Leader Evans in the hunt for more Finland fun as Suninen pushes for a podium

  • Evans/Martin lead WRC’s fastest rally for Toyota with Sunday stages remaining
  • A second victory in Finland would follow on from Rovanperä/Halttunen’s rare DNF
  • Suninen enjoying huge home support in podium battle with Jyväskylä-based Katsuta
  • While returning WRC ace Latvala holds fifth, youngster Pajari is on course for WRC2 glory

Elfyn Evans heads into the deciding four stages of Secto Rally Finland tomorrow (Sunday) leading round nine of the FIA World Rally Championship by a margin of 32.1s.

It follows an exemplary display of under-pressure driving through Saturday’s second leg, which has produced seven stage wins out of eight alongside co-driver Scott Martin.

With Kalle Rovanperä non-starting this morning following his Friday afternoon roll, Evans began Saturday’s leg eager to uphold Toyota honour in Finland, from where it runs its WRC operation, but to also push for a second victory of the year and his second on the Jyväskylä-based event, following his maiden triumph in 2021.

But with Thierry Neuville just 6.9s behind after Friday’s action, Evans couldn’t back off, but he also knew full well that he couldn’t blow an opportunity to capitalise on a rare driving mistake from Finnish hero Rovanperä.

In the event, the rain-covered roads during the four-stage morning loop were to Evans’ liking and he romped to a quartet of fastest times aboard his GR Yaris Rally1 Hybrid as Neuville struggled with too much wheelspin from his Hyundai i20 N Rally1 Hybrid.

By the time the crews returned to Jyvaskyla for the midday service halt, Evans was 17.7s ahead of Neuville, albeit quick to play down the significance of his advantage.

“It’s still a pretty small gap and we’ve got a lot of rallying to do,” Evans said. “We have to continue with our rhythm, it feels good to drive like this and if the performance is good enough then we have to carry on.”

Evans did just that by continuing his sequence of stage wins on the repeats of Västilä and Päijälä to head to rerun of Rapsula, Saturday’s penultimate test, leading by half a minute. He was fastest there too, this time 2.8s quicker than Neuville, to extend his margin to 32.8s. Even with Takamoto Katsuta winning the mud-covered final test of the day, Evans is comfortably in front with four stages and 51.64 timed kilometres remaining.

“It was very, very tricky to be honest and I took the careful side,” Evans said after he made it through SS18 unscathed. “There were a few places where it felt like a sledge and of course if you treat everywhere like that you’re bound to give away time. It was just about getting through safely and it’s a nice position to be in. Of course there’s still tomorrow to come so the focus will be on that now and to try to keep doing the same.”

Behind Nevuille/Martijn Wydaeghe, Teemu Suninen/Mikko Markkula and Takamoto Katsuta/Aaron Johnston spent leg two battling it out for the final podium spot.

Katsuta was seemingly in control in his factory Toyota only for a spin on the day’s second stage to hand Hyundai-driving Finn Suninen the initiative. But having remained in touching distance of Suninen ever since, third became Katsuta’s again on SS15 only for Suninen to respond and retake the place on the next stage. With Katsuta pushing on SS18 and Suninen admitting to being too careful, it’s Katsuta who will start out on Sunday in third, 6.4s ahead of Hyundai-driving Suninen.

Jari-Matti Latvala, back in the WRC for the first time since February 2020, is fifth overnight with co-driver Juho Hänninen on a rally away from his Toyota team principal duties.

Pajari now leading WRC2

Co-driven by Enni Mälkönen, Sami Pajari is two places behind Latvala in the overall standings but ahead in WRC2 after Jari Huttunen/Antti Haapala stopped with a mechanical failure on SS15. Huttunen had been 1.3s ahead of Pajari when he retired with their battle providing plenty of excitement throughout the day.

Oliver Solberg heads the RC2 in sixth position but isn’t in the WRC2 fight after he didn’t nominate Secto Rally Finland as one of his scoring rounds.

Korhola is the leader in WRC3

With just the repeat of Vekkula remaining, Benjamin Korhola/Pekka Kelender were leading their fellow Finns Jesse Kallio and Jussi Lindberg by 33.0s in the FIA WRC3 category for Rally3 cars.

Rovanperä’s chassis too damaged

Rovanperä, meanwhile, had hoped to restart this morning but having worked into the night, his Toyota mechanics realised the world champion’s Yaris beyond immediate repair.

“Sadly, the chassis is too badly damaged and we are forced to retire,” Rovanperä posted on social media prior to the start of leg two. “Of course, [I’m] massively disappointed to what happened, but it is what it is. Thanks for the support, we will be back stronger.”

Lappi and Ferm fine after Friday outing

Like Rovanperä, Esapekka Lappi’s home WRC outing was over after his high-speed crash into trees on the first Halttula stage on Friday morning left his Hyundai out of the game.

“Physically, everything is okay; a swollen ankle for me but no broken bones,” Lappi said. “The accident was a pacenote mistake, I was too optimistic for the right-hand corner, we were too fast and we went into the trees. The information from my side was wrong when we did the recce. It is a shame we are unable to re-join the rally for the rest of the event, but the main thing is both Janne [Ferm, co-driver] and myself are fine.”

Results after 18/22 stages

1. Elfyn Evans, Toyota 2.08.07,0
2. Thierry Neuville, Hyundai +32,1
3. Takamoto Katsuta, Toyota +1.27,8
4. Teemu Suninen, Hyundai +1.34,2
5. Jari-Matti Latvala, Toyota +3.39,5
6. Oliver Solberg, Skoda/WRC2 +8.05,0
7. Sami Pajari, Skoda/WRC2 +8.17,5
8. Adrien Fourmaux, Ford/WRC2 +8.51,4
9. Nikolai Gryazin, Skoda/WRC2 +9.42,7
10. Andreas Mikkelsen, Skoda/WRC2 +10.02,6

It’s the final countdown

Secto Rally Finland’s deciding Sunday leg takes crews south from Jyväskylä and includes twin passes of Moksi-Sahloinen and Himos-Jämsä with the first stage action due to begin at 07h53. Himos-Jämsä will be used as the points-paying Wolf Power Stage from 13h15 following a Tyre Fitting Zone in Himos, the new-for-2023 finishing podium location from 14h15.

Photo: Petro Piilo/AKK

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