Sloggin' through Sweden, Mixing it up in Mexico
Usually, I post one WRC blog entry for the season, then just add comments for each subsequent rally.
But since I had already named this year's entry after the first rally in Monte Carlo, I thought I'd post new entries for each of the other rallies too (or every other rally... or every third rally...).
Rally Sweden was a bit of a disappointment in that the weather was unusually warm, and so what's supposed to be the only full-snow rally of the year turned into a slushy mud bog. Now, driving on mud isn't really unusual in rallying as long as you're expecting it. But these cars were set up to drive on snow and ice - not slush. Consequently, drivers were being pushed and pulled in all sorts of ways they weren't expecting, and this really turned into a contest of who could adapt to the conditions and make the fewest mistakes, rather than who had the best speed on snow. Of course, this is what separates the best drivers from the rest of the pack anyway, but it wasn't as much fun to watch as it would've been if they were on full snow (that's quite a sight to behold), and I'm sure it was even less fun for the drivers.
In the end, Ott Tänak managed to stay out of trouble the most, and came away with the victory and all five power stage points. At the opposite end of the spectrum, Sebastien Ogier got sucked into a slushy snowbank, and came away from the rally in eleventh place, with just a measly two power stage points. Thierry Neuville ended up in third place for the weekend, with four power stage points. So the Championship standings took Ogier from being in the lead to dropping to third, Neuville remaining in second, and Tanak jumping from third to first.
You can read the official recaps of rally Sweden here and here, and watch some highlight videos here.
This past weekend was Rally Mexico. Hot and dusty with lots of sharp rocks, and run at a high altitude (and therefore reduced power), it's about as an abrupt shift in terrain and weather as you can get from the previous event in Sweden.
If anything, the attrition rate was even higher in Mexico, with punctures (and road cleaning) playing a big role in the final standings. Tänak had to run first on the first day, which meant he was plowing the loose gravel for everyone else. Neuville picked up a puncture causing him to lose just enough time to keep him out of the running for the weekend. And in one of the odder happenings this weekend, even though Ogier also picked a puncture, the stage he was in at the time got red-flagged (canceled), so he effectively didn't get penalized for it. And why was it canceled? Well, Ogier's teammate had spun out and was partially blocking the road. Coincidence? Well, of course. Citroën isn't going to ask one of their drivers to intentionally ditch one of their cars. But it made for some interesting choice comments from Kris Meeke at the time.
But that was certainly lucky for Ogier, who managed to capitalize on that and his good road position to win the rally and take home five power stage points. Tänak managed to claw his way up to second (largely due to that aforementioned attrition, but also just some really good driving), and Neuville ended up in fourth. Elfyn Evans turned in a really impressive weekend for a well-earned third place, which has to make everyone at M-Sport pretty happy.
In the end, the standings changed again. Tänak is still in first, but now Ogier is just four points behind in second, and Neuville has dropped to third, but only six points further back.
It's shaping up to be another close and unpredictable season. Ogier is especially impressive, since this is his first year driving the new Citroën. Neuville just needs a little bit more luck, and Tänak just needs to keep doing what he's doing. I think if Tänak continues to mature into the driver he seems to be capable of becoming - the championship is his for the taking. He's just that fast. But he also needs to learn when not to be.
They haven't posted the recaps of Rally Mexico yet, but I'll update this when they do. Meanwhile, video highlights are available here.