WHO’S GOING TO WIN THIS YEAR’S FIA WORLD RALLY CHAMPIONSHIP? COME ON, OFF THE FENCE. TELL US. OTT TÄNAK? THOUGHT SO.The Estonian’s a fair bet: he’s 33 points up with four rounds to go. Things tend not to change much in the last four rallies. Or do they?
Actually, let’s rewind 12 months. And think again.
Post-Germany 2018, Thierry Neuville was the boss man with a 23-point lead over Sébastien Ogier and 36 over Tänak.
It was hard to see past the Hyundai star who was looking an awful lot more comfortable than at the same point in 2017, when he and Ogier were neck and neck on 160 points apiece four rounds out.
Last year, with the final four done and dusted, Neuville’s hopes and dreams of a maiden world title were shattered. He was a Belgian bridesmaid for the third year in succession and fourth time in his career.
Last season, four different drivers won in Turkey, Great Britain, Spain and Australia. Of the 100 points available, Ogier grabbed 70 while Neuville and Tänak could only muster 29 and 45 respectively.
The four-round champion at the end of 2018? Step forward Jari-Matti Latvala on 73 points with a win and a pair of second places.
Thierry Neuville trails Tänak by 33 points in the title fight
So, the message is: expect the unexpected from the final four rounds.
In Turkey last year, Tänak was talking rally-by-rally. He had won in Finland, but wasn’t even close to cautiously optimistic. Five stages into the WRC’s maiden Marmaris outing, he was sitting in ninth and pretty much out of the equation. Then he won.
He went to Wales and romped through the first half of Rally GB. A quick tally after the second run through Myherin, with the Toyota driver’s lead standing at 41sec on Saturday afternoon, and he’d moved into a virtual championship lead. He was seven points clear of Neuville and 17 up on Ogier.
This from the man who’d been 72 points behind at the midpoint of the season.
Then Sweet Lamb broke Ott’s heart, Sébastien Loeb won in Spain and Ogier delivered the drive of a champion to take title number six Down Under.
So far this year, table-topping Tänak has won five from 10 rallies and finished on the podium on two more. But he, more than anybody, knows his 33-point lead over Neuville and 40 over Ogier means nothing until he’s safely home on a New South Wales Sunday in November.
Until then, anything can happen. And it probably will. Starting with Turkey next week.