Toyota Racing won their third consecutive WRC Constructors’ title at the Rally of Chile, i.e. 2 events at the end of the 2023 season which ends in November with the Rally of Japan. A show of strength that lasted 11 out of 13 rallies, in which it annihilated Hyundai Motorsport and M-Sport, winning 8 out of the 11 rallies held to date.
If the merits of the team directed by Jari-Matti Latvala are evident, the Chile Rally highlighted errors or questionable choices on the part of its direct rivals, those of Hyundai Motorsport, which opened the doors for Toyota to win the Manufacturers’ title.
The basic error arose on Sunday morning, with Teemu Suninen and Thierry Neuville respectively second and third behind the elusive Ott Tanak. The Alzenau team allowed the two drivers to fight for second place, as long as they returned the car safely to the Service Park at the end of the day.
Arriving at SS15, the penultimate test of the 16 scheduled, Suninen made a mistake in a right-hand corner, ending up breaking the right front suspension. His race ended there, allowing Neuville to move up to second and, more importantly, Elfyn Evans to third, with Kalle Rovanpera fourth, gaining important points.
Neuville, second at that point, found himself in the Power Stage without having the tires in such a state of health as to be able to aspire to the maximum points, 5, precisely for having given everything in the previous stage to climb to second place in the fight with his teammate.
At that point it was easy for the Toyotas to take home the championship, thanks to first and second place in the Power Stage scored by Kalle Rovanpera and Elfyn Evans respectively. Both had safeguarded their tires because they were already sure they couldn’t gain positions and the tactic paid off.
Therefore, for Hyundai, having left Suninen and Neuville free to fight had a double price to pay: the first with the Finn’s accident, the second with the Constructors’ title served to Toyota Racing on a silver platter.
Teemu Suninen, Mikko Markkula, Hyundai World Rally Team Hyundai i20 N Rally1
Photo by: McKlein / Motorsport Images
But that’s not all, because if Hyundai had immediately conceded second place to Neuville at the start of the last day of the race without leading him to fight with Suninen until SS15, the Belgian would probably have saved his tires for the Power Stage, having opportunity to set the best time.
If that had been the case, the Belgian would still be fighting for the Drivers’ world title today. Of course, with more than laughable hopes. Indeed, he would have needed some sort of miracle to be able to win or even get to the Rally Japan still in play. Yet sport has often taught that it’s not over until it’s really over.
At the end of the Chile Rally Rovanpera has 217 points against the 186 of his teammate Elfyn Evans, the only remaining rival who could stand between himself and the second world title of his career. Neuville, on the other hand, is at 155, therefore mathematically out of the fight by just 2 points. Those two points that he, by winning the Power Stage, would not have suffered as a liability.
If the Belgian had managed to win the last test in Chile, today the ranking would see Kalle Rovanpera with one point less, therefore 216, but Thierry Neuville with 2 more, which would have brought him to 157. Playing for one point, therefore too little to hope for a miracle, but enough not to end the season in Chile, with 2 rallies to go, thus establishing the supremacy of the rivals.
Last year, with Julien Moncet at the helm, there was talk that Hyundai needed guidance. At the beginning of 2023, Cyril Abiteboul, a manager who had the opportunity to work for many years in Formula 1, arrived, but not only did the situation not improve. It’s even gotten worse. This is stated by the number of victories achieved by the team this season, only one with Thierry Neuville winning in Sardinia, but also by the errors made in managing the drivers.
The question that arises is the following: starting from the fact that the team needed a person who would give the direction to take, Cyril Abiteboul – due to lack of experience in a category like the WRC, very different from Formula 1 – was the best possible choice?