The World Rally Championship (WRC) has arrived at its decisive phase with the celebration of the penultimate race of the Calendar this coming weekend (3-6 October). The 75th edition of the Rally of Great Britain-Wales 2019 promises to be more exciting than ever with the fight for the title still very rife.
Thanks to his latest victory in Turkey, Citroën’s Sébastien Ogier, has climbed up to just 17 points behind the leader of the standings: Toyota’s Ott Tänak. Meanwhile, the third classified and still very much a contestant for the crown, Hyundai’s Thierry Neuville, will face his first ‘eliminatory rally’ in Wales. He is currently 30 points from the top and a mistake with just three races left in the championship would most likely rule him out of the fight for the title.
Another driver to look out for will be Elfyn Evans. The Welshman from M-Sport returns to action after having missed the last three rallies (Germany, Finland and and Turkey) due to an injury he suffered in July at Rally Estonia. Reappearing at this his home race will bring back the memories of his 2017 victory, which now seems an impossible feat to emulate.
Ogier and Citroën: To step up the pace
As the great predator that he is, the French six-time-world-champion has smelled the blood … of Toyota. This weekend he will pursue his second consecutive and sixth overall win in the British Iles and the continuation of his comeback this season. Naturally, there is no better place to assert his intentions than in Britain.
Over his 15 appearances at the Welsh Rally, Ogier has climbed to the top of the podium in five occasions (2013-2016 and 2018) which makes him the most successful driver at the British appointment, which is also one of his favourites.
This year he also arrives in a great state of form which makes him one of the most likely candidates to take the victory this weekend. He will be escorted by Esapekka Lappi with whom he sealed a 1-2 for the French team in Turkey. Attention to the Finn, who also performs very well in Wales where he was third in 2018.
Hyundai: A decisive race for Neuville
The Asian team faces the Rally of Great Britain-Wales 2019 with every intention to keep all of their driver title options open. In order to do this, their head of ranks, Neuville, must conjure up all of the skill and experience that he unquestionably has. He cannot make any mistake because a bad result would almost definitely mean he will no longer be part of the final battle for the coveted crown.
Looking at previous performances from Neville at the GB Rally, however, leaves not much room for optimism. The driver from Saint Vith has never had a victory in the UK where he was fifth in 2018. A second position, like the one he got in 2017, would be a success. Since his last win of the season in Argentina, he has only climbed to the podium on six occasions.
The rest of Hyundai’s line-up consists of Norwegian driver Andreas Mikkelsen, who was third in Turkey and of Craig Breen. The Irishman, who joins the team for the British appointment, his second race of the year after Finland, tends to perform very well here in Wales, where he nearly got a podium at the 2018 edition.
As for the constructor’s title, all three riders will do their best to retain or widen the gap they currently hold for Hyundai, which is 19 points ahead of Toyota in the standings.
Toyota: To defend the championships lead
The Japanese team and their star driver, Ott Tänak, arrive at the Great Britain-Wales Rally 2019 determined to make up for their disastrous performance in Turkey, where the Estonian got his worse result of the year: a sixteenth position! and saw Ogier closing the gap behind to just 17 points.
As for his performance in Wales over the years, this hasn’t been particularly good. He has taken part in the GB Rally in six occasions but he has never had a win there, his best result being a second place in 2016. It is in this, a priori unfavourable scenario, that he will try and defend his leadership in the driver’s table.
Next to him will be Jari-Matti Latvala and Kris Meeke, both of whom are also ready to put the Ottoman appointment behind in which they finished sixth and seventh, respectively. The Scandinavian driver, who was second in Wales in 2018, could become one of Toyota’s biggest assets, just as the Irishman, who was second in Wales in 2015 could too.
With such set of drivers, they could well be taking the head of the team standings from Hyundai this weekend.