The first ever edition of Central European Rally certainly won’t be forgotten.
Crazy conditions, unfortunate accidents and two World Rally champions crowned will make sure of that.
But who emerged from the weekend a ‘winner’ and who ended it a ‘loser’? For once, the scales aren’t balanced!
Here are our picks:
There aren’t many occasions where Kalle Rovanperä would happily give up a rally win, but when a second world title in as many years is in sight, that’s a sacrifice worth making.
For once Rovanperä found himself in the best place on the road on Friday, and he made full use of it. A lead of over 35s was swiftly earned, and then swiftly slashed Rovanperä overshot and spun on Saturday.
But Elfyn Evans’ crash changed everything. With no need to push, Rovanperä let Neuville run free and instead settled for second to secure the 2023 world title.
He promised he’s going to enjoy this one more than first, and who can blame him?
As soon as he went off the road on Friday morning – his first real mistake of the season – Andreas Mikkelsen’s WRC2 chances began to look bleak.
Yet a blitzing “win or die” run on the powerstage ended up earning him a second championship title in three years.
It’s ironic that Mikkelsen should claim the WRC2 title on his weakest weekend of the season, but you can’t say this success isn’t thoroughly deserved.
Many people had Thierry Neuville down as their winner in CER, but not in the manner in which he achieved it.
This was something of a gift, given Rovanperä’s switch from pushing to preserving in the wake of Evans’ accident.
But Neuville was in the right place to accept it, working his way past Evans before he took out a barn door. Victory is just his and Hyundai’s second of the season, and although all the titles are now lost this is important momentum for the 2024 season.
Another podium for Ott Tänak, no severe damage – unlike both of its rivals Toyota and Hyundai – and victory in the RC2 class has to be considered an extremely positive weekend for M-Sport.
Pierre-Louis Loubet had a marginally messy weekend but Adrien Fourmaux was, yet again, the biggest ‘winner’ from the Ford outfit – bouncing back impeccably from a Friday morning puncture to vault to the top of the Rally2 standings and give the updated Fiesta Rally2 a win on its maiden outing.
The timing couldn’t be better as he steps back up to a Rally1 car in three weeks time.
Elfyn Evans’ title chances were always looking remote heading into CER – in a sense he’s actually done supremely well to keep his hopes alive this long.
But on a weekend where the Welshman lost out on a third championship in four years, and crashed out of a title decider like he did in 2020, he has to be considered a loser.
Even before he went off, Evans wasn’t in position to deny Rovanperä an early coronation anyway – it just bitters the taste.
He was able to restart on Sunday, and did up his end of the bargain with a powerstage win, but Rovanperä had it all under control and denies Evans for another year.
An outsider for the championship he may have been, but Yohan Rossel was tipped to be a favorite for CER victory in WRC2 given his, and his Citroën C3 Rally2’s affinity, for Tarmac.
And the Frenchman was living up to the bill, as he led the category after Thursday’s pair of stages. But that was as good as it got as Rossel ran off the road in treacherous conditions, struggled to slow his car on the wet grass and locked up into a tree.
A very disappointing end to what has otherwise been a brilliant season.
A gutting weekend for Greensmith, capped off by a spin on the powerstage that ultimately allowed Mikkelsen to clinch the championship without the need to score in Japan.
Ultimately, even if Greensmith had managed to delay Mikkelsen, a delay is likely all it would have been with Andreas needing next-to-no points to get the job done.
But a puncture, struggling to feel at-one with his Škoda in the wet and feeling under the weather all compounded Greensmith’s weekend, consigning him to a disappointing end to the year.
It’s becoming a worrying theme of WRC Fridays – the sight of Esapekka Lappi standing next to a damaged Hyundai he was supposed to have been driving.
For the second event in a row, Lappi’s rally ended on the first proper morning. The really frustrating is that, on CER, he was doing extremely well – soon-to-be-second to the runaway leader Rovanperä before it all went wrong.
Lappi’s scintillating start to the season is increasingly feeling like a distant memory, and it’s hardly the best of timing given his future is currently unconfirmed – at least publicly.
With all the drama kicking off around him, Emil Lindholm snuck his way to top spot in WRC2 and held it, on track for his first category win since joining Hyundai.
But the outgoing champion was denied the chance to fight for it on the final day, as he was forced out on the way to the first stage with an alternator problem.
Gut-wrenching doesn’t even come close. It’s been a difficult season for Lindholm and this wasn’t a pleasing way to end it.
“I have no motivation.”
It was a stunningly honest and brutal assessment of affairs from Ogier as he rolled up to the stop control of SS4. A flat tire on SS3 deflated Ogier’s mood and later revealing he was feeling under the weather, the Toyota star showed little will to try and recover the ground.
But as the weekend wore on, and the conditions dried out, Ogier’s pace – and mood – picked up and he ended up just 15.8 seconds shy of the podium.
Perhaps that just makes it all the more galling. But for a driver who isn’t interested in anything other than winning rallies nowadays, this was a bad weekend for Ogier.