Two rounds to go, and just two drivers remain in the FIA World Rally Championship title fight as the destiny of the 2022 crown reaches a potentially decisive point on the asphalt of Rally Spain this weekend.
Sebastien Ogier can seal his eighth WRC drivers’ title in nine seasons at Rally Spain (Oct. 15-17). The only man who can deny him and take the battle into a final-round decider on Italy’s Monza Rally next month is his Toyota Gazoo Racing teammate, Elfyn Evans (pictured above).
The contrast could not be greater. Frenchman Ogier has dominated the WRC over the last decade, delivering 53 rally wins in his career, and is now in his final season before stepping back from full-time competition.
Evans secured his fifth WRC event win on the super-fast gravel roads of Rally Finland two weeks ago and is desperate for a maiden world title after losing out to Ogier last season. Back then, the Welshman started the final round at Italy’s legendary Monza circuit with a points lead over Ogier, but ended in despair after crashing out.
This time around, Ogier carries a 24-point advantage in his Yaris World Rally Car onto the fast, flowing asphalt in the hills behind Catalunya’s Daurada coast, south of Barcelona. With a maximum of 30 points available this weekend (25 for the overall win, and five for fastest time on Sunday’s closing Power Stage), the crown will stay in France if he outscores Evans by seven points.
It’s the third straight season that Toyota is guaranteed the drivers’ championship and Ogier, a three-time Rally Spain winner, will come out fighting.
“Spain will be the first realistic chance for me to claim the title and I know what I need to do to make it happen,” he says. “When I have the chance to win, I try to fight for it, and this will be the simplest way to achieve our goal.”
Evans, who is yet to win a WRC event on asphalt, isn’t giving up on his chase of his legendary teammate and is fired up by his Finland success.
“The win on Rally Finland was a great result for us,” he says. “The drivers’ title is still a long shot, but once more we’ll be giving our best in Spain and trying to get the best possible result there.”
On Thursday’s pre-rally shakedown, Ogier set fastest time in his Yaris WRC, stopping the clock at 2m33.6s on the 2.68-mile test. But with Evans just 0.2s behind, get ready for an intense intra-team duel in Catalunya.
Ogier, Evans and their teammate, 21-year-old Finn Kalle Rovanpera, can also regain the WRC manufacturers’ title for Toyota on the event. It holds a 61-point lead over Hyundai Motorsport, and if that advantage remains above 52 at Sunday’s finish, the Japanese manufacturer can begin the celebrations.
Belgium’s Thierry Neuville, the winner in Spain when the rally was last held in 2019, Estonian Ott Tanak and home hero Dani Sordo are the drivers charged by Hyundai with keeping the manufacturers’ battle alive in their trio of i20 Coupe WRCs. Neuville set third-fastest time at Shakedown, just 0.4s off Ogier’s benchmark, with Sordo (+0.6s) and Tanak (+0.8s) completing an ultra-close top five that hints at an ultra-close lead fight through the weekend.