Following last Thursday’s shakedown, the teams took an overnight break and readied themselves for the final event of the 2021 season, the WRC FORUM8 ACI Rally Monza.
There was a lot to fight for as there was a mathematical chance on who would claim both the drivers and manufacturers championships.
Toyota Gazoo Racing WRT’s Sebastien Ogier and co-driver Julien Ingrassia, in their last full year of rallying, were chasing their eighth world title, as teammates Elfyn Evans with Scott Martin were out for a last-minute challenge to secure their first.
The team needed to secure the manufacturer’s title for 2021 and third member of the team Kalle Rovanpera with Jonne Halttunen were to run shotgun to ensure those extra points if required.
Hyundai Shell Mobis WRT were TGR’s nearest rival and fielded Thierry Neuville with co-driver Martijn Wydaeghe, Dani Sordo and Cándido Carrera and the latest recruit, Teemu Suninen with co-driver Mikko Markkula in the third i20.
Gus Greensmith with new co-driver Jonas Andersson and Adrien Fourmaux and Alexandre Coria were the normal pairing for the M-Sport Ford WRT. On the eve of the event, Greensmith was delighted to sign a new contract for 2022, and he will partner another new signing Craig Breen.
The competitors spent a day in the mountains above Bergamo and the early morning start meant the frontrunners faced very challenging wet, slippery roads and heavy fog which reduced visibility dramatically.
It was the Toyota protagonists heading the rally, Ogier winning three of the four mountain stages and Evans one before moving to the Monza Autodromo.
Evans winning the fifth stage and taking a slender 1.4 second overnight lead as Ogier battled brake problems, Neuville took SS6 and held onto third 20.2 seconds behind and teammate Sordo won SS7 ending fourth overnight a further three seconds back.
M-Sport Ford’s Fourmaux Fiesta drifted wide in a corner hit a wall and rolled back across the road and out of the rally for the rest of the day.
Saturday’s morning loop was once again in the foothills of the Italian Alps and it was first blood to Neuville, winning the first stage of the day, but in the following stage the Belgian crew lost the rear of their car and hit an Armco barrier just a few corners in, the damage causing aerodynamic issues.
Then it was Ogier and Evans who set the pace, continually swapping the lead until the mid day service point. Ogier headed back to Monza with a 5.2-second advantage over Evans, but the Welshman struck back winning the first stage of the afternoon, the final stage of the day going to Sordo, moving ahead of Neuville for third place.
The overnight halt saw Ogier just 0.5 second ahead of Evans with Sordo third 27.4 seconds further back. Neuville hung on to fourth and Suninen moved up to seventh behind TGR WRC Challenge Program driver Takamoto Katsuta in sixth and Hyundai’s Oliver Solberg in fifth spot. Greensmith held onto eighth ahead of the TGR Yaris of Rovanpera.
The final day and just three stages remain, the last being the Wolf Power Stage and it was Hyundai’s day with Neuville winning all the stages, the team taking a 1-2-3 on the penultimate stage and the Belgian crew taking maximum points in the power stage.
Katsuta spun into a barrier on the penultimate stage destroying the left front suspension of his Yaris, after crawling out of the stage, the teams’ mechanics repaired the damage within the 15 minute service period, an incredible effort allowing the Japanese driver to restart and set the second fastest time on the Power Stage.
But it was a day for Toyota Gazoo Racing WRT as Ogier and Ingrassia took their eighth FIA World Rally Championship title in nine seasons, a fitting finale for the Frenchmen who ended their careers together. Elfyn Evans and Scott Martin gave their all to take the title, but for the second consecutive year had to settle for the second spot.
Winning nine of the 2021 season’s 12 rallies Toyota also secured the manufacturers’ honours for the first time since 2018, the fifth time they have won this championship, putting it joint third on the all-time list of titles.
The event sadly marked the end of the 25 year era of the World Rally Car, next season will bring an exciting new era, as the hybrid-powered Rally1 cars vie for the championship. The next event and the all new car premiere will be the Monte Carlo Rally 20-23 January 2022
1. S. Ogier/J.Ingrassia Toyota Gazoo Racing WRT Yaris
2. E. Evans/S. Martin Toyota Gazoo Racing WRT Yaris
3. D.Sordo/C.Carrera Hyundai Shell Mobis WRT i20
4. T.Neuville/M.Wydaeghe Hyundai Shell Mobis WRT i20
5. O Solberg /E Edmondson Hyundai Shell Mobis WRT i20
6. T. Suninen/M. Markkula Hyundai Shell Mobis WRT i20
7. T Katsuta /A Johnston Toyota Gazoo Racing WRT Yaris
8. G. Greensmith/J. Andersson M-Sport Ford WRT Fiesta
9. K.Rovanperä/J. Halttunen Toyota Gazoo Racing WRT Yaris
FIA World Rally Championship Drivers (after round 12 of 12)
1. S.Ogier 230
2. E.Evans 207
3. T.Neuville 176
4. K.Rovanpera 142
5. O.Tanak 128
6. D.Sordo 81
7. T.Katsuta 78
8. C.Breen 76
9. G.Greensmith 64
10. A.Fourmaux 42
11. T.Suninen 29
FIA World Rally Championship Manufacturers (after round 12 of 12)
1. Toyota Gazoo Racing WRT 522
2. Hyundai Shell Mobis WRT 463
3. M-Sport Ford WRT 202