The race to become 2022 World Rally champion may be over, but that doesn’t mean the remainder of this World Rally Championship season has simply become a procession.
There is still plenty up for grabs on this week’s Rally Spain, and plenty of compelling storylines to follow.
So just in case you were foolishly contemplating committing the cardinal sin of not following a round of the WRC blow for blow with us here at DirtFish, here are the reasons you should stick around and keep your eyes firmly on the action this weekend in Salou:
The WRC2 title fight
The WRC2 title race has almost been like a relay race. Andreas Mikkelsen has run his stint, and now the baton has been passed to Kajetan Kajetanowicz. Or so we thought.
It turns out there’s more than one driver to factor into this equation. Emil Lindholm was always likely to be an obstacle for Kajetanowicz to overcome in his bid to accrue enough points to overhaul Mikkelsen, but now he’s a bonafide title challenger with an entry into Rally Japan confirmed.
Kajetanowicz currently has the edge over Lindholm in the standings with 96 points to 89, with both drivers using Spain and Japan as their final permitted points scoring rounds. But with dropped scores factored in, Lindholm and Kajetanowicz cannot be split.
That makes this weekend’s Rally Spain an absolute thriller in the support class. There’s no guarantee the Kajetanowicz/Lindholm scrap will be for victory given the packed entry for round 12, but it’s one that’s absolutely going to steal the headlines.
And as if this needed any more exciting dimensions, both can’t afford to just focus on one another. They need to also ensure they’re racking up enough points to surpass Mikkelsen’s total of 109. Thrilling stuff.
Toyota’s title double
Over the course of the season, it’s hard to dispute that Toyota has been the class of the field. Rally Spain gives it a great opportunity to confirm that status and win the manufacturers’ championship.
Look out for a more in-depth article later this week exploring the nuances of what Toyota’s drivers must do this weekend to clinch the championship, but in short Toyota’s odds are favorable of putting this one out of reach of Hyundai (M-Sport Ford is already out of mathematical contention).
If Toyota is successful there is plenty of history on the line, as it will become the first team to successfully defend the drivers and manufacturers’ title double since Volkswagen scooped them all between 2013-16.
A new WRC3 champion
Unlike last year where WRC3 was still for Rally2 cars, this season it has catered for Rally3 machines – and Rally Spain will be the scene of a new champion being crowned.
In this category only the best four from five scores count towards a final points total, which is why Spain is guaranteed to produce a new champion as contenders Lauri Joona and Jan Černý are both starting their fifth event – and Sami Pajari has already done his five.
Pajari tops the table on 87 points but both Černý and Joona are on 86, making this an essentially winner-takes-all fight between the latter two.
Given his retirement in Croatia (which was very damaging to his Junior WRC title aspirations too), Pajari is an outside threat for the title but it’s anyone’s game between Joona and Černý. An intriguing battle to watch.
Nagle’s WRC farewell
It’s not been something anybody outside Craig Breen’s camp has been able to mentally prepare for long given the announcement came just two weeks ago, but Rally Spain will close the curtain on Paul Nagle’s WRC career.
From the famous “Jesus Christ Kris!” madness of Rally México in 2017 to the famous podium streak with Breen last year, Nagle’s time in the WRC has certainly been memorable.
All rally crews head into an event wanting the best result possible but there’ll be an extra impetus aboard the #42 Ford Puma given what’s at stake. Signing off on a high is always the best way to bow out.
Confidence appears high following the pre-event test, so a podium must be the target. The question is, can they achieve it?
Ogier’s victory quest
2022 is currently poised to become just the second season in a front-running car in the WRC that Sébastien Ogier has failed to win a rally in. That’s not a record the eight-time world champion will be proud of.
And with the final two rounds of the season both staged on asphalt, his lower start position is no longer the trump card it might otherwise have been.
But conversely, Spain is the first event Ogier has started consecutively this season, with his previous appearances on the Monte, Portugal and the Safari all isolated. So he is far more familiar with the machinery than before.
With team-mate Kalle Rovanperä now confirmed as the new world champion, there’ll be no need to strategize either. Ogier will be utterly free to push for the win – a potential first without Julien Ingrassia – and you can bet he’ll be giving it his all to do so.
With the world championship now in the bag, Rovanperä could be forgiven for letting his foot off the gas. Although he can of course still help Toyota achieve its manufacturers championship, any points he does score no longer mean anything for his season.
What’s intriguing is how will Rovanperä respond to that change in circumstance.
The championship is what a WRC driver’s life revolves around, so without that goal to shoot for will Rovanperä drive any differently? Will he no longer be as invested in his result and therefore be more susceptible to mistakes, or will it be business as usual?
WRC drivers are consummate professionals, so it’s perhaps more likely that that same intensity will remain and Rovanperä will be at it as always. It also remains distinctly possible that with the pressure off he drives even better.
Rest assured, everyone else in the service park will be praying that that’s not the case.