The two favourite teams of the 2021 World Rally Championship are sharpening their weapons before the start of the season. There are only seven days left for the curtain to rise on the 2021 championship and, despite the shadow of the pandemic still looming above the event, teams want to have everything ready.
Coronavirus aside, and assuming the schedule goes ahead undisturbed, we can confidently expect a battle of equals between Hyundai Motorsport and Toyota GAZOO Racing. Aware of this parity of strength, both teams have travelled to the French Alps to fine-tune their heavy artillery. The mountainous terrain, with ice and snow covering the windswept asphalt, is perfect to emulate the harsh conditions that participants will find at the legendary and always challenging round of Montecarlo.
The Japanese team thus travelled to France with its five-star line-up made up of the Welshman Elfyn Evans and the Finn Kalle Rovanperä, led by title holder, Sebastien Ogier. Also, along with the fantastic three, came Japanese driver Takamoto Katsuta, who will race for the entire campaign for the first time with the squad from Puuppola.
After a brief test with the 2021 tires in December, all drivers were keen to give the last bits of feedback for the final tuning of their vehicles. Evans was the first to jump in. The Briton made the most of every second he had behind the wheel of the Yaris WRC, after having to miss the previous training sessions because of COVID. After Evans came the young Scandinavian, who hopes to continue his progress during his second year in the top category.
Seb Ogier, at the wheel
Finally, on Monday it was the turn of seven-time champion Sebastian Ogier and his compatriot Julien Ingrassia to start their testing. The pair completed their Monday sessions without any significant incidents. Flying over the icy roads, they tested the grip, performance and pace of the Japanese machine, including its new aerodynamic package.
Yesterday, Wednesday the thirteenth, however, they were not so lucky. Everything happened very quickly. In a fateful moment during the morning session, Sebastian Ogier lost control of their machine and crashed at speed. As it can be seen in the images, they collided with a building near the bank of the section they were travelling through.
One just has to look at the pictures of the wreckage to get a sense of the severity of the impact. Fortunately, the two occupants of the vehicle came out practically unharmed. Only Ingrassia complained of some back pain. As a precaution and following the existing accidents protocol, he was taken to a nearby hospital. Fortunately, the results of the medical examination ruled out any injury.
Shortly after his check-up, Ingrassia himself posted a message on social networks reassuring fans he feels fine and only suffers the expected aches and pains typical after such an impact. In the same statement, he cleared any doubts regarding his presence in Montecarlo, affirming categorically that he will compete.
Toyota´s testing programme shortened
The car, however, hasn’t been so lucky. Its damage is so significant that Toyota has been forced to cut its testing programme short. Among the tasks that will now not be completed, was that of double-checking the degree of effectiveness of the aerodynamic features recently added to it. Also, the Japanese Takamoto Katsuta will not have a chance to get behind the controls of the modified Yaris WRC.
Ogier and Ingrassia will thus embark in the quest to defend their crown with hardly any training under their belts. It certainly doesn’t seem like the best way to start the season and to repeat last year’s feat at Rally Monza, when they sealed their victory against teammate Elfyn Evans.
The bags of experience and excellent track record of Sebastian Ogier & Julen Ingrassia in their home rally, however, still position them as the favourite candidates for success. They will once again be leading the battle before their countrymen and, in the case of Sebastian Ogier, his very neighbours.
Images of Sebastian Ogier crash: Quentin Poite.