This weekend sees the 2020 FIA World Rally Championship reach its climax, and at the end of a truly unique year, the series could see a British champion for the first time since Richard Burns back in 2001.
Heading to Monza – an event which was only added to the schedule following several cancellations and postponements due to the COVID-19 pandemic – Toyota‘s Elfyn Evans has a 14 point advantage over teammate Sebastien Ogier with only the Italian event remaining in 2020.
A total of 30 points are up for grabs this weekend, with the rally win added to by five extra bonus points for the winner of the event ending Power Stage.
These extra points could be vital for Evans, especially if he doesn’t win the rally outright. Mathematically, a total of 17 points earned between both will be enough for him and co-driver Scott Martin to secure the title.
The event at Monza has ran as a standalone rally in recent seasons, and although hasn’t been a round of the WRC itself, has seen some of the teams and drivers – including both Hyundai and M-Sport Ford – compete there before.
A planned itinerary of 16 stages totaling just 239km of action is set to take place, with further decisions needing to be made following snow that has appeared on the rally route in the build up to the event.
This could again be another potential championship factor, and something that many of the crews appeared to have not considered when preparing for the Italian event.
Beginning on Thursday afternoon, the event is set to be one of the shortest and smallest in the sport’s history, with the organisers having worked as hard as possible to get it ready to host the final round of the season in just a matter of weeks.
It’ll be based at the Monza circuit, with stages set to incorporate both corners on the ‘new’ circuit as well as taking in part of the world-famous banking that was one used by series’ including Formula 1.
Saturday is the longest day in terms of miles, and features tests away from the track and near the Bergamo area and this quite possibly where the rally is won or lost for the drivers at the front of the field.
Fog and ice had already been set to be part of the afternoon’s tests, added to by the extra snow that has fallen in recent days, proving this event is set to be a lot more than just a few stages around a grand prix circuit.
The final day of action meanwhile has a total of three stages as the crews return to their circuit base, including the crucial Power Stage test to end the event.
Evans no doubt has the advantage going to Italy, and his main rival is his six-time champion teammate who has decided to delay his planned retirement due to the pandemic to the end of 2021.
Mathematically, four drivers – including Thierry Neuville and reigning champion Ott Tänak – could still win the title, but the latter are 24 and 28 points behind with 30 left to play for, so surely it has to be a two-way battle?
A total of 11 Rally1/WRC entrants are listed ahead of this weekend, with Tänak and Neuville being joined by Dani Sordo in the third Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC.
The Spainard is set to again go up against teammate Craig Breen for the third seat next season following Sebastien Loeb‘s exit from the team earlier this year, and therefore will be hoping to show Team Principal Andrea Adamo he is the man to compete for his team in 2021.
Sordo is also a round winner this year, after taking the win at Rally Italy for the second year running, so will be hoping to take his chance this weekend in a bid for a full time seat next year.
The team will also run a fourth car at Monza, for WRC debutant Ole Christian Veiby. The young Norweigan steps up to full WRC machinery following a WRC2 campaign for the team throughout 2020 where he currently sits in fourth place in the class.
Toyota are also set to run four cars in the season finale, with the usual trio of Evans, Ogier and Kalle Rovanpera.
M-Sport Ford will, as like at all of the rounds since the championship restarted back in Estonia, run three cars this weekend. The team could be dark horses for strong results, especially given their past entries on the event for a range of drivers in recent seasons.
Esapekka Lappi again leads the attack, with Finnish teammate Teemu Suninen hoping to again prove he is capable of a strong result.
They’re again joined by the ever-improving Gus Greensmith in the team’s third Fiesta WRC, with the Brit hoping to finish the season strongly and hopefully use the momentum for future events.
The Cumbrian team could see a driver reshuffle ahead of next season, so all three drivers will be wanting to prove they’re capable of competing at the front of the field ahead of 2021.
Four entrants are set to compete in WRC2, but for the championship, it’s a two-way battle between Pontus Tidemand and Mads Østberg.
Tidemand, driving the Toksport Skoda Fabia Rally2, has an 18 points lead over his Norweigan rival with round left, but needs to drop his lowest points score of the season after the end of Monza’s action.
This effectively means it’s a winner takes all fight for the championship, proving this is something to keep an eye on this weekend.
The pair are joined by Adrien Fourmaux – who won last weekend’s FIA European Rally Championship round in the Canary Islands – and Jan Kopecký.
WRC3 again sees a strong entry list, with a total of 13 drivers lining up this weekend. Series leader Marco Bulacia Wilkinson has only a two-point advantage over Jari Huttunen, with both drivers set to compete in the season finale.
The could be joined at the top of the leaderboard by drivers including Oliver Solberg – who clinched the ERC1 Junior title in Spain last weekend, third placed in the championship Kajetan Kajetanowicz and series debutant Josh McErlean.
The Irishman is another driver who heads for Italy straight after competing in the European championship seven days ago, and could potentially be set for a strong result having entered the Monza Rally last year in a similar Hyundai i20 R5 to the one he pilots this weekend.
The Junior FIA World Rally Championship also draws to a conclusion this weekend as part of the event. The series had originally planned to contest its final round on the Ypres Rally in Belgium, but moves to Monza following its cancellation last month.
It’s a three horse race when it comes to who can win the grand prize of a brand new Ford Fiesta MkII R5, as well as entry into WRC3 events next year, with Martins Sesks leading rivals Tom Kristensson and Sami Pajari in the title standings.