Hyundai’s double victory in Japan was salt in the wounds of the team, which was otherwise completely at Toyota’s feet. Rovanperä returned Finland to the championship position after a 20-year break.
The 2022 rally season model was finished on Sunday, when Hyundai’s Thierry Neuville won the season-ending World Rally Championship in Japan before a teammate Ott Tänakia and Toyota Takamoto Katsuta.
At the same time, also driving a Skoda Emil Lindholm fought his way to the world championship in the WRC2 class, when a strong contender Kajetan Kajetanowicz stopped on the first day of driving.
In the top class, Toyota has already secured its world championship Kalle Rovanperä was ranked 12th in Japan. Despite the difficulties in Japan, this season will remain in people’s minds as Rovanperä’s real breakthrough.
The starting points for the season were otherwise unique in the form of completely renewed cars. Urheilu’s rally expert Miikka Anttila highlights three points from last season.
1. The arrival of hybrid cars
In the World Rally Championship, Rally1 hybrid trains were used for the first time this season. When starting the season, there were a lot of doubts about the cars’ performance and, above all, their reliability.
Before the start of the season, the tests saw outings by all the factory teams. There was uncertainty in the air about whether the situations were caused by the new hybrid cars and whether the new cars are really that difficult to drive.
– In my opinion, the hybrids have generally worked well technically. We saw quite a few cases at the beginning of the year when the car stopped purely because of a hybrid problem, but the faults were quickly rectified, says Anttila.
However, challenges with the technology have been seen, most recently in the Japanese rally Dani Sordon the sudden bursting into flames of the car. Earlier in the season, also a map reader Paul Nagle shoes melted in the cockpit when installing new car exhausts due to a mistake made (you switch to another service). According to Anttila, the teams have strict rules for making changes.
– There are a certain number of classification changes made to problem areas, and the teams prioritize the parts of the car in different ways. In any case, what can be done is very limited.
2. The superiority of Rovanperä
Kalle Rovanperä took a huge step forward from last season. However, Anttila was not at all surprised by the Finn’s success.
– Kalle’s style of doing things is unique. He competes for himself and strives to improve all the time, praises Anttila.
Rovanperä’s determination is so admirable that Anttila believes he will win several more championships in the future. The reigning champion starts the new season as the early favorite due to good setups. When it comes to Rovanperä, it’s not even worth talking about the pressure of the pre-favourite.
– He has seemed to be so focused on the matter himself that nothing seems to distract him. If there is pressure from the reigning champion, Kalle can handle it, Anttila assures.
3. Toyota is beatable next year
Toyota’s rally season was phenomenal as the team won all possible championships. Anttila gives the team a clean slate from last season, but emphasizes that the team’s lead is not very big.
– I give Toyota a commendable rating. However, it should be noted that Hyundai won five of the twelve rallies of the season, in that sense the scores are almost equal, Anttila says.
The most noteworthy thing is how the South Korean team closed the lead of the Japanese Toyota over the course of the season. According to Anttila, in the light of the last six months, Toyota cannot be considered the early favorite to any extent, although Rovanperä as an individual driver probably is.
The World Rally Championship is scheduled to run 14 races in the 2023 season. We will start from Monte Carlo at the end of January.
The final results of the Japanese rally
1. Thierry Neuville (Hyundai) 220.127.116.11
2. Ott Tänak (Hyundai) +1.11,1
3. Takamoto Katsuta (Toyota) +2.11,3
4. Sebastien Ogier (Toyota) +2.23.6
5. Elfyn Evans (Toyota) +4.05,1
6. Gus Greensmith (Ford) +4.07,4
7. Gregoire Munster (Hyundai, WRC2) +7.50,8
8. Teemu Suninen (Hyundai, WRC2) +8.12,4
9. Emil Lindholm (Skoda, WRC2) +8.25,6
10. Heikki Kovalainen (Skoda, WRC2) +8.59.8
11. Sami Pajari (Skoda, WRC2) +9.00,8
12. Kalle Rovanperä (Toyota) +10.40.8
The final situation of the World Cup
1. Kalle Rovanperä (Toyota) 255
2. Ott Tänak (Hyundai) 205
3. Thierry Neuville (Hyundai) 193
4. Elfyn Evans (Toyota) 134
5. Takamoto Katsuta (Toyota) 122
The final points of the teams
1. Toyota 525
2. Hyundai 457
3. Ford 257