WRC Review: Hyundai star gets slammed for an unbelievable blunder – “Failing grade would be appropriate”

The sixth round of the WRC season took place this past weekend in Sardinia. RallyJournal.com journalists grade the performances of the top-class drivers.
Thierry Neuville
Thierry Neuville. Photo: Austral/Hyundai Motorsport GmbH
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The Sardinian gravel competition ended with Hyundai’s Ott Tänak claiming victory. Toyota’s Sebastien Ogier was in the lead almost until the end, but a puncture on the final stage dropped him to second place by a margin of 0.2 seconds.

RallyJournal.com journalists Toni Heinonen, Aki Hietavala, and Ville Hirvonen evaluate the performance of each top-class driver using school grades, with 10 being the highest and 4 the lowest.

Toni Heinonen

Ott Tänak 9+ (position: 1st)

After a sluggish start to the season, Tänak has finally started delivering the results expected of him. The Estonian had a tight battle with Ogier throughout the weekend, although the Frenchman pulled away on Saturday afternoon. On Sunday, Tänak didn’t hold back and also collected strong points on the final day. The victory was sealed when Ogier suffered a puncture on the Power Stage. Now it’s safe to say Tänak is back in the championship fight!

Sebastien Ogier 9 (position: 2nd)

Ogier performed at his usual high level, collecting the most points on Saturday evening. The multi-champion’s excellent weekend was slightly marred by not going all out for points on Sunday. The puncture on the final stage was unfortunate and cost him the overall victory and a couple of extra points. Overall, it was still a commendable performance from the Frenchman.

Dani Sordo 8 (position: 3rd)

Sordo knows exactly what his role is at Hyundai: to drive reliably and provide support to the team’s lead drivers. This support was needed when Thierry Neuville went off the road. Sordo didn’t set phenomenal stage times, but the Spanish veteran brought the car home intact and secured a podium finish. You couldn’t ask for much more.

Elfyn Evans 7- (position: 4th)

The Welshman was lost again at the start of the rally. His pace wasn’t even enough to match Neuville, who was sweeping the roads on the opening day. On the plus side, Evans managed to gain some ground on Neuville in the championship fight after the Belgian’s mistake. However, the technical rallies of Sardinia and Portugal have been painful for Evans. He now needs to find better confidence in the car as we move to faster rallies.

Gregoire Munster 5½ (position: 5th)

There wasn’t much to talk about in Munster’s rally. He kept the car on the road and finished without retiring, but he is still giving away too much in terms of pace. This is highlighted by the fact that Sami Pajari, who won the WRC2 class, was able to keep pace with the Luxembourger throughout the weekend.

Adrien Fourmaux 6½ (position: 15th)

Fourmaux started the rally strongly, but a technical issue forced him to retire on Friday. This wasn’t the Frenchman’s fault. He had the potential to fight for a good result again, but as often stated, rallying is a harsh sport. Fourmaux’s attack on Sunday was somewhat muted, but he did manage to score some points.

Takamoto Katsuta 6½ (position: 35th)

Katsuta’s review could practically mirror Fourmaux’s: he drove at a promising level in the early stages and was in contention for podium spots. However, he also retired on Saturday due to technical problems. The Japanese driver ultimately collected as many points on Sunday as Fourmaux, so the same grade is warranted.

Thierry Neuville 5½ (position: 41st)

After the opening day, it looked like Neuville, who started the rally as the road sweeper, could secure at least a brilliant defensive victory on the Mediterranean island. On Saturday, Neuville switched to attack mode, which ultimately proved costly as his Hyundai slipped off the road in a slow corner. It was an embarrassing mistake that cost valuable points, deserving a harsh grade. However, on Sunday, the Belgian pulled off an impressive feat: starting first on the road, he set the fastest times on the stages and collected a full 12 points on the final day.

Aki Hietavala

Ott Tänak 9+

This is what the WRC has needed. The Estonian driver has finally risen to at least close to his top form. After a second place in Portugal, he now clinched victory. Although the win came with a bit of luck, Tänak managed to stay close to Ogier on Sunday, enabling him to take the lead after Ogier’s puncture. The biggest points haul of the weekend went to Tänak.

