Saturday at the Central European Rally was characterised by spectacular action and tension in the title race. The penultimate round of this season’s FIA World Rally Championship (WRC) was dominated by the battle for the title, with a little extra spice added by the retirement of one of the top favourites. The title aspirations of Elfyn Evans (Toyota) came to an abrupt end against the wall of a Bavarian barn, which the Welshman spun into, damaging his hybrid Yaris in the process. His team-mate Kalle Rovanperä could now wrap up the title and arrive at the presentation ceremony in Passau at 14:30 on Sunday afternoon as the new world champion. All he has to do is finish in the points this weekend, and his lead in the championship will be unassailable. The Finn took his foot off the pedal a little after Evans’ crash, leaving the way clear for second-placed Thierry Neuville (BEL, Hyundai) to race into the lead at the Central European Rally. The points for victory this weekend would put the Belgian right back in the battle for second place in the world championship and make the forthcoming WRC finale in Japan a potentially explosive affair. There is still plenty of tension throughout the rest of the WRC1 field – and particularly in the fiercely-contested WRC2 category. As such, it is definitely worth getting along to the final day of the Central European Rally. Tickets are available at the ticket offices on site.
After Elfyn Evans’ retirement on Saturday morning, there was a change of positions in the overall standings at the Central European Rally. Hyundai driver Thierry Neuville took the lead on the demanding asphalt routes. Not only does he now have his sights set on victory at the new WRC Event, but also crucial points in the battle to finish runner-up in the world championship. “The last stage of the day was perhaps the best of the weekend so far,” said Neuville at the finish of SS14 Knaus Tabbert Bayerischer Wald 2, on which headlights were used. The Belgian was second fastest on the final stage of the day, just 0.5 seconds slower than Rovanperä.
“We tried all afternoon to manage our lead and I am happy to end the day as the rally leader. We are on course for the win.” Rovanperä, who had eased off somewhat on the previous stages, wanted to show what he was capable again on the final 11.9 kilometres against the clock. “I wanted to end the day on a high, which is why I drove as I did. It is nice to get the day behind us. They were probably the most demanding conditions I have ever experienced on an asphalt rally. Whatever: we are well placed and will try to get the job done tomorrow.” With four special stages remaining on Sunday, Thierry Neuville holds a 26.2-second lead over Rovanperä and the rest of the field. In third place, a distant 1:49.1 minutes back, is Ott Tänak.
Drama in WRC2
The battle in the remaining classes has also provided plenty of excitement on the stages in Germany, Austria and the Czech Republic. The strong WRC2 class has been dominated by two drivers, neither of whom will play a role in the race for the Drivers title, which remains wide open. In WRC2 guest starter Adrien Fourmaux (FRA, Ford), Finland’s Emil Lindholm (Hyundai) and Nicolas Ciamin (FRA, Skoda), three drivers are embroiled in a close battle for victory at the top of the class, while the pairs at the top of the championship have all struggled. Championship leader Andreas Mikkelsen (Skoda) and Briton Gus Greensmith (both Skoda), currently third, are still in the rally, despite suffering crashes and other issues. Meanwhile, the rally came to a premature end for second-placed Yohan Rossel (FRA, Citroën).
Spectacular culmination and grand presentation ceremony
Another attractive programme awaits visitors on the final day of the Central European Rally. The four special stages in Germany and Austria, with a total of 67.2 kilometres at full throttle, lead the competitors to the finish, which has been erected in the heart of Passau, against the historic backdrop of the castle and old town. Fans here could well welcome the newly-crowned world champion. Visitors can discover live whether Rovanperä is able to wrap up the title, as tickets for Sunday’s special stages are still available from ticket offices (€ 25 per stage). Information on spectator areas and navigation around the rally region, as well as all you need to know about the event and the World Rally Championship, can be found here on the official homepage.