One. Fourteen. Thirty. These are the numbers that matter for the World Rally Championship title race this year after the unfortunate cancelation of Ypres Rally that was confirmed on Friday, three weeks before it was meant to run.
We say unfortunate, but those figures make for very pleasing reading if your name is Elfyn Evans. One round remains, Evans has a 14-point lead over team-mate Sébastien Ogier with only 30 left to claim. Opportunities don’t come much bigger than this.
The effect this has on his rivals however, most pertinently Hyundai drivers Thierry Neuville and Ott Tänak, is huge. Both are mathematically still in contention with just Monza remaining, but their respective title bids look incredibly optimistic at best.
The same can’t be said for Kalle Rovanperä though who has now officially been ruled out of the battle with a 41-point deficit to team-mate Evans. Rovanperä was never viewed as a major player here, but it’s right to credit and acknowledge his disappearance from the battle such has been the level of his performances throughout his rookie season in the topflight.
The ball is very much in Evans’ court, but this is rallying: nothing is settled quite yet. Here’s what Ypres’ cancelation means for the 2020 title battle.
Best finish: 1st (Rally Sweden, Rally Turkey)
Worst finish: 4th (Rally México, Rally Estonia, Rally Italy)
Take a second and digest those statistics above. Should Evans go on to become the 2020 World Rally Champion, plenty will scathe, scoff and scrutinize the Toyota driver as an undeserving winner. Don’t listen to that nonsense. To have not finished outside the top four throughout the entire season is a monumental achievement.
Evans himself has already admitted to DirtFish that he feels his title would be deserved this year should he go on to claim it as “everybody’s had the same opportunity” to score the points. And he’s right, rallying is all about variables and the bizarre 2020 calendar is just one of them.
The job isn’t done yet though. To become just the seventh different World Rally Champion of the 21st century, Evans can afford a much poorer result in Monza than he’s grown accustomed to in 2020. Team-mate Ogier is the closest man to him and in many ways is Evans’ only realistic challenger before we start considering the offset retirements can have.
Evans currently has a 14-point advantage so, naturally, can afford to drop 14 points to his team-mate. This means if Ogier wins, Evans can be fourth and still take the crown provided the six-time champion doesn’t take any more than two extra powerstage bonus points than him.
If Ogier is second, Evans can finish all the way down in eighth and still take the crown, again assuming no major powerstage swings. Of course, if he beats Ogier, regardless of where on the leaderboard, the title is his.
What he needs to do: Let Ogier, Neuville and Tänak worry about the rally win and focus on getting another top four finish.
Best finish: 1st (Rally México)
Worst finish: DNF (Rally Turkey)
Ogier might have been “completely OK” to lose second place and four world championship points to Neuville on the final stage of Rally Italy, but you can bet he isn’t now.
Neuville muscling past Ogier on the Sardinian powerstage has cost Ogier dear without the opportunity to score on Ypres. Instead of having a 10-point deficit he now has a 14-point barrier to diminish, making Evans’ job that bit easier in early December.
Had Ogier been just 10 points behind, he could have won the final round and force Evans to be no lower than third instead of fourth such are the fine margins. A blow as that is, a seventh world championship title for Ogier in 2020 can’t be ruled out though, as Evans is the only one of the lead runners that’s yet to experience a mechanical drama this season.
It would be cruel for this to happen to Evans at the final hurdle, but Ogier would be equally as deserving a champion as Evans. Often this season he’s had the edge on pace, but Evans has used Ogier’s greatest strength against him – the ability to consistently rack up the points.
What he needs to do: Win the rally and try and get in Evans’ head in any way he can.
Best finish: 1st (Rally Monte-Carlo)
Worst finish: DNF (Rally Estonia)
Neuville’s superb victory in the Alps feels like a very long time ago now. It’s been another frustrating campaign for Belgium’s finest who was robbed of the opportunity to score in Mexico with an engine problem, unlucky to break his suspension in Estonia given several others had similar moments and denied a win which he had made his own in Turkey due to a puncture.
But that drive to second in Italy has provided him a welcome boost. Had he not managed to topple Ogier, he’d be level with Tänak on points in an even more dire situation.
It does little to alter the reality however, with Neuville trailing Evans by 24 points and 25 available for a rally win. The loss of Ypres is a double blow for him as this was an event that was absolutely Neuville’s to lose with his experience there.
Neuville’s driving has been solid as usual this year, but the i20 Coupe WRC hasn’t proved quite as reliable as the Yaris WRC and he’s made a couple of small mistakes when it really mattered. Once again, 2020 looks like another ‘what if’ year for the Hyundai star.
What he needs to do: Win the rally and hope Ogier is no higher than fourth and that Evans doesn’t finish.
Best finish: 1st (Rally Estonia)
Worst finish: DNF (Rally Monte-Carlo)
It’s now looking fairly safe to assume that Tänak won’t successfully defend the world title he brilliantly won last year. The same wasn’t being said when he blasted to victory in Estonia after the WRC’s lengthy hiatus due to coronavirus less than two months earlier.
After that performance, he had whittled then points leader Ogier’s advantage down to just 13 points and was looking like an incredibly strong bet for back-to-back titles. But then Turkey and Italy happened. Over the course of those two rallies, Tänak picked up just 17 points – largely thanks to powerstage heroics – while Neuville scored 45, Evans grabbed 41 and Ogier took 18.
A mysterious steering issue wrecked his Turkish adventure while last time out in Italy Tänak had to battle broken suspension through the opening four stages which restricted him to sixth. Some of the struggle does lie at the door of the world champion though. Remember that terrifying crash in Monte Carlo?
In a heavily reduced season, these fumbles have proved incredibly costly and leave Tänak effectively out of the title quest. With 28 points to make up and 30 available, he needs to win and take at least second in the powerstage, have Evans not finish and Ogier no higher than fifth to stand any chance.
With just four points separating him and Neuville, beating his team-mate to the title of top Hyundai and a visit to a socially distanced FIA prize giving is much more feasible but ultimately counts for absolutely nothing. Ultimately, it’s out of Tänak’s hands.
What he needs to do: Pray for a miracle