Sebastien Ogier 9-

A third consecutive win was within Ogier’s reach, but luck wasn’t on his side this time. Nonetheless, Ogier finished on the podium again, which is commendable for a part-time driver. However, he should start scoring points for the team on Sundays as well. In Sardinia, for example, Ogier only scored four points on Sunday.

Dani Sordo 9

Another top-notch job from Hyundai’s veteran. Sordo excels as a part-time driver. A third place, albeit with a significant time gap to the leaders, is a solid achievement. The most important thing for Hyundai was that Sordo kept Toyota’s Elfyn Evans behind by a 12-second margin. Sordo didn’t shine, but he doesn’t need to as the third driver. The Spaniard is the perfect team player.

Elfyn Evans 6

Fourth place might sound decent, but the Welshman was lost again. His pace was nowhere near the leaders. Evans also lost points to his main championship rivals in the Super Sunday and Power Stage. Evans needs to step up his game in the fast gravel rallies of the summer.

Gregoire Munster 6

The Luxembourger’s pace deserves a failing grade. However, he gets a six for finishing without crashing this time. The gap to the leaders was nearly seven minutes without major issues. Competing against Sami Pajari, who had a Rally2 car, tells the whole story. Munster’s abilities are lacking.

Adrien Fourmaux 7

The first two stages on Friday looked promising. Then the difficulties began. First came a puncture, and then a technical issue forced him to retire on the last stage of Friday. Fourmaux suffered from technical problems again on Saturday morning but posted good stage times in the afternoon. He scored a few points on Sunday.

Takamoto Katsuta 7

The usual pattern for Katsuta. Promising speed, and a podium position was within reach. This time, he couldn’t help the technical issues on Saturday. A transmission problem forced Katsuta to retire, and he had to settle for a few points on Sunday.

Thierry Neuville 7

If judged only on Saturday’s incredible blunder, a failing grade would be appropriate. A stupid mistake in a situation where the Belgian should have secured third place. However, he salvaged his rally and reputation by having a fantastic Sunday. Fastest from the first starting position and a full five points from the Power Stage. A total of 12 points saved a lot.

Ville Hirvonen

Ott Tänak 9

A much-needed success for the Estonian. His pace has returned with the arrival of summer. He navigated through harsh conditions without major issues and took advantage of Sebastien Ogier’s slip on Sunday to clinch his first win of the season. This is the Tänak we’ve been waiting for!

Sebastien Ogier 7

The part-time driver had another strong weekend, but his cautious approach on Sunday ultimately cost him the victory. The puncture ruined a lot. He lost the win in a bitter way but got what he deserved. Has the French multi-champion fully understood the significance of the new points system yet?

Dani Sordo 8

He couldn’t keep up with Ogier and Tänak, but otherwise had a good weekend and brought valuable points for Hyundai in the manufacturers’ championship.

Elfyn Evans 6

Fourth place isn’t much to brag about. He lost his second place in the drivers’ championship to Tänak and couldn’t sufficiently help Toyota in the manufacturers’ championship. Team boss Jari-Matti Latvala said it bluntly: the Welshman needs to step up.

Gregoire Munster 5

A good overall position, but mainly due to others’ mistakes. He even struggled at times against Rally2 cars. Munster’s career in the top class threatens to be very short.

Adrien Fourmaux 8

Showed his speed again. The Frenchman was third after the first couple of stages, but then came a puncture and eventually a retirement due to a technical issue. Without problems, Fourmaux would have been fighting for good positions again in Sardinia, but luck wasn’t on his side. However, his pace was once again at the top in challenging conditions, earning him a good grade.

Takamoto Katsuta 6

Was in third place when the problems started. Suffered from gearbox issues on Saturday and had to retire. The Japanese driver has shown his potential, but that final leap to the absolute top level is still awaited.

Thierry Neuville 6

A really unfortunate mistake ruined his rally in a place where an off shouldn’t have happened. It felt like the championship chance might slip away again, but the new points system saved the Belgian. He was the fastest on Super Sunday, which earns him some redemption.

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