The sport’s “next big thing” is an all-too-familiar phrase nowadays. We’ve all read the reports, seen the interviews and the exciting clips on YouTube, and maybe even bought the Fan Club t-shirts. Growing in confidence and skills on the world stage is a tough ask for any sport athlete, and when one involves as much behind-the-scenes financial backing and muscling as motorsport, driver managers and sponsors need to even more committed to their young guns than ever before.
At the top tier of the sport, there is always a steady flow in and out of young talented drivers and co-drivers, but only a few manage to stick around long enough to make an impact on the sport. The reasons are as numerous as the different nationalities competing in the World Rally Championship, but after the most recent ADAC Rallye Deutschland we are able to see the emergence of two drivers who have the backing of the sport’s powerhouses behind them. Enter to the boxing ring Mr Tanak, 25 years old and a jockey-sized driver from Estonia. In the other corner is Mr Neuville, 24 years old and hailing from Belgium. This makes for an interesting comparison, a Ford versus Citroën duel of epic proportions.
Ott Tanak (M-Sport Ford World Rally Team) this weekend skipped to two stage wins in Germany, outpacing Sebastien Loeb (Citroën Total World Rally Team) on his favourite surface. The blonde driver has now claimed three stage wins in his short WRC career, while Neuville has claimed two to date. Tanak was spotted by, and has been working with, Markko Martin to increase his skills levels and performance. Through Martin and his own speed and fearless approach to the special stages, M-Sport signed a five-year deal with the Estonian ace at the end of 2011.
Thierry Neuville raised eyebrows with his pace in the Junior World Rally Championship in 2010 and developed his speed on the Intercontinental Rally Challenge (IRC) events that same year and came fighting for the title in 2011 after winning two events. Citroën Racing picked up on this Belgian and has a close eye on his career the last few seasons.
Both these rising stars seemingly have their careers plotted out for them into the factory seats at Ford and Citroën, and this is down to the sheer hard work and effort these drivers have put into their rally careers.
In the WRC ADAC Rallye Deutschland, Tanak withdrew from the event on Day Two. Neuville too suffered from a crash at this event, but restarted Day Three under Rally 2 rules to bring his DS3 WRC to the finish. As both of these drivers made their debut into the WRC in 2009, it is difficult to not compare the two: this season, Neuville has outpaced Tanak in 5 of 9 events run thus far.
However, with these two drivers working closely with the factory team, have the powers that be overlooked two other talents waiting in the wings? Evgeniy Novikov and Mads Ostberg have shown tremendous pace in 2012, with Mads Ostberg fourth overall in the Drviers’ Championship now only two points behind Ford World Rally Team’s Petter Solberg. To boot, Ostberg didn’t compete in two of the nine rounds thus far…
There is no doubting the speed of Tanak and Neuville, but Novikov and Ostberg have outpaced both in the Championship.
With four events remaining on the calendar, will Tanak regain the lost ground to rival Neuville? All we know is that we’re in for highly entertaining and enthralling rally seasons ahead!