If the renewed fight for the overall World Rally Championship title between current trophy holder Kalle Rovanperä, his Toyota team-mate Elfyn Evans and Hyundai’s Thierry Neuville isn’t enough to hold your attention, try this for size.
Acropolis Rally Greece could well be the event that dictates the identity of this year’s WRC2 champion. And there’s no fewer than six drivers all vying for it.
OK, we’ve made a bit of a leap there. There’s no guarantee that this weekend will be the event that ultimately swings the championship one way or another, but given we’re into the business end of the season and all of the main players are competing, there’s no doubt this one matters.
So who can still win? And what are their chances?
Allow us to run you through the situation as it stands as the WRC2 battlers prepare to go to war. None of these six – who are the only six to have won events this year – can claim the title this weekend, but they can definitely make steps towards either winning or losing it.
Championship position: 1st
Events left: 3
The favorite? Quite probably, given he’s the only driver so far this season yet to record a finish lower than fourth and has a 50% win rate too.
But where the others have the luxury of a dropped score to use, Mikkelsen only has budget for six rounds and not seven – meaning every single point he scores will contribute to his final score.
For a driver as accomplished as Mikkelsen, that shouldn’t cause any major stress though. Nobody can master the balance between going fast but minimizing risks like Mikkelsen can, and that should stand in his favor.
Thankfully for the Norwegian, the Olympic Stadium stage in Greece that effectively ended his championship challenge last year has not returned for 2023.
Championship position: 2nd
Events left: 3
Despite his strong championship position, Rossel has to be considered a title dark horse and the reasons are two-fold.
He has no top level experience, but by mixing it in among a field of drivers who have and more than holding his own, it’s been an impressive campaign to date from the Frenchman and he has actually led the standings for most of the season.
But in Greece it could all come down to the performance of his car. While the Citroën C3 Rally2 proved practically untouchable on asphalt, it’s been less convincing on gravel.
Rossel has performed well on the Acropolis in the past, but never finished the rally, and up against a fleet of drivers armed with Škoda’s benchmark Fabia RS Rally2, any weaknesses with his package could be badly exposed.
Championship position: 3rd
Events left: 2
With less points and less events left to score points on, Pajari’s championship hand is not as strong as either Mikkelsen or Rossel’s.
And he’s not exactly got the best memories of the Acropolis, as it’s where he lost the chance to retain his Junior WRC title last year.
But the Finn has been deeply impressive this season – as proven by his win last time out on home soil – and if not for a mid-season blip in Portugal and Sardinia, could have had a good deal more points on the board.
It’ll be interesting to see how he goes in such a quality field on a rally that will require as much brain power as raw speed.
Championship position: 4th
Events left: 2
Solberg’s all-but given up on his hopes of becoming WRC2 champion this year. There’ve been too many events where things have gone awry for him to be considered a serious contender.
But Solberg must surely be considered a strong bet to win this weekend, given how impressive his 2023 campaign has been.
The 21-year-old’s proven himself to be the fastest driver in the Rally2 class this season, but it would be another major statement to come out on top against this kind of field.
Particularly when the one question mark that perhaps still lingers over him is whether he has the ability to marry his blinding speed with the required consistency to survive a rough event like the Acropolis.
Championship position: 5th
Events left: 3
Greensmith’s championship prospects aren’t as bleak as Solberg’s, but a season that had started so strongly with two wins from the first three rounds has petered out.
By all accounts the former M-Sport driver was unlucky in Finland – a slow roll after clipping a rock in the line ending his weekend. But he was frustrated to be off the pace he had wished to be at anyway.
The crash in Sardinia (where he wasn’t competing for points) was painful and certainly seemed to upset Greensmith’s momentum, so there’d be no better way to reverse the trend than by winning in Greece.
Do that and Greensmith is very much still in the race. But he’s going to need to return to the podium soon, and start beating Mikkelsen on any rallies they both contest, to stand a chance.
Championship position: 7th
Events left: 4
Just like last year, Kajetanowicz has been strategic with his championship gameplan.
He may only be seventh in the points table, but can still score on four more rallies – making him a real threat for the title.
Kajto’s season has been built on strong foundations so far with fourth in México, third in Sardinia and then a win in Kenya – so rough gravel is all he knows in 2023.
But his result this weekend could be critical. With such strong opposition, it’s now Kajetanowicz’s time to prove that he’s in this title race because of how good he is, and not just because he’s chosen to compete on rallies where the entries are thinner.