2024 Rally Poland | 7 talking points

01st July 2024
Ben Miles

Another exciting rally for a season that’s absolutely packed with them, and we leave Rally Poland with a familiar name atop a WRC event. Kalle Rovanpera’s winning performance, having not expected to compete, is just one side story among overarching themes. Here’s the seven things that stood out to us this weekend.

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Neuville struggles

For the first time in a few rallies it looked like championship leader Thierry Neuville might let this one get away from him. Running first on the road always has its disadvantages - brushing all that loose gravel out of the way is the most difficult thing in rallying - but such is Neuville’s mindset in 2024, that he’s barely let it trouble him so far this year.

But in Poland, the super fast roads appeared to mean that even the fired-up Belgian was hindered in his progress. Languishing down the pack after day one, Neuville gradually fought his way back through, and ended up reaching the first checkpoint less than a second away from an impressive fourth place. Running order will have a crucial part to play in the rest of this season as we continue through gravel rounds, and Neuville needs that ultra-hyped mojo he had found to return. 

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Evans arrives, then suffers Evans luck

Finally, the Welshman seemed to find a headspace that allowed him to do something of what Neuville had been doing - extracting pace from his car even as he swept the road up front. Through day one he kept in the hunt, just a handful of seconds behind the battle for first, then on Saturday he established himself as Kalle Rovanpera’s only real competitor. Perhaps it was down to the speed of the stages, the kind of fast roads where Evans has at times excelled - look at his wins in Croatia, Finland and Great Britain.

But then it happened, Evans got some of that classic Elfyn Evans luck. On the penultimate stage of Saturday he arrived at the interview point with a left rear lacking rubber and minus much of the car’s rear arch. He lost more time in the next stage, presumably due to the damage. Next day he kept his end up, beating Neuville for several stages to try and bring even more of a points swing home. Then he was suddenly ten seconds down on everyone on the power stage. An unseen rock had lain waiting for the Welshman and left him stumbling home. Suddenly his mighty weekend clawing back points wasn’t so impressive. He needs to find that grit from day one for the next few rounds.

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Sesks impresses

Finishing nearly two minutes down on the leader doesn’t sound that auspicious for debutant Martins Sesks. But to think that would be to completely miss the whole circumstances of his Rally Poland. Firstly, the obvious one, this was the first time Sesks had ever been given the chance to compete properly in a Rally1 machine. But, it wasn’t really a full blooded Rally1 machine. This was a Ford Puma hobbled by the removal of its hybrid system and handed extra weight to make sure it weighed the same as the other cars.

It was in those circumstances that Sesks beat the likes of Takamoto Katsuta and Gregoire Munster comfortably. With the proximity to his Latvian homeland it was no surprise there were so many of his countrymen there to celebrate, and Sesks was, rightly, elated with his drive. The best thing now is that he gets to do it again, with a hybrid system attached this time, in his home country next round. With a favourable running order, knowledge of the roads and the wind in his sails, watch out for what Sesks can do.

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Kalle the Super Sub

On Wednesday Kalle Rovanpera was not meant to be taking part in Rally Poland. On Sunday afternoon he stood on the top step of the podium. Even he admitted afterward that he wasn’t sure of the enormity of what he and co-drive Jonne Halttunen had achieved in their super-sub appearance. 

We all know that Kalle is a generational talent. But this was another of those Loeb/Ogier-style performances that showcased potential all-time great status. Rovanpera was hardly headed, and while he never established the kind of dominance that he has so many times, he could hardly have been expected to after zero preparation. He has been self critical this year, having sent Toyota GR Yarises into the scenery more than once on his part-time appearances, but in Poland he was peerless.

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The points system needs a re-think  

Urgh, do we have to talk about this again? Yes. I’m afraid that we do. Even a friend of mine, who has been a very long-time follower of the WRC and has travelled around the world to watch it, said that the new point system and its vagaries were making him apathetic toward the World Rally Championship in 2024.

First, we have to state the good. Splitting the points has meant that we see the world’s best rally drivers at proper speed all through Sunday even if they’ve been hobbled on previous days, not just cruising before the Power Stage. But there needs to be a reassessment of the balance of points. 

Ott Tanak was exceptional on Sunday, and his initial retirement was not his fault - hitting a deer will do that to you. But retire he did, and he did again on Saturday to protect the car for Sunday. And he still walked away from the event with only six points less than second-placed Elfyn Evans, and just three down on team-mate Neuville. Given that Evans was second on Saturday and second overall, and Tanak in 40th, that doesn’t seem right. It’s off-putting and needs a real rethink.

Pretty sure we’ll be writing about this all year. Sigh.


Mikkelsen is back 

One quick word for Andreas Mikkelsen. A super popular man in the world of rallying, the Norwegian has fought hard, plugging through WRC2, for years to try and get back to a top drive. And this year, his chance at Hyundai has been a bit of a nightmare. Sixth and sixth in his two outings, without ever troubling the podium, is the exact opposite of what the three-time WRC rally winner and reigning WRC2 champion would want or expect. In comparison, the two other drivers sharing his part-time car have either won a rally or finished on the podium this season.

Well, this weekend the Andreas Mikkelsen we know, was back. Using his favourable running position, Mikkelsen proved to be the only real challenger for the two Toyota heavies at the front. He traded times with Rovanpera and Evans, and was well in the hunt for a first victory since Australia 2016 when he suffered a massive tyre failure which ripped his Hyundai i20 to pieces. That stuffed his chances of a podium, but Mikkelsen will take heart from the speed, and Hyundai will not have failed to notice that their third third driver has found pace once more. They’ll need that for the rest of the season.

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Poland is super fast, super fun, and super in trouble

Finally a word for the rally itself. The first time we’ve been to Poland for a WRC event since 2017 was a welcome return. The event was canned from the World Championship after the FIA and WRC got fed up of consistent safety issues leading to cancelled stages. Much work from the organisers has gone into finding a way back and multiple ERC events have appeared to show that change has happened.

But then came the event, and the spectre of cars passing through a stage at road speed because, you guessed it, spectators couldn’t get themselves in the right place. Two stoppages and a stage cancelled altogether is not a good look in 2024. That’s the kind of thing that happened 15 years ago in the WRC, it shouldn’t happen today.

And let’s hope that the fact that the rest of the event passed off relatively quietly - with some hardcore fans taking it upon themselves to get the rest in order - sees us return to Poland. This is a brilliant event, super fast sweeping roads, loads of fans, and a real challenge that saw times traded in tenths of a second rather than tens. The drivers love this kind of rally, where they get to dance the car through high speed sweepers, and it would be a real real shame to lose it. So please fans, listen to the marshals. 

Images courtesy of Motorsport Images.

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