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Special feature

WRC Monza: The Good, The Bad and an eight-time world champion

Sebastien Ogier versus Elfyn Evans for the World Rally Championship title at Rally Monza produced a fabulous head-to-head battle, with Ogier coming out on top to secure an emotional eighth title. We review the highs, lows, turning points, close calls and heartbreak that made the final round of the 2021 season.

Sébastien Ogier, Julien Ingrassia, Toyota Gazoo Racing WRT Toyota Yaris WRC

Toyota Racing

Top Performer - Sebastien Ogier and Julien Ingrassia 

The titanic battle waged between Toyota teammates Sebastien Ogier and Elfyn Evans for victory at Rally Monza could have earned both drivers the top gong last weekend. 

But it would be unjust not to award Top Performer to Ogier and Ingrassia, the pair emerging from a thrilling fight with Evans and Scott Martin to lift a an emotional eighth world title in their final event together as Ingrassia hangs his helmet up for good. It was a goodbye of sorts too for Ogier, who will only contest selected rallies next year.

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Ogier and Ingrassia displayed what the WRC will miss next season, as the duo only needed to finish sixth or higher to seal the title. But they went on to produce a vintage performance to win the rally. 

Despite insisting he was only focusing on himself and not the battle with Evans, Ogier managed to not only see off his title rival but also deal with the pressure and emotion of his last chance to win another world title.

After a battle that saw the lead switch between Ogier and Evans six times, the former came out on top by 7.3 seconds. The only blemish came when the Frenchman clipped a concrete barrier, marking out a chicane on Monza's famous banking, that could have derailed the fairytale finish to his full-time WRC career.

Elfyn Evans, Scott Martin, Toyota Gazoo Racing WRT Toyota Yaris WRC

Elfyn Evans, Scott Martin, Toyota Gazoo Racing WRT Toyota Yaris WRC

Photo by: Toyota Racing

Honourable mentions - Elfyn Evans and Oliver Solberg 

Evans deserves huge credit for reeling in Ogier in the second half the season to whittle down a 44-point deficit to just 17, taking the title fight to the final round. 

The Welshman also warrants high praise for his fighting drive throughout Rally Monza, as the 32-year-old did everything he could to apply pressure on Ogier in a bid to force a mistake that would wrestle the title away. 

Evans starred on the Monza circuit stages on Friday and Saturday that left him just half a second behind his rival heading into Sunday. A mistake on the penultimate stage cost him a shot at the rally victory, but it was nonetheless an admirable performance which created a fascinating finale.

Likewise, Hyundai's Oliver Solberg is worthy of mention on only his fourth outing in a full WRC car, scoring his best result to date courtesy of a fine drive to fifth. 

The Swede competed the distance with only one small scare, but more importantly the son of 2003 world champion Petter Solberg was able to match his more experienced Hyundai teammates. 

"I want to carry on!" said Solberg.  "When you have a car like the Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC, you just don't want to stop driving it. This has been such a cool, such a fantastic week. 

"I think the speed we had was good here. To be able to fight with my teammates was more than I was expecting, to be honest."

Sure enough, Solberg will have far more WRC opportunities next year having secured a seat in the team's third car alongside Dani Sordo.       

Oliver Solberg, Elliott Edmondson, Hyundai 2C Competition Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC

Oliver Solberg, Elliott Edmondson, Hyundai 2C Competition Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC

Photo by: Austral / Hyundai Motorsport

Lucky Escapes

There is a good chance Hyundai's Thierry Neuville would have ended the season finale third overall, had it not been for striking a barrier on a right-hand corner early in Stage 9.

The Belgian won Stage 8 on Saturday in the Bergamo mountains, but came unstuck just 0.5kms into the next test. Amazingly, he was able to continue without a drop-off in pace - but the time lost in the incident ultimately cost him a podium to teammate Sordo. 

 

 

 

M-Sport's Adrien Fourmaux was lucky an accident on Stage 3 was not as serious as the aftermath looked.

The Frenchman, struggling with a mix of hard and soft tyres on his Fiesta, clipped a back at a tight left-hander which triggered a slow roll. The car eventually came to rest perched perilously on top of an armco barrier guarding a steep hillside.  

 

As mentioned earlier Ogier, was also lucky to escape a slight altercation with a concrete barrier.

 
Sébastien Ogier, Julien Ingrassia, Toyota Gazoo Racing WRT Toyota Yaris WRC with the tem

Sébastien Ogier, Julien Ingrassia, Toyota Gazoo Racing WRT Toyota Yaris WRC with the tem

Photo by: McKlein / Motorsport Images

Team of the Week - Toyota 

Toyota rounded off the WRC season in style with a Rally Monza one-two as Ogier edged Evans, the pair finishing in that order in the world championship standings. The team also clinched the manufacturers' crown after losing out to Hyundai last season, marking a successful first year with new boss Jari-Matti Latvala at the helm.

The team executed a perfect strategy to seal the title, asking Kalle Rovanpera to sacrifice his rally to allow Ogier and Evans a fair, no-holds-barred fight to decide the drivers' crown. Rovanpera drove conservatively - or, as he put it, "like driving your nan to church" - just in case one of his teammates fell off the road and left a window for Hyundai to exploit.

"We have been working so hard to claim the manufacturers' championship and the drivers' and co-drivers' championships all at the same time," said Latvala. 

"I am so grateful for the team. We have such a fantastic team with great people and the best drivers in the championship. I'm really proud of all the team members and the crews."    

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As highlighted earlier, Rovanpera was forced to drive with his hands tied in a manner of speaking. But when the shackles were removed on the final stage, he gave the Monza fans plenty to cheer about. 

He cited this moment "as a problem with the pacenotes", as quite clearly evidenced below.

 

There is a strict no smoking policy in the Monza paddock, but nobody told Oliver Solberg clearly.

 

WRC cars attacking Monza's iconic banking has to be arguably one of the finest sights in motorsport. It was therefore a fitting send-off for the current generation of cars, dubbed the 'Modern Group B'.

 

Hot Shots 

Sébastien Ogier, Julien Ingrassia, Toyota Gazoo Racing WRT Toyota Yaris WRC

Sébastien Ogier, Julien Ingrassia, Toyota Gazoo Racing WRT Toyota Yaris WRC

Photo by: Toyota Racing

Adrien Fourmaux, Alexandre Coria, M-Sport Ford WRT Ford Fiesta WRC

Adrien Fourmaux, Alexandre Coria, M-Sport Ford WRT Ford Fiesta WRC

Photo by: M-Sport

Oliver Solberg, Elliott Edmondson, Hyundai 2C Competition Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC

Oliver Solberg, Elliott Edmondson, Hyundai 2C Competition Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC

Photo by: Vincent Thuillier / Hyundai Motorsport

Winner and Champion Sébastien Ogier, Julien Ingrassia, Toyota Gazoo Racing WRT Toyota Yaris WRC

Winner and Champion Sébastien Ogier, Julien Ingrassia, Toyota Gazoo Racing WRT Toyota Yaris WRC

Photo by: Toyota Racing

Takamoto Katsuta, Aaron Johnston, Toyota Gazoo Racing WRT Toyota Yaris WRC

Takamoto Katsuta, Aaron Johnston, Toyota Gazoo Racing WRT Toyota Yaris WRC

Photo by: Toyota Racing

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