World Rally Championship

Rally Report

2021 Season Review
Top WRC drivers’ season through the COVID pandemic

2021 was yet another year when the Coronavirus pandemic heavily influenced the whole world. Yet, twelve events of the WRC (World Rally Championship) were held, which was quite an impressive feat in itself. We are very grateful to all the stakeholders of the championship for their unbelievable efforts. In the history of the WRC that spans close to fifty years since its inception in 1973, no season had to deal with the unpredictability of this magnitude. The confusion started in 2020 as the pandemic spread, with many rounds cancelled and only seven rounds were held. However, in 2021, with the stakeholders familiarizing themselves with how to deal with the health safety measures effectively, twelve rounds were safely held, which is five more events than the previous year. Four events in the calendar, including Rally Japan, had to be regrettably cancelled.

Once the season started, all the teams and crews fought the best they could. After all, they are the best professional group of people, focusing on their unique goal of winning the championship. The teams try to develop a car that can be faster than the others, and the drivers sacrifice everything to run one-thousandth of a second faster than their opponents. This is where we witness the true essence of the WRC.

The 2021 season started in earnest with four teams aligned by three major car manufacturers, Toyota GAZOO Racing World Rally Team, Hyundai Motorsport (with 2C Competition and Shell Mobis WRT), and M-Sport Ford WRT. Toyota entrusted its Yaris WRC to Sébastien Ogier, Elfyn Evans and Kalle Rovanperä. Hyundai looked to achieve a third consecutive manufacturers’ title and spread their efforts to two teams, asking eight strong drivers to drive the i20 Coupe WRC, such as Thierry Neuville, Ott Tänak, Dani Sordo and Oliver Solberg. Gus Greensmith and Adrien Fourmaux were tasked to drive the Ford Fiesta WRC. Although the situation may feel a bit “lonely” with three manufacturers competing, they fully contributed with fourteen World Rally Cars entrusted to the same number of top rally drivers. Additionally, we saw a few strong entries (one for Toyota, four for M-Sport, one for Citroën) not nominated to scoring points for the manufacturers’ title but aiming for the drivers’ championship. Takamoto Katsuta was the driver chosen by Toyota.

The opening round was Rallye Monte-Carlo in January. Right from the start, we saw a head-on battle between Toyota’s Sébastien Ogier and Elfyn Evans, with Ogier claiming victory. Evans also made a strong start to the championship campaign, which made everyone predict from the opening round that the battle for the title will be fought between those two drivers, as it was in the previous season.

The maiden victory for Toyota at Rallye Monte-Carlo was in 1991, and the last win was in 1998, making this year’s victory the first one in 23 years.

Hyundai driver Ott Tänak won the second round, the Arctic Rally Finland, ahead of Toyota. Tänak is the Hyundai Shell Mobis WRT star driver alongside Neuville. Hyundai Motorsport chose more experienced drivers in their Shell Mobis WRT than their 2C Competition team, creating a well-balanced, collectively strong set of teams.

However, a win by a Hyundai driver in the first half of the season was only for this round. From the third Croatia Rally to the seventh event of the year, Rally Estonia, Toyota outstandingly won five consecutive events. Sébastien Ogier showed a strong pace by winning the third round in Croatia, the fifth in Rally Italia Sardegna and the sixth at the Safari Rally Kenya. Elfyn Evans claimed victory on the fourth event Rally de Portugal and Rovanperä on the seventh event Rally Estonia. Ogier has shown exceptional speed this year again, and he has 54 wins under his belt at the end of the 2021 season, following 79-event winner Sébastien Loeb. Ogier has been competing in the WRC since 2008 for fourteen years, and his eighth drivers’ title won in 2021 is the excellent second-best record behind Sébastien Loeb’s record of nine titles.

The eighth round Ypres Rally Belgium saw a comeback from Hyundai with Thierry Neuville as the winner. Neuville has been competing with Hyundai Motorsport since 2015, and his fifteen wins were all with Hyundai. Although a strong championship contender for many years, his lack of pace towards the second half of the season made him miss the title opportunities so far. However, this year he managed to win the eleventh round in Spain (the fifteenth of his career), overtaking Tänak’s number of wins (fourteen wins).

Toyota came back in force at the ninth round of the Acropolis Rally. Rovanperä claimed an outstanding second win of the season, and at the following round, Rally Finland, Evans also took his second win, making Toyota lead the manufacturers’ championship. Hyundai took victory at the following eleventh round, Rally España, but Ogier took his fifth win of the season on the final twelfth event Rally Monza, to clinch back the manufacturers’ title after three years and the drivers’ title after two years. The final round saw a fierce showdown battle between Toyota’s Ogier and Evans, making it a rally event to remember.

M-Sport has a more compact team compared to Toyota and Hyundai, competing in the WRC with two Ford Fiesta WRC. The best results for the team were fourth (Gus Greensmith) and fifth (Adrien Fourmaux) at the Safari Rally. As a manufacturer, they ranked third behind Toyota and Hyundai, but their score of 200 points is way behind Toyota (522 points) and Hyundai (463). Ford used to be one of the top teams in the WRC, but as they had to reduce their budget and their rallying activities, they struggle to be on a par with Toyota and Hyundai, who, with ample budgets, manage to develop new cars and hire top crews.

The 2021 WRC season came to an end, but there is crucial information we need to convey. That is the success and popularity of Takamoto Katsuta, competing as a drivers’ championship contender from Toyota GAZOO Racing WRT. Katsuta competed in a works Yaris WRC in all the events of the calendar and claimed his first-ever WRC podium at the Safari Rally by finishing second overall. This was the first-ever podium by a Japanese driver since Kenjiro Shinozuka (Mitsubishi) who finished second at the Safari Rally in 1994. Scoring 78 points and finishing seventh in the championship, a lot is expected from Katsuta in 2022, and fans are hopeful for the birth of a top Japanese driver.

The WRC spans twelve rounds over ten different countries. It is not only a technological battle between car manufacturers but also a test for the drivers’ skills, courage and intellect. The battle is fair and square, with no falsity. Cars do not lie. Drivers are looking for the ultimate speed. Asahi Kasei is proud to be a part of the WRC and support this pinnacle of motorsport. Looking back at the dramatic 2021 WRC season, we are already looking forward to an even better 2022.

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