From the changing face of the title battle to THAT flying teenager and the truncated format, here is our summary of the main talking points in the wake of Rally Sweden as part of #DirtFishMonday.
Evans has joined the elite
We’re not going to bang on about this one too much here as frankly it’s been the theme of the website all weekend and today.
But, despite the man himself insisting it’s too early to say and he still needs to prove his gravel pace with the Toyota, it’s clear Elfyn Evans is a 2020 World Rally Championship title contender.
Just one small not-even-really-negative note: he didn’t score any powerstage points.
Starting a stage with an unpredictable surface with a 17-second lead, he didn’t need to take any risks. But Sébastien Ogier and Ott Tänak have proved very good at making 25-pointers into 30-pointers in recent years, and they’ve won all the titles lately.
And it’s thanks to Thierry Neuville’s powerstage points that Evans is only leading the championship on countback. If this becomes a full-on title title for Elfyn – and it really should – he’ll need to nail Sunday lunchtimes too even when sat on a big lead.
WRC drivers understand the bigger picture
You might’ve expected stage end interviews to be full of complaints from drivers about the shortened rally not making it a proper WRC event, or the state of the stages or the tires.
It didn’t happen.
There was widespread respect for everything the organizers had faced and a clear understanding that rally chief Glenn Olsson and his team cannot control the weather or climate change.
No, a shortened route and mostly snow-less stages were not ideal. But against enormous odds, a rally was happening and everyone was just going to get on with the job.
Format variety can be fun
Though Sweden becoming something of a sprint event was not how the organizers would’ve wanted it, there was also something quite refreshing about it turning into a different event on the tactical front.
It wasn’t great for Craig Breen, who barely had time to shake his WRC rust off before the rally was over. It was worse still for Jari-Matti Latvala – no time to catch up after his early problems, so no point continuing.
But the different pressure of only having nine stages to fight over was quite novel. Things aren’t quite as formulaic these days as in the era of mandatory ‘cloverleaf’ planning, but a few events being shorter sprints would be as welcome as some being as long as an old-school Safari. The WRC is supposed to be the most varied challenge in motorsport, after all.
Ogier is playing the long game
Third of the three main Toyotas in Sweden, only marginally the best of them in Monte Carlo. Is the six-time champion fading?
Well it’s fair to say Sébastien Ogier hasn’t taken to the Yaris as rapidly as Evans, but he is still the WRC’s foremost expert in how to win a title.
Ogier hasn’t taken any unnecessary risks over two rallies in which he wasn’t 100% comfortable in the car and in which conditions were wildly unpredictable.
And he’s sat poised in the championship just five points off the lead, which also means he has a healthier road position for Mexico next time out than Evans and Neuville.
Evans does look frighteningly quick, though…
Compromised Tänak only hints at potential
Champion Tänak spent most of the weekend saying he hadn’t got the “feeling” with the Hyundai i20 yet – understandably so, as it’s a new car to him and he lost a lot of running on the Monte.
Then he revealed to DirtFish just how serious the risk of him missing the event completely had been.
So in a car he’s not familiar or comfortable with yet and while still battered and bruised from a massive shunt, he finished second…
Rovanperä IS the real deal
It was obvious from the first stage that Kalle Rovanperä was going to be in this Monday feature.
The point we kept fluctuating over was how to describe his weekend. Do we go flat-out “he’s absolutely mega!” or do we go “don’t let expectations get out of control”?
After all, as he fought for the lead at first there was widespread excitement in the WRC world and predictions the 19-year-old was about to win in only his second start at the top level.
Then as he spun on Friday’s Torsby sprint and as he fell back to fourth, we felt like we should be telling the world to calm down and give him time – don’t build expectations too high just yet.
Then he smashed everyone on the powerstage and pinched third from Ogier…
Of course Rovanperä was famously rallying on ice pretty much as soon as he could walk. He was born for this rally. It’s not necessarily an indication of what he’ll do all season long.
But it wasn’t necessarily a total one-off, either. It was way too impressive to be that. The idea of Rovanperä winning a rally this year is entirely realistic.