If Ott Tänak thought he was going to have a relaxing start to his title defence, he was very much mistaken.
First, he had the biggest accident of his life on the Monte Carlo Rally, wrecking his new Hyundai i20 Coupé. Then the Covid-19 pandemic came along, leaving him fifth in the standings with no chance to do anything about it. Finally, he heard the news last week that the WRC season would restart from 4-6 September in his home country of Estonia. No pressure, then, nor the opportunity to quietly keep his head down and get on with it.
From earlier facing just five rounds this season, the WRC is now looking at a minimum of eight rallies. Turkey will take its scheduled slot after Estonia’s new entry, followed by Germany as planned and then the rescheduled Rally d’Italia, which will now run from 29 October to 1 November (the original date for the cancelled Wales Rally GB). Finally, Rally Japan is expected to close the season as per the original calendar, close to Toyota’s headquarters near Nagoya.
But we’re not done yet, because the famous Ypres Rally in Belgium is also in contention for a WRC slot, from 2-4 October. There’s even the chance of a 10th round in Croatia.
Of all of them, Ypres could be the most exciting draw – and it’s actually close enough to British shores to make it a viable replacement for Rally GB fans. With rapid asphalt stages through the night and a bustling service park in the town’s beautiful main square (which is conveniently lined with bars), there’s plenty to enjoy. Precision is everything: just one small mistake will send drivers skating into the deep ditches lining the country roads that make up the majority of the quick-fire stages.
Belgium would give another important title contender a home WRC round for the first time: Thierry Neuville. Does that increase the pressure on the Hyundai man or give him an extra chance to shine? It’s hard to tell. But with the Toyota Yaris pairing of Sébastien Ogier and Elfyn Evans leading the standings, there’s no doubt that Hyundai is on the back foot. For now.
Don’t forget that final round, though. If it comes to a season finale showdown (reasonably likely, given the shortened season), there’s nothing more the Hyundai drivers would love than to give Toyota a drubbing in their own back garden. The recently announced season shake-up certainly makes things more interesting.