Cham­pi­onship of two halves

Rotorua Weekender - - Arts Corner - By Colin Smith

It’s worth con­sid­er­ing the 2018 FIA World Rally Cham­pi­onship in halves — the seven ral­lies in the first part of the sea­son and the six more since a north­ern hemi­sphere sum­mer break.

When the cham­pi­onship re­sumed at Rally Fin­land in late­july, Hyundai Mo­tor­sport’s first term per­for­mance saw it lead­ing the Man­u­fac­tur­ers’ ti­tle with 212 points ahead of M-sport Ford on 184 and Toy­ota Ga­zoo Rac­ing on 161. Hyundai’s Thierry Neuville (Bel­gium) also headed the driver’s ti­tle standings with 149 points from de­fend­ing champ Se­bastien Ogier (France) on 122 and Ott Tanak (Es­to­nia) a dis­tant third on 77.

Four months later Rally Aus­tralia de­cided the World Rally Cham­pi­onship last week­end and as an­other big turnout of New Zealand fans cel­e­brated Hay­den Pad­don’s im­pres­sive podium drive, Hyundai Mo­tor­sport left Coffs Har­bour empty-handed. How did that hap­pen? Firstly, Tanak went on a three­r­ally win streak in Fin­land, Ger­many and Tur­key to surge into con­tention. Ra­di­a­tor dam­age in Great Bri­tain cost him a very likely fourth win on the trot and ul­ti­mately a non-fin­ish in Aus­tralia ended the Es­to­nian’s slim hopes. But Tanak was the dominant driver through the sec­ond half of the sea­son in terms of stage wins and scor­ing 104 points.

Ogier com­pleted the year scor­ing on all six rounds and tak­ing one rally vic­tory. His sec­ond term tally was 97 points and that built on a sim­i­larly solid first half to se­cure his sixth con­sec­u­tive ti­tle.

What then of Neuville? The

Bel­gian lost mo­men­tum with only 52 points ac­cu­mu­lated from the last six ral­lies. Cru­cially Neuville was outscored by Toy­ota’s Jari­matti Lat­vala and Es­apekka Lappi, who pro­vided sup­port to Tanak’s charge and pow­ered Toy­ota ahead in the man­u­fac­tur­ers ti­tle as the Hyundai ef­fort fal­tered.

Hyundai had reached mid­sea­son with three wins from seven starts. It didn’t win again.

It’s tempt­ing to look at Hyundai’s mid-sea­son lead and sug­gest it let the Man­u­fac­tur­ers’ ti­tle slip from its grasp. The re­al­ity is no one had an an­swer for the Tanak-toy­ota surge which was sup­ported by Lat­vala claim­ing three podi­ums before he took vic­tory in Aus­tralia last week­end. And on the two oc­ca­sions when Toy­ota didn’t win the big points went to Ford and Citroen.

Anal­y­sis of the sec­ond half of the sea­son also pro­vides a clear mea­sure of Hay­den Pad­don’s value to Hyundai.

When it was an­nounced that Pad­don and Spa­niard Dani Sordo would make space in the 2018

Hyundai line-up for Nor­way’s An­dreas Mikkelsen — by shar­ing the team’s third car — the cal­en­dar saw Pad­don’s cam­paign back­loaded into the sec­ond half of the year with four of the last six ral­lies. Sordo mean­while con­tested four of the first six. After a Fe­bru­ary fifth place in Swe­den, Pad­don crashed heav­ily in Por­tu­gal and then nursed a back in­jury through the Ital­ian round in Sar­dinia to fin­ish fourth and reach the sum­mer break with only 22 points.

Since then two podi­ums, a fourth and a sev­enth in four starts has been worth 51 Driver’s Cham­pi­onship points.

Power Stage bonus points don’t count to­ward the Man­u­fac­tur­ers’ ti­tle so in terms of a con­tri­bu­tion to the Man­u­fac­tur­ers’ ti­tle Pad­don led the way for Hyundai with 45 points. Neuville con­trib­uted 44, Mikkelsen 30 and Sordo pro­vided 10. From his full 14-round cam­paign Mikkelsen only man­aged 84 points. Pad­don’s seven ral­lies earned 73 points and Sordo had a yield of 71 points.

Pad­don de­liv­ered his most Mads Ost­berg led on the open­ing day and fin­ished third in his Citroen C3.

con­vinc­ing per­for­mance of the year in Aus­tralia. Un­der pres­sure to score Man­u­fac­tur­ers’ points, the Kiwi was a safe pair of hands de­liv­er­ing a con­sis­tently fast pace and a sec­ond-place fin­ish.

Next year the cham­pi­onship ex­pands to 14 rounds with the ad­di­tion of a new event in Chile. There would be a strong case for giv­ing Neuville a full sea­son with Mikkelsen and Pad­don get­ting 10 or 11 events each and keep­ing Sordo on a 6-8 rally pro­gramme.

But Pad­don’s Hyundai con­tract ex­pired after Rally Aus­tralia so stay­ing with the Korean brand into 2019 re­quires a new agree­ment. The length of that con­tract and the scope of the pro­gramme be­ing of­fered is likely the key part of dis­cus­sions. In Aus­tralia Pad­don in­di­cated that would likely take a couple of weeks to set­tle.

PHO­TOG­RA­PHY INMOTION/GREG Hen­de­son

PHO­TOG­RA­PHY INMOTION/GREG Hen­der­son

Fin­land’s Jari-matti Lat­vala scored his only vic­tory of 2018 in Aus­tralia with a well-judged drive in his Toy­ota Yaris WRC.

PHO­TOG­RA­PHY INMOTION/GREG Hen­der­son

Hay­den Pad­don kicks up the Aus­tralia dust on his way to sec­ond place at Coffs Har­bour.

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