Written by Apostolos Papageorgiou, Edited by Vyas Ponnuri
For the second time this month, the top category of rallying will provide us with competitive action, heading back to European asphalt for the first time since Croatia, way back in April. This time, however, there’s a twist.
The Central European rally will be the first ever to be hosted by three different countries at the same time. Day one will be contested on the roads of the Czech Republic, while Austria takes the spoils for day two. The final day takes place in a location very much associated with the sport, Germany, home to Rally Deutschland for the best part of two decades. And if that wasn't enough innovation, the event is set to be powered exclusively by reusable sources, making it completely fossil-free.
The Central European rally could be significant in a different way too. If Kalle Rovanperä manages to outscore teammate Elfyn Evans, he will become the 2023 drivers champion. Evans finished ahead of the Finn in Chile, proving he can beat the reigning champion in a straight fight.
With the disadvantage of sweeping the road on the first day, not applying to tarmac rallies, and not having to worry about the manufacturers championship, already won by Toyota, this will be a true test of finding out the better driver, and will almost certainly be a very fun battle to watch.
Just days after scoring his first win in eight months, and only his second this season, Ott Tänak made the shock announcement of his return to Hyundai for 2024, just a year after his return with M-Sport. Even so, with a chance of clinching third place from his former, and future teammate, Thierry Neuville, the Estonian will be as fired up as ever, to end a rather difficult year on a high note.
Just nine points separate Neuville and Tänak heading into the final two rounds, though the advantage should head in the Belgian’s favour, as both upcoming rallies take place on asphalt, Neuville’s preferred surface.
Esapekka Lappi is not as big a fan of tarmac, but he will need to finish well here — especially after retiring on the first stage in Chile, should he stand a chance of securing a full-time seat for next year, now that his current employer’s seats look to be full.
Teemu Sunninen looked set for his first podium appearance since 2020. However, those dreams vanished once he crashed out of the penultimate stage of the rally.
Nevertheless, he impressed once again with his pace, and will get another chance to shine here and prove to the team bosses that he deserves a seat in a WRC outfit.
Joining him once again is Gregoire Munster, continuing his Rally1 debut. Finally, tarmac specialist and more significantly, eight-time world champion Sebastien Ogier also makes a return, and is expected to be a serious threat.
Pierre-Louis Loubet again showed good pace, but couldn’t keep it together, crashing out on day one. It’s been a disappointing first full-time season for the Frenchman, filled with bad luck, crashes and retirements, so a good result here with new co-driver Vincent Landes could go a long way in repairing his dented confidence.
Takamoto Katsuta hasn’t been as good as last year either, but three top 5 finishes in the last five rallies have turned his season around somewhat, so his trajectory is definitely on the up.
30 WRC2 crews will be competing at the Central European rally, with many heavy hitters, namely Andreas Mikkelsen, Yohan Rossel, Gus Greensmith, Emil Lndholm, Nikolay Gryazin and more battling it out for top honours, yet again.