There’s every possibility Rally Turkey could be the most entertaining rally of the season. It could be pivotal to the WRC driver’s title race as Neuville and Ogier play catch Tanak or bust. In the Manufacturers championship Hyundai will not want to cede the top spot they have held since Corsica. Especially with 3 events remaining that are arguably more suited to the Toyotas.
Rally Turkey will surely be a test of durability for the cars. There’s likely to be mechanical retirements and a high probability of punctures or shredded tyres. Managing the aggression will be key, but there could be gambling from team principals or drivers who may choose to ride their luck.
Having said all of that, lessons were learned in 2018. If everybody approaches with too much caution it could make for a slow parade. But this will keep a close group until somebody dares to go first to sprint to the finish.
Profile of Rally Turkey
Turkey’s Friday is the longest of the season and at 160km is over half of the rally total. This should be brilliant entertainment value.
Ordinarily, any driver wanting to win a gravel rally would have to push hard through Friday. They would then have good road position to either fight a battle or manage their lead for the rest of the rally. With fewer kilometres over the weekend for any rivals to make amends, this strategy will surely be attractive.
But 2018 taught everybody how brutal the roads around Marmaris are, and adding the Turkish heat led to 7 retirements in the leading class. The drivers may take things more cautious this year and let the flat-out gamblers fall out the running. But this in itself is also a gamble – if all opponents go flat-out and have no issues, you are out the race. If you are a manufacturer taking this strategy and see your rival with a podium lock out, the rally could be over already.
So if you believe all your rivals will be taking it easy, why not push hard and ride the luck?
Finding the middle ground pace in Turkey will be trickier too. As there are only 3 stages per loop the drivers don’t have as many opportunities to compare progress and react as they would in Finland for example. This means they will have to choose how to attack and stick to the plan. One hopes the viewing will be good. If not and everybody makes it through without dramas, then at least there should be close fights over the weekend!
I must add I’m not totally convinced being at the bottom of the road order will be too helpful here. Also, being first and second didn’t seem to hinder Ogier and Neuville too much last year.
According to Antti’s stage descriptions, the Saturday stages are smoother and so a tad faster. This could be an opportunity to make up for lost time, but the damage risk is still high. Last year, Craig Breen’s car spontaneously combusted to a burnt shell. Ogier, Neuville and Mikkelsen all made way for Tanak thanks to car trouble despite being quicker on the average KM.
If there is a large group of drivers who took it easy on Friday and made it through with no hiccups, the chances are they will be close together. Saturday will be their day to attack. Anybody who raced through Friday to the top of the leader board may find themselves with a choice, risk being caught or risk an oops.
The leading trio will doubtlessly be attacking today whatever their Friday outcome. With so few cars in the rally, even if they restart on Saturday there is still a possibility of points.
An interesting point is the opening stage is another 33km long test. A tough one to approach when you don’t know how your rivals are taking it.
Sunday is (shared with GB) the shortest of 2019. On most rallies I’d be grateful for this as Sunday mornings can become a cruise up to the Power Stage start line. This happens when the rally is decided and the crews settle for the positions they have. It’s likely to be the case here too, but there is the potential for a few fights to run into Sunday. This could be more true between those who played it safe and for those who fell foul of issues. For the #2 and #3 drivers, a lot will obviously depend on how the #1 have fared. For the teams there is no calling on strategy until close of play on Saturday.
Hyundai have to get a great team result. The manufacturers title is team boss Andrea Adamo’s only goal. For me Rally Turkey is their biggest opportunity of the remaining rallies as they have done best on slow roads (based on stage wins across 2018 & 2019). In 2018 they outscored Toyota on Turkish stage wins.
I believe Thierry Neuville will continue to be allowed to push. Not for his own title hopes, but in order to stop Ott Tanak’s Toyota winning. If they were to both argue over first and second, it’s a 14 point swing when there is only 8 points separating the teams. For his own ambitions though, finishing on the second or third step of the podium is better than not at all. There are better rounds ahead to take the risk to. Second on the road won’t be nice but I still expect a good drive on Friday followed by an on-limit push on Saturday. If we get the Neuville that wasn’t at the races in Sardinia or Finland he can kiss goodbye to the title.
