We all thought the script was written. The WRC2 title would be a game of cat-and-mouse between Andreas Mikkelsen and Kajetan Kajetanowicz; will the privateer doing an around-the-globe tour to end his season catch Mikkelsen’s points total in the last three rounds?
But Mikkelsen’s superspecial crash in Greece, which consigned him to seventh place and a final points tally for the year of 109, altered the playing field in a way no-one had anticipated. Suddenly, there is a third championship contender.
WRC2 points ceiling
Out of nowhere, Emil Lindholm has become the dark horse in the race to become WRC2 champion.
A win in Acropolis puts Lindholm 20 short of Mikkelsen in the standings – but he’s only completed five rounds. Were he to do seven events – WRC2 rules count the best six results from seven rallies – he’d only need to drop three points, a consequence of crashing out of Rally Sweden at the exact same corner Craig Breen had gone off minutes beforehand.
“It was not anything else except maybe a dream before the season started,” Lindholm told DirtFish.
That dream is now very much in his hands to make a reality. Realistically he needs to win WRC2 in Spain – that, or come second and win the powerstage – to surpass Mikkelsen in Catalunya. But, having won WRC3 there last year, that’s an entirely realistic aim.
It’s an enticing prospect. But he’s not allowing himself to get carried away with thoughts he can pull off an entirely unexpected heist.
“Usually my strategy hasn’t been to pick some position that we need to get,” Lindholm explained. “But I think we’ll go to Spain with a target of doing as good a job as we possibly can. It’s worked quite well for us these last rallies.
“If we win there… honestly, at this point, we don’t know who will be there but taking some guesses it should be quite close to leading in the championship. It would be a good thing to win obviously but we’re not going to go there… how do I put this? But you get the point.
“I don’t think we should change much of our approach; it’s worked, so I’d rather keep it as it is. As it is, if you want to win the title, we need to win Spain and that’s how it is. But I guess it’s better not to worry too much about that.”
When we speak to Lindholm, he still hasn’t got all the backing required to head for Spain. His presence remains uncertain at the time of writing.
But Lindholm is aware that he’s suddenly been given a window of opportunity that may never come again. Mikkelsen’s season has been littered with problems – the time to strike is now.
If we can't get the budget now, we'll never be able toEmil Lindholm
“If we are in the title fight somehow, if we don’t make it now, we’ll never,” he surmises. “And if we can’t get the budget now, we’ll never be able to.”
His WRC2 and Finnish domestic seasons have run in parallel, to a degree. Both began with trouble – his WRC Sweden DNF was followed by a crash on the Riihimäki Rally, forcing him to play catch-up in the standings.
But thanks to the Finnish scoring system, he’ll get to drop that Riihimäki no-score. Just as he’ll get to drop Sweden – if he somehow makes the long trip to Japan to face off against Kajetanowicz at the season finale.
A driver that’s not even sure if he can find the funds to make it to Spain crossing the globe to the farthest reaches of Asia sounds unrealistic. Maybe it is. But instead of accepting that a trip to Japan to face off against Kajetanowicz is a non-starter, as Mikkelsen did after Ypres, Lindholm is allowing himself to dream a little.
“I wouldn’t say it’s impossible. But at that point it’s not in my hands anymore, to be honest,” he concedes.
“I think at that point we’d need to find some external support. Going there with a car from Europe is difficult. But I guess we’ll need to see how Spain goes and then think about it.
“I wish that if all goes well in Spain and we are realistically in the fight with Kajto. I obviously want to see how it plays out until the end. I’ll surely do everything in my power to compete with Kajto in Japan.”
Some – most notably current points leader Mikkelsen – have argued that Kajetanowicz’s approach of doing the flyaways against thinner fields isn’t the most sporting of tactics.
But as Kajetanowicz himself pointed out recently, Lindholm flexed the rules last season in WRC3. On paper he shouldn’t have been allowed to compete in Spain at all that year, having maxed out his allowed number of appearances for the season.
Instead, co-driver Reeta Hämäläinen was registered as the driver and scored points in the championship standings, a loophole that’s since been closed.
Points that Kajetanowicz would have scored without Lindholm being present would have been enough to give him the WRC3 title over Yohan Rossel. But instead of being irate about a loophole being exploited by a rival costing him the title, Kajetanowicz simply accepted it was part of the game.
One year on, Lindholm isn’t holding grudges over Kajetanowicz’s very expensive strategy to claim the WRC2 crown.
“It’s something that you will run into when you have a championship that the drivers can choose their rallies and I guess at this point, like WRC2, somebody will end up doing it,” said Lindholm after a long pause for thought.
“And it’s part of the game as well, financing and budget. At this level it’s part of the game to find your money and cooperate with sponsors.
“I’m not saying it’s unfair because in a way Kajto has earned his rallies. Obviously sporting-wise it’s maybe not the fairest format but there needs to be some compromise and this is what you get.”
We won’t know until after New Zealand just how strong Lindholm’s title chances really are – Hayden Paddon and an extra local or two taking points off Kajetanowicz would help Lindholm’s chances enormously.
But it’s not a pure waiting game anymore, waiting for Kajetanowicz’s results to roll in and see if he usurps Mikkelsen. There’s still plenty of the script left to be written. Will we get the twist ending none of us – especially the surprise protagonist – expected?