Ott Tänak kept his cool to score his third victory in Finland and a first for the Hyundai Shell Mobis World Rally Team in the country, as the Estonian held off Kalle Rovanperä on the final leg of an intense and thrilling Secto Rally Finland.
The pair remained equally matched on Sunday morning, even recording identical times on one stage for the second occasion on the rally, but Tänak maintained his advantage over the final Wolf Power Stage to secure victory by just 6.8s.
“The Toyota guys gave me some hope on Friday in the beginning and since then we saw some chance or light at the end of the tunnel,” said Tänak. “We were pushing from there.”
“It’s a great day for Hyundai,” said team chief Julien Moncet. “We finally made it in Finland after nine years. A great drive from Ott, he has been incredible all weekend and we have shown as well that we have a winning car, with no reliability issues. And a double win for us, with Teemu Suninen in WRC2, so a great day for the whole team.”
“It was a nice weekend,” said Rovanperä. “I would have liked to be in front of course, but if you look at the situation I think we did pretty well, starting first on the road on Friday. After that we fight back and we are still quite close, so I think we can be proud of what we did. A huge thanks to all the fans – the support was so amazing, even if I didn’t win I really enjoyed the weekend.”
Tänak started the leg with an 8.4s lead over Rovanperä, on a rally he’d led since winning the first stage of leg one on Friday morning. Surprised to still be at the top on Saturday night, he’d been hunted by Rovanperä on the afternoon loop of four stages on leg two, the Finn having risen from fourth place. Running first on the road as the FIA World Rally Championship leader on the opening day had been a clear disadvantage on the fast gravel roads of his home rally, but once the order switched to overnight positions on Saturday morning Rovanperä closed the 21s gap to the front. He overhauled team-mates Elfyn Evans and Esapekka Lappi to charge after Tänak.
Leg three began in fine, dry conditions with SS19, the 10.84-kilometre Oittila stage – and the top two went at it from the off. Tänak stormed to the stage win, edging Rovanperä by 1.9s to extend his lead to just over 10s. “That was definitely full gas – much needed,” said the Estonian. “There is not much more I can do,” said Rovanperä. “I tried to be fast but it was not a perfect stage for me.”
On the first pass over the crests of the 11.12-kilometre Ruuhimäki stage, both were cautious to give full commitment – and for the second time in the rally set identical fastest times. “I can go quicker if I take the risks, but I’m not willing to take it,” said Rovanperä, mindful of his WRC points lead, while Tänak echoed those sentiments. “It’s really no place to take a risk,” he said. “You just need to be clean on the junctions and we did exactly that.”
The crews returned to Oittila for a second run, and while Tänak crossed the beam just 0.3s slower than stage winner Rovanperä it left him with a 10.0s lead with just the Wolf Power Stage to run. But there was huge drama for Lappi. The Finn ran wide at a left-hander and was flipped into a multiple roll that left his Yaris badly damaged. Lappi and co-driver Janne Ferm managed to get to the finish and worked hard on roadside repairs to ensure they could complete the Wolf Power Stage and secure their podium finish wearing goggles in a crumped Toyota that had lost its windscreen. The crew started the stage 29.6s ahead of Evans and co-driver Scott Martin in fourth position and minimised their losses in remarkable fashion to finish 16.9s in front.
Thierry Neuville finished fifth in his Hyundai, having risen from seventh in a single stage on Saturday. He finished clear of Takamoto Katsuta, the Jyväskylä resident surviving a couple of spins in leg two to make it four Toyotas in the top six.
Gus Greensmith was the best of the M-Sport Ford World Rally Team Puma Rally1s, having passed Pierre-Louis Loubet for seventh on the afternoon loop of leg two and in the wake of Craig Breen crashing out on Saturday morning. For Loubet, there was late heartbreak when a technical problem on the road section before the Wolf Power Stage left him stranded. That handed a top-10 finish to Jari Huttunen on his Rally1 debut in an M-Sport Puma, the Finn overcoming technical glitches including an intermittent power steering problem to make it to the end.
The battle of the young Flying Finns in WRC2 fell in favour of Teemu Suninen and co-driver Mikko Makkula, their Hyundai i20 N finishing just 7.7s ahead of the Toksport Škoda Fabia Rally2 Evo of Emil Lindholm and Reeta Hämäläinen after a fantastic rally-long duel. “It was a really good rally for us and we are feeling great,” said Suninen. “We have done a very good job developing the car and now it is on the winning pace, that’s the main thing. A great win for me.”
“It was quite something,” said Lindholm. “Friday was when we basically lost because we were 20s off. I can’t say I’m over the moon, but second place is a good rally for us.”
Egon Kaur’s Volkswagen Polo GTI completed the podium, with New Zealander Hayden Paddon enjoying his second start since returning to the WRC in fourth, driving a Hyundai.The result and bonus points for winning the Wolf Power Stage means Rovanperä has extended his lead at the top of the WRC standings. He is now on 198 points, 94 ahead of Tänak who has risen past Neuville into second place.
Photo: Taneli Niinimäki/AKK