The remarkable battle at Orlen 74th Rally Poland has set up a thrilling second half to the season and sent us scurrying to the WRC archives to put it into context.
The Poland story
Thierry Neuville claimed his third win of the year in Poland after Ott Tänak crashed out of a slender lead three stages from the finish.
The rally provided drama throughout and the lead changed hands 10 times in 23 stages as title chasers Neuville and Tänak traded tenths of a second.
Closest since Loeb vs Hirvonen
Neuville’s win cut Sébastien Ogier’s championship lead to 11 points with five rounds remaining. At this stage of the season, with eight rallies done, the battle for the drivers’ title is the closest since 2009 when Sebastien Loeb and Mikko Hirvonen went head-to-head.
Back then, after eight rounds, Ford Focus RS driver Hirvonen led on 58 points, with Loeb, in a Citroën C4, just one point behind. Four rounds later, Loeb sealed his sixth world title, by a single point, after an epic duel at the final round in Wales.
We’ll have to wait and see how the Neuville / Ogier duel pans out, but with Jari-Matti Latvala and Tänak snapping at their heels, both within 52 points of the top, the top four places are also closer than at any time since the current points system was introduced in 2010.
In 2009, the top eight drivers scored points on a 10-8-6-5-4-3-2-1 basis, but that was replaced by the current 25-18-15-12-10-8-6-4-2-1 allocation for the top 10 finishers. More points were made available from 2011 when the live TV Power Stage was introduced.
So, going on past form…
Since 2010, the driver leading the championship after the eighth round has always gone on to win the title; Loeb in 2010, 2011 and 2012, and Ogier from 2013 – 2016.
Good news for Ogier perhaps, but with so many new variables this year – not least the 2017-spec World Rally Cars – this is shaping up to be the most unpredictable contest in years.