anti-lag and launch it off the line for the second half of the season, what better time to look back on the seven chapters of the 2023 story that have already played out?
More specifically, examine who have been the best performing drivers of the season so far?
That’s the question we asked our experts David Evans, Luke Barry, George Donaldson and Josie Rimmer, and it was up to them how they chose to interpret the question. We’ve combined their lists to deliver this top 10 ranking.
Disagree? It’s highly likely. Let us know in the comments box below:
10 Takamoto Katsuta
Championship position: 8th
Takamoto Katsuta’s first half to 2023 hasn’t been quite as impressive as last year, where he produced that fine run of consistency and delivered another Safari Rally Kenya podium.
The consistency has been missing from Taka’s game this time around, with two back-to-back crashes in Sweden and México stunting his momentum.
But when things have come together, Katsuta has shown his speed – running well in Sweden for example before he went off and also in Portugal before his alternator gave up.
Although he missed out on another rostrum finish, Katsuta’s season peaked so far with fourth in Kenya and he’s now heading into two rallies that should suit him in Estonia and Finland.
9 Adrien Fourmaux
Championship position: N/A (9th WRC2)
No wins and no podiums from five WRC2 starts is hardly magical form, but Adrien Fourmaux’s season is far greater than the sum of its parts.
After a difficult, crash-strewn run last year in the Puma Rally1, the step back into the Fiesta Rally2 has worked wonders for Fourmaux who’s demonstrated both pace and maturity in WRC2.
As the Fiesta has been developed, Fourmaux’s times have become stronger and he had Sardinia all but won before he slipped off the road in treacherous conditions on the powerstage.
But most importantly, the Frenchman has proved to M-Sport that he can be patient and is capable of bringing home the bacon – as proved by his utter domination of the British Rally Championship this year.
8 Dani Sordo
Championship position: 7th
It’s quite remarkable that Dani Sordo, in his 18th WRC season in a top-flight car, can still be performing at the level that he is. His longevity is quite remarkable.
2023 didn’t begin in vintage style with a troubled Monte Carlo Rally, but Sordo quickly answered any concerns about his pace with a superb drive in Portugal that secured second.
But more importantly, he continues to do the job that Hyundai asks of him: bank points for the manufacturers’ championship.
The only real hiccup from a driving perspective was Sardinia where he crashed but still managed to keep himself in the rally and bring home a fifth place result.
7 Thierry Neuville
Championship position: 5th
A real tale of two-halves for Thierry Neuville.
His season started impressively with three podiums on the bounce, but determined to bring home a result for Hyundai in the wake of Craig Breen’s passing, Neuville got it wrong and exited Croatia Rally from the lead.
Despite winning in Sardinia, Neuville’s season never quite recovered from that as he was outperformed by team-mate Esapekka Lappi in both Portugal and Sardinia.
His disqualification from Safari Rally Kenya for breaching recce regulations dropped him from second to fifth in the championship, leaving him with it all to do if he’s to make good on Hyundai’s strategy to help him win the drivers’ title at all costs.
6 Elfyn Evans
Championship position: 2nd
Although he’d certainly rather be closer to his world champion team-mate, lying second in the championship at this stage of the season is a massive improvement on where Elfyn Evans found himself last year.
The process to get on top of the Rally1 Yaris is still ongoing, but Evans has looked far more comfortable than he was last term and has delivered some superb drives – particularly in México and in Croatia where he won.
There was a monumental crash in Portugal, but Evans responded well on the following round and has otherwise kept his nose clean.
Consistency always used to be the Welshman’s strong suit, and that’s very much returned to his game this season.
5 Ott Tänak
Championship position: 3rd
Ott Tänak’s highly anticipated return to M-Sport Ford probably hasn’t delivered quite as much as he or the team would have hoped, but he still finds himself third and just one point shy of Evans in the championship after seven rounds.
The Monte was difficult but Sweden was sublime as Tänak delivered an against-the-odds victory to briefly lead the championship – something he never managed in any of his three seasons at Hyundai.
But gravel has been the package’s weakness thus far. In México there was turbo trouble which ruined his rally from the start, and thereafter Tänak and Puma haven’t proved to be a rally-winning package.
Estonia and Finland are two rallies Tänak excels on though, so the fightback could be mighty!
4 Sébastien Ogier
Championship position: 3rd
The only driver to win more than once this season, Sébastien Ogier has proved beyond doubt that he is just as good as he ever was in 2023.
Granted he benefited from a good start position, but to lead the championship after México despite missing a round (in Sweden) was simply extraordinary.
It makes you wonder just how the championship picture would look if Ogier was competing full-time.
It hasn’t all been perfect though. Fifth in Croatia was result of an opening day puncture which Ogier couldn’t do too much about, but he was the architect of his own downfall in Sardinia when his foot slipped on the brake pedal and he slid off the road.
3 Esapekka Lappi
Championship position: 6th
If there were any questions over Esapekka Lappi’s decision to leave Toyota behind for Hyundai, they certainly aren’t lingering any longer.
The Finn suffered a slow start on the Monte but has been superb thereafter. He should have been third in Sweden before a tire let go and spat him into a snowbank, and could have won México was it not for that big crash on Saturday.
But Lappi greatly impressed to lead Ogier on merit after the first day and has continued that form throughout the gravel season with a remarkable run of three successive podiums in Croatia, Portugal and Sardinia – a run only halted by desperately poor luck with four propshaft failures in Kenya.
The tantalizing thing is the best could yet be to come as the WRC heads into fast-gravel season in Estonia and Finland.
2 Oliver Solberg
Championship position: 11th (2nd WRC2)
Wins: 0 (1 WRC2)
Podiums: 0 (3 WRC2)
He may not lead the championship, but few would argue that Oliver Solberg has been the class of the WRC2 field this year.
With more fastest times than anybody else and a fine win in Sweden, Solberg has dealt with his surprise removal from Hyundai’s plans remarkably well in 2023.
Proving unwavering determination more than ever, Solberg has left a strong impression – although there have been some mistakes; namely those famous donuts in Portugal which cost him a certain win, and the decision not to stop and change a puncture in Safari which forced him to retire from the lead.
A suspension failure which he couldn’t do anything about is likely the only reason he doesn’t currently lead the WRC2 standings.
1 Kalle Rovanperä
Championship position: 1st
His command over the championship may not be as emphatic as it was this time 12 months ago, but yet again there’s no doubting who’s cream of the crop this year.
Kalle Rovanperä started a WRC season better than he ever has done before with a podium in Monte Carlo, but from there a surprising run of three fourth place finishes in a row led to some question over his form.
They were emphatically rebuffed with a dazzling and dominant victory in Portugal which was extremely well timed as most of his title rivals ran into trouble.
From there Rovanperä has begun to stretch clear, and starts the second half of the season with a 41-point advantage in the championship.
Fully deserved and perfectly capable of extending that further, Rovanperä is the one they all need to beat across the final six rounds of 2023.
The individual rankings: