As the World Rally Championship goes into the final two rounds (fingers crossed). There are potentially four drivers still in contention for the title. But what can past results and standings tell us about how things may pan out in this COVID shortened season.
|Driver||Championship points||Points difference|
Final rounds experience
When it comes to experience of the final two rounds there is a clear favourite. Not only will Neuville be competing on his home round as part of the WRC for the first time, but is the only title contender to have competed on the event and the only to have competed on the final round at Monza.
|Previous appearances||Ypres and Ypres Rally Masters||Monza rally show|
(1 course car)
What is unknown is how much these final two rounds will be similar to previous years. Ypres is predicted to involve a lot of mud on the road with Alain Penasse stating to Dirtfish “It will be November and the farmers will be moving around in the fields, the roads are never clean at this time of the year.” Whether this will give an advantage to championship leader Evans or provide a much different challenge to usual for Neuville may not be seen till the event starts.
Meanwhile the Monza rally show in previous years has primarily been just that, a show. How running as a WRC round will affect the layout of the event on the opening and final day will be seen. Although onboard footage from previous events show organizers have gotten a lot out of the circuit’s available mileage without the use of splits and merges. And Saturday’s closed road stages are likely to be a completely new challenge for all.
There are lots of factors that could be considered when looking into the form of the drivers going into the final two rounds. I’ve decided to look at the drivers from Rally Estonia onwards and since rallying returned from the COVID break.
|Past 3 events (post-covid)||Estonia||Turkey||Sardinia||Points (for 3 rounds)|
Over the 3 events Evans has accumulated the most amount of points through consistency and arguably fortune in Turkey. Perhaps surprisingly both Hyundai drivers have gained the same amount of points since the return despite quite a different set of results. Though since winning in Estonia Tanak has failed to build any championship momentum.
While lastly Ogier with the cruel retirement in Turkey and bottom of podium results in the other two rounds has gained the least points. Ogier’s low point tally in the last 3 rounds despite podiums helps highlight the points difference between winning events and any position lower, as well as how crucial power stage points are, and how they may end up playing a crucial part in the championship conclusion.
|Drivers||Estonia stage wins||Turkey stage wins||Sardinia stage wins||Stage wins past 3 rounds|
However another measure of form over the past 3 rounds can give a contrasting image. Over the past 3 events Evans’ more conservative approach can be seen clearly with just a single stage win on each of the 3 events. While Ogier despite gaining fewest points has the greatest number of stage wins.
Context is needed though when viewing statistics and this is evident in Tanak only winning 3 stages in an event (Estonia) he led from stage 3 through to the final stage (17).
One major change from the three previous rounds compared to our final two is the surface change from Gravel to Tarmac. So perhaps a comparison of performances on the grippier surface in the past two years could indicate how the final rounds will play out.
With Ypres especially likely to include surface changes with mud brought on to the road. And by being the only tarmac round run this year with the drivers in there current cars Monte-Carlo has been included. Catalunya results are from the 2nd leg of the event so to not include day one’s gravel.
|Tarmac (including Monte)||Monte-Carlo 2020||Catalunya (2nd leg) 2019||Deutschland 2019||Tour de Corse 2019||Monte-Carlo 2019||Average finish|
Evans is yet to win an event on tarmac although his Tour de Corse 2019 event is often referenced as his potential tarmac pace. A last stage puncture robbed him off that victory. Stage 3 of a storm struck 2015 Corsica rally also highlighted his ability to excel in tricky tarmac conditions. Whether these flashes of excellency best represent what we will see of Evans in the final two rounds we’ll see.
Ogier’s average is tainted by a puncture during the Rally Deutschland 2019. His otherwise impressive podium on all other tarmac events in the past season and a half is impressive. Whether punctures will be a factor in the title decider is unknown, but neither event is likely to be as punishing on tyres as the Baumholder military ranges.
Neuville boasts the best average results on tarmac in recent times and his victory over Ogier in Monte-Carlo will be a big boost. He’s usually got the best out of the Hyundai on tarmac and that could be problematic for his teammate. On the Italian event Rally di Alba, Neuville came out victorious ahead of Tanak. Though Tanak is no slouch on the sealed surface and is equal with Ogier on their average tarmac finish result from the past two seasons.
Point swings on final rounds
Finally a comparison of two of our title rivals to get an idea of how big a point swing can be possible in a final two rounds. Is it even possible for Neuville and Tanak to realistically believe they could close a 20+ point margin? Can Ogier even expect to take his current point margin out of his teammate?
Here is a comparison of Neuville and Ogier’s points with two rounds to go and after the final round.
|Year||Points difference with 2 rounds to go||Leader with 2 rounds to go||Final points difference||Leader after final round||Points change|
Notably, a points change of over 20 is possible and between these two drivers reasonably likely. 2018 notably featured a DNF for Neuville and 2019 a power steering problem for Seb contributing to the points change in both scenarios. This highlights the importance of any title rival having the fortune of reliability over our final rounds.
With 60 points up for grabs in the final two rounds a DNF for any of our title contenders could spell disaster. And with both Hyundai and Toyota fielding two title contenders alongside a tight constructors championship fight, a poor show in Ypres could mean team tactics coming into play preventing any final assault in Italy.
Across all the results and figures discussed many predictions could be made as to how the 2020 title fight will play out.
If experience of the final two rounds was to be the major factor, Thierry Neuville would look likely to be Evans’ biggest threat.
If points gained from the past three events was to be the major factor, Evans will be champion comfortably come the end of the final round.
If the ability to win stages based on recent form was the major factor, Ogier will be Evans’ biggest threat and a serious worry at that.
If form on recent WRC tarmac events was to be the major factor, Evans’ position looks precarious with a Neuville charge to be expected.
And finally, if recent point swings in the final two rounds from recent years shows the potential for all four to be champion should the luck of reliability be on their side.