The World Rally Championship drivers’ and manufacturers’ titles have been secured. The WRC2 contest has even been wrapped up. There’s therefore not a great deal left on the line at this week’s Rally Japan.
Except the race to be 2023 vice champion – that’s still very much alive.
After Elfyn Evans’ trip into a barn at Central European Rally and Thierry Neuville’s rally win, just seven points split second-placed Evans and third-placed Neuville in the championship table.
The allure of becoming World Rally champion is what drives them both, and it’s an accolade neither driver has yet attained. It might be assumed that collecting second place would be something of a consolation, but apparently not.
Entertainingly, Evans and Neuville are entering a battle this week that neither of them are bothered about engaging in.
“I don’t think finishing second really makes that much difference, whether you’re second or third,” Evans told DirtFish.
“Ultimately what matters is if you win or not. And of course there’s areas where we know that we can still improve.
“I think there’s definite rallies that things didn’t work out for us this year still, and of course the attention will be on those looking forward to next season.”
Neuville meanwhile holds an unwanted WRC record of the most runner-up championship finishes (five) without ever claiming the title. So all he wants to do this week is win the rally – just as he did last year.
“Yeah,” Neuville said, “flat out and try to take another victory.”
Evans has a similar goal, not least because he was just 0.6 seconds behind Neuville last year before he was forced to change a wheel and dropped to an eventual fifth.
“[Japan is] massively important for myself and the team,” Evans said. “We obviously want to finish the season on a high.
“It’s not an easy rally to go to. Of course after what happened last year we’d really like to put that right.”
The irony is that victory for either would all-but guarantee them the final championship placing they’re choosing to ignore.