Third place on Wales Rally GB delivered Frenchmen Sebastien Ogier and Julien Ingrassia their fifth driver’s and co-driver’s title – putting them second in the all-time WRC rankings – while their M-Sport team also celebrated winning the constructors’ title for the first time in 10 years.
Another Fiesta, driven by Welshman Elfyn Evans, dominated the event – characterised by mud and fog – to seal an extremely popular home victory: the first win for a British driver on Rally GB since Richard Burns in 2000.
Burns regularly battled the legendary Colin McRae for victory on their home rally – and alongside McRae was co-driver Nicky Grist. But 20 years after winning Rally GB in 1997, Nicky was back again in a new role.
“What a memorable Wales Rally GB! This time, I wasn’t in the co-driver’s seat though but in front of the cameras as Red Bull TV’s guest reporter. Not only was it amazing to work with Mike Chen and the team, but it was also an event that we’re all going to remember for a long time.
First of all, well done Elfyn Evans! To take your first World Rally Championship victory and to do it at home: it doesn’t get better than that. Well, maybe it does if you’re Sebastien Ogier and you’ve just won your fifth straight title.
For us Welsh rally fans though, the weekend was all about Elfyn. Watching him out on the stages on Saturday, when I was broadcasting live from SS12 Gartheiniog, he was driving with so much confidence. When you’re in that position and with that much control, it’s actually quite easy to keep up that sort of pace: I remember that from my days alongside Colin McRae. But Elfyn had to stay focused and take one stage at a time, and that’s exactly what he did.
He had a little bit of an advantage with the DMACK tyres, which were clearly working well in those conditions, but even so you have to extract that advantage and to do that you’ve got to drive as hard as he’s driven. It should put him in a very good position for next year with M-Sport. Malcolm Wilson has already lost Ott Tanak, and if Ogier doesn’t stay on, Elfyn is the logical person to lead the team.
As for Sebastien Ogier, he really had to work for his championship this year, and that was the case in Wales too. In contrast to Evans, both Ogier and Tanak were struggling on Saturday and needed to attack to keep the likes of Andreas Mikkelsen and Jari-Matti Latvala behind them. That’s exactly what Ogier did, and you could see how much this championship meant to him at the finish.
It’s a massive credit to M-Sport and Malcolm Wilson too. You simply can't underestimate the challenge of what they have achieved as privateers. The quickest car this year was probably the Hyundai, yet M-Sport beat them just by paying attention to all the details you need to win a championship. And there’s no doubt that Ogier raised them to another level.
What happens next is interesting. Ogier is a champion and he wants to win, but he wants the right car and at this level you don’t do it just for the love: he needs the right financial conditions as well. Or he could take the view that he’s achieved everything he wants to achieve and walk away – but thinking about the sort of competitor he is, I don’t think that’s a likely option. He knows he’s still got it, so I think he’ll just want to carry on winning.
Where that happens probably depends entirely on Ford Motor Company. If they come in and agree to cover some costs next year, that leaves Malcolm free to a do a lot more in terms of developing the car and keeping the team running at the same level. If not, he’s probably going to struggle to keep hold of Ogier, which would leave him in the situation of having to replace two drivers next year, which is obviously not ideal.
Back to Rally GB last weekend and it’s clear that Thierry Neuville – the other main championship contender – tried his best. His rally didn’t start too well: To be lying last overall before he’d even dropped the clutch on SS1 because he had a 10-second penalty was a bit of a shocker and understandably he was upset. Then he was overdriving to try and gain some time back, but he finished the first day with a fastest time and I think that rejuvenated him. For most of Saturday he was moving forwards when his main rivals were going backwards.
It wasn’t the rally that Latvala and Toyota were expecting either. The car appears to have a lot of performance but somehow it seemed to be a little bit loose in Wales, not allowing the driver to place it correctly and stay on line. We can’t criticise too much, because this is Toyota’s first year and it takes time to build up the speed, but I think it’s going to be a busy winter for them.
The other thing that really struck me about Wales Rally GB was the crowds out on the stages. It was incredible to see so many people out and about: just like the old days! This was a popular home win – the first-ever for a Welsh driver in Wales – so Elfyn’s life is about to get a little bit crazy…”