Ogier wins WRC’s Rally Mexico, St. Petersburg IndyCar cancelled

16th March 2020
Damien Smith

So a rally happened this weekend. But even its winner said it shouldn’t have. Sébastien Ogier then went as far as apologising that the third round of the 2020 World Rally Championship had taken place when the vast majority of major sport around the globe had been postponed or cancelled.

Nothing about our world right now makes much sense – and as for what happens next, who knows? One thing is for sure: sport, including our own, is a long way down the list of priorities when it comes to the threat of a pandemic.


Ogier’s strangest win

He secured a sixth Rally Mexico victory to equal Sébastien Loeb’s record on the event, but Ogier took little pleasure from it – even though it also marked his first in a Toyota and launched him to the top of the WRC points standings.

Eyebrows were raised when the rally kicked off on Thursday evening, in the wake of the mass sporting cull, which of course included the Australian Grand Prix in Melbourne. If Formula 1 was guilty of making a bit of a mess of how it handled the crisis – anyone really surprised at that? – at least all concerned came to the right decision eventually. When the world is on such high alert over the spread of COVID-19 and the devastating effects it might have on the most vulnerable, was it really appropriate for the WRC and the Mexican organisers to carry on regardless?

As it turned out, time was called early on the rally in the face of the travel shutdown being rolled out across the US and Europe. The three stages planned for Sunday were cancelled and the curtain came down on Saturday evening.

Ogier had led from the second stage on Friday and turned in a comfortable victory. The six-time champion finished 27.8 seconds ahead of the reigning champion, Hyundai’s Ott Tänak. The Estonian finished just short of 10 seconds ahead of M-Sport’s Teemu Suninen. If anyone was the star of such an event held in such strange circumstances, it was surely the 26-year-old Finn, who scored the second WRC podium of his career.

Britain’s Elfyn Evans arrived in Mexico at the head of the WRC points standings and was thus disadvantaged by his early starting position on the road. Fourth place, ahead of fellow rising Toyota ace Kalle Rovanperä, was a decent return in the circumstances and leaves him just eight points shy of Ogier, but 12 up on Hyundai’s Thierry Neuville, who could only finish in 16th overall after an electrical failure on Friday.

Exactly when Evans and Neuville will get their first chance to make up the lost ground is anyone’s guess, of course. As it stands, the next WRC round in Argentina has already been postponed, while the following rally in Portugal during May could well be lost too. After that it’s Rally Sardinia, but given the plight of Italy right now that surely looks unlikely to run.


IndyCar calls off season opener in St. Petersburg

A little more than a week ago, this writer was among 81,000 people who packed themselves into Twickenham stadium to watch England beats Wales in a Six Nations rugby clash. The coronavirus was surely in the back of most minds that Saturday – but then again, we were all caught up in a thrilling game. It just didn’t seem to be a major issue right there and then

But it’s a sign how quickly things are moving that a week later such an occasion going ahead was now almost unthinkable.

Over in Florida, IndyCar had confirmed mid-week its plan to press on with its season opener, a street race around St. Petersburg. The plan, it said, was to run the race as a closed event without a crowd. Given that the point of street races is to bring motorsport directly to the people, that would have been an odd sight. As it was, the organisers were eventually forced to cede and call off the race entirely as all US sport shut down. Again, the right decision and in the circumstances the only one that could be taken.

Esports attempts to fill the void

Watching a race which is actually a computer game might seem a poor substitute to the real thing – but it really does depend on your perspective (and perhaps your age).

As it stands, simulated racing might be all there is for the time being and a couple of Formula 1 drivers got into the spirit by competing at the weekend. Not quite the same as lining up on the grid in Albert Park – but as the gaming community would argue with force, it’s better than nothing.

McLaren driver and keen gamer Lando Norris joined the likes of Real Madrid goalkeeper Thibault Cortois and Mercedes Formula E ace Stoffel Vandoorne in a virtual Australian Grand Prix on Sunday run by VeloceEsports.

Meanwhile Max Verstappen, another gaming fan, took part in The Race’s All-Star Esports Battle that even featured commentary from the BBC’s Jack Nicholls and Jolyon Palmer. Having won the VIP race, Verstappen was out of luck in the final. He started ninth, but was knocked into a first-corner spin. The Red Bull ace put on a charge, only to be spun around again and eventually finished 11th. Can you imagine how he might have reacted to such a race in real life?

The winner was one Jernej Simoncic, who earned $4,000 for his efforts, along with the satisfaction of beating one of the world’s best (real) F1 drivers, not to mention the likes of Juan Pablo Montoya, Felix Rosenqvist, Simon Pagenaud and Antonio Felix da Costa, in what has been billed as the biggest sim race in history.

As we said at the top, strange world we’re living in right now.

Images courtesy of Motorsport Images.

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