Seventh Title for Ogier, Heartbreak for Evans

Sebastian Ogier started Rally Monza with determination which saw the six-time champion taking his Toyota Yaris to an early lead over Neuville. Both Ogier and Neuville were trying to overhaul championship leader Elfyn Evans to claim the 2020 WRC drivers title but the nervous Welshman gave himself a couple of scares throughout the day with a spin on the morning shakedown, before he survived a narrow escape turning into the infield section on his first timed run, putting him 2.7 seconds off the pace in fourth.
Evans only needed fourth place to take the title irrespective of who won, while Ogier, Neuville and third-fastest driver Ott Tanak required either good luck or a miracle in order to keep their title hopes alive. The title was the Welshmans to lose.
The only incident of the first day befell the third Toyota of Takamoto Katsuta, who clouted the retaining wall to the Grand Prix circuit and five more stages were completed around the Monza circuit on Friday, utilizing the access roads and historic banking to give a day total of 59.61 competitive kilometres.
As snow continued to fall on the closed road stages on Saturday, Evans slid wide near the end of the 11 km Gerosa stage and slowly dropped off the road into the woods and out of the rally. His Toyota teammate and title aspirant Sebastien Ogier was the next car through, and it was only a sporting warning from Evans and co-driver Scott Martin that helped slow him enough to make the bend. It was incredible, said Ogier at the end of the stage, the corner he went off was like being on ice.
Ogier now only needed to score 15 points in order to win his seventh WRC title in eight years and he held the overall lead by 22.3 seconds from Dani Sordo with two stages remaining on Saturday and a final three stages within the Autodromo Nazionale di Monza on Sunday morning.
For the last half day of the rally, it was a relatively low-key run around the Villa Reale for the surviving crews, following the Saturday dramas on the closed road stages in the mountains. Ogier won the first stage of the day with Toyota teammate Kalle Rovanpera second, which helped to open up the gap to the pursuing Hyundais of Dani Sordo and Ott Tanak.
Early leader Sordo slipped to third behind Tanak, then reasserted himself to win the second stage of the morning with Tanak second and Esapekka Lappi in the M-Sport Fiesta a strong third. That made little difference to the overall result, and Ogier only really had to complete the final Power Stage to claim his seventh drivers world title.
The Power Stage saw Takamoto Katsuta finish fastest in the fourth works Toyota as rain progressively made conditions more treacherous as the field passed through. Those maximum bonus points claimed by Katsuta would have been welcomed by Evans, who had returned after a Saturday crash that ended his title hopes.
In the event, the Welshman pressed on a little too hard and had a messy run with the car stalling twice, ending up third fastest, behind outgoing champion Ott Tanaks Hyundai but ahead of M-Sports Esapekka Lappi and the Hyundai of Dani Sordo, who cleaned up the last remaining bonus points.
It was to prove an emotional day for Lappi, who announced that this would be his last WRC appearance for the foreseeable future as he crossed the finish line at the end of the day.
Ogiers run through the stage was far from comfortable, driving through the churned-up gravel on asphalt settings and in teeming rain. The Frenchmans predicament was made worse when the windscreen wipers failed briefly, and he was forced to kick-start them by using the screen wash before the road ahead disappeared entirely from view, but he held on to take the overall win with a margin of 13.9s from Tanak, enough to secure his seventh crown in eight years with the third different manufacturer.
"Of course, I feel for Elfyn also today he has made a very strong season, very consistent, and we had really good fun to fight each other"

14th December, 2020