Sébastien Ogier starts Rally Turkey (September 18-20) knowing a repeat of his victory 12 months ago would be a major step in his quest to regain the FIA World Rally Championship.
The series is boiling up into another thrilling finale with just three rounds of a Covid-shortened season remaining. As so many times previously, the six-time champion is calling the shots at the top of the standings.
He is nine points clear of Toyota Yaris team-mate Elfyn Evans, with Ott Tänak, the man who ended Ogier’s title winning spree last season, a further four back in third. The trio have put daylight between themselves and their rivals, each having claimed one win to date this year.
Turkey features some of the toughest terrain in the championship. The mountain speed tests are tricky and technical, the rocky gravel roads pose big demands on hard-working mechanical components and the heat is intense.
The Yaris has not been at its best in the Marmaris-based event previously, but following a confidence-boosting test on similar roads in Greece, Ogier believes the Japanese manufacturer has made progress.
“To repeat last year’s result this time is not going to be easy. It’s a tough rally for everybody, but for us opening the road will be especially challenging, I’m sure,” explained the Frenchman, whose 2019 win came in a Citroën C3.
“We had some very good tests recently to prepare for the event, and I believe we have definitely made some improvements and some steps forward with the car.”
It is the first time Evans has been involved in a WRC title battle. The Welshman is deflecting questions about his championship chances, insisting he will continue his approach of treating the final three rounds on a rally-by-rally basis.
Tänak, the winner on home ground at the WRC’s post lockdown restart event in Estonia earlier this month, has quickly put that success to the back of his mind.
“It was a special moment to get our first victory for Hyundai Motorsport in Estonia, but now we must refocus on the next event. The championship is short, so we need to make the most out of every opportunity that presents itself,” he said.
Tänak is rejoined in Hyundai’s line-up by nine-time champion Sébastien Loeb. The Frenchman has won the rally three times, but never competed on these roads in Turkey’s south-west. The Korean squad trails Toyota Gazoo Racing by only five points in the manufacturers’ series.
M-Sport Ford fields a strong Fiesta squad, headed by Esapekka Lappi, who finished second behind Ogier last year after leading for much of the event. He is joined by fellow Finn Teemu Suninen, who has finished fourth for the past two years.
The rally begins on Friday afternoon and features 12 stages, covering 221.46km, before Sunday afternoon’s finish.