2018 reflections - part 4

It’s the final part of our lookback at the FIA World Rally Championship season, one that brought a scintillating battle for the manufacturers’ title as well as the drivers’ crown, and a year in which Turkey made a dramatic return.

Toyota’s title triumph

Anyone remember Friday 30 January 2015 and Tuesday 7 July in the same year? Probably not….

The January date was when Toyota confirmed its WRC return in 2017 after a 17-year absence. Almost six months later came the announcement from Japan that four-time drivers’ champion Tommi Mäkinen would lead the Finland-based squad.

It wasn’t a smooth build-up. ‘Reliable sources’ suggested internal problems and some commentators suggested the Yaris World Rally Car would be a laughing stock when it debuted at Rallye Monte-Carlo in January 2017.

How wrong that was. Jari-Matti Latvala grabbed second place in the French Alps and three weeks later the Finn scored an emotional victory in Sweden.

Toyota finished third in the manufacturers’ standings and at the midpoint of 2018, a reprise looked likely. After round seven in Italy, it trailed leader Hyundai Shell Mobis by 61 points.

The final six rounds transformed Toyota’s fortunes. Three wins for Ott Tänak and a final round success for Latvala earned the team a world title in only its second season back, aided by Hyundai’s second half collapse.

Few would dispute Toyota ended the campaign with the fastest car and with Kris Meeke joining Tänak and Latvala in 2019, it will start the new season as favourite to repeat its win.

Thierry Neuville retired in Turkey with broken suspension

Drama in Turkey

Turkey returned to the WRC for the first time since 2010 with a new-look event centred around Marmaris. What wasn’t new was the rally’s propensity for drama.

Saturday’s leg was one of the craziest and chaotic days the championship has witnessed in years.

An already tense fight for the drivers’ crown reached boiling point when overnight leader Thierry Neuville retired after the front suspension punched though his Hyundai i20’s bonnet. Despite frantic attempts to make a roadside fix, he was out.

Minutes later, title rival Sébastien Ogier limped through the next test with a broken front right wishbone on his Ford Fiesta. He wrestled to install an ill-fitting replacement, only to retire later after swiping a tree and getting stuck.

It was a disastrous day for Citroën’s Craig Breen and Mads Østberg. Breen’s C3 caught fire and burned out, Østberg stopped with a broken turbo and Toyota’s Esapekka Lappi crashed.

Breathtaking stuff – but typical of an enthralling season.

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