*Toyota vs Hyundai as Elfyn Evans and Ott Tänak engage in thrilling battle
*Craig Breen loses lead, but still runs third for Hyundai Shell Mobis World Rally Team
*Kalle Rovanperä and Takamoto Katsuta crash out for Toyota Gazoo Racing WRT
*Teemu Suninen leads WRC2, Emil Lindholm in front in WRC3
Elfyn Evan leads Ott Tänak into the final day of Secto Automotive Rally Finland by just 9.1 seconds after the pair engaged in a thrilling battle for supremacy through the second leg on Saturday, as the FIA World Rally Championship celebrated the event’s 70th anniversary with a spectacular display of high-speed action through the forests.
Toyota Gazoo Racing WRT driver Evans dominated the morning, winning all four stages, before Hyundai Shell Mobis World Rally Team ace Tänak hit back with a hat-trick of wins in the afternoon. Evans responded to the threat magnificently on the penultimate stage of the day, before the pair managed to dead-heat on the short final test run in darkness.
Overnight leader Craig Breen continued to shine in his Hyundai i20 Coupé WRC, but slipped behind the top two through the afternoon and heads into the final day with a deficit of 19.5s to Evans and 10.4s to his team-mate Tänak.
The crews launched themselves straight into the forests on Saturday morning on the glorious 18.17km Kakaristo-Hassi test, the first of nine stages to be run on the second day. Evans picked up from where he left off on Friday evening by flying through the fast, flowing roads to claim another stage win, but just 0.2s quicker than rally leader Breen, who extended his advantage over Hyundai team-mate Tänak to 4s. Evans remained third overall, closing to within just 1.9s of Tänak, while his Toyota team-mate Kalle Rovanperä demoted fellow Finn Esapekka Lappi in his RTE-Motorsport Yaris WRC to fifth.
On Päijälä, the rally’s longest test at 22.61km, there was frustration for Takamoto Katsuta when he lost control just 400m before the flying finish, slid off into undergrowth and into retirement with damage to the rear end of his Toyota. Meanwhile, Evans turned the screw to log his third consecutive stage win and leap past both Hyundais to lead the rally for the first time, just 0.9s ahead of Breen who was outpaced on SS8 by Tänak. Just 2.3s separated the top three. “It felt okay, but not perfect everywhere,” Evans told WRC.com’s All Live service. “In a few places I came in too hot and lost my line a little bit, but it’s okay.” But Breen was full of praise for the on-form Welshman. “Compared to Ott it’s not a bad stage, but Elfyn has done a real blinder in there,” he said. “I struggled a bit with grip, but that’s an amazing time.”
Evans completed his hat-trick for the morning on Arvaja, a challenging 13.49km test last used on Rally Finland way back in 1994, heading team-mate Rovanperä by 1.7s. He also extended his lead over Breen to 4s, with Tänak now a further 2.0s back. Breen said he was doing all he could: “I can’t do anything more than that. It was nearly a perfect stage to be honest with you – that’s my maximum.”
Rovanperä’s day came to a sudden end on Patajoki, the final stage of the morning, when he lost control 3.6km into the 20.55km test and slammed nose-first into a mound of gravel. A day after his 21st birthday, the impact caused heavy damage to the front end of his Yaris. But his team-mate Evans completed his clean sweep for the morning with another stage win, 1.6s up on Breen. That left him with a lead of 5.6s over the Irishman, with Tänak a further 4.1s back. Rovanperä’s misfortune elevated Lappi into fourth ahead of Thierry Neuville’s Hyundai and FIA World Rally Championship leader Sébastien Ogier in his Toyota.
Saturday afternoon began with a second run through Kakaristo-Hassi, which was grippier than it had been in the morning. Tänak ended the Evans hegemony on stage wins, by a scant 0.6s, but Breen lost 2.3s to the rally leader after incurring slight left-front bodywork damage after clipping a haybale. Tänak then kept the pressure up on SS12, Päijälä, with a consecutive stage win, 1.2s quicker than Evans this time to move into second overall ahead of Breen. But the Irishman was only 0.2s behind the 2019 FIA World Rally Champion overall, the trio separated by just 8.1s with three stages of the leg to run.
A second run through Arvaja was next, Tänak securing a hat-trick of stage wins – by just 0.2s from Evans. But Breen lost further ground here, logging only the sixth fastest time and slipping back to 12.1s behind the leader. “I really didn’t have a good rhythm and I just didn’t push enough,” said Breen. “There was so much more grip than in the first pass but we’re still here.” Then in the final forest stage of the day, a return to Patajoki, Evans checked Tänak’s charge by outpacing him by 1.4s, increasing his lead to 9.1s with the final stage of the day to run. Meanwhile, Breen lost a further 6.2s to the leader.
But there were bigger troubles for Neuville as darkness began to fall. His Hyundai lost its lamp pod, he slowed and then stopped in an access road 10.5km into the stage. The Belgian had been running steadily in fifth since Rovanperä’s crash on SS10, but now Ogier inherited that position.
The crews returned to Jyväskylä for the closing stage of the leg, a run through the urban Harju test where the rally began on Friday. Run in darkness in front of an appreciative crowd, Evans and Tänak put on a spectacular show and it was fitting that after such closely-fought action between the pair they should set identical times over the 2.31km test.
“It’s been a good day, I really enjoyed it,” said Evans. “It’s been a great fight and there’s obviously a long way to go tomorrow, but we’ll just take it stage by stage.”
“The road changed and I could manage the car better,” said Tänak in explanation for his afternoon charge. “It’s been a big step for the team and it’s good to be on the pace with Hyundai in Finland.”
Breen admitted the day was bitter-sweet for him. “When you have it in your hands and it starts to go away it’s a little disappointing, but we have to be realistic. I think to get that last one per cent is very, very difficult.”
Lappi completed the leg in a fine fourth in his privately-run Yaris, nearly half a minute behind Breen – but more than half a minute clear of Ogier. The M-Sport Ford World Rally Team Fiestas of Gus Greensmith and Adrien Fourmaux are sixth and seventh after solid and largely trouble-free runs through the forests.
In WRC2, Teemu Suninen holds a slender advantage of 8.0s over Mads Ostberg, but it was a far from straightforward day for the leader. Suninen was forced to remove the front bumper of his Volkwagen Polo GTI on the road section before SS13 (Arvaja) to counter an overheating problem. “No errors, no warnings on the dash,” he said. “We had a small problem on the radiator but we were able to fix it. I have to say, we were lucky.”
Beyond the top two, Oliver Solberg rolled out of the first stage of the morning in his Hyundai i20 N Rally 2, and Nikolay Gryazin was forced to retire his Volkswagen after picking up punctures on consecutive stages when he was only carrying one spare tyre.
Emil Lindholm’s Skoda Fabia Evo leads WRC3 by more than a minute ahead of Mikko Heikkilä’s Skoda.
The third and final leg of Secto Automotive Rally Finland will be made up of four stages and begins on the Laukaa test at 8h35 local time on Sunday morning.
COMING UP NEXT ON SECTO AUTOMOTIVE RALLY FINLAND: SUNDAY OCTOBER 3
The battle for Secto Automotive Rally Finland glory takes crews north of Jyväskylä tomorrow (Sunday) for the 11.75-kilometre Laukaa test (SS16/SS18) with the second run of Ruuhimäki (SS17/SS19) forming the points-paying Wolf Power Stage from 13:18. Located east of the host city, Ruuhimäki is 11.12 kilometres in length and finishes at the spectacular Laukaa-Arena where the podium ceremony will be held. Along with Harju, Laukaa and Ruuhimäki are the only parts of the route unchanged from 2019.