Victory in Spain this week would seal a maiden FIA World Rally Championship title for Ott Tänak – but the Estonian will not risk everything with the buffer of Australia’s final round to come.
The Toyota Yaris driver carries a 28-point lead into RallyRACC Catalunya - Rally de España. If he extends that to 30 during the gravel and asphalt encounter, the only mixed surface round in the series, the title is his.
Tänak accepts there is pressure on him, but believes the pressure is greater on his two rivals. Six-time champion Sébastien Ogier is his closest challenger while Thierry Neuville is 41 points adrift and the outsider.
“I guess the focus will be on me, but at the same time Seb and Thierry have to go all-out,” he said. “There’s no doubt about that from their side. For me, there’s no need to risk everything.
“I don’t need to do anything if the feeling isn’t there. If I’m comfortable with the car then I’m sure we can make the fight, but let’s see how it goes.
“We’ll focus on ourselves and do all we can. If it takes more than that, then there’s no need to push it. If we don’t do it here, we can take the fight to Australia.”
Tänak is on form with five wins from the last seven rounds. Last year his title hopes disappeared when he crashed into a tree on the final morning of the season in Australia and he has left nothing to chance this time.
“We need to deliver - and now we really need to deliver. We need to be on the big performance. On the personal side, I will put a lot of attention and make sure I can be as ready and well-prepared as I can be. The time to perform is now,” he added.
Citroën C3 driver Ogier admits his title defence hangs by a thread.
“We’re obliged to come up with a result if we want to keep our hopes alive. Even if our chances in the championship are now thin, as long as there’s a mathematical possibility, we’ll be chasing it with everything we have to give,” he said.
The manufacturers’ crown could also be decided, although a conclusion is less likely. Hyundai Motorsport’s diminishing lead over Toyota Gazoo Racing is down to eight points and the Korean squad requires a 44-point lead to claim the title.
Hyundai restores nine-time champion Sébastien Loeb to its line-up, hoping the Frenchman can display the same pace that carried him to victory 12 months ago.
The Salou-based rally starts on Friday morning. A day of gravel speed tests is followed by two days of smooth asphalt roads, similar in nature to a race circuit. The event finishes on Sunday afternoon after 17 stages covering 325.56km.