Reigning world champion Ott Tänak (Hyundai) is currently fifth after three stages of the final round of the World Rally Championship (WRC) in Monza, Italy. Tänak's title defense will likely fall short as the Estonian will first have to crack the podium from his fourth-place season ranking.
Rainy conditions in Monza have made the circuit slick and has muddied up the gravel roads. Finnish pair of Esapekka Lappi - Janne Ferm (Ford) are currently first after a succesful switch to winter tires prior to the third speed stage. Lappi and Ferm are currently 3.3 seconds ahead of second-place Hyundai pair Dani Sordo - Carlos del Barrio, with their lead in front of the rest of the pack nearly 20 seconds.
Reigning world champion Ott Tänak - Martin Järveoja (Hyundai) are fifth, 1.3 seconds behind fourth-place Sebastien Ogier (Toyota). Current season leader Elfyn Evans (Toyota) comes after Tänak, behind by nearly three seconds.
Tänak said after his pass of the fourth speed stage: "The conditions are extremely tricky. Thierry was stuck in the middle of the road, so we lost quite a lot there but it's all okay. We need to use these tyres tomorrow so we have to be careful."
Tänak's title defense will likely fall short as he practically needs Ogier and Evans to receive no points from Monza. The Estonian's path to third however seems set in stone, as Hyundai team-mate and season third-place Thierry Neuville crashed twice on Friday, ending his day.
Tänak finished second on Thursday's test stage with his third go-around coming in at 3:10.8, a whole two seconds behind Hyundai team-mate Thierry Neuville. Six-time world champ Sebastien Ogier (Toyota) came in third with a time of 3:11.5. WRC season leader Elfyn Evans spun out on his first go and finished ninth in the test stage.
Ogier finished first in the opening stage of the season finale at Monza (3:31.5), with Neuville (3:32.0) and Tänak (3:33.5) on his heels. Evans came in fourth, 2.7 seconds behind Ogier.
Before the rally
The Monza WRC round is hosted at the Monza circuit, a familiar sight for Formula 1 fans. In addition to the legendary race track, the round will also traverse the mountain and forest roads near Milan, Italy.
Tänak's chances of repeating his world championship from last season are razor-thin, as the Estonian currently holds fourth place in the standings, behind first-place Elfyn Evans (Toyota) by 28 points. Tänak has also been outperformed by Sebastien Ogier (Toyota) and Hyundai teammate Thierry Neuville. While the three-team race is on Hyundai's side for now, their lead ahead of Toyota is just seven points.
"From a team's perspective, we need to do all we can to defend the manufacturers' title. There are also some things still open in the drivers' championship too. As it's the last event, it will be all or nothing," Tänak said.
With the complicated rally season having endured a complete suspension in spring, followed with a season restart in Estonia, the final round at Monza is currently still scheduled to take place, even as the Lombardy region is far away the hardest-hit region of Italy when it comes to COVID-19 cases. Even if it was not, Tänak has stated that his former teammate Elfyn Evans deserves the title even without the final round of the season.
Test Hyundai Monza Circuit 4,64 km NEUVILLE
SS1 Sottozero The Monza Legacy 4,33 km OGIER
SS2 Scorpion 1 13,43 km SORDO
SS3 Scorpion 2 13,43 km LAPPI
SS4 Cinturato 1 16,22 km 1.38 p.m.
SS5 Cinturato 2 16,22 km 4.08 p.m.
SS6 PZero Grand Prix 1 10,31 km 6.38 p.m.
SS7 Selvino 1 25,06 km 8.52 a.m.
SS8 Gerosa 1 11,09 km 10.08 a.m.
SS9 Costa Valle Imagna 1 22,17 km 11.02 a.m.
SS10 Selvino 2 25,06 km 2.22 p.m.
SS11 Gerosa 2 11,09 km 3.38 p.m.
SS12 Costa Valle Imanga 2 22,17 km 4.32 p.m.
SS13 PZero Grand Prix 2 10,31 km 6.38 p.m.
SS14 PZero Grand Prix 3 10,31 km 8.48 a.m.
SS15 Serraglio 1 14,00 km 11.08 a.m.
SS16 Serraglio 2 (PK, ETV2 14,00 km 1.18 p.m.
WRC drivers' rankings:
1. Elfyn Evans 111
2. Sebastien Ogier 97
3. Thierry Neuville 87
4. Ott Tänak 83
5. Kalle Rovanperä 70
6. Teemu Suninen 44
7. Esapekka Lappi 38
8. Dani Sordo 26
9. Craig Breen 25
10. Sebastien Loeb 24
WRC manufacturers' rankings:
1. Hyundai Shell Mobis WRT 208
2. Toyota Gazoo Racing WRT 201
3. M-Sport Ford WRT 117
4. Hyundai 2C Competition 8
Editor: Kristjan Kallaste