Top 10 WRC drivers of 2023

22nd November 2023
Ben Miles

The 2023 World Rally Championship season came to an end with a Toyota one-two-three in Japan. A fitting end to a season where the Japanese manufacturer has provided by far and away the best car on stage. But behind the wheel, which of the drivers that took part in the WRC this year impressed us the most?


10. Gus Greensmith – Toksport Skoda

Wins: 2 (WRC2)
Championship position: 2nd (WRC2)

Back in WRC 2 after three years at the top level Greensmith had to challenge for the title if he was ever to be taken seriously as a potential to return to Rally1. Severing his ties with M-Sport, which had facilitated his entire WRC career to that stage, was another bold statement. And while he wasn’t really a competitor for WRC2 Champion Andreas Mikkelsen by the end of the season, Greensmith won two of his first three outings in the category. Retirements in Italy, Estonia and Finland derailed the young Brit’s chances, but he bounced back for consecutive runner-up finishes to at least push the championship fight further down the line.

Away from the WRC Greensmith grabbed his first-ever outright victory on a rally, at Rally Vsetin in the Czech Republic, which is the kind of result that could propel a driver to better things if they use it properly. Aged 26 Greensmith still has a lot of time ahead of him, a real challenge for the WRC2 title is a must in 2024.


9. Roope Korhonen – Ford

Wins: 4 (WRC3)
Championship position: 1st (WRC3)

Greensmith’s career may not result in a top-level drive again soon on merit. However, if you want to find a potential new star, look no further than Roope Korhonen. The 25-year-old completed his first season in WRC3 in 2023, and of the four rounds he entered, he won four.

While it’s true that the third tier of the WRC’s in-and-out nature does make it hard to easily assess consistent performance, Korhonen came, saw and conquered the field this year and looked pretty peerless while doing so. The beautiful thing about the WRC in its current guise is that all but one driver who took part was in the same car (a Fiesta Rally3), so it wasn’t even a case of seriously better machinery.


8. Dani Sordo – Hyundai

Wins: 0
Championship position: 8th

It would be a shame if retirement from the Japanese Rally, when ridiculous rain sent cars flying off the side of the tight stages, was the final time we saw Dani Sordo in a Rally1 car. He agrees, remaining bullish that the 2023 season wasn’t his final part-time championship.

But this year we didn’t quite see vintage Sordo. Frustration and a smattering of self-doubt seemed to abound. Even then there were two podium finishes – second in Portugal, third in Greece – and consistent points finishes. He remained, even though often annoyed with himself, exactly what a team wants from a part-time driver. Few crashes, podium finishes, points in the bag often. With several drivers fighting for the second spot at Hyundai next year the future is still unclear for everyone’s favourite Spaniard.


7. Esapekka Lappi – Hyundai

Wins: 0
Championship position: 6th

A step back into a top-level WRC car full-time after outings in 2022, Lappi’s looked like a career in tatters as he fought back tears at the end of the Monza Rally in 2020. But 2023 has turned out to be a year of mixed fortunes and some clarity for the Finn. Three podiums in a row, four in five races. It seemed like Lappi was finally going to get back to the potential he showed in the junior ranks, and saw him win the 2017 Rally Finland. But then it sort of fell apart. He crashed out in Finland, and Chile… and the Central European Rally. A fifth in Greece and a Fourth in Japan were in the mix, but the crashes were all similar and all very big.

Through this period a big decision seems to have formed in Lappi’s mind. He’ll be back for 2024, but only in a part-time capacity, something Lappi says he asked for, to spend more time with his family. It would be sad if Lappi has lost some of that spark, because when he was on it in 2023, he showed that he’s still fast. Hopefully we see him back at the top full-time again.


6. Andreas Mikkelsen – Toksport Skoda

Wins: 4 (WRC2)
Championship position: 1st (WRC2)

Yes, there are only five Rally1 drivers on this list. And that does showcase how much of a topsy-turvy season the top level had. But that is not to do down how good Andreas Mikkelsen was in 2023. The 34-year-old may have seen his dreams of returning to the top level all but disappear over the last few years – overlooked for Lappi in 2022, no place for 2023, seemingly no chance for ‘24 – but instead he has picked up two WRC2 crowns and an ERC title in the last three years.

His 2023 opponents were, if anything, even more difficult than before. With Gus Greensmith stepping down with some heavy Rally1 experience along with Oliver Solberg and Adrien Fourmaux. The field was packed. But by the end of the season there was nothing any of them could do about the Norwegian. He won four rallies, double the amount of the next best, while taking part in fewer than either of the drivers who posed even remote title challenges. Mikkelsen is definitely deserving of a step back up into the Rally1 ranks. Whether he’ll get it is uncertain.


5. Sebastien Ogier – Toyota

Wins: 3
Championship position: 5th

Sebastien Ogier wins Rallye Monte Carlo. We might as well have the article created with a headline every year. Ogier has won eight of the last ten Monte Carlo events and despite stepping back from full-time rallying with his eighth world title at the end of 2021, won the Monte again in 2023. In fact, by the end of rally Mexico Ogier led the championship, and had won 100 per cent of the events he entered.