Dani Sordo could be a surprise winner again as he was at Rally Sardinia, not on pace alone. Good road position on Friday might not be too great if bigger rocks get pulled out and exposed. I still see him posting strong times and I think he could be at/near the top, but a safety first strategy on Saturday will drop a position or two.
The consistent form of Andreas Mikkelsen recently shows clearly he was told after Mexico he is the #3 driver. Over the rallies since he has solidly been a safe +0.5s/km on nearly every stage – excepting a poor Rally Chile and fast Sunday in Italy where few other drivers were trying. Though he led this rally last year it was under a very different regime. I’ve little doubt he will head into this rally as he did in Argentina, Italy and Finland – with measured pace. It’s not a bad strategy considering he finished 2nd, 3rd and 4th respectively. Luck will still need to be on his side as punctures can happen at any speed.
Toyota are within a sniff of Hyundai and will want to stop them gaining. They have eyes on both prizes.
Ott Tanak only has one gear – Go. He also has a 33 point lead in the championship with 3 further rounds to go. He doesn’t need to win here. Opening the road on the monster Friday will not be easy either, so I don’t expect him to look like he’s in contention on Friday evening. And it’s only here he can begin to see what’s possible on the remaining KM. Saturday will be better but whether he should push Tanak-stylee or not cannot be foretold. If he wins like so many automatically expect, it’ll require a bit of bad luck for his competitors and/or help from a friend or two. I believe the team will (or should) encourage this patience.
If I was Tommi Makinen I would let JML set the pace on Friday to get into the leading pack come nightfall. This is where he is most useful for the team and Ott through the weekend. Kris Meeke should play the insurance card but will probably be involved at the front. Again he could become useful for the team or Ott.
Toyota have the best shot at the final three rounds so could settle for comfort in Turkey. I don’t think this is the best strategy given the luck and form they had in the early half of the season tough.
Citroen have only one difficult mission – the driver’s title. Sebastien Ogier has to podium at a minimum should Tanak and Neuville struggle else title number seven is gone. The win will be the target of course. Wales has been kind to him for several years and the C3 may be good for Catalunya but he cannot afford to bank on those now. He has to win in Turkey for both the points and to send a psychological message to his opponents. Should they have issues here it is a great opportunity to reduce the deficit.
Esapekka Lappi has one purpose – help Ogier. To do that he too will have to push to be in a position where he is useful. He has the most favourable start position except for Tidemand so he should be able to compete on Friday. Whether he has the motivation or car will have to be proven.
It’s too late for Citroen to play safety games. I wouldn’t advise wreckless, risky driving but they need to be at the limit, pushing both the pace and their luck.
M-Sport have no championships to contend in. They are there to finish as high up the leader board as possible. For me there would be no better opportunity for Teemu Suninen to play max attack to a first ever WRC win but I do not see it happening. His best results have come letting others fall out and he has had too many retirements this season, many due to mechanical faults. I don’t believe the team, or Teemu, would want another mechanical issue to define their rally this year.
I believe Pontus Tidemand will have set targets to be within Xkm/s of the leaders. He has had two outings in a WRC car before, but not on gravel of any grade. On pace I expect moderation and consistency but would not be surprised if the times of the R5s becomes his focus.
Rally Turkey Odds
Rally Turkey is one of the most unpredictable rounds of the calendar, simply because of the testing ruggedness aspect. It’s been said it’s not the fastest who wins but the smartest. But some drivers can’t afford to be smart at this point in the season!
Bet365 currently has Rally Turkey odds and to be honest anybody is worth a small punt as there are no sensible bets. My choice would immediately discount Tidemand and the wing men Meeke, Mikkelsen and Lappi. There is possibility for #2s Sordo or Latvala, particularly if the #1s retire. Teemu Suninen could be worth a small bet at 25/1, (if he follows my advice and wants to win). That leaves us with the leading trio.My tip for Turkey is not to put your mortgage on ;). And as I cannot call a winner I have to therefore default to Ott Tanak.
Of course I look forward to rereading this post on Monday and calling it all b#//#cks. Feature image credit @MSportLtd.
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