*Elfyn Evans becomes first Welsh winner in Finland with nine out of 19 stage wins
*Victory and maximum bonus points from Wolf Power Stage keep his WRC title hopes alive
*Tänak and Breen secure first Finnish podiums for Hyundai Shell Mobis World Rally Team
*Teemu Suninen wins WRC2, Emil Lindholm conquers WRC3
Elfyn Evans scorched to a first victory on Secto Automotive Rally Finland by winning three of the four stages on the third and final leg on Sunday and closed to within 24 points of Sébastien Ogier’s lead in the chase for the 2021 FIA World Rally Championship.
The Toyota Gazoo Racing WRT driver became the first Welsh winner of Secto Automotive Rally Finland in what was his second victory of the WRC season, defeating Hyundai Shell Mobis World Rally Team’s Ott Tanak by 14.1 seconds following an intense and entertaining duel with the Estonian over the course of the event’s 70th anniversary edition.
“This one feels good, in the way we managed to do it as well,” said Evans. “We struggled a lot in Estonia and made some changes to the car in the test, and came and found some confidence in the car pretty early on. We had a good rhythm from an early road position on Friday and then managed to take the fight to them on Saturday. It feels pretty good now and a big thanks to the team. I’m happy to give them this on their home rally.”
The result means Evans is now the only driver who can beat Ogier to the WRC crown this year, following Thierry Neuville’s retirement on Saturday when his Hyundai suffered a water leak after a heavy landing. Ogier finished fifth despite incurring a one-minute penalty on Saturday for a crash helmet safety infringement. The Frenchman also failed to score any bonus points in the Wolf Power Stage because of an engine problem, as Evans took a maximum haul by winning the finale to secure his victory in style.
“I always said from the outset our aim is to do the best we can on each rally that is left,” said Evans on his title bid. “Obviously this one has been good, but we have to focus on doing our best now in Spain and worry about the rest later.”
Stage conditions were slippery on a bright and sunny morning as the crews tackled the classic Laukaa test to kick off the final day. Predictably, the lead duo immediately resumed their enthralling battle for victory, Tänak edging the stage by just 0.4s and reducing the gap to Evans to 8.7s. “Not great to be honest,” was the Welshman’s verdict. “I could have gone a bit better in places but I had a few big slides at the start and it was quite low grip. All okay.” Craig Breen had a quick spin at a junction in his Hyundai i20 Coupé WRC, but still set the fifth fastest time on a stage where both Toyotas of Takamoto Katsuta and Kalle Rovanperä, who crashed out on Saturday, returned to action under rally re-start rules.
Following Tänak’s challenge on the opener, Evans answered it emphatically on the 11.2km Ruuhimäki test, outpacing the Estonian by an impressive 3.5s with a beautifully controlled push. That extended his lead to 12.2s which just two stages to run. “It just felt really clean, nothing too wild,” he said. “It was tricky enough in these two and there’s a lot still to do.” Meanwhile, M-Sport Ford World Rally Team’s Adrien Fourmaux entertained with his effort over the stage’s fierce flying finish, logging an eye-opening 57 metres in the air. But then Nikolay Gryazin, returning to the rally on re-start rules following his double-puncture on Saturday, beat that mark with a spectacular 58m leap in his WRC2 Volkswagen Polo GTI.
Evans displayed superb composure throughout the rally, but never more than through Laukaa for the second time – and there was no question of him backing off. On the splits he was down by 0.7s to Tänak during the 11.75km test, but turned that deficit into a 0.2s advantage by the finish to claim an eighth stage win and hold a lead of 12.4s ahead of the Wolf Power Stage finale.
Gryazin kicked off the Wolf Power Stage action on Ruuhimäki by stretching his flight distance record at the flying finish to a gravity-defying 59m. But once the WRC runners hit the stage, Fourmaux appeared to grow wings as he managed an astonishing leap of 68m.
As the frontrunners began their runs, the big question was whether Evans would chase the bonus points on offer or play it safe to secure the rally victory. He answered that in no uncertain terms by flying through the 11.12km to outpace Tänak one last time by 1.6s, securing a maximum five bonus points to go with his 25 for the victory. Ogier was hugely disappointed to miss out on bonus points after suffering an engine problem during the stage. “The engine just stopped and I think power is also not here,” he said. “It was not the best Rally Finland for me, but it’s part of the game. I am looking forward to asphalt so much now.”
Breen was delighted to secure third position and complete Hyundai’s two-three result, the first time the manufacturer has made it on to the WRC podium in Finland. “It’s a proud moment, three podiums in a row – I can’t believe it,” he said. “I would have loved to have gone an extra level and fight for the win – it’s not there yet, but it’s better than in the past.”
Ahead of Ogier, Esapekka Lappi was satisfied with a fine fourth place in his RTE-Motorsport Toyota Yaris WRC, while M-Sport Ford World Rally Team duo Gus Greensmith and Adrien Fourmaux secured sixth and seventh after largely trouble-free runs through the weekend.
In WRC2, Teemu Suninen secured a home victory and eighth overall in his Movisport Volkswagen Polo GTI by 15.9s from Mads Ostberg’s TRT World Rally Team Citroën C3. “The feeling is really good,” said Suninen. “We did big changes for this rally and changed the team and the car, but still everything is working well.” Emil Lindholm secured the win in WRC3, finishing 10th overall in his Skoda Fabia Evo.
Final Unofficial Classification – Secto Automotive Rally Finland
- Evans – Martin Toyota Yaris WRC 2:19:13.7
- Tänak – Järveoja Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC +14.1
- Breen – Nagle Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC +42.2
- Lappi – Ferm Toyota Yaris WRC +58.8
- Ogier – Ingrassia Toyota Yaris WRC +2:54.4
- Greensmith – Patterson Ford Fiesta WRC +5:02.3
- Fourmaux – Coria Ford Fiesta WRC +6:22.9
- Suninen – Markkula Volkswagen Polo GTI +9:52.1
- Østberg – Eriksen Citroën C3 Rally2 +10:07.8
- Lindholm – Hämäläinen Škoda Fabia Evo +10:52.8