The 2020 WRC season finale took place in and around the temple of speed, Monza in northern Italy. It’s the first time Monza has hosted a round of the WRC. Friday saw the first running at the Monza circuit itself, the stages using the circuit itself along with the access roads along with the old Monza banking.
The championship finale sees Elfyn Evans leading the points with Sebastien Ogier in second, just 14 points adrift. Thierry Neuville & Ott Tanak both come in as rank outsiders for championship glory, the Hyundai duo of Neuville & Tanak will need Evans & Ogier to both hit problems for either to take the championship.
The first stage took place around Monza in the dark on Thursday evening, which saw Sebastien Ogier go quickest in, a strong opening salvo for his championship bid.
The running on Friday was marred by monsoon like rains, lashing the Monza circuit and creating an enormous headache when it came to choosing tyres. The rain meant huge amounts of standing water on the tarmac of Monza, causing the cars to aquaplane horrendously and causing the gravel access roads to turn into a muddy slurry mess. Dani Sordo was able to overhaul Ogier into the lead of the event in the opening stage.
The intensifying rain worsened the conditions even more, the lack of grip forced some teams into running snow tyres in an effort to find grip. Esapekka Lappi was the first to jump to the snow tyre, finding grip and snatching the lead. Dani Sordo was able to keep Lappi in his sights throughout the day, some set-up tweaks to the Hyundai enabled him to match Lappi blow for blow as the day wore on.
Thierry Neuville, in with an outside shot of the championship, was the first big scalp to be claimed in the challenging conditions. The morning saw Neuville aquaplane into a fence post, nearly getting stuck in the process. It was a lucky escape, but lightning struck twice as Neuville clipped a chicane in the afternoon, as he hit standing water the engine in the Hyundai died on the spot. Neuville’s championship chances washed away in the lashing Monza rain.
Teemu Sunninen retired with engine problems & teammate Gus Greensmith came to grief after crashing into a gate, breaking the front right suspension on his Ford Fiesta. The championship protagonists, Elfyn Evans & Sebastien Ogier ran a conservative Friday, mindful that the challenging conditions could spell disaster for either party. 2019 champion Ott Tanak, still mathematically in with a shot, took it easy & found the conditions challenging.
Friday’s running closed out with Dani Sordo leading from Esapekka Lappi with Sebastien Ogier in third, Elfyn Evans in fourth & Ott Tanak in fifth. Late night penalties on Friday for Dani Sordo & Lappi closed the gap from 1st to 3rd to just 2 seconds.
Saturday would see the longest leg of the rally, taking place in the foothills of the Italian Alps around Lake Como. Once again, the weather threw a spanner into the works, albeit an even bigger one than on the Friday. Snow had already been falling since the start of the week, but by now the stages resembled the Monte Carlo rally with snow and ice coating the stages.
Sebastien Ogier turned up the wick on Saturday morning, duking it out with Dani Sordo and forcing championship leader Elfyn Evans to chase down the Frenchman, hoping to induce a mistake from the championship leader in the challenging conditions. Ogier snuck ahead of Sordo in the mornings stages, demoting the Spaniard down to second while Evans jumped into third.
The afternoon saw conditions worsen, more snow fell on the stages & more ice formed, making the already challenging conditions that much harder. Stage 10 saw the worsening snow claim it’s first victims; Gus Greensmith rolled his Fiesta toward the end of the stage, sliding wide, bouncing off an armco barrier and then ricocheting into the bank on the other side of the road, sending the Fiesta skyward, rolling over down an embankment and ending Greensmiths day. Ole Christian Veiby’s Hyundai i20 WRC crashed in the exact same spot minutes later, but with Veiby’s Hyundai coming to rest in the middle of the road & cancelling the stage.
Stage 11 however, was where everything changed. Elfyn Evans, championship leader and third place in the running order slid off the stage and down an embankment in the tricky conditions. Evans’ car was stuck, his championship chances disappearing, but in such challenging conditions, it would only take a minor unforced error from Ogier which would see the championship pendulum swing back in Evans favour. Evans will restart on Sunday under Rally 2 rules, where he will need to secure a strong Power Stage result.
Stage 12 was cancelled, the snowfall on the stage being so severe that it resembled Rally Sweden. The conditions were deemed too dangerous which resulted in the second stage cancellation of the day. The final stage of the day saw another run around Monza where Ogier was able to retain the lead over Dani Sordo with Ott Tanak in third. Esapekka Lappi ended Saturday in fourth with Kalle Rovanperra in fifth at day’s end.
Just three stages would make up the final day of running, all Seb Ogier needed to do was bring it back home to win the championship after Evans’ heartbreak on Saturday. Ogier continued to lead after the opening two stages prior to the final wolf power stage of the 2020 season. Behind, Dani Sordo & Ott Tanak briefly swapped positions in the morning opener, but the positions were reversed by the following stage, Hyundai rounding out the podium poised to win the manufacturers championship for a second year in a row.
The Final Wolf power stage of the 2020 season would see the crews tackle Monza once again. Mud and rain still a problem on the stage, although due to the earlier running a number of large ruts had developed on Monza’s access roads. Elfyn Evans was the first of the WRC runners through the stage, it was a less than ideal run for the Welshman with a few stalls in the stage due to the tricky conditions, but there was no more the Welshman could do in a bid to salvage a disastrous event.
Sebastien Ogier cruised through the final power stage, although the loss of his wipers in the final part of the stage certainly gave him a fright as he was unable to see briefly. Despite that, it was enough to see Ogier crowned the 2020 World Rally Champion, making it title number 7 for 36 year old. Hyundai meanwhile added another manufacturer title to their trophy cabinet.
The finishing order in the end saw Sebastien Ogier take victory from Ott Tanak, who dropped teammate Dani Sordo down to third in the final power stage. Esapekka Lappi signed off his 2020 season with a strong fourth place finish & Toyota’s Kalle Rovanperra rounded out the top five in his Toyota Yaris.
The 2021 championship is planned to start in earnest on January 21st in Monte Carlo. Next year a 12 event calendar is planned and with covid19 vaccination being rolled out in the coming weeks & months, it certainly looks promising that a full calendar is likely to take place and fans can begin returning to the stages.
Until next time, stay safe and have a wonderful christmas and new year.
WRC ACI Rally Monza results:
- Sebastien Ogier
- Ott Tanak
- Dani Sordo
- Esapekka Lappi
- Kalle Rovanperra
WRC 2020 Drivers’ standings:
- Sebastien Ogier – 122 points
- Elfyn Evans – 114 points
- Ott Tanak – 105 points
- Thierry Neuville – 87 points
- Kalle Rovanperra – 80 points
- Esapekka Lappi – 52 points
- Teemu Sunninen – 44 points
- Dani Sordo – 42 points
WRC 2020 Manufacturers’ championship
- Hyundai Shell Mobis World Rally Team – 241 points
- Toyota Gazoo Racing WRT – 236 points
- M-Sport Ford World Rally Team – 129 points
- Hyundai 2C Competition – 8 points.