We are officially halfway through the season and what an epic season it’s been. The big three from the last two seasons are on top as expected, but the order they reside in is by no means set.
Here’s a quick stat for you, of the 21 podium finishes so far this season 16 have gone to the trio of Ogier, Tanak, and Neuville. Every rally so far has had at least two of them on the podium and twice they’ve filled the podium completely. Talk about the cream rising to the top. Portugal was one of those two events where the big three swept the top three spots, but it nearly didn’t turn out this way. Meeke started the final day in second place, but fell to third on the penultimate stage, then retired on the final stage when he hit a massive stump on the apex that inexplicably wasn’t in his notes. Meeke gonna Meeke. Meanwhile Tanak, in a masterful bit of gamesmanship, got on the brakes in the final few hundred yards of the Power Stage to ensure Ogier won the stage and the bonus points, putting him in the championship lead by two points and first on the road in Italy.
The drama doesn’t end there though, after the rally Ogier accused Hyundai team boss Adamo of attempting to take the road tactics game too far. Early in the rally Sordo and Loeb fell to fuel issues, putting them out of the running and starting the subsequent days first on the road. Adamo had them both check out of service late to put them behind Ogier on the road, giving him a worse road order position. This Ogier was fine with. However, according to Ogier, Adamo then ordered Sordo to stop in the stage and restart in front of Meeke, putting up a wall of dust to slow Meeke down so Neuville could get ahead of him in the standings (ultimately unnecessary, but shady all the same). Sordo refused the instruction, so the controversial tactics never took place. Adamo dismissed the accusations (but didn’t outright deny them). Either way it certainly created some interesting drama.
As for the fantasy league, TurboThomi and RubyLocks opted to gamble on Suninen and it paid off, with Teemu finishing in fourth and the TurboLocks winning the round with 76 points. Championship leader FreddsterExprs had a dismal result, finishing 12th, and while he still leads the overall the gap is now just 8 points to Thomi in second.
On to Italy. Italy is known for being technical, rough, and incredibly dusty. Our top three have all won here before, with Ogier taking three wins in the VW days, Neuville winning twice (including a win last year), and Tanak taking the first win of his career here in 2017. Latvala has also bagged a win here, back in his Ford days. Looking at the younger drivers, Lappi has done remarkably well here, with a worst finish of fourth in his two visits. Those five are the only drivers among this year’s field to manage a podium finish in Italy, evidence that perhaps this rally likes to play favorites.
M-SPORT FORD WRT - FORD FIESTA RS WRC
Elfyn Evans (GBR) - Avg last 10 rounds: 8.5 - Avg Italy: 5.5
Teemu Suninen (FIN) - Avg last 10 rounds: 3.8 - Avg Italy: 1.0
HYUNDAI SHELL MOBIS WRT - HYUNDAI I20 COUPE WRC
Dani Sordo (ESP) - Avg last 10 rounds: 8.9 - Avg Italy: 5.3
Thierry Neuville (BEL) - Avg last 10 rounds: 13.5 - Avg Italy: 14.0
Andreas Mikkelsen (NOR) - Avg last 10 rounds: 6.3 - Avg Italy: 2.7
TOYOTA GAZOO RACING WRT - TOYOTA YARIS WRC
Jari-Matti Latvala (FIN) - Avg last 10 rounds: 7.8 - Avg Italy: 11.7
Ott Tänak (EST) - Avg last 10 rounds: 12.8 - Avg Italy: 10.4
Kris Meeke (GBR) - Avg last 10 rounds: 4.9 - Avg Italy: 0.0
CITROËN TOTAL ABU DHABI WRT - CITROËN C3 WRC
Sebastien Ogier (FRA) - Avg last 10 rounds: 16.9 - Avg Italy: 16.3
Esapekka Lappi (FIN) - Avg last 10 rounds: 6.5 - Avg Italy: 13.5
SINGLE CAR TEAMS AND INDEPENDENTS
Juho Hanninen (FIN) - TOYOTA - Avg last 10 rounds: 6.6 - Avg Italy: 4.0
*Martin Prokop (CZE) - FORD - Avg last 10 rounds: 1.6 - Avg Italy: 3.1