Kalle Rovanperä had the chance to all but seal the 2023 WRC title at Rally Chile. But he managed just three stage wins out of 16 and ended up fourth, more than two minutes behind winner Ott Tänak. This week, the WRC grid returns to Europe for the first-ever Central European Rally. Here’s your Central European Rally Preview for betting this week.
Central European Rally: Rovanperä leads the favorites
Kalle Rovanperä (+100)
Rovanperä’s fourth place in Chile was his worst finish since retiring in Finland. He’d finished on the podium in five of the prior six events heading into Chile. His fourth-place result was buoyed by taking first in the Power Stage standings for the weekend. That means his lead at the top of the World Rally Championship standings only lost two points to Elfyn Evans in second place.
The Central European Rally is the first tarmac rally since the Croatia Rally in April. Rovanperä finished fourth in that event. Only one of his 11 career WRC victories came on tarmac: the 2022 Croatia Rally. He’s been the best driver in 2023 but may go another week without a win.
Sebastien Ogier (+200)
Ogier’s back this week for his seventh event of the 2023 WRC schedule. Last time he raced in the Acropolis Rally, the eight-time champion managed just 10th. He does have three wins this season, though, including a win at the part-tarmac Monte Carlo Rally.
Ogier’s won at least one tarmac-only event four out of the last five years. In 2022, he won Rally Catalunya; In 2021, he won Rally di Monza and Croatia Rally; In 2022, he won Rally di Monza again. Ogier’s been a part-time driver this season but could be a thorn in Rovanperä’s side this weekend to delay his championship coronation.
Central European Rally Preview: sleepers this weekend
Thierry Neuville (+550)
Neuville’s notched just one victory in 2023 in the Rally Italia Sardegna. Besides that, it’s been an inconsistent season. Podiums in six other events have him third in the standings, but poor results in Croatia, Kenya, and Greece have him too far back from Evans to challenge for second.
Tarmac is Neuville’s stronger suit. A third of his 18 WRC wins have come on tarmac-only events. Another two came on mixed tarmac surfaces. His last tarmac win came in Japan last season. He’ll be closer to the front again this week.
Ott Tänak (+650)
Tänak’s win in Chile came after a rough stretch of performances. He’d finished no better than fourth in the six events leading up to that. With the win, the gap from Tänak to Neuville in third in the WRC standings is just nine points.
Since his WRC title in 2019, Tänak’s won just one tarmac-only event, the Ypres Rally last season. But the Central European Rally runs through parts of Germany, where Tänak won three rallies in his career. It’s hard to imagine the Finnish driver winning consecutive events, given his form in 2023.
Elfyn Evans (+700)
Pressure is on for Evans this weekend. The 31-point gap between him and Rovanperä has to shrink in order for the title fight to continue. But this is familiar territory for Evans. He fought through to the final rally of the season in 2020 and 2021 when eventual champion Ogier took the title. The 2023 season resembles 2021, when Evans came into the final rounds with a significant deficit but closed it up to 17 points by the season finale.
He comes into the event with great momentum among the other WRC leaders. He won the first tarmac-only event of 2023 in Croatia. That victory marked his first career tarmac win. He’s been on the podium in each of the last three events: First in Finland, second in Greece, and third in Chile. He’ll need another podium here to keep his title hopes alive.
Central European Rally Preview: predictions for this weekend
It’s a two-driver WRC race for the title between Evans and Rovanperä. The defending champion has been inconsistent over the last few events, with a win in Estonia and Greece but a retirement in Finland and fourth in Chile. Evans, a title challenger in two of the previous three seasons, hasn’t finished lower than fourth since Portugal.
Of the two favorites this week, Ogier seems more likely to get the win. He’s strong on tarmac and won multiple Rally Germany events prior to this season, including areas that will be featured in this year’s inaugural event.
Of the sleepers, Neuville looks like the best bet. He’s similarly strong on tarmac and is in good form lately, with three second-place finishes in four events.