The “huge respect” that’s underlining the Ogier/Evans battle

There's lots at stake, but Jari-Matti Latvala has been buoyed by impeccable team harmony


Toyota team principal Jari-Matti Latvala was only ever going to be happy with a Friday 1-2 on Monza Rally and his other two drivers doing exactly what was asked of them, but with a title fight on everyone’s lips he was smiling more about the conduct of his two contenders than their performances at the wheel.

There is a 17-point gap between Sébastien Ogier and Elfyn Evans at the top of the World Rally Championship standings, but seemingly only the width of a table between them at lunch time in the Toyota Gazoo Racing hospitality.

And perhaps this closeness is what’s propelling the team to a likely double title win this weekend.

“[Ogier] knows how to win the championship,” Latvala concurred. “What I’m also pleased to see inside the team is Elfyn is very relaxed, I have seen Elfyn a lot more nervous during the season but now he is pretty relaxed.

“Also they can be – even though they are big rivals to each others – they have a lot of respect to each other and they can sit on the same table and eat. But then you can also see that Séb is very focused and determined to fight for the victory, and then try to win the championship. I have huge respect for the guys.”

So motivating was his drivers’ performances on and off the track that it was getting Latvala, the WRC’s most experienced driver ever, hungry to get back in the cockpit of a Yaris WRC on its final rally at this level before its succeeded by a hybrid car in 2022.

“At some points when I was watching the stages today, I would wanted to have driven myself as well,” Latvala added, before clarifying to television reporters that his title-sparring drivers did in fact eat together at lunch.

“Yeah. This is the great thing in rallying, generally, that when you drive against each other but you can still be friends. And I don’t think we see that in many other sports, where we can see that drivers can be so good at relationships out of the racing. This is great to see.”

As Latvala said, Evans and Ogier appeared immensely relaxed out of the car when DirtFish spoke to them. Both looked very focused at the wheel still, with Evans’ hawk-like driving position was as pronounced as it’s ever been.

In the morning it was Ogier who had the advantage on the stages in the mountains, beset by ground moisture and some scarily thick fog.

“I think we know the areas where we lost,” Evans said of that deficit. “So we can definitely look at that. It seems to be quite clear from the splits that where it’s slippery we seem to lose a bit more, so we need to find out why that is.

Ogier vs Evans pace comparison:




Next best




Sordo (+12.0s)

Costa Valle Imagna



Neuville (+15.2s)




Neuville (+0.8s)

Grand Prix


Sordo (-3.6s)

“Generally the car is working pretty well. And to be honest the two cars are not so different in the end. There’s not an awful lot to change. It will be a thing here or there. Or maybe find out what I was doing wrong as well, because it could be just something off the [nose]. You do something very simple that’s wrong, and it only takes two or three bad ones of those to give a second or two away.”

Ogier built a lead of 6.5 seconds over the 41.1 miles covered by the first four stages, with just one tenth of a second being dropped on SS2. Evans didn’t really address whether his approach to the first of those stages, Gerosa, was influenced by the fact his 2020 title attack ended there last year. But the fact that 5.7s of his deficit came in those two stages would perhaps suggest some kind of hesitance.

In the car of the title leader there was definitely no second-guessing through the fog, but Ogier was aware that could backfire. When it was put to him that Evans’ pace was giving him something to think about in the afternoon as he moved ahead by 1.4s, he simply replied: “Not really”.


“The only danger is myself,” Ogier said.

“I’m happy with where I am right now, it’s not a fight I need to take on anyway. So I just need to try to do the same tomorrow.”

Ogier was happy to be in second place because it’s still currently more than enough to earn him an eighth title, and also because losing the lead wasn’t from being outpaced by Evans in equal conditions.

“Just on one stage, on stage five, there was a bit of an issue with my brakes,” he told DirtFish. “I don’t know why, there wasn’t any kind of pressure in the system which made it so like the car was braking the whole stage.


“We could see on the data that every straight I was losing quite a lot compared to my team-mates. I probably lost the lead there, but it’s not a big drama, at the moment I can still be very happy with my [day].

“Luckily it was nice to see that the time was coming through and the feeling was there [this morning]. I really enjoyed driving the car.

“If we can find the same rhythm in the mountain stages tomorrow morning that would be fantastic so let’s try to do that.”

Taking SS5 out of the equation, there was only a 2.2s gain by Evans in the final two circuit stages which is a pace advantage of only 0.14s per mile. That could easily swing in the space of one stage on Saturday.


The positive both can take though is there’s already a far larger gap to Hyundai’s Thierry Neuville in third and he’s already got reliability problems of his own to contend with.

But if Evans is going to win the title, fate is going to have to intervene as it did on Saturday 12 months ago…