The penultimate round of the world rally championship sees the championship roll into one of the series most iconic events, Rally Catalunya. The rally represents a unique challenge as well being the only mixed surface event on the calendar, friday’s opening leg being run on gravel stages with the saturday and sunday run on the high speed tarmac stages. It means a quick change from full gravel spec and settings into full tarmac spec for the remaining two legs.
The drivers championship can also be decided this weekend as well, Ott Tanak needs to finish just 3 points clear of Sebastien Ogier to be crowned champion, which would make it the first time in 15 years that a french driver called sebastien hasn’t won a championship.
The opening leg on friday saw the outside championship challenger, Thierry Neuville, who must win Catalunya and rely on a bit of bad luck for both Tanak & Ogier to remain in contention and continue the fight to the final round in Australia, set a strong pace, but he was unable to match the pace set by Ogier who was clearly on a mission. Ogiers lead would not last for long, a hydraulic pipe worked its way loose on the road section in the morning, leaving the Frenchman with no power steering. The consequent time lost allowed Neuville to jump into the lead briefly, but Hyundai stablemate Dani Sordo, on home turf set a string of fastest times to jump into the lead.
Sordo held the lead in the afternoon but a last minute charge by Sebastien Loeb saw him snatch the lead as Friday came to a close. Neuville was able to jump Sordo and climbed into second place, Sordo unable to respond to the final stage pace of his teammates. Championship leader Tanak meanwhile ran a conservative pace throughout friday, keeping close to the top four but not giving away too much time and more importantly, not taking any unnecessary risks.
Ogiers steering problems led to a pair of blistered hands as he fought through Fridays stage, and Ogier was down in 17th as a result. Citroens weekend went from bad to worse as teammate Esapekka Lappi retired with engine problems, making the two citroens the only cars to suffer mechanical issues on Friday.
As the first leg drew to a close, Sebastien Loeb led from Thierry Neuville, in second with Dani Sordo in third, Kris Meeke in fourth & Ott Tanak in fifth.
Saturday, and the first day of what Rally Catalunya is really about. High speed, asphalt roads, the cars primed and ready in their full ground skimming, tarmac spec.
Loeb opened as the leader but it was teammate Thierry Neuville who set about changing that. Neuville went quickest on the opening three stages and was able to dethrone Loeb at the head of the pack, who had been unable to replicate his pace from gravel onto the fast tarmac stages. At this stage, Loeb and Sordo were now looking to consolidate their positions in second & third to prevent Tanak from taking the title before the final round.
Tanak meanwhile, woke up on Saturday afternoon. Gone was the conservative pace he ran on friday, replaced with pace we’ve seen all year. Tanak set four fastest stage times in the afternoon which saw him close up dramatically on the Hyundais ahead of him and in the process, overhauling Sebastien Loeb who had slipped back as he was unable to match the pace of the cars around him.
Behind the leading pack, there was drama aplenty. Kris Meeke who had shown brilliant pace in the Toyota, shadowing the Hyundais through friday was able to briefly pip Sordo to move into third place. However, Meeke drifted wide in a corner and collided with a barrier, ripping the most of the rear end of his Toyota Yaris off and losing a wheel in the process. Esapekka Lappi did not restart under WRC2 rules on Saturday, the engine issues with his Citoren were terminal and it was game over. Toyota shoe-in Takamoto Katsuta lost near enough 20 minutes after crawling through the morning stages with gearbox problems.
Heading into the final day, Thierry Neuville holds the lead with teammate Dani Sordo in second, championship leader Ott Tanak lies in third with Sebastien Loeb’s Hyundai in fourth and Jari-Matti Latvala rounds out the top five in his Toyota Yaris.
The morning stages saw a strong pace being set by the leading quartet, but the drivers were saving themselves for the final power stage, the bonus points of which could decide the championship, which resulted in everyone saving their tyres for the final push. It was Dani Sordo that put in the work in the morning to fend off Tanak, but that push meant Sordo’s tyres were not in the best of shape for the power stage.
The final stage would once again see an epic climax, just like in Wales Rally GB, only this time the championship could be won or lost. After a maximum attack drive from the top drivers, it was Ott Tanak who reigned supreme, taking the power stage win and 5 bonus points, which means for the first time in 15 years, a french driver called Sebastien hasn’t won the championship. Elfyn Evans after struggling for pace through the rally was able to take second place in the power stage, Thierry Neuville took third in the power stage and with it victory. Dani Sordo took fourth place in the power stage followed by Sebastien Ogier who had endured a horrid Rally Catalunya.
In the overall results, it was Thierry Neuville who clinched a hard fought victory with the newly crowned 2019 WRC champion Tanak in second place, Dani Sordo finished third with teammate Sebastien Loeb in fourth and Jari-Matti Latvala rounding out the top five.
Whilst the drivers championship has been decided, the manufacturers championship will go down to the wire in Australia, with Hyundai leading Toyota by 18 points, can Toyota clinch both championships? Or will Hyundai deny Toyota in Australia for manufacturer honours? The weekend of November 14th to the 17th will see to that, a big congratulations to Ott Tanak, no doubt there will be one hell of a party at Toyota tonight. Until next time.
- Thierry Neuville
- Ott Tanak
- Dani Sordo
- Sebastien Loeb
- Jari-Matti Latvala
- Ott Tanak – 263 points
- Thierry Neuville – 227 points
- Sebastien Ogier – 217 points
- Andreas Mikkelsen – 102 points
- Elfyn Evans – 102 points
- Hyundai Shell Mobis World Rally Team – 380 points
- Toyota Gazoo Racing WRT – 362 points
- Citroen Total WRT – 284 points
- M-Sport Ford World Rally Team – 218 points