Central European Rally Preview: WRC1

October 25, 2023Joe Moore

The 2023 World Rally Championship season continues this weekend with the twelfth round, the Central European Rally.

Drivers’ Championship Rundown

Kalle Rovanperä remained in the championship after a rough Rally Chile BioBio. Rovanperä managed to only lose two points to Elfyn Evans, who had an equally rough event. Heading into the penultimate round just 31 points separate the two Toyota drivers. The championship has a chance to be handed out this weekend as a result of this 31-point gap. All Rovanperä needs to do to win his second consecutive championship is score equal to or more points than Evans this weekend. 

Moving on from the championship contenders to the rest of the top five. Thierry Neuville will likely be looking to close the gap between himself and Evans this weekend. As just 31 points separate the two. Second is the highest Neuville can achieve this season. This weekend may be Neuville’s best chance to close the gap between him and Evans if he wants a chance at second in the championship. As Neuville has won on German tarmac before. Neuville will likely receive pressure from his teammate next season Ott Tänak. As Tänak sits just 9 points behind the Belgian and is likely hungry to get on the podium in the championship. Sebastien Ogier still sits fifth even though he hasn’t driven since Greece. Ogier will return this weekend, however, the only thing he can do is hold position in the championship from Esapekka Lappi who sits just one point behind. 

A Newish Experience 

This weekend will mark the first-ever Central European Rally. With the event taking place in the Czech Republic, Germany and Austria. Some drivers have past experience on German tarmac, however, nobody has experience on it in a Rally1 car. Outside of Pre-event testing of course. Which is something all teams did before the event. As this is the first time tarmac has been seen in the WRC since April for the Croatia Rally. A new rally means it’s hard to know what to expect from every driver. Meaning the ones who are willing to take the risks could be rewarded big time, or have their chances at a win ended abruptly. 

World Rally Team Rundowns

Hyundai Shell Mobis WRT

Hyundai sits in a decent spot currently. As the team and drivers have no pressure heading into the weekend. With the manufacturers’ championship being wrapped up in Chile, it takes that weight off the teams shoulders. This will likely allow the team to do some much-needed R&D throughout the event this weekend. It will also allow the drivers to learn the event with a bit less pressure on their shoulders. Thierry Neuville, Esapekka Lappi and Teemu Suninen will drive for the team this weekend. 

Toyota Gazoo Racing WRT 

With Toyota wrapping up the Manufacturers championship in Chile it now turns the attention to the Drivers’ Championship. Something Kalle Rovanperä and Elfyn Evans are battling for currently. With the Manufacturers Championship out of the way, it’ll give Evans and Rovanperä a bit more breathing room. It’ll also potentially allow them to take more risks if they want to. Joining Rovnanperä and Evans this weekend will be Takamoto Katsuta and 8-time World Rally Champion Sebastien Ogier.

M-Sport Ford WRT 

Pressure has been mentioned a lot in these rundowns. However, M-Sport really hasn’t had any pressure in a while. As Tänak hasn’t been competing for wins at the second half of the gravel events. Thanks to retirements or penalties. His first real chance since Rally Italia Sardegna to take a win was Rally Chile BioBio. Which he snapped up the opportunity and won showing he still has it. The Central European Rally will be Tänak’s penultimate event with M-Sport. As the Estonian is going back to Hyundai next season. This weekend will also be Pierre-Louis Loubet’s final event of the season. As Adrien Fourmuax is subbing in for Loubet at Rally Japan. Grégoire Munster will once again join Tänak and Loubet for this weekend’s event.