Stage rally fans, rejoice: after the traditional mixed-surface start to the season, the World Rally Championship begins to hit its stride with YPF Rally Argentina this weekend. The first in a stretch of four consecutive gravel rallies that will take the series into July, WRC’s lone South American stop in 2018 features such iconic and challenging stages as El Cóndor, which will be run twice on Sunday—the second time as the Power Stage.
As dominant as Sebastien Ogier has been over the past half-decade of WRC competition, Argentina remains the largest thorn in his side. Aside from Turkey, which hasn’t been on the schedule since 2010, this event is the only race that the five-time defending series champion hasn’t won. But while he chases that elusive victory, here are three other drivers to pay attention to once the opening stages take place this Thursday:
#5 Thierry Neuville/Nicolas Gasoul :: Hyundai Shell Mobis WRT :: Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC
Last year’s Rally Argentina winner looks like the biggest threat to Ogier and Julien Ingrassia in the 2018 title chase. The only other entrant to take a win this season (it came in Sweden), Neuville sits second in the standings, 17 points behind Ogier for the championship lead. Another weekend like Sweden would turn the tables, though—if Neuville can become the first back-to-back winner in this event since Sebastien Loeb in 2012-13, and Ogier has some rough luck, we might see a new points leader.
#8 Ott Tänak/Martin Järveoja :: Toyota Gazoo Racing WRT :: Toyota Yaris WRC
After an impressive 2017 season that saw him place third in the championship, Tänak decided to break out of Ogier’s shadow at M-Sport and signed a two-year deal with Toyota. The results so far have been impressive, as the Estonian has driven to runner-up results in both Monte Carlo and France to currently hold third place in points. After struggling in Argentina in previous years, Tänak broke through for his first podium here last year; can he improve a spot or two on last year’s third place finish?
#12 Khalid Al-Qassimi/Chris Patterson :: Citroen Total Abu Dhabi WRT :: Citroen C3 WRC
Making his first start of the season in the third Citroen entry, Al-Qassimi will look to earn his first points-paying WRC finish since 2015 in this weekend’s action. The good news? While he hasn’t raced in Argentina since that same season, it was the better one of his two point-scoring finishes that season, as he placed an impressive sixth. He managed to beat a number of top drivers that weekend, including Tänak and Ogier, so there’s a bona fide chance for a strong finish.