The rest of the 2023 season wasn’t quite so dramatically successful for Seb. He resumed his continuing grumpiness with Pirelli and its tyres, but also crashed out of the lead in Sardinia blaming a muddy boot. He came back with a victory in Kenya in which he led all but one stage, but the rest of the season drew no more wins. That is perhaps a signifier of what stepping away from full-time brings – no matter how fast you are naturally, by the end of the season everyone else has more experience with the car. Not vintage Ogier by any stretch of the imagination, but the Frenchman still remains one of the fastest around. This year he worked with young co-driver Vincent Landais, the type of experience a youngster couldn’t ever dream of paying for.


4. Thierry Neuville – Hyundai

Wins: 2
Championship position: 3rd

It might be quite harsh putting the man who finished third in the standings, won two rallies and finished on the podium eight times down a place on our list. But we’ll explain why later.

Neuville had a good season in 2023. He found some consistency that has perhaps disappeared in the past and was a constant threat for the upper finishing positions. But he struggled to convert that into wins, and on occasion when he was in the position to do so he sent his i20N into the scenery. It should be remembered that Neuville was carrying a team that suffered the loss of Craig Breen and was going through a total management overhaul. He was effectively the only contender Hyundai could field with Lappi struggling to find a rhythm for the whole season. That perhaps explains the inconsistencies that crept in at times. But for 2024 he’ll need to find that rhythm and speed again when Tanak arrives back in town.


3. Ott Tänak – M-Sport Ford

Wins: 2
Championship position: 4th

What a strange 18 months it’s been for Ott Tänak. The 2019 World Champion has seemed to spend his career bouncing around teams from the moment he left M-Sport at the end of 2017. Winning the title wasn’t enough to keep him at Toyota for 2020, finishing runner-up – not the right result for another season at Hyundai after 2022. He returned to M-Sport at the end of 2022 looking for a home and here we are, a year later, with the Estonian heading back to Hyundai.

That we’ve put him above Neuville, who finished ahead of him in the championship, says a lot about what Tänak faced in his single season back with the Cumbrian Fords. His first win back in blue overalls came in just the second rally, another podium on his fourth. But around these high points Tanak found niggling issues abound and a team without the funds to develop a championship contender. The Puma that so impressed in Sebastien Loeb’s hands at the start of 2022 has not progressed since. Tanak salvaged another win in Chile and a podium in central Europe, but was off the pace and unhappy for most of the rest of the year. We have him here due to him not only dragging four podiums out of the Puma but also reaching the finish in all but two of 2023’s WRC rounds.


2. Elfyn Evans – Toyota

Wins: 3
Championship position: 2nd

2022 was a nightmare for Elfyn Evans. In the season that Ogier finally disappeared he was meant to step up and challenge for the title as a two-time runner-up. Instead, his 22-year-old team-mate took the crown while Evans struggled to get to terms with the new hybrid Rally1 cars. Two rounds into 2023 it was looking like the luck he so desperately needed wasn’t coming near any time soon.

And then he got some in Croatia. Evans didn’t win a single stage of the rutted tarmac rally. But he was there at the end while others fell by the wayside. Reeling from the death of Craig Breen, it was an emotional event for the whole field and after Neuville crashed out on day 2 it was Elfyn’s to lose. That didn’t start a wild run to the title for the Welshman. He dramatically rolled out of the next event in Portugal, but it did seem to help right his mentality. With Rovenpera not the monster he was in 2022, a run of consistent podiums (he was in the top four for six of the last seven rallies) sent him into distant title contention. Next year is now perhaps the most important in Evans’ career. Rovanperä is only doing half the rounds so the Welshman must lead the team against a renewed Hyundai attack of Neuville and Tänak. If the Toyota remains the star of the field then Evans must win the title or he probably never will.


1. Kalle Rovanperä – Toyota

Wins: 3
Championship position: 1st

Obvious really wasn’t it? Rovanperä’s second WRC championship wasn’t quite as dominant as 2022, but it was still a strong showing of the generational talent that the Finn is. Last season Rovanperä won six rallies (out of 13) and had the title wrapped up long before the end of the season while utterly dominating his team-mates. In 2023, armed with what was now absolutely the car of the field, Rovanperä’s second title was won largely through consistency.

But, he was still champion before the end of the season, able to tackle Toytoa’s home round without any pressure, and all achieved while making his first forays into other forms of professional motorsport. Eight rounds of the Formula Drift Japan championship and three European Drift Masters events were added into his season, with Rovanperä clinching a win in his third outing in Formula Drift. Now the young Finn has shown a clear interest in furthering his experiment in drifting and will not return for a full defence of his title. He’ll be back in 2025, and if he’s as refreshed as he claims he will be, the rest of the drivers should be worried.

Images courtesy of Motorsport Images.

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